Impressions: Battletech – The Future of Strategy

Shadowrun developer Harebrained Schemes returns to strategy in the highly-anticipated Battletech. After a wildly popular Kickstarter campaign that raised nearly $3 million, the game is finally here.

Battletech is a strategy title based on the table top game and set in the universe it is named after. You become the leader of a mercenary company that becomes tangled in a galactic civil war and take on missions to fund your company while managing its finances, pilots and mechs. The premise sounds great, and so far it has delivered. Here are the Goods and the Bads of my time so far with Battletech. Be sure to check out a full review later on.

The Good

Deep Strategic Combat – There is a lot to take in with Battletech. Like in XCOM, there are two main sections of the gameplay: combat and ship management. Battletech is a turn-based strategy game with a squad of individualized mechs – each one is unique and, from what I have seen so far, highly customizable. The game gives you lots of freedom to pick and choose a plethora of different weapons and gadgets.

The outfit of your squad will have a big impact on overall gameplay. You can have speedy mechs that are highly maneuverable but don’t pack a lot of punch or, conversely, a bulky mech with tons of weapons that is slow but can do a lot of damage and take a beating. In combat, there are abilities and other options in a bar at the bottom, like in XCOM.

Enemy mechs have parts on them that are damaged whenever shot at. For example, a laser hitting the arms of an enemy might damage and cause an arm to fall off, which would substantially decrease the enemy’s fire power. Sometimes you can fire at individual parts to either injure the mech’s pilot or take a part off. This is a really unique mechanic that rewards positioning and strategic thinking. Enemy AI will also try to position themselves to destroy damaged parts, so the game’s combat offers a good challenge.

The ship management is also fun. You have to be cautious with your funds, so you have to strategically allocate them. Contracts can be negotiated to make more money, allowing you to alter how much money and scrap you are allowed to take from missions. This will also affect reputation for one of the many factions you will be looking for. Overall, there is a lot to consume in Battletech, but fans of strategy games with a lot of depth will be at home.

Story – I won’t divulge too much of the story because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that I am enjoying it. I might be a bit biased because I thoroughly enjoyed Harebrained Schemes’ Shadowrun titles, but the quality of writing has transferred over to this one as well.

I especially appreciate – as someone unfamiliar with the Battletech universe – that there will be little highlighted terms in dialogue that will give you more information on that topic. The universe of Battletech is very fleshed out, and as an outsider I appreciate the effort the developers have made to cater to newcomers.

Sound Design – I am really digging the soundtrack. The title screen is triumphant and tragic. During the gameplay, I dig the tracks – it’s made very well, and owners of the Deluxe Edition will be able to enjoy the soundtrack in all its glory. The gameplay has a lot of good sounds too. Mechs are properly mechanical sounding and their weapons sound like they pack a punch. What little voice acting I have encountered so far is also pretty good.

Options Menu – There is no excuse to not have plenty of keybinding options and full control of graphics and audio. The options menu is great, allowing me to alter just about everything from what I have experienced so far. Furthermore, I really like the ability to adjust the frequency of cinematics during combat. You can also adjust the frequency of follow cameras for when you are moving, as well as when cinematic attack cameras will occur. Little things like that really help improve the experience of Battletech.

The Bad

Unity Engine – This might be a personal preference, but a lot of people share the same sentiment. I don’t think that Unity games perform as well as other engines, nor do I think they are particularly pretty. In terms of graphics, the game looks fine, but not amazing. Character models, although a minor aspect of the game, are pretty ugly and definitely could use some improvement.

Character Customization – This is a minor complaint, but worth mentioning. 3D character customization was a stretch goal in the Kickstarter campaign, so I was hoping for a character creator whereby you can really personalize your pilot. The result is… not so good. Your character is just as ugly as the story character models, and the customization options – from hair styles and beards to facial expressions – are both sparse and lacking in content. Likewise, in the beginning you choose the origins of your character. While this is better than the 3D customization, so far it hasn’t affected gameplay in any way, with the exception of origin-exclusive dialogue choices that seem to have no apparent effect.

Saving – When you press the save button, it doesn’t take you to files, so you are unable to name or choose the location of the save. You can’t overwrite saves, which really irks me, because in a strategy game saves can rack up. The load menu is run-of-the-mill standard, since you pick and choose which save file you want to boot up. Still, not being able to overwrite a specific save is something that I think should be changed. There is no apparent way to do so right now.

Summed Up

So far, I am really liking Battletech. With the exception of the few complaints I made above, the game is looking to be another hit for Harebrained Schemes. The strategy is deep and there is a huge learning curve, but the game will reward players for spending time to master its mechanics. Skirmish and Multiplayer also allow you to fully customize your own squad and individual mechs, so those looking for a great tactical multiplayer experience will love this one.

Be sure to look out for my review on Battletech soon.

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