In this article I aim to focus on the Battletech universe which had a game released in the previous weeks and repopularized again in the contemporary media. Let me start this article by stating that it is a very old, ancient even considering it’s been more than 30 years since its initial inception, universe created by FASA in 1984 with a tabletop game which we control huge mechs duking it out with lasers, cannons and rockets. In addition to that this tabletop strategy game had more than 60 novels published, detailing the universe lore immensely.
What we call as the Battletech universe is a post downfall era of a grand empire called Star League. In its downfall five successor states divide the temporaspatial areas of this empire and formed their own sovereign states. The kicker is, during the formation of those states, 5 succession wars kinda happened and that directly affected the technological advancement and making the statement “old is gold” relevant to this setting. Really the battlemechs used by the houses in their internal wars are ancient warmachines patched and repaired extensively in their service. New mechs are also produced but they don’t have the same build quality like they do in the Star League times. Also because of this build quality problem the battles have often have a salvage aspect, the battling sides often try to salvage as many enemy mechs as they could because at worst their parts can be used to repair thir own mechs, and at best they’ll have another new mech in their arsenal. Then again the technology is not seen as a religion a-la Warhammer 40k.
I’ve said that the Star League “lands” have been divided into five states. Those states carry a feudalistic air within them. Allegorically I can safely say that Mechwarriors, the pilots who operate those beasts, can be thought as knights and the body politic often carry some medieval tones. The novels give a lot of detail on this subject. Before the Clan arrival the books often discuss the political struggles involving mechs; betrayals, insurrections, police actions, mercenary work involving a greater political agenda… whole nine yards. But those events happen in the Inner Sphere axis. When I say “Inner” you probably guessed there must be an outer and you would be right. The Clans arrive to “liberate” from the outer rim of the space and get integrated into the story.
Clans are formed by General Alexander Kerensky, who tried to salvage as much as the Star League when it was dissolving but thanks to the internal bickering, failed to do so. After that he said “fuck alla ya”, gathered his followers and went somewhere unknown – away from the known borders. Due to the limited amount of biomaterial the clans use genetic technologies, including cloning, extensively and they even has a rigid caste system enforced by the genetic manipulation. Like, if you are going to be a scientist, it is made sure that you’ll have a genetically enhanced brain on birth. They have 5 castes:
Then again thanks to cloning as the main means of reproduction those guys didn’t form a social structure like Inner Sphere did. First of all, no surnames. They have some labnames to identify their birthplace but the surname identifying your parents isn’t a thing in the clans. Also another unique aspect of this universe’s genebabies is they have Bloodnames which are the surnames of the original founding fathers and you can get them by performing heroism or valorous acts. Which motivates each and every clan warrior to be fierce as hellcats. And because they hadn’t endured 5 succession wars which made technology step back bit by bit, their mechs and equipments are much better than there Inner Sphere equivalents. Hence, their liberation of Inner Sphere initially began with insane amounts of success and landgrabbing. One can remember the concept of Outside Context Problem here, by the way, coined by the late Iain M. Banks.
Anyhow, let’s continue without digressing from the main topic: Battlemechs. The primadonnas of this universe are mechs and their pilots and thanks to FASA’s attention to detail we have hundreds of mechs and various weapon-system configurations for each mech regarding light attack, siege, etc. But roughly stated each of those mechs go into the field bristling with weaponry from head to toe and even though there are other warmachines in this time, none of them are as effective as the battlemech. Categorically mechs carry five types of weaponry:
I have to underline FASA’s attention to detail here, each and every category has lots of weapons (only the energy category has 20 weapons without counting the clan equipment)
Mechs are powered by Fusion reactors. They can produce immense amounts of energy for more than a decade with a few kilograms of hydrogen. Usually those reactors placed under the torso section of the mech and their biggest problem is heat. If you have played some battletech games before, both in tabletop and pc, you probably are already accustomed to this idea and the heat warning and heat shutdown statuses. This is the main reason why you are filling your mech with heatsinks nearly in equal measure with guns. When you overheat those beasts, and they get overheated if you are not careful, they go into a heat shutdown in order to not to explode Chernobyl style (not that they are nuclear but overdriving a hot reactor isn’t a good idea from where you look and you don’t wanna be in the vicinity when that happens). But if we put that disadvantage aside we are left with one thing: when you don’t have energy as a concern, you have the ability to mobilize a heavy hunk-a-junk and when you add a gyroscope to that making balance possible, you have a weapons platform which can walk, run, fly and stay in balance while delivering insane amounts of firepower to a desired location.
Although most of the mechs have a humanoid shape this is not necessary. But generally we can say every mech has a head, torso, arm and leg part and you can mount weaponry and tools to each section. From what I’ve seen I think energy weapons are dominating other categories due to their ammoless design making logistics easier, but they produce heat in every shot so my suspicion is, this is taken as an acceptable tradeoff. The biggest damage dealer in this section is Particle Projector Cannon (PPC) which can harm a mech from long range. Apart from that, rockets still play an active role. Ballistic and Artillery weaponry are mounted for special purposes. My impression is that the close range battle is found distasteful – then again every pilot has different tastes regarding to that.
If we want to discuss the classification of mechs regarding to their weight:
- Ligh Mech: 20-35 tonnes
- Medium Mech: 40-55 tonnes
- Heavy Mech: 60-75 tonnes
- Assault Mech: 80-100 tonnes
The most dangerous attack a mechwarrior can do is called as Alpha Strike. This strike basically means shooting each and every weapon without taking heat into account ,“Damn the torpedoes, full spead ahead” style. Needless to say after a few alpha strikes most of the mechs go into heat shutdown and this method of attack isn’t used as a widely chosen stratagem. When you are in dire straits and have nothing to lose, you alpha strike the other fellow just to make a point before you go to the great repair bay in Hades.
By the way, in addition to Clan and House Mechs we have active mercenery bands operating within the sphere which has their own mechs, and we control such a mercenary group in the latest released game. These bands are often used as deniable assets, like a shadowrunner group, in various tasks: from battling a covert war with a house in the name of another house to police forcing a planet where planting an official force would create political problems.
So, how do these mechs carried between systems and galaxies? How do they dropped to the planets? I really wish to say in a very Warhammer40k-ish bombasticism that they are dropped from the atmosphere but no, no such luck. These vehicles are dropped to the planet by cargoships called as Dropships which look like gigantic eggs and can protect themselves if need be. Although we see they only carry mechs in the computer games, they are used as trade ships, passenger shuttles and fulfilling other cargo needs. But we should not forget that they are unable to do FTL. FTL is done only by jumpships in this universe. Dropships are tied to those jumpships and they can travel from system to system in no time.
I hope I can give you an impression about the Mechwarrior universe. I have started to reread the novels and found their narrative and storybuilding quite archaic, but their computer games are quite successful. As for the latest game I have no idea but it looks very good and represent how we played the tabletop game with a scenario, so the complaint I’ve seen stated the most, that the combat flows reaallly slow, is making me think that they really represented it well because it was supposed to be slow. You are not controlling fast machines which do puny pewpew sounds. But we’ll see what it’ll turn into after patching and updating.