A lot of fanboys quietly held their breath when FASA suffered a catastrophic reactor core breach in 2001. A lot of us didn’t know if there would be new BattleTech-themed videogames, or even tabletop games. Heck I still don’t know how entertainment companies work.
MechWarrior IV was the last classically developed first person sim in the franchise for nearly a decade. Thankfully it’s release really let us fanboys who were worried about the FASA fallout breathe easier. MechWarrior, at least for the time being, wasn’t going anywhere. The game was also the basis for a number of expansions and incarnations. This includes the current BattleTech Firestorm system used by the Virtual World Tesla II sim pods at various gaming centers and private collections around the country.
The Inner Sphere history at the time of the games was right smack in the middle of the FedCom civil war. I’m not a huge fan of that story-arc. I understand it was a method to keep the Steiner Davions from having too much power and all that, it’s just not my favorite time period. Another thing that really stuck in my craw was all the emphasis on Clan equipment. Clan tech is almost prohibitively expensive to buy or repair in the Inner Sphere. I can see some house guards having a few Clan ‘Mechs who’d gained them in the Clan wars or something. But MechWarrior IV had just as many, if not more Clan designs than Inner Sphere ‘Mechs. MechWarrior 3 also had a lean towards clantech, but the setting actually supported it. But regardless of the nitpicking, MWIV is a wonderful game.
One of my first thoughts while playing, after the whole Clantech bias thing was that the ‘Mechs have a different look to them. Some almost unrecognizably so. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. In the early years, BattleTech had some butt-ugly ‘Mech designs. Many of these were reworked, others just enhanced. An example was their Vulture – which featured a weapons mount in the center torso heavily reminiscent of a helicopter gunship’s chin turret. It was favored enough by fans for a Mad Dog 2 variant to enter the lexicon.
Where MechCommander introduced us to live actors for the first time, MechWarrior IV went almost Wing Commander on the player, with decent actors, long cutscenes, and an opening movie sequence that had us all screaming for a BattleTech movie.
The story was heart-wrenching but unfortunately formulaic. Bad guys kill good guy’s family and take over. Underdog must overcome massive obstacles. Good guy deposed heir must take the world back and dethrone evil puppet leader. Its predictable as a story, but we really didn’t care. We’d never seen more than the BattleTech cartoon feature a story set in the universe. And here, you could sit and watch for a few moments before you went out to kill badguys. It was a win/win.
The ‘Mech list was kind of light for the first game. I’m not sure exactly how many, but the follow-up expansion pack (Black Knight) released the next year featured many more ‘Mech types. I wish they had made an update patch that introduced those new designs into the original campaign. It was getting ridiculous towards the end when everyone was fighting in either Atlases or Daishis.
One thing I really liked from Black Knight is that it establishes the character you played in the first game and his companions as the bad guys. It was the Legacy of Kain play. The original MechWarrior IV had two endings: One was the “good” ending where you refuse the chance at some heavy duty weapons to go save your sister – who would later become duchess of Kentares IV. The “bad” ending had you writing her off in favor of the weapons that ultimately installed Ian Dresari as duke.
The latter was the established canon according to the sequel, where you ultimately had to depose Dresari. I also liked the mercenary angle. I’ve never had much of a faction bias despite the novels I’ve read. And so the ‘filthy lucre warriors’ had an appeal to me from the first BattleTech novel I ever read – Wolf Pack. Black Knight also introduced one of my favorite versions of the Wolfhound.
Expanding the game even further was MechWarrior IV Mercenaries and its Inner Sphere and Clan ‘Mech packs. I didn’t play this until I discovered the Mektek version with the online lobby, and could never figure out how to join any games anyway. But that really didn’t bother me. I’ve always preferred single player anyways. Once again you play as a merc, only this time you were upstarting your own ‘Mech unit as a kind of auxillary to one of four established mercenary units: The now defunct Gray Death Legion, Northwind Highlanders, Kell Hounds, and of course Wolf’s Dragoons.
Not only could you charter flights to a host of different planets for a wide array of contracts that straddled either side of the FedCom civil war; but you could also enter the Solaris 7 games for a LONG season of play hosted by veteran commentator and Medium Circuit Champion Duncan Fisher.
I still have the game installed for when I want to bust up some ‘Mechs on my PC. It’s not advanced enough to play MechWarrior: Online or probably Living Legends if I could find a copy. From a tactical standpoint, MW:O does not really impress me anyway. It might be a case of sour grapes.
MechWarrior IV: an epic experience if played in its entirety. I can only hope that future, more ‘advanced’ games have an actual storyline. In that regard, MW:4, Tactical Command, and even the Mech Assault games will beat the pants off MW:O any day of the week.
Well bargained, and done.