MechWarrior Tactics attack phase

The last thing you think of when it comes to bipedal war machines trying their damnedest to reduce each other to scrap metal is “turn-based gameplay.” Yet that’s exactly what the browser-based free-to-play MechWarrior Tactics is all about.

Developer Roadhouse Interactive, in conjunction with A.C.R.O.N.Y.M Games, and publisher Infinite Game Publishing are launching MWT later this year. It’s firmly rooted in the rich history of the BattleTech board game, the same universe that the MechWarrior video game franchise spun out of. It was also a last-minute addition to the MechWarrior Community Day, an event held at the Nvidia campus in Santa Clara, Calif.

“MechWarrior Tactics really is a homage to the original board game,” said James Romanchuk, the producer at Roadhouse Interactive, to GamesBeat. “A lot of the MechWarrior games that have been produced [in the past] have been sort of first-person shooters, but there’s nothing really that’s been done to port the board game over to the PC…at this production level or budget [and] with a professional studio behind it.”

The premise

Just like in the board game, the battlefields in MWT are designed as a hex grid, and your actions are asynchronously turn-based, so you can play multiple battles concurrently. These turns are split into two distinct phases of combat — Attack and Movement, respectively — and after you lock in your choices, the camera switches over to a cinematic view of the map as the mechs duke it out with a barrage of ballistic missiles and laser-powered weaponry.

MechWarrior Tactics combat presentation

Even as a “friends and family” beta that was prone to slow loading times and crashes, the effects looked fantastic, and judging from the audible reactions of hardcore fans watching the game behind me (the Tactics demo was limited to members of the press), it sounded like they were satisfied, too.

The nuts and bolts

It wouldn’t be a MechWarrior game without an extreme degree of customization options. For Tactics, the developers designed the system around packages that act like collectible card packs. By using either real-world money or in-game currency earned from battles, you can buy these bundles and receive a random assortment of pieces (weapons, torsos, engines, etc.) for you to equip your team with.

“There’s gonna be different levels of packs — different theme packs — depending on the type of promotion [running] that month,” said Romanchuk. “And people are able to buy this and add to their collection of MechWarrior stuff to play with.”

The art of war

Whether you successfully hit your target depends on the type of terrain your mech is standing on, as well as the distance between you and the enemy. Move in too close, and your long-range weapons drop to an embarrassingly low hit percentage; move too far away, and your other guns can become useless. Even the direction your mech faces is a determining factor, as the torso can be adjusted 360 degrees. You can choose to aim each of the mech’s weapons onto separate targets or focus all its resources on attacking just one enemy in a spectacular show of smoke and explosions.

BattleTech board game intro box

Above: The BattleTech board game

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One unified bar or number doesn’t govern a mech’s health; instead, each limb has its own health percentages to watch out for. But you can’t specifically aim for one limb over another, as the chances of hitting them are randomized. In one instance, you could decimate the enemy’s legs, rendering it unable to move for the rest of the match, or you can take out one of its arms, reducing its available resources on the field.

Your mech’s heat gauge, a vertical bar in their stats menu, also has to be taken into account when deciding which parts you want to equip; in this demo, however, the teams sported non-heat-spending weaponry. Overheating can be costly, as not only does it significantly reduce accuracy, but you can even damage yourself if the weapon backfires. Keep pushing, and your mech will shut down altogether.

With no single-player campaign to speak of, MWT is purely focused on 1-on-1 skirmishes. This struck me as odd, as the BattleTech universe certainly has no shortage of fictional adventures to explore. Romanchuk wouldn’t rule out the possibility of adding something along those lines post-launch, saying they’ll closely listen to what the fans want once the game is in their hands.

In the meantime, Romanchuk compared the initial release of Tactics to Hero Academy, Robot Entertainment’s asynchronous free-to-play iOS strategy game, which also consists of 1-on-1 gameplay. “It’s just more fun [to play] with human opponents,” he said.

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