• BattleTech expansions: Flashpoint, Urban Warfare, Heavy Metal

    2019 has been a good year for BattleTech fans: the board game got a wildly successful Kickstarter for a full re-imagining of the Clan Invasion (a pivotal point in the BT universe), MechWarrior 5 will release in mid-December on PCs, and BattleTech (the turn-based strategy videogame) got two expansions to complement the first, released in late 2018.

    These three expansions are the focus of this review. But before diving into them, it must be said said that BattleTech (from now on, unless otherwise noted, the videogame) saw a number of big and small changes since its inception, refining weapon balance, multiplayer, pilot skills in the single-player campaign, interface, and performance. The three expansions further elaborate these improvements, especially in the single-player department.

    The three expansions are:
    * Flashpoint: two new 'Mechs, a new terrain type, a new multiplayer mode, and flashpoints, self-contained campaigns that don't affect the main single-player story
    * Urban Warfare: two new 'Mechs, new vehicles, new equipment, urban environments, stray shot rules, and more flashpoint missions
    * Heavy Metal: eight new 'Mechs (including the first designed for the game), new weapons, a new flashpoint campaign, and official mod support

    The new 'Mechs introduced by these expansions are very different from 'Mechs in the base game: all of them have one exclusive piece of equipment that sets them apart from the rest, which gives every new machine its own identity, often linked to the lore established by tabletop sourcebooks. Notable additions are the Cyclops (Flashpoint) and its battlecomputer that moves all allied units to an earlier turn; the Marauder (Heavy Metal) reduces damage taken by allied units; the Raven (Urban Warfare) brings advanced cloaking and detection sensors into the fray.
    Unfortunately old 'Mechs haven't received any exclusive equipment, and a lot of the new designs will eclipse old hardware fast. But BattleTech fans will be delighted in seeing classic designs such as Warhammer and Assassin roam the map and behave like the sourcebooks described, something that was never fully realised in the tabletop outside advanced optional or custom rules. Also the 'Mechs introduced by the expansions give much needed variety to some weight classes, which were previously dominated by a couple of designs.

    Flashpoint introduces mini-campaigns to the single-player called, in a rather unimaginative way, flashpoints. Flashpoints are usually two to three missions long and might include consecutive deployments (during which you don't have time to repair 'Mechs or heal MechWarriors) or player-driven choices that will alter the course of the contract: for example, do you act as the main assault force or create a diversion? Or do you double-cross your employer by stealing the prototype they asked you to recover in the first place? These decisions lead to different missions and salvage, but no long-lasting consequences that will affect your mercenary outfit or the main single-player campaign.

    Flashpoint campaigns might also feature well-known characters from the BattleTech lore, and some are quite surprising. Heavy Metal in particular features only one of these mini-campaigns, but it's the most complex and surprising of them all: it starts off as a simple recovery contract but if you play your cards correctly, your mercenary unit will emerge from it as legends. As an appetiser for fans, let's just say that the spider and the green man are fighting over something from Minnesota. And you're caught in the middle of it.

    It's a properly epic series of missions that will test your skill as a commander and will reward you in more than one way, and will make you wonder if your character and MechWarriors will ever be able to gain the same deadly skills as your opposition... and even with what seems an unfair advantage, every battle was fun and perfectly doable. Only a couple of missions in the main single-player campaign come close to the tension the final battle in the Heavy Metal storyline evokes, and it's clear that developers wanted to please fans with more than just a simple array of new 'Mechs. The first two expansions are very welcome structural improvements to the base game, but Heavy Metal is built for fans first and foremost and the best of them all.

    Urban environments introduced by the second expansion add a new level of nuance to landscapes: everything is destructible, from the cars lying abandoned in the streets, to the tallest of buildings. You cannot directly target civilian buildings, ad this is where stray shot rules come into play: any shot that misses its intended target can hit nearby objects, being them 'Mechs or vehicles, and 'Mechs jumping across rooftops can suddenly see their support crumble with catastrophic consequences.

    Scouting and indirect fire take a new importance in these environments, where the Raven excels. The advanced equipment mounted on the diminutive 'Mech can cloak allies from indirect fire or completely hide them from sensors, and can detect enemies beyond normal sensor range. While not offering much in firepower or armour, the Raven is an incredibly useful force multiplier if used correctly.

    If I have to nitpick, not everything is perfect. The new 'Mechs in Heavy Metal have more elaborate idling animations, and some are visually very dissimilar from older 'Mechs. Their knockdown animations are also much more exaggerated, and not in line with the others: it's like 75-ton behemoths comically slipping on banana peels rather than being forced down by the impacts of missiles and explosive shells. New icons are also more detailed, producing more dissonance between old and new. And for some reason, LostTech (equipment and 'Mechs thought lost after centuries of interstellar war) is almost readily available in the black market. Even the new exclusive 'Mech appears for sale, and in use by pirate forces, which is a pretty huge smack in face of universe lore. It does allow for players to have fun against opponents with a technological edge, but it does remove a lot of mystique and urgency to keep these advanced assets well protected, as they can be bought (at exorbitant prices) in stores.

    Flashpoint, Urban Warfare, and Heavy Metal are highly recommended expansions to anyone who liked the base game. Not only do they add what everyone wants from expansions (more 'Mechs), but also deepen the single-player campaign and BattleTech's game mechanics.
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. vanpeebles's Avatar
      vanpeebles -
      Just picked all these up in the recent steam sale, interesting read