Friday, 1 February 2013

MechTalk - Battletech Tabletop Vs. Mechwarrior Online


Many have no doubt played the original 1980's battletech and it's roleplaying counterpart Mechwarrior.  The two terms are interchangeable since the game system was designed to work within both products.  Battletech was for wargamers primarily as a system to fight futuristic battles for supremacy or money across innumerable worlds and make FASA a shit tonne of money.

Mechwarrior was for the roleplaying grognards who enjoyed the very detailed fluff around the universe and also engage in much smaller battles using the battletech models and maps for the player characters.  As such Mechwarrior became the term used for the game series which spanned numerous systems over the years, but it's true home for gaming has always been the PC.  Mechwarrior 2 was the most influential game since it used 3D graphics and multiplayer to make for some of the most engaging mech combat ever at the time.

Over the years the series spawned several sequels and spin-off titles, each set during different conflicts of the battletech universe.  Granted many of these involved the clans which polarised player opinions when they were added and are today one of the most debated topics on the Mechwarrior Online forums today.  The implementation of the Clan invasion and it's new technology is the subject for another post here on critical rocket.

Today I thought I would list the differences in play and mechanics seen in Mechwarrior Online compared to it's tabletop ancestor.  The most obvious of these is the way the weight classes are used in game.

LIGHT MECHS

Light mechs in the tabletop game played the role of scouts and anti-infantry support.  They could mount beneficial targeting systems and countermeasures, but taking on anything other than another light mech in the wargame was more often than not, suicidal.

In Mechwarrior Online the light mech has become the scourge of the assault mech, capable of downing several opponents per match if used properly, the light variant is one of the most hated classes to fight against.  This is down to a few issues, both in terms of gameplay and mechanics.

All the mechs in tabletop play could be hit based on dice rolls and positioning.  If a target could be seen without broken line of sight and was in range then a shot could be made.  In Mechwarrior Online, light mechs benefit from the fact that they are fast, small and agile.  Players have to rely on their own skill and luck when shooting at a light.  Another problem is the "Lag shield" which is a term used to describe server side lag when firing at a fast moving target.  Lag shields mean that although you hit, the server may register the hit on a different part of the mech, rather than the area you aimed for.  This means that most light mechs need to be hit repeatedly in all areas in the hopes of blowing off a leg or doing enough damage to kill it outright.

Sometimes friendly light mech players will fight off the opposing light mechs, but this requires close communication and teamwork to achieve.  Streak SRM's work well when not under a ECM cloak since they hit regardless of the lag.  I am not saying that light mechs are overpowered, but until the game improves in regards to the netcode, the light mech is a dangerous opponent regardless of what tonnage you are packing in a fight.

MEDIUM MECHS

In the tabletop game the medium class of mechs are the most commonly seen and thus are a jack of all trades mech type.  Capable of mounting all weapon types depending on chassis, weight and availability, they are incredibly flexible on the battlefield and as such are the best choice for newbies.

Mechwarrior Online has pretty much gotten the medium chassis right here when it comes to converting the tabletop game.  Medium mechs have decent speed and weapon options and can keep heavier mechs alive with their support fire.  The Cicada can chase down some light mechs, while the Centurion and Hunchback can deliver powerful blows with autocannon fire and lasers.  Medium mechs aren't as common though on Mechwarrior Online, but are likely to become more popular as new chassis are added such as the soon to be released Trebuchet, which will add a new LRM heavy mech to the mix, along with it's own alternate variants.

HEAVY MECHS

Probably the second most commonly seen mech chassis in Battletech, the heavy is a house forces alternative to the Assault when the risks far outweigh the rewards to use them.  Heavy mechs are the middle point between the speed and versatility of a medium and massive firepower and armour of an assault.  Heavy mechs are obviously a little slower barring a few variants, but mount more weapons and armour to keep it in the fight longer.

Mechwarrior Online also has the Heavy down well enough that it feels like the tabletop game.  The Heavy mechs available are versatile and very popular, so are seen more often here compared to the wargame.  Many heavy mech players prefer a more focused weapon loadout since these mechs can mount multiple heavy weapons, so it isn't unusual to see AC/20 catapults or Gauss Rifle Cataphracts stomping around doing huge amounts of damage.

ASSAULT MECHS

The rarest and most challenging foe to go up against in the wargame, assault mechs are in game terms the equivalent of dropping a demigod onto the field of battle.  Assault mechs mount the most armour and plenty of weapons to backup their armour.  They are relatively slow compared to other mech classes, but then unless you have a tactical advantage you would do better to avoid direct confrontation with an assault mech.

Mechwarrior Online currently has a balancing problem with assault mechs, since they are seen too often in battles and at times entire teams can be made of these behemoths.  They are slow and mount plenty of weapons and armour, but can be a little too common.  Assault players are aware of their weaknesses here and tend to hang back when the fighting starts, hoping to hop in and take a few kills for themselves when opponents are weakened.

I would say that the light and assault classes need some revising to make lights more fragile somehow and assaults more rare.  The matchmaking system is currently to blame for these issues since some teams get all the ECM for example while the other gets none, or all of the assault mechs are not balanced, so for example one team could get 4 atlas mechs and the other 4 awesome mechs.  The atlas and awesomes are both assaults, but awesome's are weaker so the match is already unbalanced.

These aren't crippling issues, but they can bother sometimes.  I am impressed though with how well that have managed to transition the classes to the online arena while maintaining the mechanics of the wargame.  At the moment it isn't perfect, but what online shooter is?  

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