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Gamescom 2017: Mech Chess

Three Decades Of Warfare

The BattleTech franchise has been around for over 30 years, and even if you haven’t heard of the original tabletop game, now called Classic BattleTech, you’ve probably heard of some of the games it has spawned. The MechWarrior series of video games has also been around for decades, and is set in the same fictional universe as BattleTech. But now BattleTech is getting its own game with its own name, and it’s setting its sights on making fans of the miniatures game very happy.

After a successful Kickstarter where the game was fully funded in just one hour, BattleTech is ready to jump into the action later this year. It features a mercenary style campaign, where you will be taking your ship around the galaxy and taking on jobs for different factions, building your reputation with each. When not in combat, you’ll need to manage your mercenary company by paying your warriors, putting them in the sick bay when they’re injured, refitting and reloading your mechs. If you like, you can keep playing this part of the campaign for an unlimited amount of time, as the missions are procedurally generated. There are also story missions built into the campaign revolving around helping a queen who has lost her throne to her uncle during a civil war.

Like A Game Of Chess

At Gamescom, I simply entered a skirmish mode against a squad of enemy AI. Multiplayer is 4v4, and the developers describe the turn based strategy combat as “chess with giant robots.” The way your mechs are facing at any given time is very important, as there are 11 distinct armour locations you need to worry about. If one takes too much damage, it’ll expose the internals of your machine, so you may want to play more defensively and face your mech away from your enemy as much as possible, while still being able to shoot forwards back at them. Equally, when you’re on the attack, you want to be angling your attacks to get past the same piece of armour that’s already been damaged. You can break enemy weapons, blow off their cockpits, and damage their legs so they have to limp along.

Heat is also a big component of the game. These mechs are powered by giant fusion reactor engines, and every action your mech takes will increase the overall heat. If a mech’s heat gets too high, it can take internal damage, perhaps even as extreme as blowing off a limb, and you may have to spend your next turn restarting your giant robot if you try and fire your weapons when its heat is critical. Normally when firing, your shots have a chance to miss, and may hit any of the armour locations you’re currently facing. However, if an enemy is aiming at your temporarily shut down mech, they can fire precisely and damage the exact armour location they want to.

Your giant stomping mechs tower over most buildings, but they can take cover behind some, and if you’re aiming at a mech behind cover, you’ll have to have weapons which are able to arc over it. Terrain is also a big factor, because walking mechs can be fairly unstable. If you take damage on rough terrain, you have a chance to be knocked down. A good tactic is to combine your forces against a single target, where one barrage of guns makes them unstable, and the next forces them to the ground.

Of course, your squad of mechs can all be different and have different abilities. A firm favourite of mine was one which had jump jets which could be used in a one-two punch. If you’re close enough you can actually angle your jump to land on an enemy mech, and if you have enough action points, you’ll be able to unleash your flamethrower and all the other weapons at your disposal from point blank range. You just have to be ready for the counter attack if it doesn’t go as planned.

Attention to detail

There’s a lot of attention to detail here already, which will no doubt be welcome news to existing fans of BattleTech. There’s also potential here to bring new fans into the fray, but we’ll have to wait and see if the campaign ends up being as compelling as promised.