How a Brutally Tough Mission Leaves Me Grateful for Punishment

I thought that maybe this time things would be different. With my new BattleTech campaign going incredibly smoothly, and a crack team of elite MechWarriors and mechs at my disposal, I felt like I could get through the game’s notorious Smithon mission cleanly, with all the secondary objectives completed.

A few hours and many attempts later, I found myself once again forced into the gut-wrenching sacrifices and compromises that have made Smithon into BattleTech’s version of hell, as Austin put it on Twitter. It’s also become one of my favorite missions in tactics games, because it uniquely crafted to lure you into running deadly risks and accepting painful choices. Even knowing what the mission is designed to elicit, I keep running headlong into its Kobayashi Maru-like choices.

Smithon is a base-assault mission that is daunting on its face: You are significantly outnumbered and the base has strong fixed defenses in the form of missile turrets that will rain columns of fire on your mechs for what seems like hours. To even the odds, however, this enemy base is littered with munitions dumps that can be ignited for massive AOE explosions that will wipe out any buildings and most mechs in their way. That’s obviously the key to the mission, the thing you are supposed to do to have a fighting chance.

However, you get more money for the mission if you save more of those munitions dumps. Furthermore, you get even more money if you prevent enemy supply trucks from escaping out the front door of the base while you are busting down the back door.

My suspicion is that Smithon is entirely manageable if you go in, from the start, with the goal of leveling that base to the ground by blowing up every last munitions storage on the map. That’s the hammer to the mission’s nail. But I haven’t been able to confirm that because Smithon is perfectly designed to bait both my greed, and my vanity. And across several different attempts, I’ve find it’s almost cruelly balanced to make that perfect performance feel tantalizingly achievable… until you’re in so far over your head that there’s no good way to save yourself.

But there is one particular moment that I’ve encountered in each of my successful attacks on Smithon that really raises this mission to Hall of Fame status. It arrives at different times and situations, but it’s been almost inevitable in my experience, and it takes place entirely within my own head.

Somewhere over the course of that mission, a turn arrives when I realize that I am utterly screwed unless I start brute-forcing the mission by blowing-up everything within sight. I don’t want to realize this, and I end up taking about ten minutes of looking at my different possible moves, considering the shattered state of each of my units and how close to death each of my pilots is. Usually one of them is already dead, and I’ve already come to terms with the ida of acceptable losses in what was supposed to be a flawless run but now I am facing a situation where all those sacrifices and risks are about to become meaningless because I’m going to annihilate this base anyway (just like I could have done at the start).

Listen to Waypoint's Rob Zacny and Austin Walker discuss their thoughts on Smithon and the rest of BattleTech right here:

It is surprising to me every time. Every time I do this mission, I think this is going to be the one where it goes perfectly and painlessly. Every time, I am forced to go through a process of rationalizing and acceptance as a define “perfect victory” downward to something that I’d normally describe as “grim” or “Pyrrhic”. And every time I am confronted with a choice between near-certain death or the destruction of my tactical hopes, and my nerve fails me. I start running like hell and blowing-up the base behind me until the last enemy mech is finally engulfed in explosions. Then I take stock of a “victory” that cost me at least one of the pilots I’ve had since the start of the game, and the better part of four different mechs, whose repair bills are going to cut my payment in half.

And I’m grateful.

Which is why I don’t fully agree with Austin that Smithon is hell, because there is something deeply redemptive about the experience. It’s a painful lesson in humility, limitations, and compromise that will serve you well for the rest of the BattleTech campaign.

More than that, however, Smithon is just a magical scenario because it resists the kind of cheesy repetition that so many tactical setpieces fall into. I’m sure there are exact moves and loadouts you can take into the mission that will let you accomplish everything you need, but in something like a dozen different attempts, I’ve never quite found them and short of save-scumming after every move, I’m not sure I ever will. Instead, without forcing any kind of perma-death consequences onto me, Smithon backs me into the same corner again and again, and then forces me to play my way out of it… and leaves me proud and thrilled when I manage it.

What are your first ballot, hall of fame “hell missions”? What are the levels, battles, or scenarios that have turned you into your own worst enemy and made you grateful for the experience?

Let me know in today’s open thread!

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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I came in with two giant missile boats and a full-armor Heavy with sensor lock and barely moved from the starting area, and overall I thought Smithon wasn’t too bad. If you stay behind the hills, and blow up the turret on the left, you can just pick them off as they come to you.

Bring a LOT of missiles though. No, that’s not enough. Bring more.

I think Smithon is partially about teaching you to manage your exposure to enemy fire very selectively, because it’s very helpful on the mission that follows it too.

(runs and hides)

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Smithon is such a big difficulty jump and I sense it’s there for a reason. Up til then I never thought to not do the bonus objective or to withdraw and that mission teachers you that both are an option. I don’t think you can use the game’s withdraw function on a story mission but I definitely did it manually loading a saved game.

That being said, I haven’t not done a bonus objective or withdrawn since. It’s a good teacher but I don’t think that lesson needs to be taught in this game.

I also found Smithon to not be too bad, three pilots with Bulwark meant that my Mechwarrior stood out in the open on the flank to spot the trucks. While Decker and Glitch just stood their ground against every other enemy on the map while I rained missiles where they needed to go.

My toughest mission so far was just a random one. I had been doing missions pretty cleanly for a bit and just ran into a full heavy lance when I only had two. No deaths, but two ejects and almost lost a third. I was only saved by a lucky PPC headshot for what would otherwise probably have been a total loss of my best mechs.

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I had no really serious issues with Smithon, though to be fair, that’s probably because I started the mission by carefully evaluating my position and making some hard decisions about what was and wasn’t imporant.

None of my mechs traveled more than 10-15 hexes from their starting point. The mission starts you in an isolated little crater that you can easily just chill out in and use as a killing field as that the AI rushes into. I resolved to do that immediately.

When Kamea started talking about intercepting the caravans, I said “Sorry lady, but no.” Those optional objectives didn’t fit into my strategy so I wrote them off immediately.

I only blew up one ammo crate, because while the ai were funneling into my chokepoint there was a moment where !four of them! were all within range of one box. I couldn’t resist.

To be honest, after everyone’s warnings about Smithon I didn’t find it much of a struggle at all - I ignored the trucks, used two of the ammo crates to take out a of the smaller mechs, and walked away with the majority of the pay and little more than a few dented mediums with lightly injured pilots. A month away from bankruptcy with a mainline of my team in the shop, too expensive to repair, Smithon was my saving grace.

On the other hand, one or two straight up random battle contracts that had reinforcements have been hellish for me. I get split up and torn down, digging my heels in to at least get that good faith payment even when it, as always, doesn’t cover the repairs. Backing out early feels like such a cowardly thing to do, and it gets me every time.

I think I’m in the same boat where after hearing about Smithon, I was way more cautious than I normally would have been. I brought a ton of indirect fire (my character pilots a Centurion with a LRM 10 and 20), I set myself up on the ridge on the right hand side, and let the two trucks run away while I pounded anything that moved. It was an easy mission that way, and I came out of it with an additional two Mechs for my collection.

Yep, that was my first time through (after already hearing it was a grinder of a mission for many). Jump onto the hills, use the cover and mineral deposits, and just let the enemy come to me. By the time you hear about the direction the trucks are going, you either need to have already committed or give up the optional objective.

I won that day but also didn’t know there was no bonus for leaving all ammo dumps alone, so I went back in and decided to sweep round along the path of the ammo trucks and ended up doing reasonably well (still closer than I’d generally like, but a stock AC/5 and some time in the infirmary was a price happily paid in the early game before I had cockpit upgrades to cushion my crew from hits).

I heard you talking about Smithon on the 3MA podcast, and so when I encountered that mission I was very cautious in approaching it. Even so, the first time I tried to move and stop the escaping vehicles and immediately ran into issues with getting pummeled by the missile turrets and losing the mission in short order.

After that I decided to take the approach of waiting for the enemy to come to me as had happened the first time I was feeling through the mission to see where the challenges were. Initially I took my regular setup of mechs and lost fairly quickly. The second time took the same mechs, but refitted one for short range combat and carrying a pilot that could sensor lock, while the other three focused on long range. As each enemy mech approached, and they seemed to largely come one at a time over the hill, I engaged with my short range mech and then pounded with his longer range friends who were sitting at the back of the bowl. Because the first 4 or 5 mechs that approach are light, I was able to basically take them out in one round meaning that I didn’t get much in the way of missile fire from the turrets. Taking this approach although I didn’t stop the two trucks from leaving, nothing else on the base was destroyed and I made all the bonuses with only one mech being seriously damaged.

I actually had a much tougher time on the very first plot mission where you recover the Argo. I really struggled to slog my way through, wasn’t save scumming, and the Quickdraw almost did for me. I finally came out with one dead mechwarrior, Dekker, and 3 mechs held together by duct tape. I’m sure there will be other missions like that, some of them randomly generated, and I’m sure that I feel the same way as you Rob - when I run into those really hard missions I feel the exhilaration when I finish, and I’m grateful that I did.

I over leveled for Smithon my second time facing it, and that combined with the realization that one crate can kill both missile turrets (and a light mech if you’re lucky) was the key for me to complete the mission with all objectives. I blew up that turret and stayed by that little pond right in front of the base; I could lrm the trucks as they spawned and just kept strafing and killing the other mechs as they came up. One of my mechs lost an arm, but that was it.

It was kind of disappointing though; I posted about how I over leveled in the battletech thread and it makes the game less fun; part of the joy of both this game and xcom to me has become the feeling of despair when you lose several soldiers/mechs and barely scraping by and triumphing over missions, but now that I had way heavier mechs than the game seems to expect, with way better weapons, the game has become a lot more…boring, almost.

I remember that moment in Final Fantasy Tactics that was mentioned in the podcast; the map that made me realize that this game was not fucking around and I’d have to really dive into the mechanics if I wanted to continue.

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Reflecting back on it, one of my gripes with FFT is that its main storyline missions rarely put up much of a fight after this one battle. There were a few other instances that were difficult without being maddening (e.g. the battle on the giant hill encountered on the way to meet the zodiac Pope for the first time, the execution ground fight, the final battle with gafgarion; I would place all of the “keep the dumb AI alive!” missions in the maddening category), but Dorter Trade City felt like the first and last time the game really demanded you learn something new about its systems to move forward.

What are your first ballot, hall of fame “hell missions”? What are the levels, battles, or scenarios that have turned you into your own worst enemy and made you grateful for the experience?

Off the top of my head, in no particular order:

  1. Cog of Destiny in Fire Emblem (GBA). Like for many people, this was my first Fire Emblem game and this map felt very daunting. Not sure how it holds up now that I’ve got more games under my belt. Night of Farewells was also a challenge with its changing walkways. The stealth mode route of Prisoner Release in Path of Radiance was also an exercise in unreasonably thoroughly planned moves.

  2. Getting a super clear of the Ursa Major level in Katamari Damacy. The level ends immediately when you collect any bear or bear-like object so you need to avoid basically everything in order to get big enough to get the Kintaro and the highest rating.

  3. Some of the higher levels in Challenge Mode of Pikmin 2. Being insane, I insisted on deathless runs. I can’t remember which were the toughies in particular but I remember bashing my head against a few.