I'm not exactly what you would call a competitive gamer. While I have cut my teeth on the tabletop and am known to be an aggressive player during certain board games (Eclipse, Game of Thrones, and Catan, I’m looking at you), I often shy away from anything remotely competitive when it comes to digital games.
My trigger finger is not as twitchy as it used to be, and I hardly have the time or the patience it takes to get remotely good at the vast majority of competitive online games. I’m more interested in games that transport me to a new world, ones that challenge the player to think tactically and strategically rather than see who can complete the most actions per minute.
Thankfully, such games are in plentiful supply these days. The latest game to satisfy my tactical role-playing itch is Battletech by Harebrained Schemes.
Battletech is the latest IP in the long running sci-fi universe that started out as a tabletop game 30 years ago. During that time, the Battletech universe has expanded exponentially to include a galaxy of novels, pen and paper RPGs, and the beloved Mechwarrior franchise popular throughout the 90s. Giant humanoid robots in the year 3025 is the name of the game, and Battletech is perhaps the purest execution of that formula.
As the commander of a mercenary outfit you are tasked with leading a “lance” of 4 massive ‘Mechs and their pilots on and off the battlefield. The game is less a copy and more an adaptation of the classic tabletop game, and includes many mechanics inspired by XCOM.
Like XCOM, Battletech is a deeply tactical game and also requires the off-battlefield management of your team’s income and roster of pilots (some of which will surely die throughout the game).
Unlike XCOM, however, Battletech forgoes delicate humans in favor of giant, lumbering metal machines. Sure your mech pilots may still be squishy, but they are encased in steel, driving a 30 foot tall robot equipped with lasers, missiles, and autocannons. Combat is often met head on and includes many big explosions as well as an occasional building collapse or two.
The massive mechs are given weight by thoroughly enjoyable battle animations, art direction, and sound design, all of which add up to an incredibly satisfying gameplay experience. Defeating an opponent requires numerous tactical decisions and a calculating strategy.
Each turn you must decide your mechs’ movement, rotation, and the weapons used in its attack. Managing your mech’s armament is no simple affair. Firing off too many lasers, missiles, or autocannon rounds could cause your mech to overheat, damaging the vehicle and cooking the pilot alive. Due to all of these variables, each round of combat requires judicious action, resulting in battles that can last quite a while. This has its upsides and downsides. Victory is hard won, but you get a nice kick of dopamine after toppling an enemy mech.
I’m okay playing through such a lengthy title. At $40, Battletech certainly provides great value. Although I’ve only completed 7 to 10 missions, Steam says I’ve already clocked 17 hours playing the game. While the majority of that time was spent fighting against other mechs, a fair amount was spent role playing. I must have spent a good hour or so choosing my character’s background. The character creation system is as vast as the Battletech universe and provides a huge range of possibilities, including the option of creating a protagonist with a pronoun of “they”.
Additionally, the game is littered with random events that force you to make decisions that will have a profound impact on the rest of your playthrough. Should I tell the loan shark banks off or sweet talk them into a better interest rate? If a pilot has disobeyed my orders, should I punish them or reward them for their ingenuity. These storytelling elements are not unlike the “galaxy events” in Stellaris and leads me to believe that Battletech has a high degree of replayability.
Battletech is a welcome entry in the tactics genre. Most games require players to avoid combat. Putting the player in the hotseat of a towering mech means combat, and enemy hits are unavoidable. It’s a fresh take on a highly popular genre. I'm excited to keep playing through the campaign and can’t wait to see what else Harebrained Schemes has planned in subsequent updates or DLC.
What are your thoughts on Battletech? Are you cruising through the campaign or playing something else? Let us know in the comments below.