A Mechwarrior: Destiny Review

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I convinced my mom to drive me and a few of my friends down to Chicago to experience a Battletech Center when I was thirteen years old. For those unaware, these were an early format of multiplayer gaming that featured multiple computers running a Mechwarrior-style 1st person perspective giant stompy robot game set in the Battletech universe. They went beyond a simple LAN party, though. They had full cockpits with readouts, toggle switches and full joystick and throttle to enhance the immersion. Later versions included celebrity warm up videos and a second game involving hovercraft racing on Mars. All in all, it stoked a love of Battletech, even if it never quite took hold the way something like Shadowrun or Vampire: The Masquerade did. The recent tactical computer game was like meeting an old friend, and I recently decided to take a chance with Mechwarrior: Destiny., their take on creating a more narrative RPG set in the universe. Did the game score a head shot? Let’s play to find out.

Mechwarrior: Destiny uses the Cue system, which has seen a few different variations across Catalyst Game Labs RPGs. It’s a narrative system at heart featuring players taking turns narrating inspired by short prompts on their character sheets or in the scene and spending Plot Points for special effects. I’ve never been into the system all that much; the cue prompts don’t have any real mechanical weight and that always struck me as an odd choice compared to games like Fate or Cortex.

But developer Phillip A. Lee does something unexpected: he welds the narrative elements onto something approaching a traditional RPG engine. The engine stays simple: stat + skill + 2d6 versus an opposed roll. Much like the Battlemechs at the center of the game, they also give the GM options to tailor the game to their group, such as offering different rules for initiative or how to set the game in a more traditional GM/player structure. I like it when core books give me options like these, but I also want the writers to pick the mainline rule and clearly mark the options. That happens in some places here, but other times these alt rules are buried in the text.

Character creation is relatively straightforward, with three levels of experience and chance to buy merits and flaws that add bonus and penalties to specific rolls in context. Admittedly, adding a bunch of plus ones and minus twos is part of how Battletech rolls, but it seems a little counterintuitive for a game that’s built for people who want a narrative framework for their military sci-fi action. Context is also key here: compared to previous entries like Mechwarrior and A Time of War, even this tiny bit of grittiness is a breeze that any good GM can figure out quickly.

Because character creation is so quick, I do wonder why the designers decided to put in over 20 sample PCs to use. I get that these games are meant to be pick-up-and-play but given that the recent Shadowrun rules set, which takes a lot more time to create characters, had ten archetypes, it seems excessive. I think that space could have been used in a much better way. The owners of Battletech should know that the mechs are the star of the show and could have given us some fine one page write ups of some of the best two legged tanks 3025 has to offer. The selection in the book is fine, and the rules for converting Battlemechs from the original game seem easy to use, but it feels like a missed opportunity to play to the strengths of the setting.

The real test of a game set in the Battletech universe is the mech combat. Make it too light and it doesn’t feel right but make it too heavy and players will wonder why they aren’t just playing the original game. Mechwarrior: Destiny threads the needle here by providing a few options. The game simplifies the mech combat while keeping the stuff that makes it unique like hit locations, heat and the joy of critical hits. It also offers rules on how to combine Destiny characters with the two big tactical rules sets used by the miniature sides of things. The narrative elements also offer a chance to speed play. There’s a risk/reward element to using Plot Points in combat. You can use them to trigger critical hits or summon battlefield support to damage opponents but you also need to keep some on hand if you want your pilot to eject safely from a damaged mech without putting them in danger of being injured by the experience. It’s an intriguing combination of narrative and mechanical elements that worked for me despite my skepticism.

The book focuses on the original Succession Wars era of 3025, which makes sense given its popularity and how it connects to the very excellent Hare Brained Schemes computer game. There’s a small primer on the setting and various historical eras that have evolved in the decades the game has been around, including an appendix that makes Clan mechwarriors and mechs playable. But it also highlights one of the big paradoxes of the product: for a game that’s meant to be an easy entry into the Battletech universe, it makes a lot of assumptions about what the reader already knows about the setting. For example, there are no rules for mech customization or creation. The assumption is that you would port over those things from technical readouts or the Tech Manual. Maybe I’m misreading the intent because it seems like a product made for me: someone who already loves the setting but doesn’t like the heaviness of the current games. I liked it, but that seems like a much thinner slice of potential customers than people who want to stomp around in a rich sci-fi setting full of political intrigue and cinematic explosions.

Mechwarrior: Destiny is an excellent game for Battletech fans who want to experience the world without always having to book out a day for hardcore minis gaming.

If you found this review helpful, please consider purchasing the game through the included affiliate links to directly support the reviewer
 
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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland

Sorry, but Mechwarrior is one of the best examples of ...... how sci-fi gets old very bad. The new generations miss current technology now it is real, but it wasn't even imagined in the sci-fi fiction from previous decades.

The fight of mechas are really spectacular, but these are more expensive and difficult to be repaired after the damages because a battle. Now the army use remote-control drones to attacks enemies even in a different continent.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I remember playing one of the Mechwarrior RPGs back in the 90s. My biggest complaint was that the same pool of character creation was used for on the battlefiend and off, including purchasing your initial mech. So we ended up with two characters that were complete people, had interesting abilities when not in a mech, and were neophyte pilots in light mechs, and three characters who had basically zero skill outside a mech, but were gods in mechs with talents, great skills, and heavy or assault mechs.

The GM, looking at half the party unable to function at anything except being in mechs, focused most of the game on the battlefield. To the detriment of the two of us. (And exasperated by the advancement system which granted XP on rolling a 12, so those bigger mechs with more weapons also granted more XP to their pilots.)

I mention all that because it seems that with the Plot Points also being able to be spent for mechanical aspects in mech combat that this game also may have the same one-pool approach for on-the-field and everything else, leading to the same disparities where some player build only for in-mech and some build for a whole world in an RPG. Can you go into some detail if this is true or how they avoid it?

Thanks.
 

payn

Legend
I recently got this via humble bundle. I wanted to get into individual pilots for my players while I ran their opposition. Turns out the campaign textbook was a little more what I was after. Though, I really appreciate this write up.
 

MGibster

Legend
Sorry, but Mechwarrior is one of the best examples of ...... how sci-fi gets old very bad. The new generations miss current technology now it is real, but it wasn't even imagined in the sci-fi fiction from previous decades.
I would say that it was a bit dated rather than bad. But then I don't think it really makes a big difference in determining how interesting the setting is.

The fight of mechas are really spectacular, but these are more expensive and difficult to be repaired after the damages because a battle. Now the army use remote-control drones to attacks enemies even in a different continent.

BattleTech has always had its absurdities and walking mechs on the battle field is one of them. Did you know vehicle mounted machine guns in BattleTech have a 90 meter range? Just three hexes. In real life, right here in the 21st century, such a weapon would have an effective range of 2,000 meters. But table top war games typically have much shorter ranges for weapons than real life because you've got to be able to fit everything on the table.

If someone is the type of person who is more interested in realism than the spectacle of battle mechs duking it out, well, that's cool, but BattleTech probably isn't the game for them.
 


Celebrim

Legend
Sorry, but Mechwarrior is one of the best examples of ...... how sci-fi gets old very bad. The new generations miss current technology now it is real, but it wasn't even imagined in the sci-fi fiction from previous decades.

The fight of mechas are really spectacular, but these are more expensive and difficult to be repaired after the damages because a battle. Now the army use remote-control drones to attacks enemies even in a different continent.

I think that there are a lot of valid complaints to be made about treating Battletech as a serious narrative setting, but I don't think this is one of them.

This is not an example of people imagining the future and failing to imagine how technology would plausibly advance. I'm more than convinced that the designers of the Battletech game were perfectly aware in the 1980's that the tech imagined by the game was utterly unrealistic and implausible. All the narrative created around the game is most mostly hand-waving to get you to not think how stupid it is to imagine warfare in the far future as occurring between giant humanoid robots.

The whole point of the game is to be a good tactical game and everything else is secondary to that. The ranges involved were never meant to be realistic. Nothing about the game was chosen out of realism. Everything was chosen for running small scale tactical combat that could fit easily on a card table and which would have interesting tactics on that small scale. I'm sure the designers were well aware none of this made sense if you thought about it hard.
 

MGibster

Legend
The whole point of the game is to be a good tactical game and everything else is secondary to that. The ranges involved were never meant to be realistic. Nothing about the game was chosen out of realism. Everything was chosen for running small scale tactical combat that could fit easily on a card table and which would have interesting tactics on that small scale. I'm sure the designers were well aware none of this made sense if you thought about it hard.

Yeah, the weapon ranges for BT are so low in part because it's impractical at that scale to have them reflect something more accurate. But more importantly, if the weapons had such long ranges, we'd rarely see mechs punching or kicking one another let alone a death from above. And I don't want to live in a world where giant mechs aren't bringing DFAs to the table.
 

kunadam

Explorer
I just liked BattleTech, and never cared about how realistic it might be. To be honest I would have more problem with the 2D star chart than ginat robots ruling the battlefield. But to each their own.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Yeah, the weapon ranges for BT are so low in part because it's impractical at that scale to have them reflect something more accurate. But more importantly, if the weapons had such long ranges, we'd rarely see mechs punching or kicking one another let alone a death from above. And I don't want to live in a world where giant mechs aren't bringing DFAs to the table.

Aside from the fact that if we had mechs opening up engagements at 500 hexes we'd probably not see mechs in melee, even if you doubled the normal speed of mechs movement would still be relatively unimportant to the overall flow of the battle. Movement wouldn't materially change range increments much, or cause you to move from one side of the mech to another quickly. If you can imagine long range weapons with practical engagement ranges of 500 hexes, then it would take many rounds of movement to bring to bear a "short" range weapon with a maximum range of say 200 hexes. And even if my Battlemaster is running at 12 hexes per round, it's still going to get shot at for 25 rounds before those medium lasers and SRMs matter.

So if you are going for the "Chess" aesthetic here of that easy for the human mind to embrace tactical challenge with the sort of easy to understand trade offs that engage the human mind, then you just kind of toss realism out the window. You know, kind of like the makers of Chess did when modeling war.
 

aramis erak

Legend
Sorry, but Mechwarrior is one of the best examples of ...... how sci-fi gets old very bad.
I believe the idiom you intended was "how sci-fi ages poorly."

Battletech's setting as a whole is no worse now than it was back in the day, save for the addition of the Clans... It's silly, but it's still fun.

MW: Destiny is a more narrativist-influenced ruleset than Mechwarrior 3E and BTRPG (which is a reprint of MW3 with new cover and title). Could be fun with the right players, but it relies upon knowing at least the corebook fluff and having one or more of the technical readouts...
 
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Abstruse

Legend
Sorry, but Mechwarrior is one of the best examples of ...... how sci-fi gets old very bad. The new generations miss current technology now it is real, but it wasn't even imagined in the sci-fi fiction from previous decades.

The fight of mechas are really spectacular, but these are more expensive and difficult to be repaired after the damages because a battle. Now the army use remote-control drones to attacks enemies even in a different continent.
This is actually explained in the backstory of BattleTech. During First and Second Succession Wars, the Inner Sphere quite literally bombed themselves back to the Bronze Age (not an exaggeration, outside of major urban colonies, a lot of places went that far back in terms of technology).

The standard combat during those wars were WarShips wielding nuclear weapons fired from orbit to obliterate industrial production centers and other crucial infrastructure of their opponents. And of course their opponents did the same to them. The only defense against a WarShip was another WarShip so pretty soon they were shooting one another out of space until eventually, there were no WarShips left and there was no way to build anymore of them because all the manufacturing plants were also destroyed.

Everybody involved basically stopped and said "Hey, wait, if we keep doing this, we won't even have access to faster than light travel anymore and what's the point of ruling the galaxy when you can't go anywhere?" so agreed mutually to stop orbital nuclear bombardments, no longer attack JumpShips (the non-combat civilian FTL ships, though the in-system military DropShips were still fair targets), and do their best to preserve what little advanced technology they had left.

Meanwhile Comstar's running around making sure nobody else rediscovers any lost technology because they managed to proclaim neutrality and escaped with little damage to their technology bases. Since they didn't (technically) have a standing military, they used their control of the interstellar communications network to create an intelligence agency that ensured they could prevent anyone else from advancing and maintain the balance of "Just Slightly Hotter than a Cold War" level of diplomacy between factions.

Now all this is handwavy backstory to explain why the fates of entire planets can be played out between a handful of units on a battlefield covering two poster maps, but it is an essential part of the setting that explains how they can have giant 100 ton robots running around the place but no advanced missile targeting systems capable of turning street corners after being fired from 10 km away or anything else we have in the modern day.

The BattleTech and MechWarrior games are meant to create a world of feudal politics and small-scale skirmishes but with giant laser robots instead of armored knights. And the original creators were well aware of hot unrealistic that concept is thinking about even then-modern technology let alone the more recent advancements with smart missiles and drones. So they specifically created a future-history for the world that justifies the sort of gameplay they were going for in a way that makes a bit of logical sense. It's an anachronistic sci-fi world by intention and one of the reasons I love the setting is they did put in the work to create plausible excuses. Why are ranges so short? Because they wanted the battles on a scale where different weapon choices made significant difference to the tactics of the battle in terms of maneuvering and position, so they wrote a world where all advanced targeting computers are extinct and pilots have to essentially eyeball every shot.
 
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Mechwarrior/Battletech is one of those properties that I think should have a set of three core rulebooks instead of one, due to the complexity factors of having mechs and space ships in play.

heads back to attaching an Orion mech's head onto a Hatchetman's body
 

payn

Legend
Mechwarrior/Battletech is one of those properties that I think should have a set of three core rulebooks instead of one, due to the complexity factors of having mechs and space ships in play.

heads back to attaching an Orion mech's head onto a Hatchetman's body
I think they sort of do. Though, Catalyst is pretty bad at explaining the difference in the rulebooks.
 

aramis erak

Legend
Excellent Summary.
Misses a few bits...

The 5 Great Houses...
  • Kurita - Draconis Combine
  • Davion - Federated Suns
  • Liao - Capellan Confederation
  • Merrick - Free Worlds League
  • Steiner - Lyran Commonwealth
Also called the "Successor States" - as they're the successors to the Star League.

The First Succession War was when the Star League fell... the biggest survivors became the 5 great houses. And don't let the names decieve - in the lore, they're all essentially autocracies, most being hereditary.

Around the 5th Succession War, Houses Davion and Steiner are looking more and more like allies, despite being (literally) across the "inner sphere" from each other... Resulting eventually in a (short-lived?) Merger into the Federated Combine.

Now, the end of the civil war needs a bit more, as well... One of the last senior officers of the Star League, Aleksander Kerensky, decides to withdraw the League's Star Navy from the inner sphere, grabbing a bunch of techs and scientists, as well as anything tech he could grab... and fleeing the bounds of the old League... he finds a habitable cluster, and creates a warrior culture with surviving star league tech... but no industrial base. So, they set about preserving the tech and building the industrial base to come back and reinstate the Star League by force... With the navy pulled out, the would be successor states (not just the 5 great ones) blasting each other's infrastructure...

The folks Kerensky took beyond the edge of the League evolve into The Clans - a warrior dominated culture based upon competition at all things... They've got a tech base, they've got an industrial base to use it, and a deep commitment to correcting the errors of the Inner Sphere.... I got off the lore train after the clans invaded the inner sphere...

Note also that Kerensky was also the person who negotiated ComStar's neutrality...

ComStar also has monastic trappings...
 

MGibster

Legend
ComStar also has monastic trappings...
Sometimes referred to as Space AT&T. ComStar has a monopoly on faster than light communication. If you want to send a message to another world they can get it there in weeks or months depending on just how far it needs to go. And one of the reasons ComStar is so valuable is that anything you send through their network is now known to ComStar. In the 70s and 80s, the joke was that the phone companies knew all your business becaus they could always listen in on your calls and you'd never know it. I suppose these days ComStar might be better described as Space Google.
 

payn

Legend
Sometimes referred to as Space AT&T. ComStar has a monopoly on faster than light communication. If you want to send a message to another world they can get it there in weeks or months depending on just how far it needs to go. And one of the reasons ComStar is so valuable is that anything you send through their network is now known to ComStar. In the 70s and 80s, the joke was that the phone companies knew all your business becaus they could always listen in on your calls and you'd never know it. I suppose these days ComStar might be better described as Space Google.
Right, you didn't mess with space AT&T either or else managing your troops and armies was almost impossible.
 

bulletmeat

Adventurer
Sometimes referred to as Space AT&T. ComStar has a monopoly on faster than light communication. If you want to send a message to another world they can get it there in weeks or months depending on just how far it needs to go. And one of the reasons ComStar is so valuable is that anything you send through their network is now known to ComStar. In the 70s and 80s, the joke was that the phone companies knew all your business becaus they could always listen in on your calls and you'd never know it. I suppose these days ComStar might be better described as Space Google.
Funny part is that this didn't age badly at all. ComStar is basically the internet.
 


Ixal

Hero
Rule 1: When playing Mechwarrior (RPG) dont have mechwarrior (profession)

The folks Kerensky took beyond the edge of the League evolve into The Clans - a warrior dominated culture based upon competition at all things... They've got a tech base, they've got an industrial base to use it, and a deep commitment to correcting the errors of the Inner Sphere.... I got off the lore train after the clans invaded the inner sphere...
The clans, especially clan wolf are the ultimate Mary Sues of Mechwarrior, always winning even when they are losing, having plot armor thicker than the front of an Atlas mech and being able to do impossible feats when its required for them to win.

Generally Mechwarrior is very bad with presenting plausible warfare.
That is not limited to mechs being a rather bad weapon (although they have some redeeming factors not often discussed) but also its inability to properly account for the scale of a conflict.
A capital planet could easily build and maintain several thousand aerospace fighters and have armies in the millions with all normal equipment like tanks and artillery they need. How are you supposed to take that by landing a few dozen robots on the planet (if you can even manage that) even with auxillary troops.

Or how the clans with a tiny, ressource poor star cluster can take on the entire inner sphere with hundreds, maybe even thousands of planets woth only a marginal technological advatage. No way they would have had the manpower and industry for that.
 
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