BattleTech: Heavy Metal Review21 Nov 2019 0
BattleTech: Heavy Metal Review
Released 21 Nov 2019
The first time I prepared to fire a volley from my new Bull Shark - BattleTech's newest 'mech, and one created specially for the video game - I actually laughed out loud. Is it possible to build a battlemech entirely out of weapon hardpoints? The firing menu that popped up when I clicked on my target displayed a frankly absurd array of weaponry, with each food group represented: four medium lasers, four autocannons, and four batteries of long-range missiles.
Heat buildup be damned, I thought - I have never in my life wanted to press a 'fire' button more passionately. This was going to be the inspiration for a new Star Spangled Banner, out here on this random, blasted desert rock.
Heavy Metal is the latest DLC for BattleTech, and final expansion planned for initial season pass. It's a fitting capstone to a year and a half in which this adaptation of FASA's original tabletop game has developed from "pretty good" at launch to "essential" now, thanks to the innumerable improvements, additions, and re-balances Harebrained Schemes has added over that time.
And while both Flashpoint and Urban Warfare added interesting new wrinkles to the game, it's Heavy Metal that really feels like a dream trip to the hobby store. On top of the two new 'mech chassis everyone's getting with the 1.8 patch, Heavy Metal adds another eight. This list includes seven drawn from BattleTech's sourcebooks, plus the big bad Bull Shark mentioned above. Most of these sport new and unique special abilities, and the ones that don't make up for it with massive tonnage and ridiculous numbers of hardpoints. Add to that the new weapons and a new flashpoint, and it's hard not to feel as though it's Big Robot Christmas and Big Robot Santa thinks you've been particularly good this year.
The new flashpoint mini-campaign serves as an introduction to the Bull Shark and a way to add it to your lance. You'll want to do this, because it is, as I said, ridiculous. The default BSK-MAZ loadout carries enough ordnance to literally shut the mech down with one alpha strike under most conditions, but that's okay because it's also enough heat to erase most light 'mechs. It's a bit on the slow side, sure, but it's almost better having it show up to fights a bit late and imagining the crestfallen looks on enemy mechwarriors' faces as it emerges from behind a hill.
The Bull Shark does cut a unique profile on the battlefield as well. As a 95-tonner, it's obviously a big one, and it's got a curved, muscular looking frame that's a bit more aesthetic than the mostly boxy, blocky classic designs Hairbrained has pulled from BattleTech miniatures of yore. Standing next to, say, a Centurion or the newly-added Archer, it looks a bit like a four-storey Harley Softail. With its reverse-jointed knees and bristling weapons, though, it fits in well with the design of the iconic Timber Wolf and doesn't look out of place at all in the BattleTech universe.
Ten new 'mechs, including variants, means the BattleTech roster is getting pretty crowded at this point, but that's a good problem to have as far as I'm concerned. The customizability of 'mechs has meant that it's been possible to outfit most mechs for a variety of roles, but most of the members of this new batch come with a new piece of signature equipment, and these tend to reinforce the 'mech's roles in combat. The Archer, for instance, is designated as a 'missile boat,' and its special equipment is the missilery suite that tightens the clustering on LRMs and increases the stability damage of SRMs by 75%. Both stock Vulcan variants include a CQC suite that adds bonus range to support weapons and extra damage to melee. The availability of these new modules encourages builds that lean into a 'mech's assigned stock roles, but they can easily be stripped out if you need room for other things.
You may also want to try out some of the new weapons as well. Heavy Metal introduces some brand new armaments, which goes a long way to help make this expansion feel like a significant change across the game. Here again, Harebrained Schemes has mostly drawn from existing gear in the BattleTech universe, but added one novel design. That would be the COIL beam, a new energy weapon that hits harder the further the 'mech it's on has moved that turn. That makes it perfect for your light attack and ambush builds, and it means that tinier 'mechs now have a lot more potential lethality. Running a new Flea around a corner and letting loose with a fully charged-up COIL beam can be surprisingly and delightfully devastating - as long as it's your Flea doing the hitting.
The Raven's electronic countermeasures module introduced in Urban Warfare encouraged players to keep their lances bunched together, but the new 'mech mortar is a good reason to think twice about that. It's long-range and low on accuracy, but the largely unguided rounds are the first weapons in BattleTech to do area-of-effect damage.
All this new kit opens up the possibilities for lance customization considerably, and it's reshuffled my ideas about what I want to be fielding and which tactics I want to be accounting for on the battlefield. That in itself has made this return trip to BattleTech well worthwhile. The update accompanying Heavy Metal is finally adding official modding support, which means there's plenty to look forward to as well: the modding community has been a big part of keeping the game fresh over the past 18 months, and now it will be easier than ever to create and use stuff like RogueTech and enhanced gear options.
Heavy Metal marks the end of BattleTech's season pass, and in my view it's exactly the right way to finish off this set of DLC off. Both Flashpoint and Urban Warfare added new dimensions to the game, but neither held my interest on its own for much longer than it took to compose a review. Taken all together, however, this season of DLC has truly elevated a game that was already good when it first appeared. Now, most of the rough edges have been sanded down and polished, and the places where content felt a bit thin have been filled out with a surfeit of new 'mechs and new ways to blast them apart.
I've played a good number of video game adaptations of tabletop games over the years. I don't think I've ever played one that fully understands what its source material is fundamentally about better than BattleTech does. Heavy Metal is the extra push it needed to become the living vision of what I daydreamed about while playing with tiny plastic robots, hex maps, and firing tables decades ago.