BattleTech Preview

So far, most of the previews for Harebrained Schemes' upcoming BattleTech focused on that game's tactical turn-based layer. The latest one from PC Gamer, however, also offers some insights into BattleTech's broader strategic layer where you'll be commanding and upgrading a spaceship full of mercenary mech pilots as you struggle to keep your interplanetary business afloat and your people happy. An excerpt:

There’s loads to like about BattleTech as a purely tactical game: you’ve got a lot of control over your squad’s positioning and weapon options, and achieving an advantageous position means carefully paying attention to altitude, heat and, yes, stability. This single combat encounter is a straightforward example of the drama that the game generates on the fly. Later on, I discover the thrill of using jump jets to deliver fatal drop attacks on tanks like an expensive metal Mario, and conduct the rest of the mission in this manner.

It’s the broader strategic layer that has me excited for BattleTech, however. The events of this mission are shaped by—and shape—a much bigger and more open-ended attempt to earn a dime as a mech-commanding space mercenary. For example: while Dekker-the-pilot was unable to escape the burning wreck of his mech, the mech itself was not completely unsalvageable. Yet the specific damage it took will need repairing, and if there were any expensive guns bolted to that left arm—well, it’s gone. That’s a potentially expensive loss that’ll need accounting for when I decide to take on my next mission. Also, you know, Dekker’s dead, and that’ll probably have an impact on morale.

Back on the ship (initially a small Leopard-class dropship, later a massive upgradable hulk called the Argo) there are loads of decisions to make. Each of your pilots has a randomly-generated personal history, which influences their outlook and connections. You’ve got your own baggage too—you create your main character through a questionnaire at the beginning of the game that reminds me a little of the Mount & Blade series.

These factors influence the types of missions that will be made available to you beyond the confines of the story-led critical path. When you take on a mission, you can choose to emphasise payment, salvage rights, or forego either to make factions like you more. Salvage rights are deliciously specific, too—what you get depends on the outcome of the battle that is subsequently fought, so if you’ve chosen to take your payment in the form of scrap then you’d better be sure that you only blow the bits off enemy mechs that you don’t want to keep.

You might choose to take missions in tundras or wetlands where the environment can be used to keep your mechs cool and able to sustain their firepower for longer, or head to the desert with a more lightly-armed contingent that can exploit the temperature to their own advantage. You might try to curry favour with one of the great houses of the BattleTech universe, or slum it with pirates and steer clear of interplanetary war.

You’ve got loads of freedom to refit each mech to your specific needs, but these changes take up both money and time. A week-long refit will be broken down into subtasks, and if you choose to interrupt work to get a mech into the field in a hurry you may find that your engineers have finished fitting the new gun but not, say, loaded its ammo. As time passes you’ll occasionally be presented with shipboard events, mini choose-your-own-adventure digressions with consequences for morale. And morale, in turn, influences your pilots’ performance in battle.