MechWarrior Online Heralds the Return of Mech Simulators
by Josh Wanamaker
If you’re a fan of ‘Mech-Sims, you’ve probably been feeling rather…unfulfilled for the last decade or so. Seriously, it’s been ten whole years since the last fully-fledged Battletech game was released, and enthusiasts of the genre have had to supplement the withdrawal of mainstream ‘Mech games with community-developed attempts to provide something that approaches a fully-funded experience. Why this genre ever vanished from official development is a mystery (no it isn’t, certain jerks just weren’t buying them), but PERK UP, because Piranha Games is making MechWarrior Online, and oh man, does it look great.
Those people that were paying attention back in 2001 might remember a ridiculously fun but ultimately failed attempt at a MechWarrior game from EA, entitled Multiplayer Battletech 3025. This was an MMO in the best way: pitting players against each other to vie for control of territory on a galactic-scale. Players chose a Great House of the Inner Sphere to join, and then went out in teams and conquered planets for the ultimate glory of their House. It was fun, and action-packed, and required strategy and honest-to-shit teamwork for players to be successful. Ok, now take all of that, drop it into CryEngine3, make free to play, and set it to a timeline progressing towards the Clan invasion of 3050. That’s MechWarrior Online! Excited yet? Good! You should be.
If you’re not familiar with Mech-sims at all, which would be kind of difficult, the basic idea is that you’re a dude in an enormous walking tank on a battlefield in the distance future. As far as Battletech goes, these vehicles range from 20-100 tons or so, and you can load them up with all sorts of weapons and sensors and other neat equipment so that they fall within specific roles. You can run around as a scout, for example, and use a laser to paint enemy players for your allies way on the other side of the map, who can then launch waves of long-range missiles at your target from the safety of wherever they are. If you’re not a fan of being a dinky little scout, why not wade into the middle of combat in a 100-ton Atlas, the Mechiest of Mechs. The largest Mechs can carry weapons that weigh more than the smallest scouts all on their own, and it takes a concerted effort from several smaller units to put one down.
MechWarrior Online will put up to 24 players against each other on one map, following the standard Battletech grouping system, the Lance. Each side will have three Lances, consisting of four Mechs each, usually complimenting each other with their load-outs. While players can choose whatever the hell they want to drive, the incentive to work as a team is inherent to the gameplay, via the various capabilities of player’s available equipment. As with every previous iteration of the franchise, heat management is one of the core mechanics of Battletech combat. As players shoot at each other, their Mechs generate tons of heat, and since an overload will disable your Mech, or worse—cause your reactor to overload, dealing with heat efficiently is absolutely essential to success.
Adding extra heat sinks to your Mech to reduce overall buildup will work, but you’ll have to sacrifice armor or weapons to do it. You could also replace heat-producing lasers and PPCs with projectile weapons like gauss rifles and autocannons, or failing that, just try to walk around in water a whole bunch. Piranha is taking a rather more interactive approach to cockpit design as well, making the compartment in which the Mech pilot sits a responsive environment. As your Mech takes damage, the cockpit will smoke and stutter, displays will shatter and rain sparks, and while you’ll lose essential information during all this, so would a real Mech pilot. So, deal with THAT. Realism, woo!
As mentioned earlier, Piranha is making MechWarrior Online a F2P title, but just like the Acronym-designed MechWarrior Tactics, the game is going to follow a convenience model, rather than one that focuses on pay-to-win. Aside from the typically non-critical stuff like paint jobs, decals, and other vanity items, players will mostly be paying for the convenience of repairing their Mechs and acquiring new gear faster than it would normally take through playing the game. You can either buy that autocannon RIGHT NOW for cash money, or you can play the game and earn it LATER. Seems fair, right? Regardless of how you choose to play, Piranha is going to be switching things up in about a year, as the game follows a real-world calendar, offset by about a millennia. This means that right now, the game date is March 22, 3049. If you’re familiar with Battletech lore, you might recall that the Clan invasion begins in April 3050. The Clans represent a whole order of advanced technology and tactics which Piranha is going to have to integrate into the existing game. This is going to be very interesting to watch unfold, as some kind of incentive is going to be needed to keep players from switching over to Clan factions from their Inner Sphere counterparts.
MechWarrior Online is set for a release sometime this summer, but it’ll be going into an open beta within the next couple of months. If you have yet signed up, you could always go and do that at the official site, here.