BattleTech Previews

Four more hands-on previews of Harebrained Schemes' Kickstarter-funded strategy/RPG BattleTech have reached the web, courtesy of the recent press tour that the studio embarked on. By the sounds of it, the game is shaping up to easily make its targeted debut next year.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun:
The base campaign starts you off as captain of a mercenary mech outfit in a galactic backwater, tasked with paying off a bank loan so that you can venture out into more lucrative regions of space and enmesh yourself in the squabbles of various ancient noble houses. The game is set in 3025, following the collapse of the illustrious Star League and three bloody wars of succession, with much of the older tech in operation now beyond the science of the day.

This premise lends a certain workmanlike charm to an otherwise unsurprising core loop of travelling to planets, taking on missions and overhauling your ship, crew and mechs. If you want to warp to another star system, for instance, you’ll need to factor in how long it’ll take your battered Leopard-class starter vessel to chug to a jumpship. Your funds will continue to deplete in the process, so it’s possible you might reach the destination without the means to pay your mech pilots or take on vital replacement crew. In battle, meanwhile, you’ll find that salvage is often worth more than cold hard cash. If you spot a mech with a rare League-era arm cannon, for example, you’ll probably want to keep that arm in one piece by firing on the target from the other side.

As fun as it is to use your mech’s jump ability to stomp on a tank (and it is fun), part of the concept of mechs in this setting is that they can take, and deal, a tremendous amount of damage. This means that unlike XCOM, your units will be able to take several enemy hits without being killed forever. And the sheer amount of damage a mech can sustain also means time and money spent on repairs, causing more management decisions to be made..

In other words, Battletech’s universe offers more possibilities between total success and total failure. Every battle is likely to include major mech damage; getting a perfect run doesn’t fit the setting. And that means more time, and strategic decision-making, spent on making sure things work well enough to succeed more than you fail, instead of depending on perfect runs.

The Sixth Axis:
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.

And then there is GameWatcher:
I took things more cautiously with Alpha. They didn’t have turret support anymore but they did have a Shadowhawk Mech and a load of tanks, and my poor Kintaro was on his last legs. I carefully stationed my team like hawks on the edge of the cliff overlooking the base and rained fire down on the protecting force. To very little effect unfortunately, other than getting their attention. I realized I would have to get closer. I kept a couple of the hillside while I moved the others in for the kill. I even managed to rocket jump-execute a few tanks on the way, which was incredibly satisfying. I even managed to do that to the Shadowhawk but it didn’t quite finish him – but the next volley of rockets did. Hooray!

I headed back to the extraction point for a well-earned payday, but this wouldn’t be Firefly without a sudden but inevitable betrayal. Yes, my employers decided that now they had control of both mines, and my Mechs were hurting a little, they thought they could get away with not paying me. And killing me, of course. They thought wrong. They made the same mistake Majesty Metals did – keeping the controls to their Turrets in a single highly blow-up-able building. With that building blown up and the Turrets deactivated, it just took a few jump-splat-executes to destroy all the paltry tanks they’d sent my way. Now, about that payday…