“Reactor Online. Sensors Online. Weapons Online. All systems nominal.” Something about that cold, barely-human female voice that comes through my speakers and sends chills down my spine. It brings back memories of past wars and the battles that shaped the fates of countless worlds. There’s nothing quite like being strapped to 70 tons of raw carnage. I remember the days of my childhood spent locked away in my room commanding my squad of mercenaries. I was simultaneously trying to avoid volleys of long range missiles and being forced to go outside and play. No matter how hard I tried I always lost a few crew members; sometimes I took it personally because it was my choices that sent them to an early grave. Sure, it was just a game, but for a few brief moments, with my hands situated on the joystick and numpad, their digital lives were in my hands. Those memories are still intact, but the real question is whether or not MechWarrior Online does them any justice.
When MechWarrior Online first officially launched in September 2013 it was extremely rough around the edges to say the least. It was very much still a beta with a different label and for all intents and purposes it still is. Last December the MWO community finally received the greatly anticipated Community Warfare patch that it had been promised so long ago. While it’s still technically in test phases this new update adds much need value to the game. In addition to the new game mode there have been additional maps added to the existing modes (Skirmish, Assault, and Conquest) as well as new BattleMechs for the Inner Sphere and the introduction of Clan ‘Mechs. Many members of the community attribute this recent positive shift to the separation of Piranha Games from its former publisher, Infinite Game Publishing, last year.
THIS IS MY MECH
There are many like it, but this one is mine. If MWO got anything right from the MechWarrior franchise it’s the Mechlab. With a solid variety of ‘Mechs and pretty much every way you could think about customizing them, there are probably more potential builds than any single player is going to test out. Players can choose to stay at the rear and launch LRMs, brawl with Autocannons or sit somewhere in between with lasers. Those are just the basics, however, as ‘Mech efficiency can be enhanced with Endo-Steel Structure, Double Heat Sinks and various other structural upgrades. Even specific weapons and ‘Mech components can be enhanced via modules that are purchased with experience points. In an attempt to compensate for lack of aerial support, players can also purchase consumables such as UAVs, Air Strikes and Artillery Strikes.
Any die-hard MechWarrior fan knows that customizing their shiny new ‘Mech is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the series, but it doesn’t matter how good your collection looks if it doesn’t perform well once it’s out of the dropship. Thankfully, the combat in MWO is very well aligned with what we’re all used to. Just like in previous renditions of the franchise it feels like you’re strapped to a walking nuclear reactor. These aren’t agile, Gundam-like war machines; instead these are hulking beasts of burden with the sole purpose of blowing the crap out of all opposing ‘Mechs. These things feel heavy and aren’t the easiest to learn how to control, but once you figure out all their quirks the combat is very rewarding.
CLEAN UP CREW
With the implementation of UI 2.0 and a variety of other updates, many previously annoying nuances and barriers to new players have reduced or removed entirely. All aspects of MWO can now be enjoyed in whatever video settings you deem fit whether it’s fullscreen, windowed or full window. There’s even been an addition of a 64-bit client and DirectX 11. To make things easier on free players the C-Bill reward system has been reworked and generally increases the amount earned by playing well. Additionally, there are various community events and tournaments where players can earn unique ‘Mechs that include a free Mech Bay, which is normally only available by spending real money. Finally, third-person view is still present in quick matches, but it doesn’t seem to be present in Community Warfare at this time.
COMMUNITY WARFARE AND CLAN INVASIONS
The first two waves of Clan BattleMechs have made a fairly large splash in MWO’s BattleTech universe with the inclusion of many fan favorites such as the Warhawk, Timber Wolf and Kit Fox. Compared to the Inner Sphere rust buckets, these new chassis are superior in almost every way. While the Clan ‘Mechs are generally faster, stronger and better equipped they come at a price. At just below 15 million C-Bills for the cheapest variant, the Timber Wolf is the most expensive heavy unit on the market. Of course who wouldn’t want to storm the battlefront looking awesome in a Mad Cat, which is probably why they were made so expensive. Unfortunately, this provides a huge balance issue between those who have accrued an absurd amount of C-Bills, or are willing to purchase MC, and those who are either just starting out or haven’t been saving up. Furthermore, if the ‘Mechs themselves weren’t already strong enough their weapons are also heavily improved, usually in the form of increased range and/or damage.
While this might not be a huge problem in normal matches, due to the already random imbalanced caused by public queues, this becomes an issue in Community Warfare. The idea of Community Warfare is that players either pledge allegiance or obtain contracts from the various houses in the BattleTech universe or join the clan invasion. This gives players a chance to shape history and obtain new rewards through capturing or defending key planets. Where the problem comes in is that players can only use Inner Sphere or Clan ‘Mechs depending on who they’re contracted to. Basically, those playing on the side of the Clans gain a solid advantage through the quality of their equipment, but those players are also more likely to be veteran or elite players simply due to the high cost associated with acquiring those ‘Mechs.
Other than that, Community Warfare does have a lot of potential but it’s still quite basic at this stage. Players can create their own units and earn loyalty for their respective houses or clans, but there are currently only two maps and queues are relatively long for anyone not in a pre-made group. These maps involve two teams of 12 players in an attacker vs defender scenario. The goal of the attackers is to destroy the enemy’s Orbital Defense Cannon within the allotted time while the defenders obviously try to stop them. What makes this scenario unique, however, are the additional objects such as defensive gates and turrets, and each player can bring four ‘Mechs in their dropship. Hopefully there will be increased incentive to play in the future and more maps will be added, but right now it simply feels more like an additional game mode instead of an evolving universe that it’s promised to be.
LACK OF OPTIONS
What MWO does deliver seems to do pretty well at this point, but it’s still not enough. Currently there are four types of scenarios including: team deathmatch, point capture, base defense and Community Warfare. Unfortunately, all of these maps are pretty straightforward 12vs12 modes that require a good amount of coordination to properly pull off. This isn’t great for lone wolf players or those with only a couple of friends. By now there could easily be more variety in the types of battles that take place. Escort missions would add a mobile objective and create a new array of strategies due to every other mode involving relatively stationary objectives. Smaller scale tournament modes could also very easily be implemented such as 4vs4, 2vs2vs2 or a four-player free-for-all, similar to the Solaris VII Championship. These were all part of the previous MechWarrior titles so there’s no excuse for lack of ideas, but it simply seemed easier to dump 24 ‘Mechs on a battlefield and draw some lines to protect. There has been some community involvement including player-hosted tournaments, but this is a place where Piranha really needs to step up and shine.
MechWarrior Online isn’t quite where it needs to be, but it’s definitely heading in that direction. Hopefully, with Piranha Games now in charge, updates will be churned out more quickly and the quality of the game will improve overall. The additional maps, Clan ‘Mechs and Community Warfare scenarios have greatly increased the gameplay variety and added value to the game. For the amount of time that MWO has been released it’s still lacking in the amount of game modes and Community Warfare is still just a shell of what it needs to be. Other than that, MWO feels like it belongs in the franchise with solid combat mechanics and complex ‘Mech customizations.
- Core gameplay is solid
- Lots of BattleMech chassis and variants
- Multifaceted Mechlab customizations provide an authentic experience
- Still feels like a beta
- Needs to improve variety of game modes
- Expensive Clan BattleMechs lead to balancing issues