If the first expansion for BattleTech was all about giving you more things to do with your Mechs and the second giving you more places to take them, then Heavy Metal is really all about giving you more Mechs to play with. Their eight new mechanical monstrosities for you to choose from in the upcoming expansion, and two more included within a free update to the game, and that’s going to give you a lot more choices when heading into battle.
Speaking to Mitch Gitelman at PDXCON last weekend, the BattleTech Game Director and co-founder of Harebrained Schemes, he said, “I don’t even think of it as more Mechs. It is more Mechs, but I think of it as more tactical options, more gameplay. That’s why each Mech has that new piece of equipment in there, because it’s now about the Mech, it’s about how you use it.”
The oldest fans of the franchise will be delighted to see nine of these ten Mechs as being digital reinventions of those found in the original board game. Just because they’re old doesn’t mean they can’t still compete – and anyway, the lore of the BattleTech universe is that everything’s old and constantly being rediscovered. In fact, quite a few of these might easily muscle their way into your lance’s loadout with some unique tricks that they have up their sleeves.
Each comes with a Special Tech built into the Mech as standard. The Rifleman leans into its role as a sniper with the Rangefinder Suite, letting it shoot further and with higher accuracy, the Assassin’s Intercept System lets it ignores dodge capabilities, making it perfect for targeting the lighter Mechs running around, and the Archer’s Missilery Suite clusters its missile fire to strip away evasiveness more effectively – handy, given how this was previously nerfed.
It’s a shame, but none of the existing Mechs in the game will be upgraded in similar ways, Mitch citing “Time and expense and stuff like that. I mean, we’re a reasonably small team and there’s plenty to do.” However, at the same time, “That’s exactly why this was the right time to support modding. People are already doing shit like that, so why don’t we give them tools to do it? We’ve exposed hooks in there for everybody to do what they want and go back to update everything if they want.”
Without mods, though, do they become too much of an advantage over the other Mechs in the game? It’s difficult to say, since you’ll always want to take the battle ahead of you into account and may want more general purpose Mechs, but if you’re gearing your outfit toward specific roles and have a particular plan of attack in mind, these specialisations will certainly come in handy. You will at least have two of these Mechs, even if you don’t buy the DLC. The Warhammer has increased energy damage, while the Matador’s Lance Command Module reduces incoming damage for the entire lance.
There’s also a suite of new weapons, with the Coil a unique and new creation, geared specifically for lighter, faster Mechs to keep them more relevant deeper into the game. Given how you’ll so often be battling against the odds, with a dozen enemies against your lance of four, a light, easily killed Mech is going to get squished all too easily, pushing you to select ever-bigger and more ponderous loadouts. But what if they can take that speed and turn it to their advantage?
Think of the COIL like the KERS of a Formula 1 car or a hybrid road car, but with a much more hazardous usage. You can only harvest energy to attack with during a particular turn, meaning that these weapons are uniquely suited to the fast-moving lighter Mechs, and they can output a prodigious amount of heat when used, making them a bit of a glass cannon.
“It keeps the [small Mechs] useful in the game for longer, right?” Mitch said. “That’s been a major request from fans; It’s been like that for 35 years!”
Of the new inductees into the roster, one Mech stands out from the crowd though, the Bull Shark. It’s an entirely new creation for the game that is one of the largest and heaviest in the game. Creating something new vs. something old, Mitch stated, “It’s actually easier to create a Bull Shark, to go, ‘You know there aren’t a lot of 95 tonne BattleMechs, let’s make one!’
“Actually, it was almost completely created by our Art Director, who used to do BattleTech cover art and stuff, so he’s perfect for this job too. He’s such a BattleTech nerd that he designed the Mech, the Mech loadout, everything. He put on his VR helmet – for real – and he sculpted it in VR. It was really cool!”
The Bull Shark’s unique trick is a huge area of effect Thumper Cannon – flinging a shell up and over to punish any enemy Mechs too closely clustered together. Thankfully it’s something that can only be used twice per battle, but it deals an awful lot of damage in a surprisingly wide area. It won’t wipe them out, but will significantly soften them for the rest of your team, not to mention doing a ton of collateral damage when fighting in an urban centre.
For most of the new Mechs you can, if you choose, accept a notification that pops up with your Mech Tech saying they came across an abandoned shipment or loot crate, filled to the brim with exotic new (old) Mechs. Alternatively, you can keep running through a mercenary career and unlock them more naturally. Not the Bull Shark, though. That’s wrapped up in the new career-long Flashpoint.
Mitch explained, “There’s these Flashpoints all over the starmap that you can do [in career mode] and they’re little short stories, three missions long, or something like that. This is a series of those – I’m not even sure how missions are in the whole thing – and then they’re also linked by these events that pop up as you’re flying.
“They only show up once in a while, and in order to get the next one, you have to complete this one, but then you’re travelling around a month later and something might show up on your starmap [with the Heavy Metal logo’s green colour].”
Featuring two legends from BattleTech lore – the Bounty Hunter and the Black Widow of Wolf’s Dragoons – it’s set to be more involved than simply battling them and winning the right to uncover the Wolf Shark from its derelict cargo ship. If that’s what happens or not, Mitch isn’t saying: “I don’t want to spoil that, but it’s interesting what we did with it!”
Though it might look mostly like a big bundle of new Mechs to play with, there’s actually a fair bit more going into BattleTech: Heavy Metal. Special Techs offer up more finely tuned loadouts, COIL guns give you reasons to stick with lighter Mechs for longer, and it’s all wrapped together by the biggest Flashpoint that the game has seen so far.
But the bigger question might be, where does BattleTech go from here?
“Assuming we go forward with BattleTech, we have to advance the timeline, right?” Mitch teases.