Battletech: Mechspectations

gaming mecha

I’ve been playing the new BATTLETECH game. I actually was a kickstarter backer. I backed it primarily because I really liked the Shadowrun games put out by Harebrained Schemes and wanted to show the company some support. Like Shadowrun, this is a PC iteration of a tabletop game and turn-based tactical combat game in the same vein as XCOM.

That wasn’t the only reason I backed though. I’m also a big fan of mechs in general. I played a LOT of a mech game called Starsiege in my younger years. It was amazing for the time. It had an awesome soundtrack, voice acting by Mark Hamill, modability, and great combat mechanics. It was a first-person game, but really got the feeling and clunkiness of pilotting a mech rather than feeling like a reskinned FPS game.

Battletech is not a first-person game and I was aware of that difference going in - but I did have one major assumption. I had assumed that outfitting my units and the combat mechanics would be just as complex, tactical, and satisfying as Starsiege. If anything, I had assumed it would be even more detailed and complex since it was coming from tabletop roots. I’d never played Battletech tabletop though or any of the Mechwarrior PC games based on it though – and that was a mistake.

The Mechwarrior games were the biggest PC gaming competitors to Earthsiege/Starsiege in that genre and were a lot more popular and recognizable. I assumed that meant they must have been at least as good if not better. I’m familiar with mech contruction in the Mekton tabletop games and similarly complex vehicle or (star)ship construction systems in other tabletop games so assumed mech construction in Battletech would be comparable.

Battletech Starsiege

Turns out I was wrong. The game is a lot of fun still, but it feels very watered down to me. Armor is just armor – there aren’t different types with different strengths and weaknesses. Most of the weapons are absolutely boring. The mount points on each chassis are hardcoded to only a specific type of weapon. If I leave off tonnage that doesn’t increase my speed or manueverability. The available chassis patterns/colors are very samey as well. There is no non-weapon equipment aside from generic heat sinks and jump jets – no different sensors, reactors, engines, boosters, etc.

The failure here is entirely my own and not that of the game, but it was still quite a let-down. I plan on contiuing to play Battletech, but it does not come close to satisfying my mecha construction and customization needs. It feels like XCOM with a couple of extra mechanics thrown in to capture the mech feel but a less pleasurable and less polished feel. Shadowrun also felt pretty bad comapred to XCOM but as a roleplaying game rather than wargame, I could forgive it. It had some great writing and a fun story. I haven’t completed the campaign in Battletech yet, but I wouldn’t call it very story- or plot-driven. It definitely hews closer to wargame than RPG.