There are some games out there that pull me in with their lore, despite how deep and impenetrable to the newcomer they seem. With tabletop RPG games, that series is Warhammer 40k. With video games, this has recently manifested itself in Battletech. This game takes the idea of turn-based mech battling and sets it in a world that takes political and social intrigue of monarchies and marries it to a sci-fi future where mankind has spread across the stars and found their empire falling into collapse and disarray. You are a, for the most part, faceless protagonist that the game cleverly lets you describe how you want. You could have been a noble who fell to a coupe, or who ran away to find your own way in the world. The world building in this immediately sucked me in and kept me coming back to try and figure out the obscure systems in the game.
You are run through your movement and very simple combat paces with a tutorial opening as your trainer teaches you a few of the basics. Positioning behind enemies does more damage. Forests give cover, if you overheat, get into the water to cool down. The game also teaches an interesting mechanic where you want to keep moving to keep your evasion level high. The further you move on a turn the higher an evasion rating you will get. This makes it feel, even though it is a slower paced turn-based combat, like you are staying on the move to be a harder target to hit.
After the simple tutorial, I was brought in my first mission to escort a ruler as she was to accept the throne for her coronation day. As anyone who has seen any movie ever could guess, what was supposed to be a quiet escort mission goes awry. You quickly find yourself embroiled in combat with usurpers to the throne. This intro mission doesn’t hold many of its punches in terms of combat. There are at least 3 large combat sections to it that require you to keep your squad together, or you may quickly find yourself retrying. I actually failed out of the intro mission the first time.
The difficulty here isn’t incredible, but I personally am bad at turn-based tactical combat games. That made trying to blast my way through the first few missions a difficult task. Battletech is a game that rewards careful and considered play and is ready to quickly punish reckless decisions. In the second combat section of the intro mission, I pushed one of my less armored mechs up further than I should have, forgetting to make sure it was put in forest cover to better protect it. Within one enemy round, all of the enemy mechs punished this move by flanking the vulnerable unit and drilling lasers and rockets into its back. In the span of a turn, the introduction to the game showed just what it was. A solid challenge that played incredibly fair with its rules. If you play smart, you will survive.
Once you get past the intro you find yourself working as a group of mercenaries trying to scrounge together some funds, dropping into missions with 4 mechs, each of which has very different feels and uses. Smaller mechs can stay on the move, but if caught off guard will be quickly picked off, while big mechs come in and wreck shop until you realize the quicker enemies have surrounded and outnumbered you. Every unit in the game feels well balanced for this reason. Mechs also are limited by their ability to keep cool. Firing weapons every round non-stop will overheat your mech, causing you to either find a water source to cool off in or waiting out turns to recover a portion of your heat bar.
If missions start to turn on you, you do have the option of pulling back, keeping your units and mechs, but losing out on a payday and resources put into the mission. This is always something to consider because even if you succeed at the mission damaged or destroyed mechs or pilots can mean that you’ve really lost more than the rewards you got out of it. This is one of the few turn-based strategy games I’ve played where I really started to feel sweat form as my mechs would get hit by a missile barrage because every hit to the mech could turn the situation quickly. It might lose leg functionality and be a sitting duck, it might lose some of its firepower, it could get knocked over and become even more vulnerable to enemy follow-up attacks. This game requires a slow and methodical approach to play to truly win situations.
The downside to how deep this games strategic choices and tactics are is that I feel like very little of it was clearly explained in the early tutorial levels, and it left me a little in the weeds on how to take full advantage of the mechs I got to use, and the situations I ran into. It obscures much of the logic behind shot accuracy and distance/height difference behind the scenes and reduces them to percentage chances on attacks. I think the game already has a lot of stuff to ingest on screen at any given time, it would be nice to know how these systems interact a little more. Perhaps a longer and slightly more guided introduction could have helped clarify these things.
Even how you destroy mechs is not described in the best of terms, and I found myself having to look around for some guides and wikis to realize that damage to the center of the mech will destroy it, but it also creates an explosion, and that isn’t always best when you can salvage parts from destroyed mechs after missions. Instead, you should try to take out the head (where the pilot is) or sweep its legs to do less damage to it. There is also a system of moral it took me a while to understand as it builds up as you attack, and is used to fuel your called shots which allow you to try and remove the most threatening parts of enemy mechs first.
The other complaint I have about this game is that, much like X-COM or similar games, random chance plays a little too big of a role in it. As your chances for percentage are seldom 100%, the likelihood that you will run into a 90% chance shot that misses still exist. This could even be in near point-blank situations. I understand how this is to represent the possible random happenstance of dodging a shot from the opponent, except that when a mech is defending it doesn’t move. It basically stands as a giant target to take the brunt of the damage. This is partially because of the tactical nature of the game, there is only so much animation they can do to represent these missed shots, but it still feels like my mech unit just decided to blind fire everywhere around the mech standing right in front of them.
Though I have some gripes that mostly arise from the turn-based genre that Battletech resides in I found myself drawn to the story of making my way in the world and the combat within. That kept me coming back for battles as I failed them again and again. I rush in too much to be good at these games, but there is also just something so satisfying when you position the perfect attack and a barrage of lasers and missiles fly across the field and connect solidly with an enemy mech. If you are a fan of turn-based tactical games, I highly recommend Battletech. You will definitely get your moneys worth out of this game.
Note: GameOctane editor Jason Germino received a digital code from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing this game. Any code or product intended for reviews is distributed to the team to review and stream for our audience.
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Deep turn-based combat system
Unique world mixing monarchies and mechs
Open-ended solutions to combat situations
Overly-obscured combat systems
Under-explained HUD overlay