Earlier this year Battletech arrived to a fairly tepid response, garnering many average reviews in response to slow paced battles, poor frame rates and a lack of variety in it's mission concepts. Having backed the game myself with a pre-order months ahead of time, I was definitely left feeling conflicted by the time I finished the campaign, wondering why conversation options were offered but amounted to nothing, how leveling options for characters piloting giant robots could be so dull and why the touted tactical advantages of small, mobile mechs meant nothing next to the sheer firepower of the bigger bots. It felt like all the potential for a satisfying turn based strategy game was there, but had been narrowly missed.
Months later, Battletech is getting a major patch and the first of three expansions made with the intent to boost your selection of robots, provide a new environment to fight in as well as add depth and character to an otherwise faceless galaxy full of planets and century spanning politics. What's arrived is a package that feels somewhat underwhelming, but one that's also a step in the right direction.
Unsurprisingly, given they're the namesakes of the entire expansion, Flashpoint missions are the major new addition to the Battletech formula on offer here. Available either as part of the campaign or the in the brand new sandbox career mode (released to all Battletech players via that aforementioned update), Flashpoints are a somewhat more characterful alternative to the endless string of "escort this/defend them/blow that up" side missions that players of the original campaign will be intimately familiar with. What sets these missions apart are consecutive deployments, lore expanding conversations, mission givers with their own agendas as well as meaningful decision making, the latter being sorely missing from the initial campaign mode.
Each Flashpoint begins after moving to a sector highlighted on the galaxy map, glowing points representing locations suffering crises in dire need of your brand of robotic justice. Accepting the mission leads to some scene setting conversation, with your rag tag crew settling down to hear what the local government or mercenary crew needs from you. Political issues abound and escalate between the major interplanetary players, pirate prisoners need transporting and hidden enemy bases need to be wiped out. The rewards are most often a selection of Lostech upgrades, powerful forgotten technology that's otherwise unavailable to you. With these weapons and equipment otherwise unavailable via shops, it's a powerful temptation, risking those consecutive deployments with no chance to repair battle damage before the next round begins.
During these initial conversations you're often given a choice over your course of action, such as making a direct assault or a more tactical approach. Other times the choice is whether you'll take the mission at all, with ethical considerations sometimes provoking a moral conflict within the crew and forcing you to draw your own line. In one instance, I had been given the job of transporting a prisoner by a local government. After an initial conversation to set the scene, the mission went off without a hitch, my hulking robots easily defending a small parade of APC's and mobile missile launchers. In the aftermath, safely back on my ship, an unexpected transmission from the prisoner herself divided the crew's opinion. I chose to hear her out but, after she made an offer that could very easily have been a trap, I turned her down and continued to transport her for the government. I wont spoil what happened next, but it was a nice twist and a solid reminder that your mech company are alone out there, struggling to tell ally from enemy. Twists and turns that extend beyond battlefield reinforcements are most definitely a welcome addition to Battletech and this aspect of Flashpoint is it's strongest.
Flashpoint adds three robots to your potential arsenal, including the much hyped and requested melee bot, Hatchetman, alongside more typical fighters in the form of Cyclopes and Crab. Truth be told, not being a dyed in the wool Battletech fan and knowing only a little lore leaves me wondering whether I'm supposed to be excited at the addition of the latter two, fairly average bots given that they don't do anything distinct and just offer up another potential weapon/armour/heat balance rather than a unique function. In a game with only a handful of weapon variants available, new rigs to mount those limited weapons on aren't that exciting.
Whether you'll actually be taken by the tactical potential of these robots will really come down to your play style and which stage of the game you're at, with smaller bots doing well in the early stages of the career mode but quickly becoming a waste of space as larger mechs are collected. Personally, none of these new bots did much to shake up what the core game had taught me during my initial run months ago - bigger is better and killing quicker is better than avoiding shots. It still stands that gathering a gang of four assault mechs and gearing them to be one shot killers is going to work far more consistently than aiming to move fast and outflank with smaller mechs.
To expand the visual variety a little, tropical biomes have been added, but ultimately amount to little more than a colour pallet change and a logical knock to your mech's heat dispersion when you operate in them. There's really little to say about it beyond that, with beaches dotted with palm trees not exactly doing much beyond providing a mild variation from the slightly different greens and browns of the highlands and lowlands settings. If anything, this particular part of Flashpoint feels as though it ought to have been given out as part of the latest patch, it's gameplay value is so low.
Overall, Battletech: Flashpoint just doesn't offer enough to justify it's price, currently costing around half what the base game does. Having more reason to care about the missions you take and their context is great, but the mission concepts themselves have barely expanded at all and there's little that's truly new when it comes to the tropical biome and two of the three additional robots. Those dying to build a gang of close quarter fighters or a vaguely meme worthy Crab crew might well find what they're looking for, but I'll be looking forward to the next expansions and hoping for some new tactical options, weapons and mission objective variety next time.