BattleTech has grown into a sprawling, must-play mech war sim

BattleTech concept art
(Image credit: Harebrained Schemes)

Harebrained Schemes pulled off something special when it released BattleTech back in 2018. It was a tight, satisfying squad tactics game with giant robot tanks, delivering customization, book-balancing mercenary management and lots of laser-induced explosions. Our own Chris Thursten scored it a very respectable 85, and things only improved with patches and DLC. That alone should be plenty of reason to pick it up and play it.

But some fans (myself included) felt it was a little limiting. While it captured a lot of what made the original ‘80s tabletop game great, it felt a bit restricted in scale. Why am I only deploying four mechs, and with arbitrary tonnage limits when I’m not having to track armor levels on paper? Why do light mechs fade into uselessness? Why does it feel like I’m running a Pokémon team instead of a private army?

Enter the BattleTech mod scene. Over the past four years, they’ve done a Reverse Ikea on the game, taking it apart and then somehow reassembling it with five times as many components as it originally had. Here’s why you should be playing BattleTech in 2022, and especially trying out the massive expansion-and-overhaul mod BattleTech Advanced 3062.

If you wanted to command a true mercenary army of mechs, tanks, aircraft and infantry in a galaxy’s worth of lucrative contracts? Now’s your chance. 

Install this one

What's the best version of the game?

For the purpose of modding, you’ll probably want the Mercenary Collection version of BattleTech, available (and frequently discounted to around the $25 / £20 range) on Steam, GOG (opens in new tab) and lots of other smaller storefronts.  This includes the base game and the three DLC packs that made up the season pass. Where you buy the game is of no concern, as all mods are hosted externally.

While most smaller mods don’t require them, and there are modular components to make individual DLCs not required for some of the major mods, the three add-ons each add notable features that I’d consider fundamental to BattleTech as it stands today.

If you must pick and choose, the three DLCs add:

  • Flashpoint: Several story driven ‘flashpoint’ mini-campaigns, new mission types, new mechs
  • Heavy Metal: One more flashpoint, eight new mechs, eight new weapon types
  • Urban Warfare: Multiple flashpoints, urban maps, a new mission type, ECM tech & new mechs

The one thing not included in the Mercenary Collection is the Shadow Hawk Pack DLC, which is a single skin for a single mech that you’ll probably barely be able to see in most situations. Previously a pre-order perk, there is no good reason to buy this. 

First steps

BattleTech

(Image credit: Harebrained Schemes)

Before you do anything else

If you’re a newbie to BattleTech or are coming back to the game after a couple years, you could do a lot worse than just reinstalling and taking a stab at the game with all its DLC and patches. The campaign is the smoothest way to learn the complexities of mech tactics, and the more sandbox-styled Career mode is much expanded thanks to several new mission types and several ‘flashpoint’ mission chains, adding some campaign-like scenarios to punctuate the daily laser grind.

You could play strictly vanilla with the DLC, but here are the small mods I recommend: 

Vanilla quality of life mods

BattleTech Mod Loader/Modtek - A fundamental package required by a lot of BattleTech’s mods. Doesn’t do anything by itself, but you should follow the instructions to install it before anything else. Make sure you run ModTekInjector.exe at least once or it won’t do anything.

BattleTech Performance Fix - Less quality-of-life, more technical essential. BattleTech’s load times and general optimization were never the greatest, and patches and DLC didn’t make things much better. This helps speed things up. Once you’ve downloaded Modtek above, just download the Performance Fix, unpack it to your Mods folder and you’re good to go.

Unofficial BattleTech Patch - Smaller and less comprehensive than it sounds, but it fixes a handful of old bugs that still plague the game to this day, the nastiest of which was the Brace order (telling a pilot to hunker down for a turn) not properly cooling down a mech.

Skip Intro - For some reason the game runs the intro animation every time you play. You can skip it after a while, but not playing it at all is nicer.

There are of course plenty more options over on Nexus Mods to let you customize it to personal taste, but really, what you’re here for is the power of running a real mercenary operation, right? A dropship loaded with heavy weaponry, a mountain of salvage awaiting at the end of every operation. It’s time to go large. 

The big one

BattleTech Advanced 3062

(Image credit: BattleTech Advanced 3062)

The must-play community expansion mega-mod 

There are three massive overhaul mods available for BattleTech, but given that a campaign with any of them is likely to take you dozens of hours, I'm only focusing on one, which I feel is the most polished and coherent of the three: BattleTech Advanced 3062.

⭐ Install: BattleTech Advanced 3062

Setup for this mod is surprisingly simple, given how complex the end product is. First make sure that you’ve got a clean install of BattleTech (BTA has so many moving parts, anything extra would likely cause conflicts), and then grab the installer from the BattleTech Advanced site here. Run it, point it at your BattleTech install and let it do its job—it may take a few hours, as this mod expands the game from around 30GB to nearly 80GB.

BattleTech Advanced lives up to its name and then some. While fundamentally familiar, every single aspect of the original game has been taken to the mechlab, stripped and upgraded into something vastly more complex. Almost every fundamental rule of the game has been rewritten to offer more tactical nuance, and the AI overhauled to let it pose a threat even on these more complex battlegrounds. This is BattleTech with the training wheels taken off and replaced with flamethrowers.

Everything has changed, starting with movement. Movement affects accuracy more on both ends of the scale. Hold still on a hilltop and you’re an easy target, but you can snipe targets with ease. Sprinting no longer disables weapons, allowing you to take potshots while charging into battle. Thanks to this, Light mechs are no longer deathtraps, as the evasion bonuses they gain from running fast aren’t magically drained by incoming fire. Instead, sensor locks (via unlocked pilot skills) are required to pin them down.

BattleTech Advanced 3062

(Image credit: BattleTech Advanced 3062)

That’s not to say light mechs are safe. Their new weakness is their lower mass, meaning that a running tackle from a much heavier mech will do absolutely terrifying amounts of collision damage. Yes, tackle. There’s now five different kinds of melee attacks—kicks, punches, melee weapons, charges and the classic Death From Above—each with their own perks and tradeoffs, and pilot stats affecting them. Pilot skills in general have seen an overhaul too, offering more options and multiple skill choices, making character builds as distinct as your hardware.

You can now choose which order weapons are fired in, and make granular tweaks to fire modes and ammo types. The sheer number of weapons is staggering, and there’s few genuinely bad options. Thanks to an expanded mech-lab, you’re free to attach just about anything to any point on your mechs. Knee-mounted missile pods? Anti-infantry hull mines? Melee weapons? It’s all up to you.

It’s a lot, and if you were just commanding a single lance of four mechs, it’d already be a complex and involved mod. But you're doing so much more than that: Where BTA 3062 stands out the most is in its scale.

Battles are bigger, messier and more complex, and you’re able to deploy as much hardware as your mech-bays and (upgradeable) dropship carrying weight will allow. At the start of the campaign you can field up to 10 units Fully upgraded, you can deploy 16:

  • Eight mechs
  • Four vehicles (previously enemy-only)
  • Four squads of Battle Armor infantry (entirely new for this mod)

And you’ll be going up against similarly imposing armies.

If BTA 3062 was just a complete mechanical rework it would be impressive enough, but it is so much more. A huge number of Mechs, tanks and Battle Armors from the tabletop source books are represented, as well as VTOL and aerotech units. There are new mission types and Flashpoints (hand-crafted scenario chains).

While you’ll only be able to pick Career mode in Advanced, you don’t have to worry about missing out on the original game’s campaign. Using the Flashpoint system, the BTA team have reworked and remixed the campaign, letting you tackle most of its battles at regular intervals, although you can just as easily ignore them and play it sandbox-style. There are plenty of new Flashpoints mixed in with the official ones, too. In short, you’ll have no shortage of jobs to take.

The other mega mods

Roguetech mod Mad Cat

(Image credit: Roguetech)

BattleTech Extended (opens in new tab): A more modular overhaul that lets you pick and choose new gameplay elements to add.

Roguetech (opens in new tab): Roguetech is terrifying, dropping an Ikea’s worth of stompybot warfare on your head. Not ideal for novice or intermediate players, but Roguetech is even more ambitious than BTA. One optional module adds asynchronous multiplayer that has factions change borders based on the cumulative actions of players. BattleTech at its least predictable.

A few BTA 3062 drawbacks

As impressive as this mod is on the whole, my recommendation does come with caveats. The biggest one is that there’s no mid-mission saving, due to BattleTech’s save system getting wonky under the load of so many modded components. This is great if you’re playing semi-Ironman style and want to roll with the punches (and I highly recommend you do), but if you’re used to hitting the undo button on every missed shot or reactor overheat, you might be frustrated. Personally I feel dealing with mistakes and misfortune is part of the fun.

The other major issue is that much like a mech putting on a laser light show, this mod can’t keep it up long-term without exploding. The BTA developers recommend quitting and reloading every few hours to make sure that memory leaks and other digital detritus don’t drag performance down. Not that performance will ever be amazing. BattleTech wasn’t the most optimized of games when it launched, and BTA further increases its load on hardware, especially on urban maps. Expect some chugs and stutters.

There are still some rough edges to the presentation. Some of the customized UI elements are a bit janky, but the most visible flaws are in new mech chassis types. It’s not unusual to see arms slightly detached during some animations or guns floating in the air. Nothing game-breaking, but it can hurt immersion a little.

Still, I consider none of these to be dealbreakers. You’re effectively playing the world’s biggest, most house-ruled game of tabletop BattleTech ever. Expect a little chaos and you’ll be fine.

Ready for war

BattleTech Advanced 3062

(Image credit: BattleTech Advanced 3062)

General tips & tricks:

 The campaign and tutorials for BattleTech should prepare most players well enough for what awaits, but if you’re diving into BattleTech Advanced 3062, here’s a few tips to help avoid frustration:

🤖Don’t worry if it chugs hard at first. BTA seems to do a lot of caching and initial setup on your first start and mission. After that, performance seems improved, although you shouldn’t be expecting anything to run smoothly, even if you’ve got a hefty PC.

🤖Pass some time and don’t start a mission immediately. After a day or two of in-game time, you’ll be gifted some starting gear and also offered a tutorial mission. It's well worth doing this if you’re new to BTA’s mechanics. After the third day you’re good to take contracts.

🤖It’s good to have friends in high places. The third option when you generate your character in Career mode gives a major perk. Most of the options are good (aside from Good Reputation, which throws you into higher-difficulty missions quicker), but best for newbies is Pioneering Comrades, which gives you a squad of highly skilled pilots based on the dev team, letting you field more units and hit harder early on.

🤖Don’t worry about the countdown on the Career map. If you’re shooting for a high score for bragging rights, you’ve got 1200 days to raise as much money as you can, and get your mercenary reputation as high as possible. This is entirely optional, and the campaign continues as normal even once that timer expires.

🤖Battle Armor are like angry fleas with lasers. These little four-person infantry squads can do a shocking amount of damage up close, but can’t run far. Hit the mech-lab, equip one of your front-line mechs with hand-holds and BAs will be able to mount it, riding it into battle. Once you get into close combat, have the BAs dismount and use their Swarm attack on an enemy mech. They’ll climb on board, clawing, firing their weapons and generally doing terrible things to it every turn, forcing the enemy pilot to waste a turn trying to shake them off.

BattleTech Advanced 3062

(Image credit: BattleTech Advanced 3062)

🤖Support drops can save your life. You might have to sacrifice some armor or a light laser for it, but being able to call in multiple turret deployments every battle is amazingly useful. Turrets are AI controlled, but will draw fire (being easy, stationary targets), can do surprising damage, and it’s clearly better to lose a 10,000 credit turret over a 5,000,000 credit mech. It’s possible to call in other units like this, including aerotech strafing runs and even tanks.

🤖Speed is life, but sometimes you need to aim. Evasion bonuses from running fast don’t decay over time. Light mechs need to sprint if they don’t want to be shot, and running over rough terrain or taking stability damage can open them up to a world of hurt, and losing a leg is a death sentence. Conversely, parking a unit on a cliff-top makes it an easy target, but able to hit targets from miles away.

🤖Get up-close and personal. There’s lots of melee options, but kicks are the safest and most versatile. Kicking a mech strips it of all evasion bonuses, letting you (and the rest of your squad) shoot an otherwise squirrelly target full of holes.

🤖Never underestimate tanks. Ground vehicles in BTA are every bit as valid as mechs, with very thick plating, and some have extremely powerful weaponry that won’t overheat. The tradeoff is that vehicles take extra damage from melee (heavy mechs can stomp them flat), and flamethrowers deal damage instead of overheating them. Tanks are great for sniping, less good for close combat.

🤖You’re a mercenary. Act like it. The last (and first) rule of BattleTech: Money makes the galaxy go round, and it doesn’t matter how cool a battle feels if you end up losing more hardware than your pay and salvage can replace. If your mech are losing armor fast, have it back off and evade, and consider bugging out. You’re paid to do a job, not to be a hero. 

The product of a wasted youth, wasted prime and getting into wasted middle age, Dominic Tarason is a freelance writer, occasional indie PR guy and professional techno-hermit seen in many strange corners of the internet and seldom in reality. Based deep in the Welsh hinterlands where no food delivery dares to go, videogames provide a gritty, realistic escape from the idyllic views and fresh country air. If you're looking for something new and potentially very weird to play, feel free to poke him on Twitter. He's almost sociable, most of the time.