HBS: Battletech Game

I thought about not even writing about this game. Here’s the short version. I love Battletech. I don’t love this new video game.

To examine that statement with a bit more nuance… I’ll just give you my impressions of the game. Take them as you will. I’ve put about 20 hours into the game and covered just about 400 (ish) days of “game time.”

For a little background… When I backed this game during the kickstarter two years or so ago; I was looking forward to a game that basically played like BT but with fancier graphics and a computer to do all the math for me. As the game went through development, I knew that was not what I was getting. But I stayed in. I played the game at GenCon in 2016, played the beta when it was released, and I didn’t like the game then. Some of my problems with the beta were balance issues and I thought most of them would be worked out as the game continued to develop. That does seem to be the case. Weapons seem to make more sense now and aren’t all over the place like they were early in the beta. But balance wasn’t my only issue.

To be entirely honest, I hated the “video-game-ness” of it. All the new abilities, “Sensor Lock,” and Bracing,” and “Precision Strike” and such just left me cold and felt like they were just there because the developers felt that the core experience of ‘mechs fighting ‘mechs was too boring as is. And they seemed to set up a weird, almost RPS type of game play where you had to have someone with X ability just in case the enemy had Y ability and wow, that got old for me fast. But I told myself to wait it out. I’d wait for the finished version, play the campaign, and enjoy the running your own Mercenary Company aspects of the game. This was supposed to be an important part of the game.

Spoiler: It’s not. Basically, you have a dropship and you have a storage compartment where you keep all your salvage, and you have a monthly P&L statement. That’s it. Pick missions, sell stuff to stay afloat, and try not to get your pilots too hurt because the recovery times are ridiculously punitive. That’s what you get to do.

And you do get to do a limited amount of customization to your mechs, by which I mean a very limited amount of customization. Basically, you can change how much armor you have on a machine, and you can take stuff out – but your ability to replace it with other stuff is distinctly hampered by the fact that hardpoints (weapon slots) are limited to a type and number of weapon (energy, ballistic, missile, and support). In general, I like this, because it stops a player from willy-nilly redesigning every chassis so that it no longer even resembles itself like some players will do in the tabletop. On the other hand, it makes it really annoying when you only have a ballistic weapon to fit the needs of an energy weapon slot for getting a ‘mech back on the field.

But with so little control over your ‘mechs and so little control over your mercenary group, the game is basically all about combat, right? And that would be fine except that mission design is terrible. I’m not sure exactly what went wrong – I’ve read a lot of fan commentary about the system since I started playing – but the game is awkwardly balanced from top to bottom.

This is a game set during the latter days of the succession wars in a backwater region of a backwater region (the Periphery). And yet, ‘mechs are super common. Which may seem odd to most players but can be forgiven in light of making a more interesting play experience for the video game. So, no worries. But then when the story missions (which are actually pretty good) have you fighting pirates and comment on how the pirates have a whole base and are really dangerous but even so, their mechs are basically held together more by prayers than metal; but then a random one-off contract where you fight a lance of pirates has them sporting four full-strength ‘mechs (two Kintaros, a Commando, and something else) it’s kinda ridiculous… Especially as the heaviest ‘mech you’ve had access to is the single Shadowhawk you start the game with.

And as you are always limited to only fielding a single lance of four ‘mechs, but the enemy will sometimes field four ‘mechs and four vehicles, you are constantly outgunned. This wouldn’t be so bad except that the AI feels it is perfectly acceptable to run “hot” for multiple turns in a row during a combat; whereas the player can never afford that luxury due to the way heat buildup is represented in the game. Add to that some pretty spotty RNG that seems to generate a LOT of head hits against your mechs, and the combat is largely an exercise in frustration.

I won’t go on. It’s pretty clear at this point that I find the game to be very flawed, to not particularly deliver on its promises, and to be generally un-fun. But I know there are plenty of people enjoying it – so to each their own.

To be fair to HBS; I’ve never enjoyed any of the BT video games – not the cockpit view shooters, not Mech Commander, and certainly not MWO. So maybe I’m the wrong audience to begin with.

Probably the most frustrating thing for me about the new game is this… I love BT, and I enjoy playing it. And the flaws in the video game made me more eager to get back to the tabletop… But as I haven’t had any fellow BT players around for going on five years now… I’m just left wanting.

As always, thanks for reading… and if you enjoy the new HBS game, then don’t let my negative feelings about it get you down.

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