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Codex Review RPG Codex Review: BATTLETECH

Discussion in 'RPG News & Content' started by Infinitron, Jun 16, 2018.

  1. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker
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    Tags: BattleTech; Harebrained Schemes

    Harebrained Schemes' 2013-2015 trilogy of Shadowrun roleplaying games weren't known for their awesome gameplay but were lauded for their writing, establishing the Seattle-based studio's reputation as a narrative powerhouse. The second game in the trilogy, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, was particularly popular on our forums - rivaling the far more mechanically robust Divinity: Original Sin for the title of our 2014 GOTY largely due to the merits of its narrative design. Commercially, however, this storytelling excellence was not enough to make the Shadowrun RPGs anything more than budget-priced minor hits.

    With BattleTech, Harebrained set out to expand beyond their core competency. With its more robust tactical combat implementation and strategic mercenary company management layer, contextualized by the rich lore of the BattleTech universe, the game sought a more even balance of story and gameplay. From a commercial perspective, this approach has clearly been a resounding success for the studio, with hundreds of thousands of copies sold and a handsome $7.5M buyout by publisher Paradox Interactive. But has this shift in priorities led to a more satisfying game, or have we gone from excellent narrative and perfunctory gameplay to tedious mediocrity on both fronts?

    The man to answer that question is our esteemed tactical specialist sser, who volunteered to review BattleTech shortly before it was released back in April. His verdict? In short - mediocre, but not hopeless. Here's a quick look at his take on the game's combat:

    One glaring omission from this world lies outside the mechs themselves. Namely something one might call, fisting two holes at the same time combined arms. Military strategists realized the OP nature of air superiority back when that consisted of two kites stitched together and a pilot with a good throwing arm. One can only imagine the devastating nature of controlling the Z-axis when you elevate it into fucking space. I think it’s already kinda lousy how BATTLEMECH handles this enormous elephant in the room, but it got me to thinking if perhaps it could have been utilized without dampening the core of the game. Maybe put some hangars on the mothership to state that it has fighters on hand to defend it as it travels to and fro? And in-battle ‘air support’ would simply be a limited supply of strikes you could bring down, while the rest are implied to be warring for superiority as ground forces do the dirty work? That or just fly Oscar the Grouch’s mansion around a hostile galaxy where, apparently, no spies exist anywhere and you can spend days sitting on jump-ships waiting to take off like Donald Trump casually standing in line for a Cinnabon at the Mexico City International Airport. But I digress.

    So why not some ground troops? Technically, there are a few in the form of tanks. And they’re hilariously powerful little buggers when you consider the cost-benefit ratio. It’s one of the few times the universe lets slip how silly it all is. Let’s analyze for a moment. A tiny tank can get jacked up on PCP lasers, giant cannons, or so many goddam missiles the animation of them smashing your mech lasts so long all it’s missing is a microwave’s timer going off at the end. They’re incredibly threatening – and also incredibly sparse. Presumably because they get close to threatening the mech’s limelight. Fine. Fair enough. Whatever. But boy… when I look at those curvaceous BATTLEMECH maps freckled with innocent rural pastorals, the first thing I imagine is having a host of combined arms thrashing it to bits with mechs striding gloriously through that which has been ravaged.

    But it does isolate an issue with BATTLETECH’s entirety: the player’s ability to only take four mechs into combat forever traps the game design into a phonebooth only big enough to challenge that starting point. I still feel like the difference between X-Com and XCOM (1994, 2012) is a perfect example of the issue. In X-Com, you have numbers on hand which not only makes your decisions on map very flexible, it also means your enemies have a lot of flexibility as the game has to contend with the players deep well of resources. In XCOM, you usually roll a squad four-deep. Your gameplay options were so piled into those squaddies that losing even one meant a giant stepback in firepower and force projection (and losing a whole squad often meant game over). Enemies are not foes frantically looking to squash you so much as they are taking directorial cues on how to behave. In turn, the maps became static ‘Overwatch creep’ affairs where players tilted toward the strategically conservative choices. It took a sequel and its expansions to get anywhere close to fixing this. BATTLETECH suffers from a similar fate in its first steps.

    That’s the primary reason I harp on this lack of, admittedly ancillary, tools. Because a game can only challenge a limited toolkit so much. If it throws too much at you, then you’ll end up having to lean on luck instead of tactical options at which point it feels more unfair than challenging. The corollary is that if the game throws too little, like many of the randomized mercenary missions, it leans into simply being boring. This is partly why the game’s best missions are those designed to stretch your resources horizontally, forcing you to spread out and cover geographical ground while also choosing between killing targets and protecting points. Rewarding players for eagerness is a design resource you can tap repeatedly and when BATTLETECH does this it does it well. But the core of XCOM laid itself bare real quick and I think BATTLETECH does as well. I imagine HBS will borrow the cues from Firaxis in figuring out ways to variate the gameplay and wrench it free of its current confines. (My simple suggestion is that combined arms would be a great way to do this.)
    And its story:

    Where BATTLETECH noticeably falters is in the plot and characters. There is also a strange stylistic change between non-event writing and event writing. While events are written fairly straight, the main game’s writing has a lot of characters talking like this:

    “I told you – A THOUSAND TIMES – to not… sigh… microwave the burrito with the foil on.”

    The stilted orthography is a sort of sci-fi mirror to the campestral style of a ten-cent Western. Fair enough, but every character talks like this. If you pulled dialogue from the game and hid its speaker, you wouldn’t even know who the hell was talking. A lack of distinction and differentiation between characters is somewhat ironic since, like most sci-fi settings, the cast is a Captain Planet’s catalogue of diversity. One big red flag for this unexotic “dialogue” is that every single character is a certified ass kisser. There is only passing resistance to any of the Princess’s goals or ideas. With a large cast of characters, the matter of getting from point A to point B has about as much conflict as going from 1-1 to 1-2 in Super Mario. The unending rimjobbing she gets also stands in stark contrast to the actual plot's conceit.

    And a quick recap of said plot: you are a financially insolvent killer for hire and there is a deposed princess who wants to take back the throne. This is a great premise. Story-wise, it is intriguing. The mercenary has debts to pay and the princess needs to recapture her throne. I immediately jumped to the obvious question. Why doesn’t the mercenary just fork over the princess to those who own the throne? What could the princess possibly reward him for years of struggle and uncertainty that would be better than a simple phonecall to the current royals? Not only is this a fun narrative, it could feed directly into gameplay with difficult decisions to make.

    Except at no point whatsoever is there any tension between a person who murders for cash and a person who is essentially a Disney Princess. The toothless premise most noticeably sends a wrench into the issue of cashflow. In-game, the Princess is bankrolled by an outside power yet you can ostensibly still run out of treasury. It seems to me that the better concept would be for the player to play as the Princess who must hire the mercenary, and if you run out of treasury then the mercenary turns on you. Meanwhile, the mercenary smells blood in the water and keeps making bigger and bigger demands. I don’t know, just thinking out loud here. It’d be cool if the player’s story was front and center instead of every accomplishment’s limelight being afforded to a Mary Sue with a scar, but I digress. What's clear is that you are not a mercenary at all, which is kind of awkward considering the non-story contracts you undertake. Instead you fall into one of those awkward gaming tropes; that one where the shopkeeper wants you to save the world, but he still finds the time to demand you pay a couple quid for the very tool you need despite the implication that any failure on your part would also be his doom.

    The debris of this blown idea peppers the rest of the game’s writing: the plot never really deviates from good vs. evil, and it’s almost patronizing how thoroughly it makes sure you know who has the halo who the horns. At one point it even lampshades itself when a villain talks like a toddler about their evil plans, but the device felt out of place in the setting and served to only further highlight how doldrum the whole thing was. Not to mention said evilness coming to fruition pretty much gets hand waved away which was about the point I gave up on expecting more.​

    Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: BATTLETECH
     
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  2. Darth Roxor Prestigious Gentleman Wielder of the Huegpenis

    Darth Roxor
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    uh wut


    Anyway, revio nails most things properly (namely piece of shit Unity, 4-mech limits being bleh, boring maps, mech bay being cool, etc), but there's one part I disagree with strongly, and that's morale.

    Setting aside the naming and hivemind suggestions (personally I'd say this is more like squad cohesion from Deathwatch or sth than actual 'morale', and I think then it makes sense, but so it goes), IMO morale is a Very Good Thing, and one that I've been advocating for a long while to finally make it into fucking tacticool computard games. That is to say, morale in Battletech feels and works exactly as tabletop fate points of various kinds, which let you press a panic button to get better chances at knocking someone out or resisting getting knocked out. The best thing is that they are panic buttons, but not awesome buttons, since their pool is limited (and not as easily refreshed) and the abilities themselves are very useful, but not real gamechangers. Plus, even a precision strike might miss, and even hunkering down may be stripped by melee attacks or getting knocked down.

    Also, this might be just me, but I can't praise the LOS detection/presentation enough. In almost every fucking turnbased game, I always struggle to some degree with wonky line of sight that makes me lose turns on repositioning wrong moves that turn out not to put me within firing view of the enemy despite standing right in his face. This has never happened to me in Battletech.
     
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  3. Grampy_Bone Cipher

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    I agree that the player should have played as the deposed royal rather than the sidekick. No one likes playing second fiddle to a "DM-NPC."

    Agree totally. Was just talking about this exact mechanic with a friend.
     
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  4. MasterSmithFandango Arcane

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    I think this is pretty solidly done.
     
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  5. lightbane Arcane

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    Eagerly awaiting the shitstorm and/or counter-reviews.
    Too bad the review failed to mention the DRM for multiplayer thing, which should be considered a glaring issue.

    Don't play White Knight Chronicles then.
     
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  6. Bohr Liturgist

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    Still reading, but noticed a typo:
    "Where BATTLETECH noticeably faulters"
     
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  7. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    I encourage you to share this review widely. Harebrained are in need of criticism beyond the shit-tier "perfect except the game is too slow" reviews they've gotten from the mainstream media if they're to return to their former heights.
     
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  8. Cross Savant

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    So just like Dragonfall and Hong Kong where, instead of having to hire shadowrunners (i.e. mercenaries) like you would expect from a franchise named after them, you're always backed by a band of loyal companions and the plot is driven by Amsel/Cheng giving you orders. Harebrained really is a one-trick pony with how much they love their Bioware tropes, no matter how poor a fit they are for the franchise they're working with.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2018
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  9. Cael Ask me about Pathfinder Dumbfuck Edgy

    Cael
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    The sad part of the review is that the reviewer fail to realise that his biggest complaint (no combined arms) is actually a major part of the setting. A Davion RCT, for example, consists of only ONE Battlemech regiment, 3 vehicle regiments, 2 aerospace fighter wings, a batallion of artillery and 5 infantry regiments plus support units (engineers, special forces, etc.). Heavy and assault grade tanks easily shred 'mechs if used correctly and, in universe, they outnumber 'mechs significantly. And despite the Battlemech's status as Queen of the Battlefield and despite carrying capacity being a major constraint, Task Force Serpent had combat vehicles (Fulcrum hovertank and Chaparral missile artillery tanks were specifically mentioned by name) as part of its force make-up.

    What the reviewer also fail to realise is that in real Battletech, you can have hull-down positions for 'mechs. It gives a penalty to enemies trying to hit you, but if they do hit, you are looking at a much smaller hit location table for them to roll against. Another use of terrain like forests is to block LOS as well as giving a defensive bonus (penalties to enemies hitting you) if you are in it. Lastly, you can burn forests in order to create fires that cause heat problems for anyone trapped in it. And they can spread according to prevailing winds. In other words, every last one of his complaints about the non-reactivity of the terrain was actually in the real game.

    He can place the blame squarely on HBS for leaving all of that out while adding shit mechanics of their own in.
     
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  10. SerratedBiz Arcane

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    Robust is the new majestic.
     
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  11. AwesomeButton Cut a deal with the authorities Patron

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    Why? I heard the game isn't anything to write home about.
     
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  12. Danlok Literate

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    I think it is good, but it needs a nerf. Morale is too common, you gain it each turn passively as well as by doing damage and destroying enemies. If you start with a healthy amount you can steam roll enemies by using precision strikes, which replenishes morale too easily.

    Inspiration for pilots, tactics Called Shot passives, and the precision strikes are too good. You can alpha strike 1HKO full speed sprinting light/medium mechs with a single precision strike, which is unbelievable. The distribution on precision strikes can get to 82% and higher on the primary location with Called Shot mastery, and the standard Hit Chance bonus means nothing can evade effectively. The only opponent to the overpowered precision strike is an entrenched heavy, but you can still manage to alpha strike a leg off if you have a ton of firepower.
     
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  13. Cael Ask me about Pathfinder Dumbfuck Edgy

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    Let me ask you this question: Other than the whole called shot/precision strike thing, is there any other mechanic that you would use morale for?

    The problem is not the morale system.

    The problem is the called shot/precision strike mechanic.
     
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  14. Syme Literate

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    Yeah, except you're no longer the hero. You're basically one of the asskissers following Daenerys from Game of Thrones and help her reclaim her birthright because she's so brave and amazing and beautiful. The writing is absolutely bottom tier on every level (characters, dialogue, story).
     
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  15. Mark Richard Prophet

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    Pretty much covers it. I don't have anything new to say on the matter, so I'll collect my prior thoughts here:

    - 8 pilot skills, 6 of them passives. Pilots have little mechanical or cosmetic customisation (the latter being all the more baffling due to the extensive character creator), and are completely interchangeable as a result. There's nothing cool to unlock, nor any excitement upon reaching the next level.

    - Lack of lethality. Battles feel so detached that it would never occur to pray fervently to the fickle god of hit percentages. The closest the game gets to a notable event is when, as the review mentions, someone performs the jump jet melee strike. It's an exciting gamble and the sole instance of a game-changing move.

    - The majority of locations are off limits until the 30ish hour main campaign is finished. This still blows my mind. Halfway through the campaign there was talk of a chemical weapons attack on the border of two empires, and for a moment I thought I was going to be sent deep into another faction's space to uncover a conspiracy or something... but no, that would be too interesting.

    - The writing is terrible. There's no character conflict outside of low morale events you'll never see (a few hours in you're be sipping morning tea from jewel-encrusted chalices and calling Scrooge McDuck a pauper, such is the insane amount of cash you're given), rivals have all the nuance of a Scooby Doo villian, and your hard-as-nails killer prostrates themselves before the real hero of the story at every opportunity. The fact that Princess Dany happens to be an accomplished mech pilot just reinforces my sense of bafflement at being forced to play her loyal hound. Clearly we should be playing the deposed ruler.

    - Bugs. We'll probably never know how much PC hardware Battletech killed.

    I stand by my claim that Battletech is the worst game I've played in years. It's a failure on every front except music. Afterwards I quickly purchased West of Loathing to cheer myself up.
     
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  16. Kev Inkline Arcane

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    I thought the review was about the HBS computer game rather than the (real) table top battletech, but I may have been mistaken.
     
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  17. Danlok Literate

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    I would add a free action evasive piloting morale skill, where you get a bonus to your evasion over your cap if you were moving during the turn and activate it before your turn ends. Basically perfect piloting, but without an outrageous bonus like precision strike.

    You're right though, the precision strike is my real issue not the morale. The base hit bonus destroys evasion, if I alpha a sprinting light mech I should have a low hit chance and bad shot grouping. A precision strike should help (+1, +2 to hit) but not be OP (it must be at least +4 to hit). The shots that get through will still wreck it heavily.

    It's like the empower system in PoE:2 where using it just makes everything too easy but ignoring it reinforces how unnecessary it is to the game.
     
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  18. Cael Ask me about Pathfinder Dumbfuck Edgy

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    The whole evasion mechanic is unnecessary in the first place. The real game already takes it into account in that the movement of the 'mechs (both the shooter and the target) factors in rather heavily into the accuracy of the shot. Evasion is a patch job made by HBS to a problem they themselves created, as is the whole initiative system (which was originally based on the pilot, not the weight class of the 'mech).

    They tried to make light 'mechs more useful, after gutting it in the first place.
     
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  19. Gecos Learned

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    "Or you can take a light mech or two with you to dive into enemy ranks, drawing fire which your dwarven machines duck with ease."

    Yeah, right. Bigger is always better. End game you play with assaults or you die - or, of course, you spam the "I win" button "Precision strike" and then you win.

    Game is fine as a beta but they have to do a lot of improvements:

    - crashes, slows down - memory leaks?, too many pauses between actions;
    - end game is boring, nothing else to do but repeat the same roster of 15-20 random missions on the small maps you already know inside out;
    - Lostech is shit with a cherry on top and it generates loads of heat - this is a sacrilege in itself;
    - medium laser is the king when you learn the game but then you've learned it and find out just how much you can salvage if you go with missiles;
    - you have so much cash and nothing to burn it on and there's a very small chance and very few worlds that offer the best ++ rare equipment (heat exchangers&banks) or lostech (gauss ammo);
    - too few random events while travelling through space, they play pretty much the same and you learn quickly what needs to be chosen for the optimal result.

    I could go on but I'm sure they will patch pretty much all the issues I've mentioned. And they will add more mechs too and they'll allow us to finally sort through the mech bay.

    Happy I bought it after launch, facepalmed myself for refusing to back it when on KS ... just didn't think they could do a game I'd like. I was so wrong.
     
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  20. DeepOcean Arcane

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    That point of having to save the ass of princess Kamehameha when selling her ass would make much more sense is spot on. Once she is on your ship, point guns to her and take her hostage, no remotely intelligent person would visit personally and without scort, mercenary scum. It is like the game invested hard on this shit narrative of pure Disney princess against oppression all the way then halfway through realized it was shit and made no sense, then tried to shoehorn a way for the player to not act like a second class white night for Miss Kamehameha that didn't work at all.

    Hope the DLC focus on the galaxy map and forget all about the story line, a space Mount and Blade where you can work as a freelance or just sell your loyalty all the way to some faction on a dynamic campaign map where planets are conquered and lost all the time would be great, throw some events like all of sudden, a faction you were helping to defeat make a massive counter attack, you know, gameplay meaningful events.

    They could make up the lack of a campaign by having more story heavy missions when conquering core planets of a faction or another with more developed scenarios on those key places.

    And for the love of God, cut all the cinematic camera bullshit to critical hits and mech deaths only.
     
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  21. ERYFKRAD Barbarian Patron

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    What do these mods do? I mean, I have the game, but I'm not too keen on it if it's too much of a drag.
     
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  22. Cross Savant

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    It's an omission, but I wouldn't call it a glaring one. You can hardly expect a comprehensive overview of the modding community and their efforts in the review of a game that just came out.
     
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  23. HeatEXTEND Arbiter

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    :hahyou:
     
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  24. Shilandra Learned

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    I don't know. Based on what im hearing here being in the role of the princess instead of the merc wouldn't have been any better. It seems the various faction involved are all black and white, good and evil. With a story about trying to reclaim your throne with the current writers in play the player would have had even less freedom of choice. There seems to be no real opportunity to communicate with any faction without being sold off or killed and no real reason to give the player the ability to determine what kind of ruler they would become.

    Seems like this whole game's narrative is a wash from the word go no matter how one tries to salvage it. Might as well stop pretending to give players dialogue choices at this point regardless of how the protag's story is framed.
     
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  25. grimace Learned

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    So, is it, you know, uhh ... fun? Is there enjoyment to be had?

    Who might most enjoy this type of game?
     
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