Harebrained Schemes is best known for its trilogy of Shadowrun games. At Gen Con, they unveiled the demo for Battletech, another Kickstarter-fuelled project based on a classic tabletop property. Battletech is a turn-based tactical combat game wrapped in a hard sci-fi story about conflict between noble houses and the mercenaries they employ. When the guns quiet, players will have the chance to manage a company of procedurally generated mercenaries and negotiate contracts based on their reputations.
Outside of the campaign mode, Battletech will include story-free multiplayer and skirmish missions. The demo demonstrates how close Battletech cleaves to the tabletop game's focus on unforgiving squad-based tactics and battlefield conditions such as torso facing, leg facing, overheating, limb damage, 'mech equipment loadouts, jump jet management, and terrain modifiers. Thankfully, managing these conditions doesn’t descend into minutiae. The UI keeps the important information front and center.
The pre-alpha demo focused on combat, omitting the mercenary management and intrigue of the full game. I started with one 'mech from each of the four weight classes and had to seize an enemy salvage base that was defended by a handful of giant robots and some lesser vehicles. My more maneuverable 'mechs scouted out the enemy location and served as spotters, while the heavy assault 'mech plodded into position and called down indirect artillery strikes.
I advanced slowly and carefully, using the thick forests and heavy mountains to mask my stompy death robots for as long as possible. Like classic Battletech, the game lacks an overwatch feature: ambushing enemies requires strong scouting and careful management of the initiative system. Each class of 'mechs acts in its own phase of the combat round. A 'mech can delay its action to act in the next phase, which allows for complicated, timing-based strikes.
After seizing the salvage base, enemy reinforcements swept down from the mountain. Each of my 'mechs had several weapons with different hit percentages, range, and damage. At this point, many of the weapons were damaged but I still blasted my way to victory. The individual skills of my pilots may have been to thank: each pilot has different competencies and affinities that can be leveled up between battles.
Battletech will have a closed beta period beginning at the end of 2016 or early 2017, which players can sign up for through BackerKit; the game will be released in 2017. In the meantime, Shadowrun diehards may need a distraction (VA-11 HALL-A, perhaps.) Mitch Gitelman, studio head of Harebrained Schemes, explains Battletech is the company’s immediate focus. However, the future looks bright for the Sixth World: "I have every intention of doing more Shadowrun games," Gitelman explains. "The studio adores Shadowrun. The audience wants more, but they could use a break too." Although nothing is set in stone, Gitelman intends this tentative project to have a major engine overhaul from Shadowrun: Hong Kong: "The jump between Dragonfall and Hong Kong was for game features. This would be more for the game engine: the wiring, tubes, and stuff."