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Crushing Your Enemies from Above In BattleTech's Turn-Based Mech Battles

Heating things up in Red City.

Reviving a classic board and video game series, BattleTech is gradually becoming one of my most anticipated games of the next year – it was recently postponed to early 2018. You may be familiar with the likes of MechAssault and MechWarrior, but BattleTech takes things back to the turn-based strategy of the board games, wrapping it up in more modern clothing and with the dynamism that a video game can offer.

At Gamescom, there was an opportunity to see the latest developments in the game, beyond what’s been shown so far in the initial backer beta and the recent update that added head to head multiplayer. It shows a continued refinement of the core gameplay that I first saw at PDXCON back in May, with tiny little tweaks like the stability meter now being broken into five blocks, more clearly defining when your robot’s about to take a tumble.

Most noticeable is the new planetary setting for this battle, taking on the dusty reddy brown hues of a Martian styled planet in the appropriately named ‘Red City’. Instead of being able to hide away in a tree line, as you can in some other biomes, you have swirling dust clouds that act as cover to improve your evasiveness. One possible change though would would be make the dust clouds a little more dynamic and have them shift around the map, as they feel a little static right now. The centre piece here, however, was a small and desolate cluster of buildings, both providing cover and opportunities for attack.

The turn-based combat is as intriguingly tactical as before, with mechs coming in varying sizes and so being able to take their turns during different phases. A lighter mech can react more quickly, move further and take its turn in an earlier phase, but you can also hold them back for later phases if you wish. Holding them until last can actually let you effectively have two moves and actions back to back, making them perfect for hit and run attacks. If multiple mechs can move in the same phase, then you and your opponent take turns picking from that selection.

In this latest demo, we were shown a new light mech equipped with an array of flamethrowers. Considering that mechs can overheat from too much use and shut down, making them vulnerable to called shot, locational attacks, flamethrowers are particularly useful weapons for ganging up on a particular enemy. I absolutely loved one animation in which my little flamethrower guy ran up to an enemy, performed a melee attack that destabilised the opposing mech, and then decided to wash it in searing heat from his flamethrowers as it fell to the ground. The only problem is that this mech had very limited ammo, which came to bite me later into the fight.

There’s some new moves in your arsenal, as well. Death From Above is about as bombastic an attack as they come, seeing the hulking robots leap into the sky on rocket boosters, and come crashing down to the ground next to an enemy to deal damage point blank. It’s immensely satisfying, but it comes at a cost, as it destabilises your mech and also damages the internal structure of its legs in the process. So yes, bombastic and immensely satisfying, but also one to reserve for dramatic finishes if you value actually winning the fight!

You’ll likely have to take this effect into account in the overarching single player campaign, where you will need to repair and replace mechs that have been damaged or destroyed. It could be much better to play it safe than to be reckless and rush in like a fool, otherwise when it comes to taking on the next contract for your mercenary outfit, you might be hampered by lingering damage and be fighting with your backs to the wall.

While I was definitely being more reckless than cautious in this instance, I still felt like I had the upper hand in this fight. What was actually happening was much more even between myself and the AI, especially as my luck started to run out and a couple of my plays didn’t come off later in the demo. Sadly we’ll never know if I had a rousing victory or suffered defeat, as I simply ran out of time in the allotted window at Gamescom.

Even so, it’s clear that BattleTech is coming along nicely. The core hasn’t changed too much since PDXCON a few months ago, but there’s been some refinement to the user interface and some of the gameplay ideas since then. It was also great to get a sneak peak at a new planet, new weapons and ridiculous, over the top attacks like Death From Above.

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