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First impressions of BATTLETECH: Flashpoint

by: Randy -
More On: BattleTech: Flashpoint BattleTech

 

I stomp into the BATTLETECH: Flashpoint expansion flush with cash and assault mechs from the final mission of vanilla BATTLETECH [Gaming Nexus score 8 out of 10]. I’m sitting on a Scrooge McDuck amount of c-bills, two full lances of the biggest mechs in the galaxy, and a dozen mechwarriors, two of which have nearly maxed out skills in gunnery, piloting, guts, and tactics.

I’m curious as to what Flashpoint can do to keep this high going.

I encounter my first Cyclops immediately, brand new in the Flashpoint expansion, and tipping the scales in size. After I popped off a Hail Mary headshot on an elite sniper 100-ton Atlas that pounded its way across the field, the Cyclops, looking very much like its one-eyed namesake, starts hucking missiles from behind a rise of rock that looks like the Devils Tower in Wyoming. I nearly took its head off, too, but settled for putting a Particle Projector Cannon-sized hole through its midsection.

The round turned out in spectacular fashion for me—and in spectacularly bad fashion for the Local Pirate Organization. The headshot on the Atlas provided three pristine pieces of mech salvage that I could’ve taken. But I couldn’t, of course, pass up on that spanking-new Cyclops, a 90-ton assault mech introduced right here in the Flashpoint expansion. It's a beauty, too. It has a sleek hood that was probably the inspiration for the Geth race in Mass Effect.

The Cyclops CP-10-Q runs a stock fire support role, which is exactly what it had been doing on the battlefield. The 10-Q is a threat at range. I could tell that much. The text on the Cyclops also informed me of a 10-Z variant model with more close-range weaponry and heavier armor. That would make the 10-Q and 10-Z variants a formidable duo on the field. I wouldn’t want to face off against two of them at the same time. So that’s exactly what I’d like to do to the enemy: bring two Cyclops(es) to the field at once. Though they’d only have one pair of eyes between the two of them, I’m already imagining them wrecking a whole lot of shop together.

The second I get back from that sortie, my executive officer chats with me. He marks a flashpoint on the star map for me to tackle when ready. Flashpoints, being the expansion’s namesake, are a big deal. They play upon the vanilla campaign’s final missions, in the sense that flashpoints are back-to-back missions with no downtime between, where you’ll have to field multiple fully functional lances of mechs.

I headed straight to Navigation and up to the star map. There she was. One flashpoint. It was five jumps away, at 26 days and 150,000 c-bills in travel expenses to reach it. That was two months' worth of operating expenses, and nearly a full 30-day expense report in which I wouldn't be taking in any income, in order to get there. Like I said, I was flush with cash from the final mission of the vanilla campaign, so shipping and handling costs weren’t a primary concern at the moment. I plotted a course for the flashpoint planet, Adrar, a primitive, agricultural world rife with ruins and a shrunken population from a failed bid for independence from the Capellan Confederation.

We bolted out of Coromodir, the sight of the final showdown in the vanilla campaign, and took off across the black, out of the cozy and well-paying confines of Arano Restoration space. But judging from recent conversations with my senior staff, this is exactly what they're looking for, too. Reading my mind, they want to skirt the Periphery. To strike out whenever and however we want, no longer beholden—at least for the moment—to the whims of whoever was paying the most.

The Lyran Commonwealth would be my employers on this flashpoint. I hadn’t worked for them before. The opposition force would be House Liao, yet another faction I had no reputation with. The flashpoint’s briefing said the engagement length would be “short,” so I’m hoping that’s two missions back-to-back, tops. Yes, there will be consecutive deployments, but I wonder if there will be a flashpoint that doesn't have consecutive deployments. Those are the whole deal with the Flashpoint expansion, of course. Further, as a bonus reward, some “uncommon items” will be on the docket. In addition to the usual salvage, money, and reputation typically negotiated in a contract, there will be some kind of randomly selected reward of rare equipment or a rare mech part. We’ll have to see. The briefing also mentions there are “no restrictions” on tonnage requirements. This is also where the Flashpoint expansion introduces a new concept: that bigger isn’t always better. Or, well, that fielding four of your absolutely biggest mechs isn’t always going to be an option.

This last concept is going to be fun to toy with. I miss running around with the light and medium mechs. There’s just no way, no way at all, to bring smaller mechs into play in the late game. Once you’ve accelerated up to heavy and assault mechs, the lifespan of a light or medium mech drops down to only a couple rounds. You’d have mechwarriors getting killed in action, left and right, if you tried trotting out a light scout as an auxiliary unit for your lance against an opposition force of heavies and assaults. So, I’m looking forward to heading into a flashpoint with some tonnage restrictions, so that every fight isn’t just a bespoke fielding of my four heaviest chassis.

The flashpoint was to expire in 180 days, probably to be replaced by another were I to ignore it for six months, since there only appears to be one flashpoint running at any one time (so far). But we arrived on the scene with 154 days to spare. With a 2.5 out of 5 difficult rating on the flashpoint, I didn’t know if that meant 2.5 difficulty compared to any other old mission I could’ve picked up, or if flashpoints are especially difficult by their nature and that this was just a simple one to get me warmed up.

For the first part of my possibly-two-part flashpoint, I’d be leading a convoy across a “broad swathe of hostile terrain.” That sounded particularly ominous. My senior staff met with a hologram of our employers on the bridge of the Argo. My employer gave me a choice of what to deploy against: drop in during a known threat’s patrol window, or drop in after that patrol passes and face unknown threats that could be following up. Having a choice at all is a novel concept in BATTLETECH, though the choice was an easy one. I decided to go with the intel we actually had. Escort missions, as you can imagine, can be a tough contract to fulfill. But I’ve learned how to take care of that scenario. Bring along mechs with long-range weaponry, piloted by mechwarriors that know how to split fire and keep the heat on themselves rather than on the units I’m escorting. At least, I hope that strategy would work here.

After the story-like briefing from my employer on the bridge—I don’t usually have the pleasure of meeting the people I’m working for—I'm then taken to the more stock-standard contract screen, where I see four more regular (non-flashpoint) contracts after this flashpoint is handled. They all pack a 4.5 or even 5-out-of-5 difficulty rating, so I figure a 2.5 difficulty on the flashpoint won't be too much of a problem. Famous last words, I know.

Also, I see that this first Flashpoint is going to introduce me right away to the new jungle biome. The Flashpoint expansion wasn’t wasting any time in letting me shake hands with all of its new elements. That’s exactly what new downloadable content should do: fork over the goods.

I should prioritize speed over firepower, but there's no way I'm bringing a knife to a gunfight. The 2.5 difficulty should have me thinking differently, but I'm a creature of habit at this point, bringing four of the biggest, hardest-hitting mechs I’ve got. I opt for two 90-ton Highlanders—very maneuverable for being such big dogs, don’t get me wrong—and two Stalkers—a couple 85-ton missile boats. Plus, I prioritize assigning mechwarriors that can split fire and aggro as much attention to themselves as possible, instead of letting the enemy combatants have their way with the convoy I'm assigned to protect. Plus, I know we’ll be on the move the entire time, so, after making multi-targeting a primary skill I'm looking for, I make "sure footing" the second skill I want my mechwarriors to have in the cockpit. That means they're getting even higher evasion defenses just for walking around.

The thick moisture clinging to my mechs’ exhaust vents in the jungle biome means that my heat-sinking ability increases 10 percent. That isn’t crazy, but I’ll take any bonus to heat sinking that I can get. Of course, that also means the enemy enjoys that same benefit. Also new to the game board are spore fields. The spores are a mixed blessing. They add +4 difficulty to hit units passing through spore clouds, which is good if you’re the one passing through the spore cloud, but you take an additional 20 percent damage due to the spores’ corrosive effects, so, that's bad. That 20 percent extra damage, for example, can push a hit from a PPC from 50 points of damage up to 60. And in the case of  a called headshot, that could mean the difference between injury and death. So, I decided to stay out of those spore clouds whenever possible, unless it's my rear units throwing missiles from the back row.

On the ground, I establish communications with the convoy leader. They will stay put until I reached them, but in dialogue the convoy leader reinforces the general problem with escort missions in BATTLETECH. The problem being that the vehicles you’re escorting don’t stick around your mechs for protection. The convoys always take off in a dead sprint for their objective, dangers be damned, not caring one bit whether the mercenary outfit they've contracted to protect them (me) can actually keep up with them when they floor it. This is even more pronounced in a turn-based game versus a real-time game. The convoy isn’t slowly pulling into the lead, they’re using their full movement rate each turn, rushing way ahead of my mechs each round. I'm eating the convoy’s dust.

Also, ooh, the enemy brought in the brand new Hatchetman to this first flashpoint. I absolutely want to nail a headshot on that bruiser so that I can salvage as much as possible. It works. The headshot leaves me with three full pieces of Hatchetman salvage. Sadly, I’d only negotiated for two pieces of salvage, so I don't get the whole Hatchetman. But I'm already close.

Do be aware, the back-to-back nature of flashpoints means that you don’t get to head back in for repairs between engagements. Yes, you can swap out any other mech and any other mechwarrior in between. But if you, for some reason, went into a Flashpoint with fewer mechs or pilots than two full lances, then you might be in for some trouble.

Thankfully, this Flashpoint brings out a little more character of the ruling factions. House Liao, for instance, is generally based on samurai culture. To the point where one of the NPC enemies informs his troops that their families would be dishonored if they failed to take me out. I’m not going to pretend to be a culture specialist, but that sounded a lot like the Japanese warrior code of Hagakure, the do-or-die brand of soldiering that dictates you either accomplish your objective or you fall on your sword in shame.

I am given control of a Hatchetman in part two of the flashpoint. It's kind of disappointing that my first melee attack with the Hatchetman is a kick, rather than, y’know, a hit with its hatchet. Sadly, the mechwarrior (on loan from my employer, actually) is then wiped after receiving one head wound the next round. Weak.

So, after all was said and done, the second part of my first flashpoint didn’t go well for me. A primary lance of enemy mechs ran up and destroyed half the base that I was supposed to protect. I killed those mechs. But then a second lance of enemy reinforcements ran up and destroyed the second half of the base I was supposed to protect. I was supposed to hold out for 10 rounds until good-guy reinforcements arrived. But the whole thing was over in less than six rounds, truth be told. I had my lunch handed to me.

It was a tough mission. That was the most I’ve cussed at BATTLETECH for being seemingly unfair. But my XO informed me that there might be another opportunity in the future to try that mission again. I’m not sure how that would work from a narrative standpoint, or if I simply misunderstood what he said. But I refrained from reloading a save and retrying the mission. I hadn't done that up to this point, and I wasn't going to start now. BATTLETECH is a complex game, but I’ve taken very few losses since the beginning. I decided to go with the severe disappointment I currently felt and pressed on. So much for that mission being 2.5 out of 5 on difficulty. My executive officer wildly underestimated that challenge. I will remember that, jerk.

I also learned from that scenario that Flashpoint is upping the difficulty not necessarily by throwing nastier mechs at you, but by putting you into compromising situations. When I finally got back to my mech bay, I only had a couple thousand c-bills in repairs. That’s nothing. The enemy had barely scratched my paint. But the enemy had their objective, which they accomplished, and when that was done, it was game over for me. The enemy doesn’t have to deal with the fact that I would’ve then mopped the floor with their faces. The enemy doesn’t have a roster of mechwarriors that have to make it home. The enemy doesn’t have to balance the books by maintaining their mechs through endless military engagements. The enemy just shows up, launches a couple racks of missiles at the buildings you’re told to protect, and that’s it. They win. They’re part in this story is over. 

I like Flashpoint's new mechs, though I haven't met the medium-sized Crab yet. I like the new jungle biome, though I've somehow been in the jungle for 75 percent of my engagements since I downloaded the Flashpoint Expansion. The jungle is going to wear itself out pretty quickly at this rate. And while I like the idea of flashpoints, the first one ripped me to pieces through a drastic underestimation of difficulty level. It's also going to be disappointing when (if) I get to revisit that first flashpoint, that I'll preemptively know where I have to be to stop the enemy. Because the enemy simply drops in, fires missiles, and ends the entire flashpoint scenario in a few short rounds. It felt like a cheap win for the bad guys. I hope the next flashpoint goes better for me.

Full review coming soon.

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