Dénouement 2018: The Good Stuff

By Shamus Posted Thursday Jan 17, 2019

Filed under: Industry Events 71 comments

I think this was a pretty good year for games, but too many of them were packed into the last few months. That’s a shame. Still, I played as many as I could. I could play more games, but only if I was willing to give each one less attention and analysis. Since long-form analysis is kinda my thing, I think I need to stick to playing a lot of a little rather than playing a little of a lot.

Anyway, here are a few of the top games I played in 2018. As always, try not to read too much into the ordering. I tried to arrange these games in order of ascending appreciation, but that’s not an exact measure. If you ask me to repeat this list in the summer of 2019, I might give you a different list.

Also, last year I decided that games become eligible on the year when I play them instead of the year of release. I spend a lot of time playing games a year or two out of date and I think they should still be included in the conversation.

Honorable Mention: BattleTech

He's the SIXTH 'First' Lord? Doesn't that make him the sixth lord? What sort of numerical shenanigans is this political system based on?
He's the SIXTH 'First' Lord? Doesn't that make him the sixth lord? What sort of numerical shenanigans is this political system based on?

I didn’t play this until late December. I’ve spent quite a few hours with it, but I still feel like I’ve barely gotten anywhere with the story. I can’t really give the game a full review or an unqualified recommendation when I’ve seen so little of it, but I feel like I should acknowledge what a pleasant surprise this was.

It feels a lot like the original X-Com game. Time passes freely while you’re at your base scheduling repairs, trading for gear, and hiring fresh recruits. Then you enter an encounter and the game switches to turn-based.

If the prevailing trends in gaming are anything to go by, this game is not for everyone. It’s dense with lore. It has dialog that the player must read instead of having it read to them by voice actors. While the art is fantastic, it’s also minimalist. The story is told through brief sections of narration over illustrations rather than Hollywood-style motion-capped cutscenes.

This image makes me want to step on all the tanks.
This image makes me want to step on all the tanks.

Rather than having a freeform skill tree of minuscule bonuses to create a “no wrong answer” approach to player progression, these systems are deep and interconnected. You can’t just look at two magic swords and choose whichever one has the higher numbers. If you want to maximize your effectiveness then you have to understand the mechs, how they move, how their weapons work, what their tradeoffs are, and how all of this is impacted by terrain. As far as I can tell, you can’t faceroll through the game by grinding. If you want to get anywhere, you need to learn these systems. The game isn’t designed to make you feel powerful, it’s designed to simulate a very fussy and technical style of tabletop game.

For the vast majority of gamers, this game is the opposite of what they want. But for a few of you, this might be everything you’ve been asking for. I know publishers have been ignoring you for years because they would all rather fight over the same broad demographic rather than specialize. If the movie industry worked the way the games industry does, everyone would be making superhero action comedies and nobody would be making rom-coms, murder mysteries, historical dramas, mockumentaries, thrillers, or dark comedies.

Baffling design choice: I couldn't find an option to show the grid. Is there one? The tabletop version is based on a hex grid, but the computer version feels gridless and organic.
Baffling design choice: I couldn't find an option to show the grid. Is there one? The tabletop version is based on a hex grid, but the computer version feels gridless and organic.

Sorry. Once again I was on a rant about how the people running this industry don’t know what they’re doing. I feel like all of my gripes eventually lead back to that same source.

The point is that this is an unusual game. It’s probably not for you, but if it is for you then it’s very specifically for you and you should check it out as soon as possible.

The loading screens are horrendous, though.

7. Thumper

This game manages to feel insanely fast without becoming unplayable.
This game manages to feel insanely fast without becoming unplayable.

As you’ve probably already noticed, I have a weak spot for bright colors and pumping electronic music. I’m always searching for another hypnotic experience like Lumines, Chime, or Ultratron. If you want to sell me a game, just asset flip some random garbage, cover it in neon lights, and give it a techno soundtrack. Even if the ratings are all negative and reviews complain that the game formatted their hard drive, I’ll probably buy it anyway. I have no self-control.

Maybe it’s a stretch putting this on my best-of-2018 list. I liked it, but I’m mostly bringing it up because it makes a nice contrast with the lamentable Antigraviator. Like Antigraviator, this game features you racing along a track at extreme speeds. Unlike that game, the track curves gently so you can see things coming at you and get a sense of scale and speed.

It’s more a rhythm game than a driving game. You have to hit buttons and lean into curves in time with the patterns it throws at you. Based on the title of “Thumper” I was expecting high-speed techno beats. Instead the music was more like an imposing high-speed synth dirge. The rhythm in this game is based on visual cues and doesn’t really come from the music, which doesn’t even feature traditional percussion.

It’s really different. Worth checking out. Just don’t be fooled by the title and go in expecting a banger.

6. Pako 2

I didn't do it, officer.
I didn't do it, officer.

Pako 2 takes the old-school police chase mechanics of the original 2D Grand Theft Auto games, adds a nice physics engine so the driving feels good, and then renders the whole thing in a lovely minimalist low-poly style. I love it.

The game is actually a roguelike. You pick up some criminals at a job and drive them to their safehouse. Then you go get more criminals. The longer you go, the stronger the police response gets. It starts with just a couple of cop cars halfheartedly following you around, but eventually it escalates until you’ve got a whole mass of various police vehicles riding your bumper while a helicopter prowls overhead and everyone is shooting at you.

It wasn't me.
It wasn't me.

It’s a game of brinkmanship. You’ve got a score multiplier that goes up after every delivery. If you can get to the edge of the map you can escape and keep all of your winnings. If you get killed or captured, you lose a chunk of your hard-fought cash. So you have an incentive to push it as far as you can and then flee when your car is about to fall apart.

Between runs, you can use your banked winnings to upgrade your vehicles or buy new ones. As you go, you’ll unlock new locations. The maps are incredibly varied, from icy winter towns, to big cities, to deserts, to sun-drenched islands.

Why does everyone AUTOMATICALLY assume the guy roaring away from the scene in a muscle car and shooting in every direction is guilty?
Why does everyone AUTOMATICALLY assume the guy roaring away from the scene in a muscle car and shooting in every direction is guilty?

I have three very small gripes with the game:

  1. The difficulty curve is… odd. The vast majority of maps have awful insta-kill hazards like cliffs. At top speed, by the time the cliff is visible it’s too late to change direction. You can try to turn, but the police will shove you off. Other maps have lots of little edges and corners to get stuck on. Getting stuck is usually insta-death, since you’ll never get un-stuck before the police overwhelm you. The thing is, the second map (Misty Fields) is nice and open and doesn’t have any of these insta-death traps. The first map and the last map are the two hardest, and the second one is the easiest? I don’t get it.
  2. The muscle car is the best. It’s available for purchase very early in the game. You’ll eventually unlock literally dozens of new vehicles, but they’re all objectively inferior to the muscle car, despite the fact that a lot of them are significantly more expensive. Every vehicle is rated on a scale from 1-6 on speed, durability, and weapons. The muscle car is the only one with 6 in every category.  A few other vehicles slightly edge out the muscle car in terms of hit points, but at the expense of a massive drop in speed and maneuverability. I can’t make sense of this design decision. If the other cars are for variety and novelty, then I wish their stats were a little more extreme. Nearly all of them fall into the mid-range band of “not bad, but not as good as the muscle car”. For some of the big vans I’d love to see models with insane hit points and weapons but garbage speed, just to see what that was like.
  3. You can’t adjust the camera during play. You have to go to the pause menu and dig down into the options to change your view. The close camera is nice for early in the run when you’re moving at slower speeds and you’re worried about finesse. Later in the run everything is mayhem and chaos and you want the camera further back so you can see things coming at top speed. As it stands, you sort of have to pick one mode and stick with it.

Don't look at me. That stuff was already exploding when I got here.
Don't look at me. That stuff was already exploding when I got here.

I love the pacing. Runs last a few minutes each. Some roguelikes can feel a little cruel when you die an hour and a half into a game. Pako 2 keeps it brisk and fun by making sure you’re never more than a few minutes from an amazing run. It’s not quite Hotline Miami in terms of short, frantic rounds, but it has the same pull that makes you think, “Ohhh. Almost had it that time. One more try.”

The art is beautiful. The music is exactly my kind of entrancing electronic beat. It’s charming and fun and even a little witty. Highly recommended.

5. Nothing

The presence of a boot screen in a videogame would be a lot funnier if it didn't occasionally create crashes that force me to reboot my real computer.
The presence of a boot screen in a videogame would be a lot funnier if it didn't occasionally create crashes that force me to reboot my real computer.

See, right here is where I probably would have placed Nier: Automata if their game hadn’t crashed so much. I realize it was actually a 2017 game, but I played it in 2018 and I would have been happy to give it a spot on my list. Who knows? If I’d been able to see more of the game then maybe I would have rated it even higher.

But you can’t win if you don’t show up, and Neir’s technological narcolepsy managed to knock it off my playlist.

Maybe it seems odd to have a blank spot? If Nier doesn’t take this slot, shouldn’t I give it to something else? Okay then, let’s pick a different game for number 5.

5. Grand Theft Auto V

I played the PC version of this game for the first time here in 2018. Then again, I played the Playstation 4 version back in 2014, and the PC version isn’t THAT different. The game is certainly a big deal. And I’ll be the first to admit it’s a technological marvel. Then again, I wasn’t really a huge fan of the game itself. GTA V impressed me, but it’s not really a game I’m inclined to celebrate.

Yeah, this doesn’t work. Let’s give this spot to something else…

5. No Man’s Sky: NEXT

The NEXT update for No Man’s Sky was a big deal this year. I have to give it credit for being a massive improvement to the original game. On the other hand, it still isn’t particularly good. Rather than giving it a place on my favorites of 2018, I should really be giving it an award for “Most Improved Game of 2016”.

Okay, one more try…

5. Madden 2018

Just kidding. I don’t care about this game.

I don’t know who should get my #5 spot. I suppose I could re-number the list, but… nah. The numbers are all arbitrary anyway. Let’s just stick with my original idea of leaving the #5 spot blank.

That’s the first half of my list. Next week we’ll finish this up and say goodbye to 2018.

 


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71 thoughts on “Dénouement 2018: The Good Stuff

  1. JDMM says:

    I watched Creed II recently and it struck me that the genre of later Stallone and Eastwood is something GTA could have taken to seriousize itself (to neologism)

    In movies like Creed, Rambo IV, Unforgiven, Gran Torino you don’t denounce your earlier movies of Rocky IV, Rambo III, Dirty Harry and Good, Bad and Ugly nor do you pretend that they don’t exist but what you do do is say that sort of action was a young mans game that ultimately solved nothing, at the end of the day Rambo killing all the Soviets in Afghanistan didn’t mean a happy ending but rather that there were no more Soviets in Afghanistan and now Rambo had to move on

    An interesting thing with these movies is they don’t have to pretend the action is now super cereal, you’re just now aware that even if Rambo wins this conflict that doesn’t mean the end of the Cold War or whatever

    Well it at least strikes me as an alternative to attempting a super serious Behind Enemy Lines character piece but breaking on being unwilling to give up on your particular humor and gameplay mechanics and having to go into nothing matters territory when that fails

    1. Bloodsquirrel says:

      Well, I mean, the first Rambo movie was about a damaged war vet snapping after being harassed by the local cops. It ends with his old commanding officer talking him into surrendering. So the series always had more of a cerebral core than people gave it credit for.

  2. Dreadjaws says:

    Seeing you mention games like Antigravitator and Thumper I now wonder if you’ve ever played Audiosurf and/or its sequel and what you thought of them. It’s like this style of game, only you choose the music, being able to put any music track of your choice (though it does include some original techno tracks), and whichever music track you choose actually shapes the race tracks. There are several varied ways to play for different levels of challenge. I like them because they offer an entirely different experience depending on what mood I am. They can be relaxing or adrenaline-pumping.

    1. Shamus says:

      I loved the cool track shapes of Audiosurf, but I wasn’t crazy about the block-matching mechanic. I don’t have any ideas for how it could be better. I just didn’t find it fun.

      1. Dreadjaws says:

        That’s why I mentioned the different styles of gameplay. Not all of them rely on matching blocks.

        1. Khazidhea says:

          The colour matching doesn’t work for me either, but the ‘mono’ style of gameplay is my jam. Simply avoid the greys and collect everything else, I find it relaxing and very moreish. I still frequently play the original (bought #2 but didn’t click with me at the time, so I’ve stuck with what I know), but haven’t looked around to see if any newer games scratch the same itch.

      2. Marcellus Magnus says:

        Then you might want to check out Riff Racer. It has stunt racing gameplay on Audiosurf-style procedurally generated tracks – obstacles, ramps, speed boost, loops, and lots of drifting. You can optionally play against ghost cars of other players on the scoreboard. It works out really well, especially on more intense tracks. I liked Audiosurf, but Riff Racer pretty much usurped it as my favorite way to enjoy music. Highly recommended.

    2. kunedog says:

      Has anyone else pointed out that it’s Antigraviator instead of Antigravitator? I haven’t played it, but in Shamus’ “worst” list the title’s right there in the picture, and it changes the pronounciation considerably.

      1. Shamus says:

        I never even noticed. It wasn’t like I read it correctly but then messed it up later. I read it wrong the first time, and… apparently never attempted to read it again.

        1. Nimrandir says:

          It’s quite reasonable. I think it safe to say your interests skew toward science fiction, where the word anti-gravity is pretty commonplace. Without the extra ‘t,’ the name feels like a play on ‘aviator,’ which is less sci-fi and more WWI dogfighting.

      2. Nimrandir says:

        I was going to post a comment about that as well. I haven’t done any research on the game, though, so I can’t rule out the possibility of the team putting a misspelling in their title screen.

        As ridiculous as that sounds, we are talking about the year which gave us The Quiet Man.

        1. Geebs says:

          Nimrandir is referencing the fact that it was originally supposed to be called The Quite Man.

          1. Nimrandir says:

            Know that I salute you for this.

      3. Karma The Alligator says:

        A portmanteau of antigrav and aviator, then? Sounds like one of the many borrowed Japanese words.

      4. tmtvl says:

        Anti gravy tater.

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          1/5 stars. No gravy. No potatoes. I’d say Anti-gravy-tator was the worst thanksgiving ever, but the #5 slot just reminded me about No Mans Sky.

          1. BlueHorus says:

            No, no, that’s a different game. You’re looking for Pro-Gravy-Tater. Anti-Gravy-Tater was the prequel from the same studio.

        2. Kestrellius says:

          Sounds like something from Schlock Mercenary.

  3. ShivanHunter says:

    Obviously #5 should be Mass Effect: Andromeda for its gripping storyline :V

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      Nah, it’s obviously the world-building that’s the main focus. They even ask a variation of “what do they eat”, so 10/10 game of the year.

  4. I think Battletech is one of those cases of a Kickstarter game that worked.

    Yes it’s niche but it was funded by the people who wanted that niche. Then it was made by an experienced team of developers who not only wanted the niche game but included the original board games designer.

    1. Redrock says:

      I’m really conflicted about Battletech. I intend to play it eventually, after I get to playing XCOM 2, but I’m also kinda prejudiced against for the sole realson that I’d prefer that Harebrained Schemes keep on making Shadowrun games instead of anything else. Which, yes, I fully realize, isn’t a very rational position.

      1. Dev Null says:

        I wish they’d kept making Golem Arcana… but that’s another genre, and I do have to admit it made business sense.

      2. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Does not prejudice me against Battletech but yeah, I wish they just kept releasing new campaigns every now and then.

    2. John says:

      I am rapidly losing the will to not buy Battletech and I expect to succumb sometime within the next 3 to 6 months, whenever it next goes on sale over at GOG. I am usually willing to wait years for a game to go on deep, deep sale and I haven’t spent much more than $10 on a video game since I figured out this whole digital download thing, but for Battletech I may have to make an exception.

      1. Steve C says:

        Don’t buy the Flashpoint DLC if you are price sensitive. The base game gives tons of value per dollar. The DLC has terrible value for the money. Just get the free patches.

    3. decius says:

      It’s niche, and because it was funded by people who wanted that niche it is very deep in its niche.

      If you like it, you’ll love it, but if it isn’t for you it really isn’t for you.

      It gives me hope for a Warhammer game that duplicates the Warhammer tabletop rules.

    4. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      BattleTech and MechWarrior were among the first tabletop boardgames/RPGs I ever played. I played the Crescent Hawks’ Inception on an Apple IIgs.

      I like BattleTech, and I love the lore incorporated into the game (First Lord of the Star League is a title, Richard Cameron was the 6th First Lord, sort of like being the 6th Duke of Where-ever). I loved the first time I booted up the game watching the first test of the KF Drive.

      I am far less enamored of the gameplay, which is not making nearly enough use of the variation the game allows. They start you with a 4 mech lance, you stay with a 4 mech lance. All the battles are pretty much balanced for a 4-mech lance of a certain weight, and it tends to force you towards a particular strategy (missile boat, mainly), which -as an old Whitworth Jocky, I actually do like. But I really want to incorporate an aerojock, like Mechwarrior 2: Mercenaries allowed. Or have drop weight limits like MechCommander did. Or just allow me to bring more mechs at a later stage -upgrade to a company, for example.

      I do still like the game, but given how much I played this back in the day, I am disappointed at how limited it is.

      1. decius says:

        I beat the campaign without ever fielding a Mech with mostly missiles. Although after I got the [spoiler], it became about keeping layers of ablative armor around it so it wouldn’t take irreparable damage.

      2. Dev Null says:

        I do load up a missile boat now and again, but my most reliable strat so far has been a Firestarter (35T) with a melee combat arm and All The Small Lasers. Running up from nowhere and punching a 60T mech to death from behind is immensely satisfying…

    5. GoStu says:

      I can respect a niche game that didn’t compromise on its niche, even if that niche isn’t my cup of quiche.

      Crowdfunding does seem like the best way to get something like that to market now though; basically the community pays for its own game that it wants, sparing the developer from a meddling publisher who’d compromise the premise to try for mass appeal.

      I may give Battletech a try; I’ve enjoyed tabletop boardgames in the past, and if it doesn’t turn out to be something I really like… well, I’ve spent money on games that I didn’t enjoy before, and at least in this case my money goes to something that isn’t a moneygrubbing AAA studio.

  5. CrimsonCutz says:

    Ah, the “fifth place doesn’t exist” strategy. Personally I like leaving second place blank, it really keeps people guessing, but this is a good approach too, especially with the cliffhanger it creates. If there was no fifth best game this year, can there really be a fourth, third, second or first (pretend that first best is a thing that people over the age of 5 say)? I feel like there can’t be but man I guess I’ll have to keep checking the blog to find out.

    1. Hal says:

      This reminds me of a dungeon in Earthbound, an RPG on the SNES. There are 5 bosses in the dungeon, all of whom claim to be the “third most powerful” of the group, promising to show you the power of what it means to be third. (They’re all identical, for whatever it’s worth.)

      1. galacticplumber says:

        They actually aren’t. Varied health pools and stats.

        1. CrimsonCutz says:

          Ah yes, the moles. Personally I always found the third strongest to be the toughest.

        2. Hal says:

          Really? It didn’t seem that way when playing, and the strategy guide didn’t mention that either.

          Weird.

          1. galacticplumber says:

            If you watch Chugga’s LP he literally lists them off, and it’s proven by the moles taking longer or shorter to kill and dealing different amounts of damage.

            1. Hal says:

              I don’t know who Chugga is, but I can’t find a single resource out there that lists those moles as having variable stats.

  6. Kubic says:

    Well. I can say this has been a disapointment. Half a list, with 4 out of 7 “joke” entries on it. This list is spread more thinly than the Hobbit movies.

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      Considering how much he wrote about the “honorable mention”, I really wasn’t expecting the full list.

      1. Nimrandir says:

        Heck, I just got a kick out of his bucking the trend of all lists being either top fives or top tens. Also, Tom Brady was up there with still shots from Fifty Shades of Grey in images I didn’t expect to see on Twenty Sided.

    2. GoStu says:

      Maybe you should ask for your money back. I’m sure Shamus will return all $0.00 promptly.

      1. Kubic says:

        Maybe your time is worth nothing to you, but I don’t value my wasted time so little.
        To each his own.

  7. Narkis says:

    I played Battletech on release, as I’m one of the people it seemed laser-guided to please. I really, really liked it at first, but ultimately quit in frustration. My problems were:

    A) The mechs themselves. Ultimately the only differences between them were tonnage and hardpoints. The descriptions like “this mech is a good laser platform”, “this mech is a hit-and-run attacker”, “this mech is a close-range brawler” or “this mech has good cooling” ultimately were nothing but flavor text with no in-game effect. Speed, hitpoints and initiative were the exact same for all mechs of the same tonnage. No other stat was different for any mech I could find. And all mechs had more hardpoints than you could fill with good weapons, so tonnage ended up mattering more than anything else. Made worse by

    B) The combat system. In theory, you had small agile mechs that were difficult to hit, big lumbering ones that could take a beating and a large variety of different weapons with various benefits and drawbacks. It should have created an environment with many viable strategies, each better or worse depending on the situation and the opposition. But in practice, evasion was far too easy to bypass, engagement distances were short enough that mobility didn’t really matter, and you could bring a grand total of 4 mechs into battle with no limit on individual tonnage, making small mechs useless for any purpose as soon as you had access to bigger ones. All battles devolved into marching ahead, rooting into place as soon as you got in range so you could get the damage reduction, rotating to face the opponents since that didn’t break the damage reduction, and blasting them with called shots. Called shots were extremely overpowered, a plague upon the combat system, especially combined with the stability system and the pilot perks that made them even better. All you had to do was either use the morale ability for an instant called shot to either kill or cripple any mech, or have it fall down by launching a missile broadside and tipping it over with a kinetic shot. Nothing could survive a called shot to the cockpit, and if instead you wanted to salvage it you could just allow it to stand up on its turn, bring it down again, and repeat until the pilot died.

    C) The baffling weapon balance. There were some weapons that were strictly worse than others of the same class, for no discernible purpose. For instance, missile launchers: All basic missile launchers fired the same missiles. Their differences were in how many missiles they could launch in a single salvo, their tonnage, and the heat they generated per salvo. But instead of having a simple linear progression among them, you had mid-sized launchers that had both less tonnage per missile and heat per missile than either their smaller or larger counterparts. They were strictly better, and meant you had no reason at all to use the smaller ones, and you switched to the larger ones only if you exhausted all missile hardpoints in a chassis and still needed more, less efficient, dakka. And there were similar cases in every weapon class, not just missiles, making many choices of how to outfit your mechs into outright traps.

    D) Various smaller bugs and annoyances. The convoys you were escorting in some missions were suicidal, charging even detected enemies at top speed turn after turn. Enemy reinforcements were on the battlefield from turn 1, when the call for “enemy reinforcements incoming” would be heard later with no more enemies spawning. etc, etc.

    None of the problems I had with the game were unfixable, so I remain hopeful that eventually it’ll reach the point I expected it to have on day 1. I’ll check it out again some time, after the Paradox dlc model has had a chance to improve it as usual.

    1. MechaCrash says:

      Point A isn’t entirely accurate, as the speed of a Mech depended on the size of its engine. For example, the Firestarter, Jenner, and Panther are all 35 ton mechs, and they have different moving speeds, because they have different engines, which in turn means that the fast Jenner has the least tonnage for weapons and armor, and the relatively slow Panther has the most. For a more extreme example, the 30 ton Spider is tied for the fastest speed in the game (and has 9.5 tons for equipment), and the also 30 ton Urbanmech is tied for slowest (but has 21.5 tons open!).

      That said, a lot of this is quite frankly the fault of the tabletop game. The original game didn’t even have a hardpoint system, so if you could customize freely, then the Griffin, Kintaro, Shadowhawk, and Wolverine were all basically the same thing, because they’re all 55 tons with the same engine, so eh whatever. The problem with weapons is also largely inherited from the tabletop, because “a double fistful of medium lasers” is basically the go-to design in that system too. There’s only so much wiggle room available to HBS to fix things, too, because there’s only so far you can nudge things to fix the balance before the “why are you even using these rules” question comes up.

      In short: yes a lot of mechs and weapons are outright garbage, but blame FASA.

      1. Narkis says:

        Conceded on the engine. I probably never noticed because speed isn’t all that useful in the game and I rushed to bigger mechs asap.

        I’ll go ahead and blame both for the lack of balance though. I never played the tabletop, and I assume from what you said that the problems were well-known for a long time. HBS didn’t have to change the core of the system, just adjust things so that mechs have more meaningful differences and “Medium anything is best” isn’t always the meta.

        1. ElementalAlchemist says:

          If you try the Roguetech mod, you’ll crack that problem right open. You’ll be able to swap out engines and have multiple new variants with different hard points and loadouts that create a lot more variety. Not to mention various changes to the initiative system and combat mechanics to make lighter mechs viable against lances of Assaults.

          HBS played it extremely safe so as not to frighten newbs, but a mod isn’t subject to such restraints, so you’ll find all sorts of new gear and plenty of oddball builds, with the freedom to customise things yourself to a far greater degree than in the base game. You can play it restricted to the narrative campaign (which dials back some of the stuff that is not canonical for the time period), or as a freeform sandbox campaign on the full map of the galaxy with a bajillion planets about 50 years after the narrative is set.

          1. Narkis says:

            Roguetech looks very interesting, thanks for the recommendation. I was sold as soon as I read “Tonnage means nothing!, Everything is balanced around what your Lance costs, not what it weights” on the description. I’m definitely trying a sandbox campaign as soon as I find the time.

            1. ElementalAlchemist says:

              Yeah there are two options when you install it. Difficulty/skull rating can be set to lance composition, or it can be set to planet difficulty. If you are playing the narrative campaign I would stick with lance-based (the default). I tried it with planet-based and 99% of planets were 1/2 skull. The planet-based setting is more useful in the sandbox campaign where you can find the full range of difficulties available and having lower difficulty missions available makes grinding faction reputation easier.

              Just a word of warning though. The lance-based calculation is derived from your highest four available mechs, not the lance you are deploying. That means you may have to store heavier mechs to get the rating you want, which is kind of a pain and saps time and money if you are having to constantly ready and refit a bunch of different mechs.

              I would also suggest reading all the documentation and the wiki. I’d probably suggest avoiding joining their Discord unless you run into a critical problem, as unfortunately the project’s leader is possibly one of the most obnoxious and unpleasant modders I have come across.

        2. krellen says:

          There has been a rebalance patch, and many values (particularly of heat) have been adjusted since launch. Large lasers, for instance, are now a more clear upgrade from mediums, being 60% more damage for 50% more heat (and 66% more range), but weighing four extra tons. They’re now actually useful if you have some extra tonnage, rather than simply being never worth it.

          As for no other stat difference aside from tonnage, the melee damage value varies by ‘Mech even within a tonnage. The new patch gives concrete numbers so you see the exact difference, but as a general rule, ‘Mechs that have gun arms do significantly less melee damage than ‘Mechs that have humanoid arms.

          This patch was being worked on and released before Paradox acquired the studio, so one cannot completely attribute it to the Paradox effect – though the shared values could have played into the acquisition (studio head Mitch Gitelman has suggested as much.)

          1. Narkis says:

            Ah, melee damage is another thing I never noticed, I only rarely used melee attacks to throw down mechs that were already unstable.

            I’m glad they’re rebalancing the game towards the right direction. HBS is a good developer, I never thought they’d abandon the game without some post-release support. But with Paradox at the helm, it’s going to be a much different, and hopefully much better, game in a couple years.

    2. CrushU says:

      A was already covered elsewhere (Engine differences)

      Okay so it sounds like you’ve never played Battletech before? Because you’re going in the direction a lot of newer players to the system go. That is: “Why would I ever use lighter mechs? I should just use the heaviest ones and the most efficient weapon distribution.”

      I tend to prefer a lance of 1 Medium, 2 Heavy, and 1 Assault. And I usually make the Assault an indirect fire, or failing that, long-range cannons. Generally speaking, I’ve found ways to use mobility that make me value the Medium, but in most cases I need the firepower to focus down one of any mech, so I need Heavies. Assault mechs are very vulnerable to mobility tricks, that’s why I stick it in the back to just be able to rain down large amounts of pain on anything it can see.

      It is common that engagement ranges are smaller than you’d really want, but that’s not always true. It’s another variable of the deep combat system. Your Medium Laser-heavy force won’t do well in a long-range engagement, but my LRM-heavy force won’t do well in an urban setting.

      What’s really funny to me is that you praised the exact reason for the hardpoints system when you talked about the missiles. And, they *have* tweaked the balance. It used to be that LRM 20’s were the most efficient, but hottest. Now it’s the LRM10s that are most efficient across the board, because of Hardpoints. Using a hardpoint on an LRM10 is a tradeoff; you get half the number of missiles! LRM5 isn’t the most efficient because it’s a “consolation prize” sort of weapon. If you’ve filled everything, but still have a missile slot and enough space, you can dump an SRM2 or LRM5 in there just so you’re doing *something* with it.

      You can’t just do a linear progression with the weapons, or else the biggest weapon is always the best. With this in place, each weapon has a situation where it is the best choice. Some weapons are just more rarely the best choice (AC/2, SRM2, PPC are extremely specialized) while some weapons are more commonly best choices. (Medium lasers, AC/20, LRM20 are commonly very useful.) This is true even with mechs themselves; While there’s the linear progression of tonnage, Assault mechs are not universally the best.

      Honestly I think the AI just isn’t good enough. :)
      (Oh, yeah, and god I hate when those convoys suicide. I’ve also had some missions where the convoy reaches the destination but nothing happens. Mission bugged out, so have to restart the mission. :( )

      1. Narkis says:

        I’ve actually played all Mechwarrior games since 3, where the lack of balance didn’t bother me as it never did in action/simulation games, and both Mechcommanders which were different beasts entirely. That’s why I was interested in Battletech in the first place.

        When I talked about a linear progression for weapons, I meant one where small weapons were more efficient, at least for some thing, and not just a “consolation prize”.

        The lance I had before I quit the game consisted of an unarmored indirect fire LRM boat that could max out stability damage on pretty much anything by itself, an SRM brawler to give things the final push, and two Medium Laser murderbots that used called shots almost all the time against either fallen mechs or with the morale ability. I might’ve had an autocannon here and there as well, but I don’t really remember. None of these roles benefited from mobility all that much, while higher tonnage gave both higher survivability and damage.

        I definitely agree that the AI wasn’t good enough. But I find that to be the case on all modern games.

  8. Cilvre says:

    i know i offered at some point to send you nier automata for ps4 so you could review it before i found out you bought the pc version. the game is great, but the pc port should never have been released. I hope one day you get to play it on ps4 and actually enjoy it.

  9. Johnny5 says:

    I had played the tabletop game of BT exactly once and read through one of the mech books back in college but never got into the game. Battletech was noob friendly enough for me to jump in and enjoy it without knowing all the extended lore, the accumulated years of weapons and gear, etc. The ultra-hardcore fans are all playing the Roguetech mod with all that stuff added back in anyway. I highly recommend the game, but I also recommend watching someone play it a bit first because like X-Com, there is a lot of little tactical tricks you need to know when you start. Personally I like MoltenMetal on youtube to see basic tactics and builds. IMO a great game to pick up during a steam sale.

  10. ElementalAlchemist says:

    You can’t just look at two magic swords and choose whichever one has the higher numbers.

    I wouldn’t say that is necessarily true. For two weapons of the same type, the +/++/+++ version is almost always a superior choice over the lower tier. There are some cases where there are tradeoffs in weight, size (number of slots), or heat, particularly with energy weapons (since they don’t use ammo), but for the most part it is typically a no-brainer.

    I think a more apt description would be that you can’t compare a sword that does slashing damage vs a mace that does crushing damage and state that one is superior to the other in all cases. It depends greatly on the manner in which you will be using it and the enemies you’ll be facing. So, for example, Medium Lasers are hands down the most mathematically efficient weapon in the (base) game in terms of weight/heat/slots per unit of damage. But they require direct line of sight to the target and getting within a reasonably close range. Stacking a mech with Medium Lasers is certainly an option, and there are a number of stock builds that employ that approach. But the tradeoff is you will almost always end up taking reasonable damage in return, and in Martian or Lunar environments you are likely to run into significant heat problems. That’s one way to skin a cat (or mech), but not the only way, nor necessarily the best. Although in a lot of cases it probably boils down mostly to your preferred play style rather than pure mathematics.

    As far as I can tell, you can’t faceroll through the game by grinding.

    Since the vanilla game is heavy skewed towards heavier mechs being better due to the attritional nature of your lance of 4 vs a minimum of 8 enemies (and often more), it does actually pretty much favour “grinding for better gear”. Tactics and skill obviously play a role, but ultimately better damage mitigation and output is the key to victory. The way you get bigger and better mechs is either through salvage or buying parts, both of which require taking lots of side contracts. The quicker you swap out your starting lance for better mechs, the easier time you’ll have. There’s a bit of RNG involved, but if you get some heavies early on you’ll be able to steamroll a number of the priority missions. It’s only towards the end where they start to crank the difficulty up in terms of combat challenge (there are some mid-game missions that are difficult, but for game mechanics reasons rather than the OpFor composition).

    1. krellen says:

      That said, grinding gets significantly easier once the game hands you the free LosTech Highlander midway through the story.

  11. Agammamon says:

    This image makes me want to step on all the tanks.

    Battletech video games have never been good at scaling mechs and vehicles properly. Damn shame.

    Baffling design choice: I couldn’t find an option to show the grid. Is there one? The tabletop version is based on a hex grid, but the computer version feels gridless and organic.

    There isn’t one. This game uses *none* of the rules from TT but still manages to capture the spirit of the boxed game.

    But, in the end, I didn’t like it very much. I wanted to. I tried to. But like X-Com 2012 (and X-Com 2012 2) there’s just waaaay too much focus on the tactical missions – which are small and repetitive – and too little to do on the strategic layer. You’re doing these things over and over for a long time before you pick up a significant upgrade or option that affects the way you run one.

    A missed opportunity there to allow you to take those extra pilots (you can have something like 24 but only ever use 4 at a time) and send them on their own side-missions to affect things in the main tactical mission. Even the Flashpoint DLC failed to implement this and instead just chained some of the tactical missions together.

    1. ElementalAlchemist says:

      Yeah the game would really benefit from multi-lance deployments, but it seems like that is not destined to happen in this incarnation. Maybe they’ll do it in BT2.

    2. Andy says:

      Are people confused by the fact that it places pips where the centers of hexes are, and doesn’t display the edges? (Other than that brief moment in the tutorial, heh) Find a flat-ish area, and look at the dots when you move a mech (see, e.g. this screenshot). It’s clearly underpinned by hexes. They *look* off-kilter because they have to map to 3d space, an issue that the 2d TT grid maps don’t really have.

      Also the movement line (that Shamus shows in screenshot) traces the path that the mech model will traverse, not the centers of the hexes it technically goes through, which is a further obfuscation.

      1. Geoff says:

        I think the understanding of the game as “gridless” is really interesting. Shamus is not the first to say it, I’ve seen a number of reviewers say the same thing.

        It seems pretty clear to me that if you stand in a big open field, like your screenshot, the pips are all layed out in a hex grid, just without the edges showing. But it doesn’t seem to take many layers of obfuscation (lack of edges, uneven height due to terrain and a perspective camera, etc.) for many people to see it as gridless while still getting to enjoy (as devs) all the benefits of a fixed hex grid system in terms of easily calculated move distances and ranges.

        That seems like a really interesting game design trick.

  12. Nephilium says:

    For those considering BattleTech, I’d highly recommend grabbing the Flashpoint DLC as well. The Flashpoints are small self contained story missions, with some RPG branching based on decisions you make as you plan the missions out. They also may include successive deployments with no time for repairs. Then they usually have some decent rewards if you are successful (including unique mech’s, LosTech, etc.).

    1. Steve C says:

      I’m going to advocate the opposite and say skip the Flashpoint DLC. It is only 18 missions worth of content, of which you might see 15. All are awkward to get to and more dangerous than they claim to be. The DLC isn’t worth the full game price tag they are charging.

  13. Nimrandir says:

    If the movie industry worked the way the games industry does, everyone would be making superhero action comedies and nobody would be making rom-coms, murder mysteries, historical dramas, mockumentaries, thrillers, or dark comedies.

    To be fair, it would be more like the half-dozen major studios are only making superhero action comedies. To get any of the rest, you’d have to check out Cannes or Sundance, which are each open year-round and feature 30,000 or so movies at once. Of that number, many simply stop without a proper conclusion, others are just copies of other available movies (usually The Book of Henry) with a different title, and still others are inexplicably just two hours of Tommy Wiseau’s headshot with circus music playing.

    Also, one of the major studios would release The Quiet Man there. Because reasons.
    [I’m not actually as obsessed with that game as today’s comments make it look; I just couldn’t ignore that it works in the film analogy as well.]

  14. Ander says:

    Shamus, have you considered Tetris Effect for your color-music goodness? It is one of the most pleasant sensory experiences I’ve had with gaming.

  15. Dev Null says:

    This image makes me want to step on all the tanks.

    You should totally step on all the tanks.

    I’ve just started playing this one myself, and I will go to absolutely _ludicrous_ lengths to be able to use a physical attack on a tank, and stomp it to death. You don’t get bonus points or anything, you just get to watch the animation.

    1. ElementalAlchemist says:

      You don’t get bonus points or anything

      You do, in a way. Melee attacks do double damage against vehicles.

  16. MaxEd says:

    Battletech is the game I wanted to make ever since I learned about giant mechs (from a book based on the tabletop game; but for the longest time, I didn’t know about the game – the book didn’t mention it, and it was before internet, in a country where RPGs and wargaming only really appeared in late 90’s). I always wanted a turn-bases game about mechs, and I even started programming it myself 2-3 times (one in school, using QuickBasic, once in universite with Win32 and GDI, and once after I got a job, with C++ and Allegro).

    It has some flaws, but I think the main of them is horrid loading times (which is a problem with many, many modern games, even using SSD – I think Unity’s approach to asset management has a lot to do with it!) and overly long useless pauses in combat, even with speed up option. The new DLC, which adds story-free career mode and the new Flashpoints type of missions should be awesome – but I’m putting off replaying the game until the last DLC is released, I have too much to play now, having just put 176 hours into Pathfinder: Kingmaker (which absolutely should get a mention as a very good, if also flawed game of the last year).

    1. krellen says:

      Note: Career mode was included in the DLC patch, and the DLC is not required to play Career mode.

  17. Lun says:

    Thumper in VR is awesome. Absolutely awesome.

    1. Cubic says:

      Now we’ll never hear from Shamus again.

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