24/09/2020

BattleTech feels reborn, thanks to brutal roguelike mod RogueTech. The near total conversion includes thousands of new ’Mechs, a completely revised garage, and challenging new maps and missions. It also runs like garbage.

When Harebrained Schemes BattleTech arrived in 2018, I praised the turn-based strategy game for its immersive storyline. After that campaign was over, though, my interest began to wane. I thought that Piranha Games MechWarrior 5: Mercenarieswould bring me back to BattleTech, but sadly, that game fell well short of my expectations.
Lately, though, Ive been pulled back into the universe thanks to a remarkable set of fan-made mods. Its called RogueTech, and it might just be my favorite strategy game of the year so far.
RogueTech is a near-total conversion for BattleTech, a set of different mods and assets all bundled up together. Its a hefty package, weighing in at more than 2.6 GB, but theres a good reason for that. The mod expands the list of playable units in the game from dozens to literally thousands, all culled from the more than 35-year history of the tabletop franchise. Add to that a bunch of new weapons, tanks, and other vehicles including aircraft, which are absent from the stock version of BattleTech and you have a completely different tactical experience.
RogueTech isnt just a laundry list of new bells and whistles. The mod is much more nuanced than that. It includes a module called Mech Engineer, which offers new ways to modify Mechs that simply werent available in the original game. It models everything from engine size to armor type, dramatically expanding how Im able to customize my lance before heading into battle.
RogueTech includes electronic warfare, modeling classic BattleTech bits like the Beagle Active Probe and the N.A.R.C. beacon. It changes how and why you position your forces during turn-based battles.
Image: Harebrained Schemes, RogueTech Crew via Polygon
But that customization isnt all in favor of building bigger and more badass stompy robots. It also offers what I need to get by on a shoestring budget, repurposing existing vehicles for jobs well outside their role. In that way it lives up to the promise of a roguelike experience. RogueTech gives me the tools I need to try something stupid, and then pulls no punches when I push my luck too far.
Take, for instance, my own starting lance. Each time you begin the game you pick a faction, with determines which list of random Mechs youll have access to. I rolled pretty well, scoring a Dervish and a Blackjack 2 as my starting heavies. The Blackjack 2 is an extremely flexible fire support Mech, capable of mounting energy as well as ballistic weapons. Meanwhile, the Dervish is more of a close-in brawler.
Thanks to Mech Engineer, I was able to strip armor off the Dervish and kit it out with long-range missiles. That gave me not one but two fire support units to deal with powerful enemies at range. I then used the two smaller Mechs in my inventory a tiny Locust and an easy-to-maintain Commando as flankers to go in for the kill.
In RogueTech, sometimes powerful allies will try to strongarm you out of the best loot. Weighing that salvage against how much youll piss off your clients by suing them is usually difficult.
Image: Harebrained Schemes, RogueTech Crew via Polygon
But neither the Locust nor the Commando is really up to the task. Several times I kept them in the line of fire for just a half round too long. The result was a few dead pilots, and millions in repair costs.
Aside from the Blackjack 2, none of those Mechs were really designed to do what I was asking them to do. But thanks to the flexibility of the RogueTech system, I was able to use them for cross purposes. While vulnerable and poorly suited to the task, I was still able to struggle on for a dozen missions until I was able to score enough parts to build better Mechs. Or, rather, to rebuild the Mechs I had to perform well in their intended roles. That kind of risk and reward is something that I feel is missing from the vanilla BattleTech career mode.
As a result, RogueTech has sent me on a research mission deep into the decades-old BattleTech and MechWarrior universe. Ive turned to places like Sarna.net and YouTube in search of forgotten lore, hunting down obscure Mech chassis that I can get on the cheap to fill out my company.
Theres plenty more to say in praise of RogueTech. The maps and the mission design are fascinating. The level of difficulty and the complexity of the simulation have returned a sense of joy to losing missions. Even more interesting is the addition of a morale system. It makes pilots feel more deadly, but also more fragile than ever before. All of this praise should be accompanied by a few important caveats, though.
RogueTech runs poorly, even on a high-end gaming PC. For best results, youll want to turn down the graphics and particle effects quite a bit. The delay while the enemy AI thinks up its moves is the worst part: Sometimes it takes them well over a minute. The game has hung on me a few times, both before and during missions, causing me to lose a decent amount of progress. Theres also a nasty bug in which every time I back out of the changes Ive made to my Mechs in the repair bay, my entire stockpile of parts and weapons disappears. That means that anytime I pull a medium laser off one of my units, I have to reboot the game entirely.
But these issues are a small price to pay, in my opinion, for the depth and complexity on display in RogueTech. It might be a big turnoff for some, but its left me more than satisfied.
RogueTech currently requires that you roll back your version of Harebrained Schemes BattleTech to 1.7.1, which you can easily do via the Steam interface, but youll probably want to put your saved games somewhere safe before you make the switch. The mod is still in active development, and a newer version is currently in the works reportedly with some help from Harebrained Schemes itself.