Review: BATTLETECH - Flashpoint

By Ian Boudreau 27 Nov 2018 0

Review: BATTLETECH - Flashpoint

Released 27 Nov 2018

Developer: Harebrained Schemes
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Available from:
Steam
Direct

I spent a good deal of time with BattleTech earlier this year. It had been a game I was excited about for a while based on my fond memories of playing the original miniatures version and MechWarrior 2 in the ‘90s, and Harebrained Schemes’ vision of the universe was still a pleasant surprise. It’s a challenging tactics game that genuinely lets you play how you want, shaping your lance of ‘Mechs the way you see fit and earning rewards for smart planning. Flashpoint adds some welcome new features that flesh out BattleTech’s endgame, and it manages to highlight what the game does best - as well as where it trips up.

Since it launched in April, BattleTech has gotten a series of patches that tighten up performance, add some nice quality of life improvements, and provide new options for tweaking its originally stiff difficulty. And since it’s published by Paradox, Flashpoint is coming along with a sizeable free update for everyone who owns the game. That includes Career Mode, which lets you drop straight into the BattleTech universe without the pressure of the scripted story missions to worry about.

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BattleTech’s campaign missions work as gut checks as well as story beats - they’re generally much more difficult than the procedurally-generated contracts you take on to earn money and salvage, so Career Mode can be a lower-stress way to enjoy BattleTech, although you miss out on the huge paydays that the priority contracts usually provide. However, you’re given a lot of control over how you start a new campaign, and you can choose to increase the amount of salvage you’ll need to construct new ‘Mechs, select the rate at which your MechWarriors gain experience and levels, and even pick Ironman Mode - which means Career Mode can be just as challenging as you want it to be.

But speaking of money, what are you getting when you buy Flashpoint? BattleTech already left you to zip around the galaxy at will once the story was over, continuing to take on contracts and collect ‘Mech bits after the story credits roll, but Flashpoint gives you more to do once you’re into the late- and endgame. This comes in the form of flashpoints, which are connected series of missions that each offer their own contained, branching mini-story - think of them like bottle episodes of long-running series like Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica. The stories I’ve seen so far in flashpoints are interesting explorations of BattleTech lore, and they’re a further chance to get to know the crew of the Argo.

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By using the new, deeper reputation system that allows you to ally with BattleTech’s various houses, you can discover new opportunities for regular contract missions, flashpoints, and trade. That system is included with the 1.3 update along with Career Mode, and it’s a welcome addition of depth to both campaigns - now there are more meaningful decisions to make about the contracts you accept and the systems you visit, and you won’t need to buy Flashpoint to see it.

What you will get in return for buying Flashpoint are three new ‘Mech chassis. If you’ve been following my coverage of BattleTech this year, you’ll know this is where I get excited - BattleMech loadouts are fun to put together, and the new ‘Mechs on offer are all interesting in their own way. There’s the speedy Crab, which is the light-assault version of the gigantic King Crab that we’ve already gotten to stomp around in, and it’s one of my favorites already. Then there’s the light Cyclops, which features a built-in battle computer that makes it terrific in the fire support role. But lately I’ve found myself relying heavily on melee attacks, and that’s the Hatchetman’s specialty - this is a fan-favorite ‘Mech that has a giant axe built into its right arm, perfect for severing enemy limbs and reducing the number of weapons pointed at you at any given time.

There’s also a new planet type, the “tropical” biome. The special feature here is the spore cloud terrain type, which slows units passing through them and adds to the amount of damage ‘Mechs standing in them take. However, the trade-off is that they make ‘Mechs in them quite a bit harder to hit. The new biome is nice to have in the rotation, but I haven’t found it to make much of a difference tactically - although, strangely, the humid atmosphere apparently allows for more efficient heat venting, which is nice for my ‘Mechs who carry a bunch of lasers. Visually, however, it’s not particularly memorable, and looks a bit washed out and drab.

Naturally, the big event is the addition of the new Flashpoint missions, which are legitimately tough and exciting. These stories have your lance take on a series of missions without the opportunity to refit at the Argo in between. You’ll also have to make crucial decisions at different point in each flashpoint - these will determine how the story wraps up, and what you’ll get as rewards if you survive.

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Flashpoints offer the chance to earn rare gear - but only once you’re already tough enough to take them on. And that brings me to my first issue with this package: the paid portion of this DLC is for BattleTech’s most-devoted players. That’s not a problem per se, and players who haven’t yet made it to the end of the campaign are getting taken care of with the new options and game mode included in the free update. But there’s no great argument for players at the beginning and intermediate phases of the game to rush out and buy Flashpoint. Particularly in the new Career Mode, it’s going to be a lot of time and grinding before you ever wind up seeing the new flashpoint encounters or the new ‘Mechs. You will see the new Target Acquisition contract type turn up in the rotation right away, but that’s about it.

As much as I’ve enjoyed BattleTech this year, revisiting it to look at Flashpoint made some of its unaddressed annoyances stand out in high relief. The UI has gotten some attention, but it’s still a chore to look up the stock loadout on ‘Mechs when you want to quickly replace parts damaged or lost in battles. You can speed up the cinematic camera during encounters now by pressing the spacebar, but the camera still does a pretty spotty job of picking out angles, and often shows you the back of a hill or the middle of a forest when you want to watch a satisfying melee punch that’s about to finish off an enemy lance.

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The larger problem, though, is that the game doesn’t change much in terms of the moment-to-moment flow of battles. You aren’t finding new types of weapons, you’ve got largely the same kinds at the end of the game that you did in the beginning, and regardless of the variety of ‘Mechs you have available, you’re still bolting the same lasers, autocannons, and rocket launchers to all of them - all that changes are their stats. That makes just getting to the Flashpoint content a bit of a slog, and it’s hard to blame anyone who eventually wandered away from the vanilla BattleTech campaign. As I mentioned above, playing in Career Mode is only going to serve to make that grind longer, and without any meaningfully different gameplay to look forward to, that’s a big ask.

BattleTech is a solid tactics game, but I’m not convinced there’s enough to it to support the kind of long-tail engagement that expansions like Flashpoint assume it demands. The promise of unending procedural content in games is always eventually undercut by the reality that procedural content doesn’t do new things in interesting ways, and by the time I reached the end of BattleTech’s campaign, I’d seen about all I wanted to see. Flashpoint doesn’t offer anything transformative, the way XCOM 2’s War of the Chosen expansion did. Dedicated BattleTech players will want to give this a look, but with as many options as we have now for interesting strategy experiences, everyone else can consider this addition as highly optional.

Review: BATTLETECH - Flashpoint

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