Friday, 24 January 2014

Mechwarrior Online breaking canon? Well DUH!

I love Mechwarrior Online and judging by the forums I am one of a very small number of players who are actually grateful for the game being made in the first place.  This doesn't mean I am blind when it comes to the issues PGI have faced over the last couple of years and I can understand some users apathy toward the game these days.  Personally I am confident that this year we will finally see much needed features like Community Warfare, User Interface 2.0 and Warhammer heavy 'mechs.

That aside I do have a bone too pick with those who scream bloody murder about changes made to MWO when this game is nothing like Battletech the game in which the Mechwarrior series is based on.  It's funny really that the game series is named Mechwarrior since that was the name of Battletechs tabletop roleplaying addition.  That aside the series has deviated quite considerably from tabletop over the years, not because it wanted too, because it had to.

When playing a computer game the player needs either complete control like a first person shooter or tactical control like a strategy title.  Battletech translates well into the strategy market because it's a wargame anyway so things like Mechwarrior Tactics works far better.  Mechwarrior though by virtue of it's mechanics has too play completely differently and it confuses me when people on the forums complain about this game not being canon.  Here are a few basic comparisons to highlight why this game is nothing like Battletech:

  • Heat - Battletech heatsinks disperse 1 point of heat each round where all standard engines have at a minimum 10 single heatsinks, so 10 heat each round is dissipated.  So you could fire a PPC once a round and not worry about overheating, however add in a medium laser and you now have 13 heat.  Next round you are already 3 heat over you baseline and firing the PPC again keeps you at +3 heat instead of +0.  Mechwarrior Online handles heat very differently using a percentage scale and even altering the way heatsinks remove heat.  Add in ghost heat to nerf game breaking mechanics like 6 PPC Stalkers and you already have a totally different combat model there.
  • Jump Sniping - a tactic seen in Mechwarrior which would never have a feasible use in the tabletop scene.  Jumping is difficult for a Mech pilot in Battletech and requires piloting rolls to maintain the 'mechs balance when it lands.  Failure to do this can mean you fall over and damage your 'mech.  MWO however allows you to freely jump and aim without penalty resulting in hilarious images of Highlanders bopping up and down behind a hill.  In real life it would be like adding thrusters to a tank and having the driver hover the tank over a hill, the gunner aiming and firing and then lowering back down again.  That's a lot of work for a crew so imagine what it would be like for someone piloting a massive walking combat machine to do accurately.  Basically it's a tactic that is so far removed from Battletech it may as well be Gundam.
  • Frankenmechs - The idea of customisation of 'mechs has always been a huge part of Mechwarrior.  This stems from MW2 where every machine was a clan omnimech.  Omnimechs where designed with modular slots for basically any weapon type to fit, allowing Clan pilots to tailor their 'mech to their liking for each engagement.  The Inner Sphere however have no modular tech and only use certain variants of a design due to logistics and cost amongst other things.  MWO allows you to create hideously broken designs such as the Jagermech with two AC/20 autocannons or the dual Gauss K2 Catapult.  In Battletech 'mechs cost a fortune, some being family heirlooms they were that old.  The cost of replacing parts of a 'mech could be astronomical to the point where it just isn't feasible and even then you would need a skilled technical team to perform the work which isn't cheap or easy to find.  MWO allows you to mix and match weapons without any fear of cost or efficiency hence the crazy builds.  Nevermind the fact that some chassis's like the aforementioned Jagermech could never hold the AC 20 because it's frame wouldn't have been built to handle the stress of firing these weapons or even carry them.  The onboard computer systems would have to be altered to register the new weapon and that could be buggy and re-wiring the new weapons could cause issues.  Basically Inner Sphere 'mech customisation was rare and extremely expensive even for light 'mechs.

  • Variants - Battletech does feature variants of existing 'mechs but not in the number you would think existed going by MWO.  Battletech would mention a version of a Hunchback for instance that had the hump missing in the form of the 4-SP.  However this design would be rare compared to the normal 4G variant which was the standard.  A real life example would be the British Crusader tank which in the early part of WW2 was a standard tank of the British army.  As technology moved on and new, better tanks developed the Crusader was left behind so the army re purposed some of them as AA vehicles by altering the turret with a anti-air battery.  Examples of this can be seen throughout the war period and Battletech took a similar approach.  For example there are likely a few thousand Hunchback 4G's in the Inner Sphere at the time of the clan invasion but only a tiny number of 4-SP variants would exist.  This is because modifying existing designs is extremely expensive, it would be like taking the modern Abrams tank and changing the gun and armour amount.  A few may exist but the US military are unlikely to make this other variant in huge numbers when production lines already ably produce the standard Abrams.  MWO has a minimum of three variants of each battlemech and these are as populous as the standard variants.

  • Targeting - Battletech never allowed you to aim shots unless you had a clan targeting computer.  The Inner Sphere in universe obviously had targeting software but the game mechanics would be screwed if you could simply declare each round you were aiming for the head.  When attacking in Battletech you would roll to hit and then check where each shot hit and so forth.  MWO being a first person shooter allows you to aim for that Spider's legs or that Quickdraw's shoulder.  It's a skill based shooter but not really a tactical one.  The frankenmech style of play also robs many 'mechs of their identity as scout 'mechs can snipe with ER PPC's or more specialised designs such as the Trebuchet are robbed or their LRM support role by Stalkers boating huge numbers of missiles.

  • Hardpoints - The current hardpoint system changes how 'mechs work anyway.  Since you can fit pretty much any weapon you desire into a chassis provided it has enough spare weight and critical slots, it takes away from each designs battlefield roles.  Battletech didn't stop you from modifying your 'mech but it was cost prohibitive and glitchy since the system would have trouble recognising the new weapons.  MWO could have used a more simple hardpoint system that only allowed you to put weapons upto a certain amount in.  The Trebuchet 3C for instance has LRM 15's so that is maximum you could have, not LRM 20's but in the interest of customisation you could insert LRM 10's and 5's.  I would even hazard a test to prevent the use of SRM's so as to keep the roles distinct and make other 'mechs more appealing and tactically feasible.  If the only medium that can run the AC/20 is a Hunchback then players will use it more. 
  • *EDIT* Ammo storage - In MWO you can store ammo pretty much anywhere you want in your battlemech.  This again breaks the rules of the tabletop and is also non canon.  For those who don't know what I mean.  Battlemechs are intricate machines built around their specific roles on the field and as such they are crammed with wiring, coolant systems, electronics, myomer and machinery.  Take the humble Hunchback 4G a machine designed around the monster AC/20, it's the 'mechs calling card.  In the tabletop the ammo for this weapon can only be stored in the right torse (where the gun is) or the right arm or possibly the centre torso if you're not too bothered about space.  Either way this is because the machinery needs the reload system in that location and then have space for the ammo to be stored.  Now MWO has ammo in the legs which paints a rather amusing picture of massive AC rounds travelling around the 'mechs internals to reach the gun, all in a matter of seconds and while it's moving at full speed.  Again this is another concession for gameplay and I have no problem with that but it is another non canon element that people don't seem to bothered about in the grand scheme of things.  Imagine if all those boats out there had to have their ammo stored next to or with their weapons, they sure wouldn't be so gung ho if the threat of ammo explosions was increased exponentially.
There are likely many more comparisons with Battletech that prove the game is far removed from canon but these are some of the more obvious ones.  This doesn't mean Mechwarrior Online is a bad game, it simply means it is it's own interpretation and people need to stop being so hurt over the changes made.  Battletech was never and can never really translate into a first person shooter, it's too fast paced and twitch reliant to be anything close.

You may be one of those people who consider themselves diehard Mechwarrior fans, but in reality your knowledge of the game is secondary to those who know Battletech since to those people Mechwarrior had it all wrong from the start.  Clan tech will be different and some are annoyed by this, but it's odd that they never seemed upset at the changes to Inner Sphere or Lostech.  These players I ignore since they are upset because their overpowered super 'mechs won't be able to stomp the Inner Sphere players without hassle.  How dare players have a chance of being in a fair fight eh? tech will still be unique and the flavour of the galaxies test tube super warriors will still be maintained.  Hell even the weapons will still be better than Inner Sphere versions so why all the crying is beyond me.  No doubt some clan fanboy will turn up here with his Clan Jade Falcon tattoo on his arse calling me a noob for not knowing anything about Mechwarrior or how PGI just don't get it.  To these people I say read a book or two about Battletech, check the comparisons between the tabletop and computer games and then have a nice warm cup of shut the fuck up.

We have a lot to thank PGI for really.  Without them we would probably not seen another Mechwarrior game until Microsoft farted another terrible Xbox game out and people would have been relegated to playing archaic versions of MW4 or earlier to get their fix.  MWO may not be perfect but it works, it isn't Battlefield 4 and it is making progress slowly toward being a more fully fledged Mechwarrior experience.

In closing, thank you PGI don't go changing for nobody.


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