Battletech, A Steam Review Nobody Read

Finally, we get a big-budget version of Battletech that is, like the board game it was created from, actually turn-based. There is even an excellent treatment of the lore here, a retelling of how the succession wars came to pass, delivered in the form of cinematic action comics!  Harebrained Schemes' vision of Battletech is closer to the original strategy game roots than any game to bear the license before it...
The ability to spend morale points on called shots is quite new.
...but it still deviates pretty heavily. There's a hundred little differences like:
  • Battlemechs no longer suffer the consequences of engine or gyro critical hits. No engine or gyro critical hits means a 'mech isn't out of the fight until it loses its pilot, both legs, or the center torso.
  • Pilots now take guaranteed damage from getting their 'mechs knocked down or losing a torso.  However, pilots remain fully able until knocked out, and can get their "guts" leveled up to get more hitpoints.
  • Auto-cannons do significantly increased damage.  They are now more in line with their weight cost.
  • Exposed limbs do not flood in water.
  • There is no partial cover mechanic, though there are strategically useful map tiles that may confer cover bonuses.
  • All locations are handled like they have CASE installed, meaning ammunition explosions do not transfer to other locations. 
  • The ability to kick, punch, or charge has been rolled into a generic "melee" attack.  (However, Death From Above remains a distinct attack with much the same rules as the board game.)
Make no mistake, this is a more mainstream-accessible, improved version of Battletech, unique to Harebrained Schemes' envisioning of it, with only a skeleton of FASA's original rule set remaining.
The player has great freedom in customizing the loadouts of their 'mechs, and the appearance of the unit actually changes to reflect the new weaponry!
There are countless other little differences from the board game.  Many of the changes are due to the transition from pencil and paper; out with the dice rolls, in with the computerized way to play Battletech.  For example:
  • Head shots are about a 1% chance whereas originally it was on 12 on 2d6 (2.778%) so losing your head to weapon fire is almost three times as rare. 
  • Similarly, critical hits have been disabled completely on armored areas, there's no longer the torso "blowthrough" from rolling 2 on the 2d6. 
  • Missile barrages are handled as individual hit rolls for each missile, something that would have taken too long to do on dice.  This changes the dynamic a bit, spreading out LRM damage more, assuring consistently good damage when accuracy is high, and smaller amounts of fairly reliable damage when accuracy is low.
  • Since you cannot really see your pilot rolls anymore, they have been removed.  Instead, knockdowns are guaranteed via maxing out a visible stability tolerance meter.
Having played the result, I would say that it works just fine, but it's significantly more predictable, a bit less random.
The decisions continue off the battlefield, everything from leveling up your mechwarriors, kitting out your 'mechs, and choosing the right contracts to pursue.
Despite being streamlined and made less random in many ways, this version of Battletech is still tactically rich.  There is many an important decision here, such as:
  • You can still use relative positioning of shooter and target to focus down the front, left, right,  or rear of a target unit.  This determines which hit locations are the most likely to take fire.
  • Similarly, you will want to deny your foes good shots at your weakest areas, taking into consideration where they are likely to move before unloading their barrages.
  • You still need to mind your heat.  In fact, it actually damages your internal structure when you are overheating, which is costly to fix and basically does the opposition's job for them.
  • There is now the concept of "bracing" 'mechs to halve incoming damage.  If you expect to take a significant amount of damage, you definitely want to brace, but it does not work against melee or shots coming from the back.
For the most part, this version of Battletech leaves you plenty to think about, but those who came from the original ruleset might disagree with some of the changes.  For example, I think it would have been more tactically interesting if moving made it harder to shoot.

The main weakness of this version of Battletech is that it is slow. Rock Paper Shotgun's Alec Meer talks about its pacing issues at length citing how boring it was for him to wait around for all the units to play out their turns amidst fancy animations and panoramic camera shots. He later slightly revised his opinion, having noticed some of the great depth beneath the "treacle," and then yet again, even more firmly on board with the tactical nuance.  However, that original pacing criticism never goes away, and that's fair: even with all this flair disabled in options, it takes quite some time for battle to play out.  Battletech is irresponsible with the players' time.  It seems likely that future patches may attempt to improve this.
Settle in and get used to watching missiles impact things a lot.
Having said that, if you understand that Battletech is not a game of easy kills, but rather strategic attrition and the exploitation of the resulting possibilities, the slower pace does not ruin the game.  Personally, I am kept at the edge of my seat by awareness of the potential happenings of each turn.  For me, the slow speed in which battle unfolds often heightens my suspense.  Maybe the real problem here is that Battletech does not make certain subtleties obvious to the novice, just like how someone who does not understand the intricacies of many games is likely to find them boring.

Overall, Battletech overwhelmingly satisfies my gamist strategy itch, both in the tactical 'mech-based battle and the between-battle mercenary outfit management game. Harebrained Schemes went above and beyond what was needed to secure a big budget Battletech turn-based game, this is a remarkably well-crafted game. Perhaps I could look at my devastated weekend and wish that better pacing had produced a better yield of in-game productivity for my limited time, but there's hardly any game on the whole of Steam that I would rather play right now than Battletech.
There's no kill quite like overkill.
On a hardware note, I have had not a single crash in all my hours of play, so I guess the game is relatively stable on an Intel-based processor and NVIDIA-based card. If your results vary, maybe overclocking does not agree with this game. I do wish that there was better ultra-wide monitor support, though, as I basically have to play with vertical pillarboxing right now.


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