I never played the Battletech tabletop wargame, but the same people who made the Shadowrun video games created the video game, so, I decided to give it a try.
The distant future
In the twenty-first century, humanity go to the stars. First there are bases on the moon and mars, then with the invention of faster-than-light, they go to Tau Ceti. Humanity colonizes Tau Ceti, and soon other colonies follow. Eventually there are many colonies spread over vast interstellar ‘houses’.
In the twenty-fourth century an interstellar war breaks out, with devastating results. The warring parties come to an agreement to ban nuclear and biological weapons. Physical combat is the new norm for conflicts.
As a result, scientists invent battlemechs to further the war effort: great hulking robots with a human pilot. The nature of war quickly changes, leading to all planets coming under control of the Star League. An era of peace and prosperity follow, until the Star League falls apart again in a series of succession wars.
And that brings us to the time of the video game. Smaller and larger interstellar empires vie for control. Battlemechs form the most formidable weapons in their arsenals, and the arsenals of the mercenary companies flying around the galaxy.
In Battletech, you play the recently appointed leader of a battlemech mercenary company. You are present when the princess of house Arano is deposed on her coronation day, and she soon returns to ask for your help to regain her empire. She bankrolls your mercenary company, tasking it with growing stronger and aiding her with retaking her section of space.
You start out with crappy equipment, a few dented mechs, and a few average pilots. With them, you do missions, gaining money and salvaged equipment from damaged opponents. Slowly that salvage and money helps you grow, even as the monthly expenses drain your resources.
Battletech has two aspects to it, much like games like XCOM. In one half you have to manage your mercenary company, your pilots, the configuration of your mechs, and your ship. Upgrading, building, buying. The other half of the game is doing missions, trying to complete them with minimum damage and maximum gain.
Turn-based games are a bit of an acquired taste. If you like the adrenaline of shooters like Call of Duty, or fast-paced racing games, then turn-based games might not be your forte.
I’ve personally come to appreciate them more over time. They don’t require fast reflexes — which I never had, and what I had I’m losing as I age — but strategic insight. Not that I have better strategic insight than fast reflexes, but well, it’s more relaxed and doesn’t wane with age.
The combats pit your mechs — four of them — against enemy mechs, and sometimes vehicles. All mechs get turns based on an initiative order, with heavier mechs being slower, and skilled pilots sometimes getting to go a little faster. During a turn, you move a mech, then fire one or more of their weapons.
Outside combat, a lot of time goes into designing the best configurations for your battlemechs, and that pays off in the game. You can install all kinds of weaponry and armor, which you can buy from stores, until the mech’s weight limit is reached. I’m more of a defensive player, so I put lots of armor on my mechs. But different players might outfit them with less armor but heavier weapons.
Then there’s the thrill of hunting down salvage, trying to find enough pieces to put together that really cool assault mech.
Battletech is fun. It’s not easy, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes very addictive. I’ve put a lot of hours in already, but it’s hard to stop, and as long as I’m having fun I guess that’s the point of gaming.