BattleTech: Urban Warfare Review11 Jun 2019 1
BattleTech: Urban Warfare Review
Released 04 Jun 2019
The fantasy of piloting an impossibly giant robot is the heady fuel that powers the likes of Gundam Wing, Robot Jox, and, of course, BattleTech. And when I first got my hands on Harebrained Schemes' renewed vision of the tabletop game last year, I was also taken in by the nostalgia factor - remembering pushing plastic figures around a large rectangular hex map with my brother in our parents' basement many years ago, looking up tables to resolve indirect fires, and mostly just reading about the massive mechs that are the centerpiece of BattleTech's fiction.
The mechs - massive, bipedal war machines that tower over everything - are interesting to a kid firstly because they are big. After a year of playing with them in the game, we've gotten a pretty good sense of how big they are. BattleTech's new expansion, Urban Warfare, dwarfs them with a sprawling city map covered in largely conventional skyscrapers and major thoroughfares, and it's again dizzying to have their huge size put into a new context.
Urban Warfare adds some fairly straightforward pieces of gear to the established BattleTech toolbox, and the expansion's main weakness is in the weird irregularity with which they show up. It can take quite some time, it turns out, before you find the opportunity to take on a mission in the new urban terrain. But you'll start seeing some of the new 'mechs, the Javelin, almost immediately. The 10N variant, which you'll see most often, is loaded with SRM launchers and they love nothing more than to fire salvo after salvo right at a newly-exposed structure on your most prized lance member, regularly delivering the killing blow at the end of a tough round. These seem to complement most enemy 'mech lances now, and it's been quite an education adjusting my tactics to deal with them.
Speaking of tactics, Urban Warfare introduces some interesting new gadgets that add some welcome layers to that aspect of the game. 'Mechs can carry Electronic Countermeasures, which provides a digital bubble that baffles incoming indirect fire. However, the new Active Probe ability lets you spot hidden units, and doubles as a low-risk means of scouting. Send out probes, and you'll be able to see what is (or isn't) scuttling around an area of the map without committing a speedy and flimsy little recon 'mech.
These abilities come in handy across the game, but they're perfect for the new urban biome. The towering buildings on this map mean line of sight can always be quickly broken, and it's easy to stumble into ambushes. There's a lovely amount of detail in this environment - the buildings look good, even up close, there are parks with fountains that can cool overheated units and backed up cars explode as your lumbering 'mechs carelessly step on them like children's toys. The huge towers can be targeted and destroyed, opening up new sightlines or crumbling beneath the feet of a 'mech that's jump-jetted its way to the top to fire down on its enemies. The city is a dynamic place to fight in, and it looks extremely cool.
Urban Warfare also adds a new contract type to the mix. 'Attack and Defend' sounds fun on paper: You have to defend your base from steady waves of enemies, and to stop them, you have to destroy the enemy base. While I've found this mission type exciting, because of how BattleTech's campaign punishes hubris so severely I've found that it's rarely worth the risk. Enemy waves spawn extremely quickly, and the odds are such that you'll almost always want to take one of the original contract types instead. This is quadruply true if you're playing an Iron Man campaign - unless you're looking for a quick excuse to stop, and if that's the case, well, I can't really blame you. The psychological toll can be heavy.
I like all the additions that Urban Warfare brings to BattleTech, but it's hard not to feel as though as an expansion, it's a bit thin. Two new 'mechs, a few new vehicles, one new biome type, and a new contract type - these are all good things, and while they all fill out an already solid game, they're pushing at the edges of what the game does rather than adding a new storyline or seriously digging into or adding to the game's lore. What further undercuts it is the fact that Harebrained and Paradox have added about as much with the free update that arrived alongside Urban Warfare, and over the course of the 14 months since it initially launched, these updates have made BattleTech a significantly better game on its own.
Whether you buy the expansion or not, BattleTech now has a stray shot system - a missed shot will now have a chance of hitting a building or unit nearby, which means spacing your 'mechs out is now fairly important. Firing a PPC into a bunched up group of enemies is now almost guaranteed to have some kind of effect, and it makes using valuable autocannon rounds much more tempting as well. A new Battle+ encounter adds the ability for both the player and AI to include allies in these encounters. And they've added seven new variants to the existing 'mech roster, including the Catapult CPLT-C4 which is bristling with two LRM-20 racks. The star system has been upgraded for everyone as well, with 50 new systems and the ability to filter everything by biome and difficulty.
And so I find myself with a strange complaint: Because of how much Harebrained has packed into the free title updates for BattleTech, its paid expansions seem a little less crucial than they otherwise might. This has become a common complaint for Paradox DLCs specifically at the moment, especially with their grand-strategy titles, but it does work to help keep players from feeling badgered into buying every piece of DLC published for a particular game they like.
But what I can say is that Urban Warfare has been a welcome opportunity for me to fire BattleTech back up, and I've been generally delighted to see how far the game has come over the past year. It's a game that I liked quite a bit off the bat, and now a good number of the rough edges have been sanded off, or at least been supplemented with ways around them.
My recommendation, then, is to fire up a new campaign and see what's new. Knock the rust off those gargantuan metal legs and get a feeling of whether a stroll through the city would do you some good. By the time you're ready to take on the Liberation of Weldry and really kick the campaign into gear, you'll have a pretty good sense of how much you want the new stuff in Urban Warfare. But even if you don't, now is a great time to start up a new BattleTech adventure.