From Battletech to MechWarrior and back again: what to expect from the franchise reboot's successful Kickstarter
In just a few short years, Harebrained Schemes has gone from unknown startup to gaming juggernaut - primarily through the power of crowdfunding. The development team has made itself a nice little niche in the industry - thanks in large part to the nostalgia of a devoted built-in fan base - by resurrecting old FASA tabletop RPGs and bringing out PC game versions that actually live up to the original material.
Following the Shadowrun trilogy of games that just capped with Shadowrun: Hong Kong, Harebrained caused much rejoining across the web when a Kickstarter campaign was launched at the end of September to revive Battletech. That's right, not MechWarrior or MechCommander or some other name avoiding copyright issues – we're getting a new actual Battletech entry, and from some of the people who invented the original game.
What's Coming In The New Battletech Game?
The crowdfunding campaign is just now ending, blowing way past the base goal of $250,000 to reach more than $2.5 million! Clearly there's a demand for tactical mech combat in a classic style, as this reboot of the franchise is ditching real-time and first-person perspectives to return to the game's turn-based roots, emulating the hexagonal tabletop war game that Battletech started out as in the '80s.
All that extra money is going towards expanding the game in numerous ways. Each unlocked stretch goal worked on a tiered structure, adding on features as each tier was met, starting out as a skirmish game only, adding on a single player campaign, extending that out with extra features outside tactical combat (like a dropship home base to manage), and finally implementing PvP multiplayer. As more money has actually been raised than was required for the final stretch goal, some of those features are expected to be further expanded, including co-op multiplayer with two players squaring off against an AI mech squadron.
Just as important as what was included in the crowdfunding campaign is what wasn't. The structure of previous Kickstarters from Harebrained Schemes was revamped this time around, ditching the $15 digital game tier. With the base game not available without a $25 donation, it's clear Harebrained intends to create something much more ambitious than the the admittedly sparse Shadowrun titles, which were originally designed for both PC and tablets.
Who Is Creating The New Battletech Game?
There's no question this PC entry in the much-beloved series is in very solid hands that know the Battletech universe in and out, as the team includes both Jordan Weisman (one of the founders of FASA and creators of Battletech) and Mitch Gitelman, who worked on the MechCommander series.
Since the game aims to bring back the feel of the original tabletop incarnation, it helps that Harebrained also dipped into the hybrid Golem Arcana - a mashup of board and video game that had an app on your tablet handle all the math and remember all the rules for you, much like a PC game would.
A game isn't just a ruleset or a series of animations though, as the atmosphere is equally important in getting the tone right. Jon Everist, who handled the spot-on music for Shadowrun: Hong Kong, returns to write the score for Battletech. To get a taste of what's to come aesthetically, check out an in-engine (non-gameplay) video showcasing the basic graphical view below.
When Is Battletech Scheduled For Release?
According to the estimated delivery date on Kickstarter, Battletech will arrive for backers in May of 2017 – about a year and a half away. That might seem like an overly ambitious release date, especially considering all the extra features being added due to stretch goals. Add in the fact that this is a totally different experience from the company's recent games (not to mention a much larger project overall), and you can expect an announcement to arrive about the release being pushed back sometime later in 2017.
Then again, Harebrained has actually been pretty good with their release date estimations through Kickstarter (unlike, say, InXile, or Obsidian, or really most game development teams). Shadowrun: Hong Kong actually arrived the exact month listed in the original campaign.
When Will Battletech Take Place?
One element that may be a relief or a disappointment, depending on how attached you are to Battletech lore, is that this game won't carry the story forward into the future at all, but rather takes place during the Succession Wars of 3025. It will be nice to land in classic territory, although it may have been more interesting to take us into battles unknown instead.
This was to be expected from the developer, however, as Shadowrun Returns also went back to the basics, landing in the classic Seattle sprawl and retelling the hallowed tabletop adventures of “Universal Brotherhood”. If the company's history is any indication, it's a good bet this won't be the only Battletech title to see release, and later ones will go new directions and further build on the base setup here.
Rather than playing as the nobility in any of the various feuding Houses of the Battletech universe featured in the novelizations, this upcoming reboot of the series puts you in control of a mercenary company, allowing for a wider view of the many conflicts across the Inner Sphere. Different classes of mechs will be available, and of course each will feature a high degree of customization, with every segment of the mech up for replacement with different equipment or weaponry - so you're sure to have a giant robot killing machine that fits your style.
What Will They Mess Up?
If there's a concern, it's in how the table top rules will be translated to a video game setting, as it has to be in-depth enough to keep the tactical players happy, but fast-paced enough to not get bogged down in all the details. After all, why buy a computer game that completely recreates a board game's rules when you could just pull the board and dice out and play with your friends at home anyway?
The pace of combat in a turned-based setting is also a potential concern, with massive battles likely to drag out, hopefully spurring Harebrained to not repeat the mistake of the save game fiasco of the original Shadowrun Returns, which only allowed saves in between missions.
Those potential issues aside, and assuming something earth-shattering doesn't push the game back, the simply titled Battletech is shaping up to be one of the best computer game entries so far, so long as you dig turn-based design over real-time combat. If Battletech does well – which it almost certainly will, considering 38,000+ people contributed money more than a year before its release date – this may just be the beginning of a new era of mech combat games. And with any luck Harebrained will go on to bring back more defunct FASA games, as it's way past time somebody brought Earthdawn to a digital setting.