In my last product review, I gave a lengthy introduction to the Word of Blake Jihad and Devlin Stone. Luckily, with the latest release for TRO: 3085 I can dispense with the pleasantries and just dive right in.
First off, TRO: 3085 Supplemental is nice-sized addition to the original Technical Readout released earlier this year. When compared to the recent spat of Experimental TROs being released by Catalyst Game Labs, the 3085 Supplemental is almost a stand alone product in its own right. That alone should make most players happy, especially when this book is set next to its 300 page parent. Together they form quite the compendium of early Dark Age battle technology. Second, the new Supplemental also follows its predecessor in scope, providing a wide look at the different combat branches of the Inner Sphere and Clans. This means 3085 Supplemental also includes sections detailing new infantry types, conventional vehicles, battle armor, ‘Mechs and aerospace assets from immediately after or during the waning years of the Word of Blake’s Jihad. Again, this book does a good job of further painting a complete picture of the Inner Sphere during the Dark Age.
As for the different combat units in the book…here’s how it went.
There seems to be a noticeable trend developing in the mindset of post-Jihad combat designs. While the fiction, as it is written outright supports the new mindset, it’s still a stark departure from older official TRO units. The design mindset I’m referencing of course, is the emphasis on speed as a weapon. Whereas pre-Jihad designs tended to sport the heaviest amount of armor and weapons possible, newer post-Jihad designs have emphasized speed at their expense. The overall result is a unit that is blindly fast, but pitifully armed and armored.
Some of this can be chalked up to the dynamics of the original Mechwarrior Dark Age “clicky-tech” game. With only a small dial to control game pieces, BattleMechs would be limited in what weapons they could carry for game play purposes. While this would hamstring the MW:DA game and make it unpopular with Classic BattleTech enthusiasts, maintaining a coherent universe would necessitate paying at least some lip service to this unfortunate imposition. A convenient “change” was written into the story line that could explain the new dynamic construction mentality, but also create game units with a less than traditional format. What this means for Classic BattleTech’s future is unknown, but I’m hoping that the Line Developers will begin to “exercise” some of the original MW:DA units from canon as the universe’s time line progresses past the fiction WizKids has already published. Meaning, I’m hoping this is just a “phase” that will soon pass.
As for some of the book’s more notable units, I was especially impressed with some of the newer infantry types, specifically the section detailing the Kraken Unleased mercenary unit. Seeing something as different to what amounts to submarine-based infantry was pretty neat. Not only was I provided with a good look at a new mercenary command, but the write up also included some juicy tidbits regarding Stalwart Support and The Battle Corps. Additionally, 3085 Supplemental lends readers their first look at the Republic of the Sphere’s infantry branch, showing their uniforms, disposition and types.
The Supplemental’s Inner Sphere conventional vehicle section was also interesting, either emphasizing or reemphasizing some of the game’s more accepted units. New vehicles like the Trireme VTOL and the Teppo Support Vehicle remind players that Battle Armor and Artillery are essential components to any BattleTech game and should make playing with them even more fun. While I’m not a fan of the “Hopper”-style VTOL found in Heavy Gear, the new Aeron is also sure to be an extremely popular compliment to the more traditional Mantis and Yellowjacket VTOLs of old. Taken as a whole, I thought the Supplemental’s infantry section was the most complete and best executed section of the book, with a consistent layout and feel, with the Inner Sphere’s Conventional Vehicle section coming in a close second.
Sadly, the same can not be said for the remainder of the Technical Readout. While there were a number of stand out designs, including the Clan Omen (which I’m sure will become a mainstay of post-Jihad Clan scenarios) and the Inner Sphere Yao Lien, most of the Supplemental’s BattleMech designs (especially the Inner Sphere machines) followed the “speed as a weapon” mentality I mentioned earlier or seemed rather uninspired in their design. The two exceptions to the rule in my opinion is the Inner Sphere’s Yao Lien (which supported an interesting back story and accompanying art to create a very different (if not powerful) new BattleMech) and the Clan-built Arctic Wolf II (which piggybacked off of an early design and older fiction.)
However, my biggest complaint in regards to TRO: 3085 Supplemental is entirely superficial – The Art.
This technical readout has to, without a doubt, showcase more artists and their talents than any other sourcebook in BattleTech history. While that key detail would typically be a “good” thing in most situations, in this particular case it is not.
The problem is consistency. With so many artists beneath a single title the book loses a consistent feel from design to design. While this is just a personal preference I think we have all come to recognize the design and “feel” of BattleTech art. Decades ago the signature of Loose graced the pages of many a BattleTech technical readout and in doing so, flavored BattleTech’s unique identity. His pen and paper drawings created a stark divide between the cartoon-ish big round robots of the 1980s and set an awesome art precedent in the process. Heirs to the Loose legacy, famed artists such as Doug Chaffee, Matt Plog and Brent Evans have done a phenomenal job of maintaining BattleTech’s distinct artistic style and representation from one sourcebook to the next, and over the years have even revised versions of a Loose original into specials pieces of their own.
The same can not be said for the latest crop of BattleTech artists.
Although I hate calling someone out for a skill set I’ll never possess, the truth of the matter is that the new BattleTech art pieces done by Stephen Huda and Seth Kurbound are rubbish in comparison. While it is true these are talented artists and should be held blameless for their hard work, the fact remains that their art is decidedly NOT BattleTech and should not have been included in this sourcebook. Shame on the Line & Product Developers (and Brent Evans – for your work on TRO: 3050 Revised – you should know better!) for allowing art that is either overly simplistic or reminiscent of some heinous Japanese Anime. I’m not sure whether the art budget was cut or you simply fell asleep at the art wheel, but designs like the Fwltur and the Deimos are not in the same caliber as the Omen or any other piece of traditional BattleTech art. The shining exceptions to the new art club come from the likes of David White and Alex Iglesias, who have continued to show a profound style and understanding of BattleTech. Both have either modernized the Loose-style or replicated it so seamlessly I thought it could have been drawn by his twin. I would implore BattleTech’s Developers to continue commissioning artists and art direction that maintains the character of BattleTech. Otherwise, our rubbish will look decidedly like everyone else’s rubbish. I mean, what’s next? Heavy Gear Anime?! I shudder to think what that kind of cartoon-ish nonsense and its ilk will have on our fair game universe…
Still, I applaud Bancroft and company for continuing to push the boundaries of BattleTech and for working so hard to turn the Dark Age story line and universe into something Classic BattleTech players will come to know and love. While TRO: 3085 Supplemental showcased some of the shortcomings affecting the line’s current product development, it is also showcasing a very capable Product Developer who I (hope) has a bright future with Catalyst Game Labs.
Final Note: Buy it for the content, not the look and only if you’re looking forward to the Dark Age.