Flashpoint is a brilliant addition to BattleTech's late game

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There are a lot of different ways to build a lance in BattleTech, especially now that the Flashpoint expansion has introduced three new types of mech. You might want a bunch of gunners that can take out the opposing team from afar, or you could throw in some light mechs to outmanoeuvre them, but I keep going for the classic Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots tactic: punch everything until it explodes. I feel very well catered for, then, because now I can fling a mech with a giant axe into these heavy metal brawls. 

My big, sweet Hatchetman is the most beloved of all my mechs. He's large, of course (though technically he's medium, according to his classification), and he's rather deft at hitting things, specifically with a big robo-axe. Look at him go!

I'm extremely proud. The Hatchetman is obviously a brawler, excelling at close range fights, and he's got some short-range weapons along with his nasty axe. Despite looking like a big bruiser, he's surprisingly light on his feet, which he needs to be, given that he's his armour can't stand much of a pounding. Still, I like to throw caution to the wind and launch him towards enemies with wild abandon. 

He's accompanied by the Crab and the Cyclops. The Crab's an extremely heat-efficient skirmisher, able to unleash its lasers on enemies without having to worry  about ammunition or taking breaks to manage its temperature. The very expensive Cyclops is, at 90 tonnes, a beefy boy with lots of armour, but he doesn't dole out the damage quite as much as other mechs in his weight class. There's still a very good reason to add him to your lance, however. The Cyclops has a battle computer that kicks everyone's initiative up a notch, letting you attack with your heaviest hitters a lot more quickly. 

Freelancer

Flashpoint has more of a sandbox spirit than vanilla BattleTech. With or without the expansion, you can flit around space, picking missions from a list of jobs—depending on your reputation and ability—while hiring new crew and building a whole host of mechanical monsters, but the story stops short of letting you be a proper free-wheeling mercenary. You’ve got debts, responsibilities and allegiances all tied to the plot. The titular flashpoint missions and a new career mode (which everyone gets as part of a free update) loosen the reins. 

Career mode removes the story and the pressures that come with it, letting you go where you want and take on whatever missions tickle your fancy. It’s BattleTech, but without the restrictions. And without the story missions to work towards, you’re free to build your mercenary company the way you want, rather than just making a lance that’s tough enough to tackle the next part of the campaign. 

Since the campaign doles out free mechs, big chunks of cash and gives you a clear path to follow, the career mode feels more appropriate for a second playthrough. BattleTech’s a tricky game, but the structure of the campaign eases you into it better than the career mode sandbox. If you’ve already completed the campaign and want an alternative challenge, however, it seems perfect. If you get the expansion, too, it pairs well with the flashpoint missions. 

Alongside the standard gigs where you’re just doing random odd jobs for pirates and noble houses, you’ll encounter special missions—sometimes bastard-hard—that come with all the conversation, plot and occasional choices that you might instead expect from the campaign. But since they’re self-contained and optional, there’s never any pressure to do them. You’re leading a bunch of mercenaries—nobody tells you when you have to go to work. So you get the benefit of the story and their fleeting but welcome characters, but you still get to feel like you’re charting your own course, not tied down by obligations to deposed monarchs.

The gauntlet

Flashpoint missions also appear in the regular campaign, so if you’re playing for the first time, or you don’t want to have to start fresh, you can still take them on. In particular, they benefit the end-game, giving you something to do with your battle-hardened mechs instead of the same old challenges. They’ve got big paydays, but they’re also risky. You might find yourself duking it out in consecutive battles without any time to repair or heal, so you’ll want to prepare and have plenty of beefy mechs and veteran pilots at the ready.

When you’re dealing with consecutive deployments, you can’t just shrug off losses, and even a mech just losing a limb could risk the success of subsequent battles. Consequences loom large over the battlefield, ramping up the tension even when things are going your way. A single bad turn can transform a walk in the park into a catastrophe in normal missions, but it’s so much more pronounced when you can’t just fix everything up on the Argo when you’re done. 

While the stories that play out during the flashpoints are self-contained, they contribute to a more cohesive galaxy. There’s more going on now, with more meaningful conflicts between factions. Rather than just being the weapon they use to win, you get to have a say in the outcome, nudging the story down one path or another. And they contribute to a tone—that free-wheeling mercenary life—that just fits so well with the BattleTech universe. Each is a full adventure that you can enjoy in one sitting, and then you’re off to the next one, or maybe some other kind of job. It’s almost episodic, not in the style of an episodic game, per se, but at least evocative of interstellar sci-fi TV like Battlestar Galactica or Firefly. 

There are a lot of ways to get into Flashpoint, but with its biggest features being geared more towards the end-game and second playthroughs, it’s not quite essential if you’re just starting out as a first-time mech commander. It should still absolutely be on your radar, and if you've been considering another round of robot brawling, Flashpoint is a great excuse.