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Hands-on With the MechWarrior Online Closed Beta

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 34 comments

Reactor online. Weapons online. Sensors online. All systems nominal...

Not two years ago, I was holding my copies of MechWarrior 2 and MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries, which had come gratis with my old NEC desktop running Windows 95, and wondering where all the decent mech games had gone. The mech game releases of the latter 2000's had been paltry, with only (as far as I can recall) Chromehounds giving a decent showing. I thought the world was due for another round of great mech games. Most of my hopes died with the poor showing of the last Steel Battalion. Burdened by complex controls on unwieldy Kinect technology, Steel Battalion was hilariously bad. I thought I'd never see a mech game come to the light of day after that disaster. No major publisher would be willing to touch a mech game with a ten-foot pole.

Come 2011, I was proved wrong… and right. Infinite Games announced that it would be reviving the BattleTech universe with two MechWarrior games. At around the same time, Adhesive Games and Meteor Entertainment announced their original mech game Hawken. Sure, Activision wouldn't be going to its roots by publishing a mech game, but that didn't mean that indies couldn't pick up the torch.

MechWarrior Online (MWO) takes up the tradition of the MechWarrior games of the '90s: while the game is an action-oriented, first person shooter, it's still quite cerebral as it offers deep (and I mean deep) lore and complex chassis customizations. Though you can certainly pick up the game, pop into a preset mech, play, and have some successes, mastering the game takes a deep understanding of each mech's variants and strengths, and how each customization plays to those strengths.

As soon as MWO boots up, you're taken to a pre-game launcher window, which is meant to serve as your pre-launch operations window. From here, you can go to the mech lab, where you can choose and customize your mech of choice; and the pilot lab, where you can spend experience points earned in battles to gain perks. It's also here that the free-to-play elements of MWO show their faces. Beginning as a rookie pilot, all you have access to are trial mechs, which you can use in the line of battle, but are mechs that aren't actually yours. Since you're losing loaners, you're locked out of making any customizations for these mechs, which is just about half the fun of MechWarrior.

However, if you're a rookie with a little bit of real world cash on your hands—that is, if you decided to purchase one of the game's Founder's Packs, consisting of Veteran ($30), Elite ($60), and Legendary ($120)—you'll be credited MCs, currency that is separate from C-bills, the in-game currency. Though you can purchase new mechs with MCs or C-bills, it takes quite a heftier sum of C-bills to buy a mech than MCs, as is expected of the free-to-play model.

You can earn C-bills and XP through matches, although if you're starting out as a rookie, you can expect to play over 20 matches before you have the C-bills to actually buy your first mech. If you're unwilling to spend real world cash on MWO, you can expect to be grinding for a good three or four hours with a trial mech before you get to reap any rewards. Keep in mind that using a trial mech also means that you won't gain any XP. As expected, though the game isn't "play-to-win", as free players have access to everything paying players do, playing the "free" route severely hinders your progress.

After choosing a mech and making the appropriate customizations, you're ready to launch for your mission. For now, missions are restricted to Assault missions, which are the equivalent of the standard Team Deathmatch.

Old MechWarrior fans will be pleased to find that mechs handle just as they remember, though the keyboard layout has been much more simplified. The number keys no longer handle different speed settings; instead, they've been replaced by weapons groups. Speed and movement have been relegated to the WASD keys. W and S allow you to toggle speed up or down, while A and D turn the mech. Mouse movements control torso movement. For newbies, the controls can be a little overwhelming, particularly since it's rather difficult to maneuver the equivalent of a tank on legs. Maneuvering the heavier mechs becomes a bigger challenge, especially when you're constrained to the tight corners of an urban setting and trying to brawl with an opponent.

Another level of tactics comes into play with weaponry and overheating. The weapons fitted onto a mech are highly dependent Heavier mechs are equipped with a harder-hitting arsenal. Consequently, it's more difficult to circle strafe in combat and hit opponents that are fleeter of feet. Overheating also prevents you from firing your weapons endlessly to your heart's content. Firing a weapon brings up heat levels in your mech, and constantly alpha striking (firing every weapon in your mech's arsenal at once) is a good way to bring heat levels to a critical level. Overheating causes a mech's safety mechanics to kick in and initiate an automatic shutdown, which is something you probably don't want in the middle of a firefight. Shutdowns can be overridden, but you risk overheating your mech to the point of explosion.

Though MechWarriorOnline has made some amazing strides, I'm wondering if Piranha Games' release window for 2012 is a little too ambitious. While Piranha's done an amazing job of capturing the deeply embedded nostalgic "feel" of piloting a mech from the old MechWarriors, there's still plenty of work to be done. Right now, free players have to battle a long grind before being able to actually delve into the deeper and (what I think are) the more fun aspects of gameplay. There's nothing that strokes your ego more than knowing that you've managed to put together a mech that both handles to your liking and holds up well in combat. Since factions and different gameplay modes are still a work in progress, there currently is relatively little content keeping new free players playing and converting them into paying customers.

If Piranha's plans to implement factions and new missions carry through, then MWO will be the MechWarrior game that fans have been waiting for. As a MechWarrior fan myself, I'm excited and anxious to see the final product that Piranha launches come the end of 2012.


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  • 15 Hide
    Wamphryi , October 4, 2012 1:32 AM
    I remember Mechwarriors 2 very well. I found myself watching the intro repeatedly as it was heavy stuff for its day. The raging fire fight with that calm female voice informing "Warning ammunition level..critical" Ah good times.
  • 13 Hide
    joytech22 , October 4, 2012 1:54 AM
    Uhh I'm part of this BETA, and isn't there a gigantic NDA?
  • 13 Hide
    ricdiculus , October 4, 2012 1:49 AM
    Im sorry, but personaly i loved the mech games. I hope this is done right and becomes all it could be. Please don't hate, but I'm a console gamer, that being said, I would totally build a gaming rig for this.
Other Comments
  • 15 Hide
    Wamphryi , October 4, 2012 1:32 AM
    I remember Mechwarriors 2 very well. I found myself watching the intro repeatedly as it was heavy stuff for its day. The raging fire fight with that calm female voice informing "Warning ammunition level..critical" Ah good times.
  • 6 Hide
    Wamphryi , October 4, 2012 1:34 AM
    Opps sorry for the triple post. Unintended.
  • -9 Hide
    Anonymous , October 4, 2012 1:38 AM
    Oh look, another pay-to-win model.
  • 13 Hide
    ricdiculus , October 4, 2012 1:49 AM
    Im sorry, but personaly i loved the mech games. I hope this is done right and becomes all it could be. Please don't hate, but I'm a console gamer, that being said, I would totally build a gaming rig for this.
  • 13 Hide
    joytech22 , October 4, 2012 1:54 AM
    Uhh I'm part of this BETA, and isn't there a gigantic NDA?
  • 4 Hide
    joytech22 , October 4, 2012 2:03 AM
    (Can't see comment.. Did it even post? -.- excuse for repeats)
    I'm also a part of this beta, but isn't this game under a big fat NDA?
  • 0 Hide
    bebangs , October 4, 2012 2:35 AM
    no offline single player game?
  • 12 Hide
    Kami3k , October 4, 2012 3:02 AM
    "Reactor online. Weapons online. Sensors online. All systems nominal..."

    Music to my ears :D 
  • 2 Hide
    Kami3k , October 4, 2012 3:03 AM
    Even with a NDA, since this is being published on a popular website it's entirely possible they got permission to make this article.\

    If not.... well I don't expect it to be up for long.
  • 2 Hide
    dingo07 , October 4, 2012 3:07 AM
    I have 2 Steel Battalion setups with original xboxes, and I have to disagree entirely with this Catherine. It's The Best Mech simulation Ever Created. The controller is what makes it real.
  • 6 Hide
    Anonymous , October 4, 2012 3:10 AM
    NDA has been lifted
  • 6 Hide
    kinggraves , October 4, 2012 3:26 AM
    People expect too much instant gratification. You're supposed to work towards getting your own mech, it's supposed to feel like you're moving towards a goal. Then again, I also would question how someone that doesn't know MW would know the experience they're working towards. It might have been better to restrict the first mech to a "junk" mech that only accepts parts from a junkyard.

    As far as being "pay to win", learn economics. Premiums need to be better than what you could get for free to encourage sales. Sales are needed to pay for servers and updates. You should be glad you can play something that costs money to make and maintain for free. You can either invest your money or your time to improve. I dont see anything here showing that you have to pay cash to win.
  • 6 Hide
    clownbaby , October 4, 2012 3:54 AM
    I've been playing the Beta for a few months now. I tend to agree with the sentiment that they've been a bit too ambitious in the scope of the game. I appreciate all they intend to accomplish, but there is so much left to do, God only knows when this game will go live.

    It's currently limited to 4 maps and a single 8 vs 8 CTF game.
    The F2P model makes it a gruelingly long grind to acquire your first mech and earn enough cash/xp to compete.
    The group/match-making system has drawn a lot of criticism for matching "pick up groups" with "premade groups" who use teamspeak that generally lead to lopsided victories.
    The in-game implementation of voice chat, C3, has yet to gain any traction among users.
    The engine is not optimized at all and getting decent frame-rates even with a good setup is tough.
    There are still tons of bugs/glitches that affect visuals, gameplay, and cause random crashes.

    With all that said, it is a BLAST to play. It's very much like mech 2. Using TeamSpeak to coordinate gameplay is loads of fun. Customizing mechs is Badazz. Even though only 4 maps are available, it's still enough fun just to find different ways to play maps and how to fight and win in different mechs. The graphics are decent now, but have a ton of potential. (would love to see the ability for 3rd pary mods)

    I think this game will really only end up being a lot of fun for those dedicated enough to spend enough cash to buy some mechs at first and continue a premium account. And, also to those willing to make a lot of friends and embrace the team-oriented nature of the game. The F2P model is a slippery slope in my opinion and always limits the overall potential of a game. I think this could have been a GREAT stand alone title.
  • 4 Hide
    Kraszmyl , October 4, 2012 4:10 AM
    There is a patch coming next week that optimizes alot of the problems people are having with lower end and medium setups. Its also adding dx11 finaly. Frankly ive never had a problem but i know my setup is atypical with a 7950.

    Costs for the mechs arnt to bad anymore and they are upping the rewards for the free mechs if i recall next patch but making you get absolutely nothing if you dont actualy participate in battle.

    You cant purchase cbills directly with cash. Best you can do is buy a mech and then sell it back for cbills. Unless i missed something.

  • 3 Hide
    clownbaby , October 4, 2012 4:23 AM
    MC and CBills are basically interchangeable kraszmyl. MC is real money, Cbills are earned within the game. There's different pricing on items depending which currency you use. MC can also be used to change XP.

    They put out a patch every week btw. Like I said, there is a long way to go. Each patch seems to be a small step. The upcoming patch is supposedly of more importance than recent patches, so I look forward to it for sure.
  • 1 Hide
    djayjp , October 4, 2012 4:39 AM
    Ms. Cai, you seem to have completely forgotten MWLL: Mechwarrior Living Legends, the 2009 mod of the year for Crysis Warhead. This is a fully realized online multiplayer dueler. Shame on you!
  • -6 Hide
    sublime2k , October 4, 2012 5:22 AM
    I'm in the beta and I was looking forward to this game until I realized how it's blatantly pay to win.
  • 1 Hide
    dscudella , October 4, 2012 5:40 AM
    I'm in the Hawken alpha but this would be so much better. Mech Warrior and Battletech: Crescent Hawks Inception was my childhood.
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