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BattleTech Test: Fantastic tactics with persistent performance issues



As a mercenary I learned to hate complications . "Developmental situations" could be the technical term.

It could be anything. Maybe you send your lance, your team of four 'Mechs, for a simple mission, only for enemy reinforcements to come out of the forest. Maybe you'll end a fiercely competitive fight, return to base, and your employer turns and shoots a few shots in the back. Maybe the "lightly defended" outpost hides a 'Mech twice the size.

The circumstances do not matter because the result is the same. Complications kill or at least disable you as long as you're dead as well. If money is the lifeblood of a mercenary company, the two are basically synonymous.

Trouble ahead, trouble behind it

I play BattleTech ($ 40 on Green Man Gaming, Steam and GOG)) For about a year. Last May, Harebrained Schemes released a multiplayer beta for people who helped Crowdfund with the project, and I spent some long hours with it. Enough to know that it's a hell of a tactical game, 55-ton 'Mechs with all sorts of rocket launchers and ballistic cannons and laser beams that make it in single fights.

This component, Skirmish, still exists. But it's the low-stakes version of BattleTech a kind of tactical playground with no consequences.

  BattleTech IDG / Hayden Dingman

Not like the campaign. For years, Harebrained BattleTech 's campaign, a space opera about an entire galaxy, has been teased of backroom intrigues and politicking, coups and military engagements, treachery and sabotage.

Then there is you: A mercenary, one of the lowest of the low rungs on the ladder. They are stuck and trying to navigate everything. Shortly after BattleTech begins control of a small ship, an even smaller crew and a debt mountain. It's up to you to keep the ship going – so that your Mech Warriors are happy, their 'Mechs are repaired and the guilty ones of your back.

Take the tactical core of BattleTech and add a full layer of lead simulation above, basically. As a ship's commander, you are responsible for finding work for your mercenary troop. As your senior executive explained early on, "Most contracts involve one or more of the following basic ideas: blow up, lay someone down, bring something to safety, or mess with heavy ammunition." Huge, two-legged weapons platforms are not exactly their subtlety

  BattleTech IDG / Hayden Dingman

And indeed, that's the heart of BattleTech . Most missions consist in blowing enemies in a certain order and occupying the ground. Sometimes you save an important target and evacuate it to a DropShip. Pretty simple stuff.

15 hours later, I have to see the same mission twice more. BattleTech has a remarkable ability to put these building blocks together in new and novel ways – and, as I said, they complicate . Several times I thought that I was committed to a fairly simple mission, just for the situation, to turn over at the last minute, leading to a desperate struggle for my life. Four building-sized 'Mechs are not nearly mobile enough to escape when things get bad.

In any case, the responsibility lies with you. You select the contracts, you read the Intel briefings, and you decide whether the reward is worth the risk. The last element is the most important. See, BattleTech Perseverance is not just reflected in your finances. With the campaign you also keep track of your 'Mechs and their accompanying pilots. Did a beating in the last mission? Repairing your 'Mechs may cost you more than you have, especially if you lose an arm or a few weapons.

  BattleTech IDG / Hayden Dingman

'Mechs also need pilots, so best to make sure your talented crew is not injured. These will take time in the med bay time that you do not have. Every day you turn your engines and wait for pilots to recover and make repairs. They burn money. No more money and your mercenaries will go their separate ways. That's effectively the game over.

It's tense, and BattleTech throws you into the deep end. Early on, on a tight budget, you can drive what makes any mission, like life or death, look like. Their 'Mechs are weak and underpowered, they have barely control tactics, and it's possible to make some extremely costly mistakes. Create a light 'Mech badly and you might stare at a huge bill.

Later you will have more slack (and more 'Mechs), which helps immensely. I have just reached a point where my schedule is long enough for one 'Mech to be taken out of service and another to take its place immediately. But I'm still only four months from bankruptcy. It's not much, especially when repairs can take 15 to 20 game days. That's a lot of downtime.

  BattleTech IDG / Hayden Dingman

I really enjoy both the managerial side and the tactical missions. BattleTech feels just as satisfying on the last front as it did a year ago, with a deep and thoughtful list of 'Mechs offering a lot of options. Do you want to go all snipers firing from a distance? Do you perhaps focus on cannons that are less hot and therefore good for deserts? Or maybe – my favorite – build up all to melee monsters and enjoy the exaggerated spectacle of 50-foot machines flying through the air and hitting each other's faces.

It's also easy to enjoy the spectacle. As I wrote last year, BattleTech has an uncanny ability to be airborne even from its tactical perspective. I'm still not tired of seeing 'Mechs taking cover' in huge forests of ancient forests where every move causes trees to tear like matches. The kinematic camera can also be awesome when everything is properly aligned, with shots of a setting sun or a series of invading enemy forces on the side of a chilly mountain peak.

That said BattleTech has its share of problems. Some of these seem easy (or easier) to correct. Namely, achievement. In the few days I've had review code, I've already seen three patches, each of which has noticeably improved the situation. On Friday, loading into a mission took even 40 seconds on an SSD. Now this time has dropped to about 20-30 seconds, which is still long if you find them often, but … hey, it's an improvement.

  BattleTech IDG / Hayden Dingman

And that's the case with the whole game. Enemy change times, post-mission charges, movie cameras, every aspect has improved since Friday. I suppose that means there are more improvements coming down the pipe. At the moment, however, BattleTech feels a bit rude. The movie camera is probably the worst culprit in addition to the loading times and often obscures the view of the action behind a mountain. You can turn it off in Settings, but then you lose the time when looks cool. Hard choice, there.

I also think BattleTech could use a better, more detailed tutorial. Many systems play a role here. To give you a ubiquitous example, any weapon you fire generates heat, and you can only build up so much heat before you damage your 'Mech. The solution is to turn the weapons on and off as needed to stay below the heat threshold each turn. Environmental factors also contribute to the fact that polar regions allow you to dissipate more heat than, for example, standing in a pool of water.

Cool, yeah? But there are so many little details like this, from the short tooltips it's almost impossible BattleTech is there. Worse still, there are a number of combat tutorials that are not even treated in context. Instead, they are buried in a character's dialogue tree after you've already gone through a handful of early missions.

  BattleTech IDG / Hayden Dingman

Make sure you read this stuff.

There is something to be said for trial-and-error learning, but BattleTech may feel excessively punished in its early stages because it's just not good at conveying information. Hell, even 15 hours after the campaign, I sometimes find it hard to guess if a shot will wipe out an enemy completely or just cause surface damage, because that information did not turn up in an intuitive way. I do not do it I really have an idea how I can fix it, but it's one of BattleTech 's major failures. There is a great game here, but it's only great when people have the patience to learn its intricacies.

Bottom line

I still have pretty much to do in BattleTech 's story. Even after fifteen hours, I feel like I barely scratched it, and with it, the goalless review process.

BattleTech however, seems to be a sure thing. The complaints I listed above are small or at least small for me. The performance is improving and I do not doubt that within a week or two a lot of Jank will be gone. As far as the tutorial's weaknesses are concerned, they will undoubtedly be painful to those who have not experienced the backer beta as players try to learn both the tactical and the manager side at the same time. It will be difficult for many people, I think.

But it's worth it. BattleTech ($ 40 on Green Man Gaming, Steam and GOG) is a fantastic tactical game in a strong and engaging fiction. Like XCOM I've been too invested in the life of my crew. Even protect me, try my best to master the dangers of a succession war without losing any of them, or at least losing any of those who have been with me since the beginning of this mess.

Get rich or die, right?


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