So I open with a disclaimer: Battletech’s Dark Age era was never my cup of tea. This was not a reflection on the novels, mind you, but more a conscious decision not to get involved with the MechWarrior: Dark Age system. (I had had my fill of collectible RPGs with Magic: The Gathering, thank you very much.) So I avoided the line entirely. Instead, like many long-time fans, I quietly celebrated when Classic Battletech proved more durable than the developers had believed. Recently, however, I read A Bonfire of Worlds, (essentially the last Battletech novel written, although it was ultimately released in serial parts via Battle Corps) and finding it to be a lot of fun, I decided to give the Dark Age another look.
Era Report: 3145 has everything we’ve come to expect from the Era Report series. All the major factions are presented, with vast amounts of detailed information on an array of major characters, units and events, bringing us up to speed through the first thirteen years of the Dark Age. (Encompassing all the Dark Age novels and other content, and extending about two years after the events of ABOW.) To start with, we get a full and comprehensive history of recent going’s on.
Next, the major personalities are presented, beginning with the Great Houses (what’s left of them), the Republic of the Sphere (ditto), the Inner Sphere-based Clans (poor, poor Nova Cats) and the Periphery states (they actually seem to be doing okay, by comparison). These are all quality write-ups, with RPG rules in the back if you are so inclined. As with the other Era Reports, there is an in-depth period-specific character creation section for those playing the A Time of War RPG. There are campaign tracks touching on several major conflicts, and these can be easily expanded upon as your playing group sees fit. We get a number of excellent illustrations, as well.
Change through destruction and chaos has long been a constant theme in the Battletech universe, something Michael Stackpole began back in the day when he would spend years building up an amazing world for us, only to gleefully smash it to pieces. (Stagnation is boring, after all.) The Dark Age has been no exception to this theme. Indeed, many of the characters and factions we were introduced to at the start of the Dark Age series have “moved on”, including several POV characters from the novels. At least one major group from the Classic Invasion/Civil War/Jihad era now appears to be gone for good. Two “classic” factions, the Lyran Commonwealth and the Federated Suns, appear to be on the verge of collapse. The current map of the Inner Sphere – maps have become an expected feature of almost any Battletech product – is a mess, strictly from an in-universe standpoint. Something I’ve come to notice in the Dark Age line is the characters, including the protagonists, tend to be deeply flawed in ways I didn’t feel in their predecessors. Sure, Victor Steiner-Davion might have made a lot of mistakes, but at the same time, he was easy to root for. If you are looking for a classic “good guy” character or faction in the Dark Age, it might be something of a challenge.
None of this means that this “new era” can’t be damned entertaining, however. If you can let yourself root for a “bad guy”, or perhaps a particularly vicious anti-hero, I’d like to introduce you to my friend Alaric…
The book still leaves plenty of mystery regarding the whole Dark Age universe. We still don’t know who or what exactly caused the HPG blackout or what happened to Devlin Stone. There’s also lingering questions as to how Stone and the Republic managed to get all the other factions (including the Clans) to agree to disarm much of their military strength after the Jihad. No doubt, the developers have left these open so we’ll continue to follow along and buy product.
If there’s a gripe about ER3145, it would probably be a relative lack of new weapons and technologies presented in the “Museum Technica”. We’re given a handful of “variant armors” that are strong in one situation but weak in others, and likewise the four other pieces of new equipment we get all fall under the “experimental” label. Considering, however, the frenetic pace the developers released new toys to us during the Jihad series, I think we can forgive them for slowing it down for the moment. Also, there’s very little detail on the current strength levels of the various factions, no deployment tables and that sort of thing. No doubt that info is being held back for the already-announced Field Manual: 3145, which is likely a few months away from release. Finally, there is virtually nothing about what’s going on back in the Clan Homeworlds, post-Wars of Reaving. That’s fine – as before, it will probably be explored later in future products.
Overall, however, ER3145 is an excellent product for bringing any Battletech fan up to speed on the Dark Age era, regardless of whether or not they’ve read the novels. The writing, artwork and depth of information are all top notch. The future of Classic Battletech is in good hands, and that future has led us to the Dark Age.
Come to the dark side of Battletech, my fellow CBTers. We’ve waited almost a decade. Let’s give Dark Age a chance.