Piranha Games have just announced the launch date for their armor-combat game: MechWarrior Online. So with four months worth of open beta testing left, we’re taking MWO apart for a piece-by-piece look at whether it’s worth jumping into now or if waiting for the full release is better for you.
As an arena based combat title, the home page (lobby, lounge, whatever you prefer to call it) is an important part of the experience and gives players their first impressions of the game – and currently, MWO makes a bit of a mess of it.
There’s information everywhere, with only a small portion of the space devoted to items related to actually playing the game and several elements currently disabled. Hopefully it’ll be tidied up prior to launch. There’s also no tutorial right now, and given how complex mech games tend to be you’ll be jumping straight into the deep end.
While it might be confusing at first for new players, it won’t take long to get used to navigating around the page and veterans will appreciate the prominent update information too.
+Highly useful once you get used to it
+All news, updates and patches at a glance
-Might confuse new players
-Not yet fully functional
The way a mech game handles is often a difficult issue to tackle as they usually handle somewhat clunkily by design. While MWO mechs sport the same bulky feeling, it’s immediately apparent how much care and attention went into the controls. Acceleration and general mobility carries a significant weight to it and your UI gives you precise details on every aspect of your movement, from speeds and bearing to highlighting the difference between where your torso is facing relative to your legs.
In short: the mechs handle clunkily, but in a very good way.
The gameplay is a mixed bag, depending on which part of the game is most important to you.
As a pilot, the game is magnificent – everything you do within the game is from your pilot’s perspective. You can look around your cockpit at any time, independantly of the mech itself, and watch your pilot interacting with the controls. You have loads of control over the mech itself as well, from being able to reassign weapons/groups on the fly, powering down your mech whenever you like and being able to override a shutdown caused by overheating – you can even change how bright the light is inside your cockpit! Add to that the ability to add your own personal touches inside the cockpit and some brutal first person combat effects and you’ve got the most immersive mech piloting experience to date.
However, outside the cockpit things go horribly average. The combat feels fast-paced and chaotic, which is great, until you realise that all of your lasers, missile barrages, rockets and gauss guns are seemingly shrugged off by your target. Unless you catch a player afk, it will take several minutes to destroy even a single opponent due to the complex damage system.
Don’t get me wrong, complex is good – sustained damage to a “body” part will result in it being blown off and becoming completely unusable. In this way you could, in theory, blast the weapons off of an enemy mech, leaving them completely harmless for the rest of the match. However, the system is tuned to favor coordinated, concentrated fire from multiple teammates – likely to avoid stray shots turning the tide of a battle – with each component taking very little damage from a single shot; which is why the mechs appear to shrug off each hit, despite the awesome explode-y visuals and effects that indicate otherwise.
Making matters worse is that it’s near impossible to focus fire on a specific area of an opponent on the move, while staying mobile yourself so that YOU don’t get blasted in the robo-kidneys.
Perhaps the biggest sin is that the environments don’t make you feel like you’re in a giant mech – it feels like you’re a guy in a mech suit stomping around a model city, which is a real shame as the cockpit experience pulls it off so well.
+Handles like a mech game should
+Lots of immersive elements in the cockpit
+Really high skill ceiling
-Combat requires huge levels of coordination to be effective
-Weapons and explosions feel limp and empty
-Environments make your mech feel small
Ah, the meat and potatoes of any mech title: how much control do I have over building my own rig. Thankfully, MWO has a multitude of options, from standards like weapons, ammo, weight distribution, paint job and so on, as well as the option to customise the interior too.
Only two (possibly minor) flaws exist here currently: Seeing the mech as you customise it reinforces the notion that they’re not very big – almost toylike in some cases – and it’s not possible to swap out the components like the legs or arms; Instead you just manage the less visible modules and loadout, which deprives you of having a unique look. Again, it really depends on what aspects are most important to you.
+Lots of customisation options
+Hula girl for the dashboard and dice in the mirror
-Your mech will always look the same
-Still doesn’t feel big
Overall, if you like mechs it’s worth giving it a chance right now – especially if you have some friends/clan/squad to dive in with you. You’ll be able to provide feedback to the developers and have loads of fun at the same time. The community so far is fantastic and the Piranha devs are actually listening to their players.
As for me, I’ll be keeping an eye on this one until launch. Just a little more polish (and perhaps retuning the combat a bit) and I’ll be all over it.