Friday, 25 May 2012

Mechwarrior Online: The best free MMO ever?

Battletech is sadly no longer with us in a tabletop roleplaying sense.  Sure there are a few new books every few years by third parties and the original material is reprinted for those who missed out the first time (like myself) but I was lucky in that my brother played Battletech and Mechwarrior tabletop when I was little, so I got a pretty good idea what all this mech stomping was about.  I think Battletech was one of the main reasons I got into the giant robot fanbase.  That and Transformers so you know robots where the coolest thing for me.
Sadly I have never played it

Of course over the years I played the PC games such as Mechwarrior 2, Mechwarriors 2: Mercenaries (despite the horrendous state of the game), Mechwarrior 3 and finally Mechwarrior 4 and its subsequent add ons.  All games where great and really filled a gap in the online gaming market, which was mech battles online.  Obviously in the days when the original mechwarrior games came out the internet wasn't quite as fast connection wise as today and what was on offer could become expensive if you played too long.  Sadly after a few lacklustre Xbox titles the franchise finally died with a Nintendo DS game of all things before falling silent.

Hardcore fans continued to play the older games and re-releases of titles like Mechwarrior 4 was always welcome, but many fans wanted something new, something that hadn't been done with the franchise before.  Well in 2009 we got to see a tiny snippet of what was when a trailer popped up online from a developer called Piranha games.  It was awesome.  Not only did we see three kickass battlemechs fighting it out in a city we were also told that this was what the game would look like, the Battletech fanbase went nuts and rightly so.  Then for a while there was nothing.  No new video, no new screenshots, no new interviews.  It was almost like Piranha games was hiding.  The trailer it seems caused something of a legal stir between the owners of certain mech likenesses, namely the Warhammer.  Shown prominently in the trailer, the company in japan who had created that mech for the popular robotech/macross series had something to say about it, and this was what caused the original delay.

Fortunately late last year though we were pleasantly surprised when Mechwarrior Online was officially announced and things have since been getting better and better.  We have had 11 battlemechs revealed, each one a stunning re-imagining of the originals chunky lineart drawings.  We know about the systems in place, the graphics engine it will use and amazingly we have seen this beast of a game running, and it looks good!

This was amazing back in the Pentium 75 days
Yes as my title says, is Mechwarrior Online the best free MMO ever?  In my opinion yes, and it isn't even playable yet.  Now to get it out of the way, yes the game will probably have bugs on release and might not be the most fleshed out title mech wise, but heres the great thing about the battletech universe, its freaking massive.  Ignoring the clan invasion and all the mechs that brings, just using the inner sphere and its factions of humanity, the list of mechs is exhaustive to say the least.  There is a mountain of background material for Piranha games to draw from when it comes to designing worlds to fight on, the political landscape and how that works into the players allegiances and what houses he will face in battle.

Looks ugly now, but MW4 was the height of online mech combat
Here you have a setting thats full of interesting characters and military conflicts that span a huge chunk of space populated by humanity.  Battlefields in game can range from any terrain type, any enviroment be it frozen tundra to ash covered lava worlds, the mechwarrior universe is diverse and all of these things are likely to come into play when you go to war for your chosen house, mercenary faction or as lone wolf, picking the battles you think will earn you the most reward.

Many would equate this game to World of tanks and I can see why, it is kind of hard not to see the similarities.  Players will more than likely start with a light mech and work their through battles to improve their stats, either through equipping modules and buying better equipment and weapons for their mech.  Once you hit the prerequisite amount of C-bills and experience you will be able to move onto the next mech of the tech tree.  Unlock the next mech and the field opens to things like medium mechs, heavy mechs and top tier assault mechs.  World of tanks isn't a bad game to ape for a free to play multiplayer deathmatch MMO.  But Mechwarrior online will feature key differences to the guiness world record holding tank game.

Customisation is going to be huge in MWO
Customisation will be an integral part of the game.  As in the roleplaying and wargame, players had to setup their mechs based on their own preferences.  All mechs come with a default layout, since they are built to function along certain lines.  A catapult heavy mech for instance is designed to be a ranged support mech, spraying long range missles from far back on the field, using targeting data provided by light mechs nearer the frontline.  But players can just as easily alter the Catapult to function as a close range powerhouse, by swapping those LRM's for say PPC's or Autocannons, and the cool thing is, this is represented visually in game.  Alter a weapon and you see it on the mech.  Add a sensor suite and you will see the antennae and dish equipment attached to the head and back.  These little touches add to the complex combat system that will be in play.

 The Crytek engine was built for this game
Teams in Mechwarrior online will need to work closely to ensure success.  Sure there will always be the rounds where your mechs just bulldoze the opposition without much effort, or you all get stomped without causing many casualties yourself, but the game will work best when all the elements of each class of mech come into play.  Going back to world of tanks which itself uses the same kind of weight classes to determine battlefield function (Battletech is basically a game heavily influenced by the way tanks functioned in WW2 and the such) light tanks are meant to scout the enemy for the mediums to engage and hold in place, while the heavy and assaults move in for the kill.  World of tanks though suffers because light tanks have difficulty performing their intended role and too easily spotted themselves before being destroyed.  Mechwarrior on the other hand will almost certainly demand smart use of light mechs to give a clear picture of the battlefield.

Nice Dragon
Light mechs scout to send back target data to the rest of the team, but have the advantage of speed to keep them alive.  Medium mechs fill the jack of all trades position and can support the light mechs while also engaging in combat.  The heavy mechs which fill more specialist roles such as long range support, short range damage dealers and tanks.  Assaults simply fill the role of kill any enemy it sees, they are slow but allow them the opportunity to fire and you will be toast, unless you are in an assault mech yourself.  Using these elements teams need to play to their respective mechs strength, and there are tools to help accomplish this.  Revealed so far are items such as ECM jammers to interfere with enemy targeting and sensor data.  Team leaders can view a three dimensional map of the battlefield, which updates in realtime to show new targets and the locations of friendly units, allowing them to give orders and mark targets as a priority for the team.  There are likely to be more tools to allow pilots the same flexibility they enjoyed in the ropleplaying game.

This is the cockpit view in game, each mech will be different
There is still a fair amount outside of combat that we are yet to be made aware of, such as what benefits you recieve for fighting for a house or a mercenary company.  What impact the results of house conflicts will have on the galaxy map.  What if any economic factors will come into play.  Will player run merceanry corps be given missions by AI controlled factions or the great houses themselves and how will that work when a battle is initiated.  Sure there is still alot we don't know about Mechwarrior online, and compared to things like World of tanks its most obvious competitor, it has its work cut out for it, but I believe that this game will not only bring in all of those battletech fans of the glory days of Fasa, but also bring in a new generation of fans, I mean here is a free online game that isn't hamstrung by a historical setting or technology of the time, we have giant robots stomping around alien worlds blowing the crap out of each other with lasers here people.

Mechwarrior Online is one of the most anticipated launches of 2012 and will become a highly successful product.  And remember what Adam Steiner said: NO GUTS, NO GALAXY!........Sorry.


Gouty said...

No mention of MWLL? if you haven't tried it, I suggest that you do. Great gameplay, fantastic graphics and best of all free! (as long as you have Crysis Wars!) A bit buggy in places, but heyho, it's a beta afterall.

It is probably the reason MWO is being built on CryEngine 3.

Before anyone else says - yes it is a mod - but I haven't reffered to it as one in the rest of the post because the quality far surpasses that of any other mod I have ever played.

And yes, totally psyced for MWO

Thadius Cole said...

Ah yes you have made a brilliant point there my friend, I have totally forgotten about Living Legends during my gushing over Mechwarrior Online. I hold my hands up for that mistake.

Yes Living legends was something I had a go of and found the work done by dev team was very commendable. I shall have to make a follow up post about Living legends - "Mechwarrior Living Legends, the best battletech mod ever?"

Thanks again Gouty for reminding me about that mod :)

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