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Exploring Battletech's Single Player Campaign Of Mercurial Mech Warfare

Restoring a rightful heir to her throne.

Whether it’s Gundam, the combined Power Rangers Megazord, Titanfall or the mechs of the Battletech universe, there’s something that appeals to so many about having giant humanoid robots stomping into battle. We’ve played Battletech’s turn-based tactical game a few times over the past six months, seeing it gradually evolve as Harebrained Schemes refine and polish their game, but now we’ve had the opportunity to explore how the single player campaign will unfold.

When an empire fractures and falls, it takes its toll on everything that the empire had built. The populace is now divided (or perhaps subjugated by new rulers), the culture starts to shift away from the established norms, with vast amounts of technology and knowledge are often lost. After three bitterly fought succession wars that saw the Star League crumble into rival feudal houses, a lot of the golden age technologies have been lost or forgotten by the time this game starts in 3025. A technological retrograde has taken hold and so while Battletechs still rule the battlefields, they’re cobbled together from salvaged parts, reconstructed and patched up after brutal, bruising battles.

It’s into this splintered galaxy that you arrive, playing as the leader of a mercenary outfit in a whole load of debt. You’ve got a ship to travel between planets, a Leopard class drop ship, pilots that work for you, and a Lance of mechs to your name. But alas, you’re also in an awful lot of debt to the bank. Your ship’s crew doesn’t work for you, they work for the bank, meaning you can’t simply decide to run away from your debts.

Of course, you’ll have a small amount of autonomy within that and you can travel around a small region of the known galaxy taking on jobs. The early mission that we played saw us assaulting a fortified facility with a number of objectives to take on. I decided to rush headlong into the defensive turrets, but had I heeded the mission briefing’s advice, I would have instead gone up against the Shadow Hawk mech first and tried to disable the turrets at their power source.

Fans on turn based strategy and tactical games like XCOM will feel right at home here, but there are a few unique quirks and aspects to controlling your Lance of mechs that you’ll have to get used to. As it alternates between you and your opponent to move and attack with a mech, there’s a kind of initiative system based on the size and speed of each mech. They’re sorted into five phases through the turn, so that lighter mechs have the option of moving first, or you can reserve a mech’s move until later if you think that would be advantageous.

Naturally, there’s no hunkering down behind cover when you’re the size of a building, but you can obscure yourself to a certain extent with a tree line, you want to try and turn your mechs to face threats to avoid damage from flanking moves and moving fast increases a mech’s evasiveness. Evasiveness has been continually iterated upon by Harebrained and it’s now represented by chevrons next to a character, which are chipped away as a mech takes and avoids incoming fire, making concerted fire from several enemies more likely to hit and deal damage.

Of course, the biggest thing to learn about is heat and stability and, even with a few previous battles in the game, it took me a while to learn to manage these effectively. Using weapons and taking damage gradually builds up heat within the mech, potentially leading to a temporary shutdown to let it cool off and damage to the mech’s structure – I literally had an arm fall off from overheating – so you need to carefully manage how far you move, which weapons to fire with, and being aware of incoming fire. You can also destabilise a mech, knocking them to the ground and opening them up to target of opportunity attacks that let you target specific components to deal locational damage.

One recently added aspect is in a morale system, where your team dishing out damage boosts the morale of your Mech Warriors and lets you spend this on an Offensive Push or Defensive Push ability, the former letting you take a target of opportunity attack, even if the enemy isn’t knocked prone.

Win or lose, you head back up to your ship to lick your wounds and prepare for the next mission you take on. Mechs will need to be repaired in the Mech Bay which can take time, but this is also where you can customise mechs using parts salvaged on the battlefield, swapping out different weapons to change a mech’s role from close range fire spewing brawler to a long range sniper. There’s a lot of depth here, if you want to find it. Similarly, if your pilots were injured, they’ll need to recuperate before you can send them into battle again, especially if you’d rather they didn’t perish on the battlefield and lose all the experience and skills that you’ve unlocked for them.

While you start with your humble drop ship, you’ll soon be bailed out of your debt by the deposed princess of the Auraurian Reach, a periphery kingdom that has been ruled by her family for hundreds of years. It still is, albeit by her uncle, who staged a coup on the eve of her coronation. She gives you more freedom by helping you obtain the Argo ship for yourself and while it’s a little run down, you can build and improve it over time.

All that she asks is that you fight alongside her and help her retake her throne, but the Restoration campaign takes part in just a small corner of space. It’s only the beginning of what you can play through. You can fight for her whenever she calls for help, or you can dip in and out and venture off to take other contracts, just beware that there is actually a limit to the flexibility and her war can fail without your help.

There’s plenty more space to explore though and plenty of other houses to ply your trade with. At launch the Restoration campaign is the main narrative thread, but there will be other stories to explore for the other houses, as well as the little story events on your ship, which can affect your finances, morale and reputation with various factions depending on your choices – the example of an argument over coffee rations didn’t exactly have the highest of stakes though. In this regard though, Battletech could be seen as a platform for Harebrained to build upon; their partnership with Paradox Interactive makes a lot of sense from that perspective, as they’ve specialised in supporting their games for long after release with a mixture of paid and free content.

The core of Battletech hasn’t changed a great deal since I first saw it back in May, but it really hasn’t needed to. Harebrained have settled into iterating, polishing and refining the great turn based tactical gameplay that they already have. Wrapped around that they’re building a broad galaxy of mercurial warring and rival factions to explore, with a nice, smooth narrative path into the story of the Battletech universe. Console players will have to keep their fingers crossed, but Battletech should be on every turn based tactical fan’s radar for 2018.

3 Comments
  1. three_leg_jake
    Member
    Since: Aug 2011

    Which platforms is this on please? You imply PC only I think. Is it possible to add that info to all reviews and previews please?

    Comment posted on 16/11/2017 at 07:23.
    • Lieutenant Fatman
      Member
      Since: Jul 2013

      I second this request. Reading the site using a mobile phone, I never see that information.

      Comment posted on 16/11/2017 at 09:09.
      • Stefan L
        Community Team
        Since: May 2009

        PC only for now.

        Comment posted on 16/11/2017 at 13:02.