Mechwarrior Online Preview

Like many, I’ve longed for the return of the MechWarrior franchise. Set in 3050 (an important year in the franchise), you customize a giant, bipedal robot and fight others for your faction. I feel like I should be getting into the beta’s backstory, but it seems less important at the moment- the faction system hasn’t been implemented yet. A fair few of the other typical features from MechWarrior games aren’t present yet, but since the game is in open beta, it’s sort of understandable. Traditionally, Mechs have quite a few options of weapons, tools and electronics suites- while there are quite a few weapons, its early in the beta stages at the moment. Regardless, Mechs are roughly classified into four weight classes- light, medium, heavy, and assault. While the names might imply worth or armor levels, that simply isn’t true. A heavy mech might be lightly armored, and a light mech might have enough punch to make a bigger mech pause. This doesn’t mean they’re equal in a slugging match…but then again, you use the right tool for the right job. One of the more common strategies in-game remains using light mechs to distract and scout while heavier mechs with long-range weapons get into place. Because the enemy has been spotted by the lighter mechs, they can be targeted easier by the heavier ones- especially those with racks of long-range missiles.

It’s always been more of a strategic game, a more thought-out kind of shooter. It wasn’t about twitching, or being able to lie down somewhere out of the way and one-shot someone halfway across the map. Mechs can take a pounding, but go down easy enough under co-ordinated fire – which is why players have to think about what they’re doing. Fully half the time I’ve spent playing the game has been spent in the Mechlab- the place where you fine-tune your hulking engine of destruction into your personal death-chariot. While there is only one game mode available at the moment, it’s enough to keep things interesting- a mixture of team deathmatch and point capture that allows for multiple victory conditions. There are no respawns- once your mech is scrap, the match is over for you. Matches currently only last about ten to fifteen minutes, but are extremely interesting. It’s a mix of getting into position, co-ordinating fire, and responding to threats. Light mechs scout and get a bonus to point capture, so they tend to go on ahead, supported by some medium mechs if they’re fast enough. They tend to spot the enemy for teammates a little before trying to harass support mechs or attempt to capture the point. The heavy and assault mechs tend to head towards less-open spots to slug it out. Some hang back to act as support, artillery, or reserves. A co-ordinated team can be a real menace with a good mix of mechs of various weight classes- and games are ‘weighted’ so that the ratio of tonnage doesn’t tip too far towards one side. At some point, I must concede, weight classes do affect the outcome of a match, but there are exceptions. A heavy or assault mech doesn’t mean you’re invulnerable, or make up for a lack of skill.

I don’t really have any complaints about the game given the level of completion. That said, I’d guess the open beta is only about 30% of what I expect to be in the first real release of the game. There isn’t even a method of selecting maps yet, or the implementation of things like electronics suites or other passive abilities that could prove interesting. The idea of having command and control mechs, or electronic warfare mechs, could provide a really novel experience away from current trends of grey-brown shooters relying on individual skills or kills. It’s pretty rare that a game rewards a player for being a vital cog in the team equally or better as for getting the kills. Admittedly, it’s less glorious to be the guy in the medium mech lasing targets and spotting for the team, or the guy in the light mech laden with electronic warfare suites sneaking into the enemy control point, but it would make for some nice variety. I think MechWarrior Online would put itself ahead of the pack just based on offering the ability to play interesting roles- not out of necessity but more as a factor in the array of possibilities of ways a player could build their mech.

At any rate, I highly recommend giving the beta a try. It might be fairly bare-bones at the moment, but it has a ton of potential to be the next big free shooter. It’s available, for free, at their site.

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