MechWarrior Online: Previewing the Reboot

Updated Wed, Oct 03, 2012 by ricoxg

Back in the early '90s, I'd discovered table-top Battletech and the world of imagination it opened.  At that moment, I loved the game, but then in 1995 I'd been playing the first Mechwarrior game for about a year when MechWarrior 2 entered the field.  MW2 changed me from being a guy who really enjoyed something to being a guy who was a life-long fan. 

Rumors of Piranha Games rebooting the franchise with Mechwarrior Online was like waiving a beer in front of a Twelve-Stepper.  I thought I was off this stuff.  Was I wrong?

The Mechlab

A lot of folks might think that in Mechwarrior, the defining part of the game is the actual simulator, but they'd be wrong.  It's actually the Mechlab where you buy, sell, repair, and rearm your mechs.  It's where you decide which mech you want to take into battle and how it'll be outfitted.  In nearly every way, the Mechlab is the heart and soul of Mechwarrior.

In Mechwarrior Online, the Mechlab is looking pretty good.  They've captured a lot of critical aspects that make the lab feel like it should.  Starting off with a fairly cool view of the selected mech in its bay and flashing caution lights, it gives a good sense of perspective of these massive machines of war.  The GUI also includes all the pertinent information for the selected mech like tonnage, armor, firepower, and heat efficiency, and also lists the weapons, equipment, and available hardpoints.

Along the bottom of the GUI is listed the various bays you have available and any stabled mech.  Selecting one and then clicking Configuration gets you to one of the definitive aspects of the series, mech configuration.  In this GUI, Piranha did a good job of displaying what weapons and equipment are available for each section of the mech and how much armor is used or available.  Some players may be a little put-off after the last several years of experiencing omni-mechs, but remember that those mechs aren't available in this part of the franchise timeline.  These mechs are more confined as projectile, beam, and missile weapons can only be replaced by like weapons, and only in locations designed to hold them.

Provided you've done your time to accumulate the currency, Buying new mechs is as easy as picking an open bay and selecting Create New Mech.  Currently there are 9 mechs to select from, as well as multiple variants of each.  There are a number of additional mechs said to be in the pipeline, so that number is expected to go up.  Mechs can be purchased with either C-Bills, the in-game currency of Mechwarrior Online, or MechWarrior Credits (MC) which can be purchased for cash.

If you're going the C-Bills route, be prepared for a long road. With no tiered matchmaking, you'll go up against some tough mercs with fairly weak and prone-to-overheat trial mechs, and it could easily take you upwards of 25-35 matches to raise the funds for your first light mech. If you're not adverse to spending money, $US 15 gets you a decent and highly configurable Commando, and $30 gets you one of the top-shelf heavy mechs with MC to spare.

Gameplay and Graphics

While the graphics aren't quite on par with some of the big-name games rolling out this past summer, the developers did a great job of taking advantage of their engine's ability to render mist, fog, and wooded terrain well.  Additionally, their work with the CryENGINE 3 to model terrain has really paid off well by giving the maps a very organic and natural feel.

It really seems like I recognize a lot of the terrain modeling and mechanics of the game.  I haven't seen anything from Piranha to confirm it, but there seems to be entirely too much similar between the MechWarrior: Living Legends (MWLL) Crysis mod and Mechwarrior Online not to believe that there is some sort of collaboration between the two teams.  Veterans of the mod should have little trouble slipping into MechWarrior Online as so much is similar between the two.

MWO Cockpit View MWO Cockpit Thermal

A few views from the cockpit. The pilot in the right-hand screenshot is using thermal imaging.

Once you get the essentials of moving a mech down (the turret moves on mouselook independent of the vehicle's path of movement, which takes some getting used to in game's first person cockpit view). The gameplay is fast paced and fun and a bevy of of realistic physics mechanics suggests a good amount of thought that went into the game. 

Mechs running into another mech of equal size or larger will fall down, which allows for several seconds of free shots on the downed mech.  Light mechs are so much faster and more maneuverable than the assault class mechs that often this component is the only way an assault mech can fend off an attack by smaller ones.  Killing Atlas mechs in my Jenner or my Commando is one of my favorite things to do in this game.  It's a testament to the planning of the game that such a thing is actually possible.

What about HOTAS support?

For me, reconfigurable HOTAS support is make or break. I played MW2 with my turret slaved to a head-tracking HMD.

Also, how annoying is the Pay To Win? How much money does it really take to enjoy and get good at this game>

Money doesn't buy you skill. It buys 'Mechs, Mechbay slots to store your mechs in, and cosmetic upgrades (which aren't in the beta yet). You can earn in-game to buy 'mechs through regular play which some people may call grinding, or you can buy 'mechs faster by spending real money.

The game is built with a mouse and keyboard in mind. Using a joystick will greatly hinder your effectiveness, as you will not be able to turn as fast or be as precise as a user with a mouse.

There is currently no pay to win component. No gold ammo, no special real money only mechs. It is pay to play however, if you wish to skip fifty hours of grind to unlock an atlas, that will run you about thirty dollars, but the end result is exactly the same as if you had spent the time to unlock it with only in game money.

Thanks for the info. Its good to hear that money just saves you time. Thats a trade-off Im sometimes willing to make.

Unfortunately the lack of HOTAS support kills it for me. I'm a real vehicle sim player. I have my own home-built cockpit. I just can't see enjoying a vehicle sim that is mouse & keyboard. To me thats just a dressed up FPS.

MWO is a mech based FPS, not a simulation. If you treat it like an FPS and enjoy Battletech, it's probably going to be a good addition to the franchise. It certainly won't be the worst game in the series. People who want it to be a simulation are going to be disappointed, it simply doesn't have the tactical or mechanical depth required.

Thats really useful information, and something the reviewer should have talked about, thanks.

This has been my disappointment with every MW game since MW2. MW2 managed to capture the feeling of piloting a lumbering machine. The ones after didn't.

I think they will get Joystick / HOTAS support working at some point; I'm not sure they will ever be able to make it truly competitive versus mouse and keyboard.

And MWO is much more sim-like than most previous MW games, in my opinion. Not quite MW2, but way less arcade FPS than MW3/4.

Razer is actually on board to make proprietary joystick/throttle controller for it with a built in touch screen and a bunch of other pointless junk that razer is known for, so joystick/HOTAS support is definitely coming, it's just not real strong yet. Current joystick support is only for digital input, not analogue so it lacks the precision you'd expect from a good quality joystick, but a number of people do currently use a combination of mouse and throttle instead of mouse and keyboard. Once full analogue joystick support is in place though, a lot of people, myself included already have our simpits ready to go. :)


If you're wondering, the way they set it up when they had official Battletech simulators 20 years ago was controlling targeting with a joystick and leg turns with foot pedals.

I miss that game.

There's not technical pay to win, but there is some...nudging. The grind to get into a kitted out assault mech is rather arduous, and once you get there, there are certain builds which simply aren't economically viable. Ammo prices mean that some of the best build options like LRMs and SRMs take a substantial chunk of your earning to use, and can potentially drop you below breakeven. When an assault mech LRM boat with an XL engine can cost 150k to repair and a F2P averages around 100k in earnings/match, the pay to win idea does kind of creep in. Somebody with a premium account and founder's mech might be taking in 250k for their wins, so the rearm costs won't phase them in the same way.

This is a mercenaries game (or will be, anyway.) The idea is to balance out C-Bill usage with the amount you generate per mission. Obviously if you fill a mech with the most expensive kit you can find, and then go and smash it up it's going to cost you money. If you decide to run a cheaper catapult or something instead of that ridiculous missile XL atlas or awesome, and play safely, you'll generate more C-Bills than you spend on reloads.

I tend to build with this concept in mind. Even if my dragon gets totalled, with my standard engine and regular old large lasers, my repair is peanuts compared to the take from contributing to my team's victory. Then when it's time for messing around or team events you can bring those more expensive designs. If you're conservative about your mech and don't try to cram as much flashy kit into it as you can repair fees are pretty much negligible.

As a quick test, I've just done a pickup launch with my favorite dragon. It's two LLAS and two MLAS, with an XL engine for a bit of a speed boost. I tend to play conservatively when I'm in the zone, taking shots at medium range and closing in once the armor is stripped off something important. Unfortunately I'm not in the zone right now. For this test, I flailed around like a moron, did like a hundred damage, and then exploded. even though this obviously sub-par performance combined with the team loss means I only generated 86,820 C-Bills, I've still come out ahead with a repair cost of 64,513. a net gain of 22,307!

On a more serious note, when I'm not being terribad I usually see something a little closer to 125k generated, with a repair bill of probably half the total mech destruction you see here. if I could win one today (I've been drinking!) I'd have harder numbers for you, but alas, I must operate on memory and some screenshots of my best matches. (CB145k[820 damage 4 kills and 3 assists] and CB147k [ONE THOUSAND SIXTY FIVE DAMAGE 5 kills and three assists!!])

I agree with the article and the concerns but I already dropped $120 on a founders pack and am wiolling to watch the game and see what they do with it. That metagame is already planned for December if not sooner.

Good representation of where things are now, with the exception of not indicating the following:

- game is still in closed Beta, which means many things are still not implemented.
- many of the perceived "holes" are currently in the pipeline, with some being implemented in the next couple weeks. The meta game is still a bit off, but it's coming.
- the 3.4 Crysis Engine update is going to be a major upgrade in the visuals and performance.

A Commando doesn't cost $15. It costs $5 and an Atlas isn't $30 either. It's $15. Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong

MC is sold in increments of (prices in USD):
1250 for 9.95
3000 for 14.95
6500 for 29.95
12000 for 49.95
25000 for 99.95

A Commando COM-1B/D costs 1,125 MC, you would need to spend at least 9.95 to buy one.
An Atlas AS7-D/D-DC costs 4500. Since you cannot buy an even 4500, assuming you don't already have any MC, you must spend at least thirty dollars to get the 6500 package.

You're right. The commando doesn't cost $15, it costs $10.

Don't let the drones convince or deter you. Features that are not yet implemented don't deserve marketing space, you shouldn't let PGI spin you a tale of what they will do, the only things that matter are what they have done.

I disagree. I won't give them an A+ but progress has been good, and will hopefully continue to improve. Sometimes, you have to maintain hope, or give someone the benefit of the doubt. Let's not shoot this down before it even launches, maybe?

Hope may spring eternal, but you must be wary of glossing over flaws based on future promises. Too many F2P games (and plenty of full games) promise more than they can deliver and fall flat on their faces. MWO is particularly susceptible to this because of the hateful nature of the defense tabletop players are bringing to bear on anyone suggesting the game could be improved. According to most them, the game is already perfect. (And every patch brings a new standard of perfect)

I think there are very, very few people - founders or no - who think things are currently "perfect."

I doubt many of us believe it will ever be "perfect."

I am merely willing to be patient and see where PGI goes with this, having been impressed by what I've seen thus far, if a bit eager for more content.

They can't make everyone happy; they can accomplish the game they proposed. The article on Community Warfare had me immediately spending the $120 despite some misgivings over such a large "pre-order."

I just knew what I was spending the money on - the hope of a great Mechwarrior "Lite MMO" as described by the early Dev Blogs and such.

As this feels more like a kickstarter; I am far more willing to be patient.

numbskull, it's the closed Beta of a product that's been in production for just under a year, and he's comparing it to a 5 year old Joint-arms BT/MW mod. Features that are not yet implemented for the testers are being worked on by the developers to prepare them for mass testing. What they have done is test a closed Beta, not release a full ready-to-go game.

As a beta tester, I'd say that your review is a pretty fair and accurate representation of the current beta.

Nice to see an even handed review when there are net kiddies running around screaming "the sky is falling, THE SKY IS FALLING!" all the time.

The game itself is a lot of fun to play in it's current version, and once they tweak the matches and add new player options, I think it will continue to improve.

You are completely correct about the lack of meta game at this point in the beta, but the Devs have promised it and I'm sure they will start to deliver.

Closed beta still

MWLL has been going on 5 years

more people already play MWO than MWLL and MWO is still closed BETA.

50% of content is not in game atm.

Well, I guess I should point out that I've been in beta for... I'm not sure. It's been several months, though. So I'm not reviewing it as someone who just dropped in. I'm looking at it who's seen the progress over the last several months, and should point out that it is true, Piranha has come a long way with the game.

I also enjoy playing the game quite a bit, enough that I bought the $120 founders package the day they put it up. I'm a fan of the franchise, so I even enjoyed Mech Commander. But I'm not here to write about how much I like the game, I'm here to write about how much you will enjoy the game and whether it's on the right track to be worth the cash investment to you. In doing that, I can't hype dream-ware. No matter how cool it sounds, it doesn't exist yet.

But I'm tickled to see so many folks commenting. That means there's a strong community for the game, and that hopefully will drive continued development. Personally, I'd love to see that.

ricoxg, one of the biggest issues of your article here besides all the discrepancies that we're having to point out in the comments is that you've completely neglected to mention that this game is still in closed beta. You've written this review as if the game has already been released for public consumption. People reading your review on TTH that haven't already been keeping up with the game themselves will get the wrong impression about what state the game is in and will affect how players approach it whenever it does get ready for release.

No, I did not use the phrase "closed beta," that would be a true statement, however the closing paragraph specifically points out that this is not a completed game and that there is more in the pipe. Could I have been more overt on the whole beta thing, sure. Point taken.

Not a bad review but some things are pretty wrong.

Price of Commando for MC (don't know why anyone would bother spending MC, free CB are easy to get) is not $15. It's about $10.

You don't have to stay in game after death to get rewards. just move on same as in WoT.

Currently the rest is pretty fair, although you fail to mention that it is still in Closed Beta with some way to go until release, with lots of improvements slated in for the coming weeks including more mechs, maps, modules, pilot modes, graphics updates etc and that Community Warfare is coming about 3 months after release, the devs have told us that pretty much from the get go.

So far the devs have been pretty good at keeping to what they say they will deliver and the game has improved a lot in the last couple of months so I'm still confident on release it will be very good.

You "can't hype dream-ware" and I'm totally with you there.

You could have at least mentioned that more stuff was planned, it's beta, etc.

Well I was invited into the beta months ago, I had fun until I could not figure out how to fire the bloody weapons. I spent two hours looking for the info. Don't know if I was pressing the right buttons and something was off with my pc but I gave up until they include a manual.

Did you check the "key bindings" or control settings? Read any guides on the forums?

I can say "could not figure out how to fire the bloody weapons" is not a.... common complaint or problem...

And yeah, the manual / tutorial will be added; this is way early beta so I don't think it is quite fair to hold that against PGI at this point.

Left click for selected column of weapons, right click for "group 2."

Use your arrow keys to move up and down, and from column to column, and then control button to turn weapons on/off for that group.

I typically set mine up so that I have group 1 as small weapons with little or no heat that I fire continuously, and then group 2 is the bigger weapons with limited ammo or lots of heat. So you walk around firing little stuff racking up damage and then rip into those critical or thinly armored places.

BTW, in this game, the arm that looks like a big gun, is probably a big gun, so focusing fire on that arm to take out the weapon is often smarter than just firing center-mass constantly.

Hope that helps.

First off, the beta is only running DX9 at the moment, DX11 is coming very soon and will radically improve the graphics power of MWO using cryengine3. Secondly, The large hole talked about is soon to be filled with a meta game that spans the whole of the Inner Sphere, where players can join houses, or merc corps or even play lone wolf if they choose.

I've been in the beta since the start, and I can tell you the game has improved in 4 months by leaps and bounds. In another 4 months the game will have all the needed components for a kick ass meta game, with the graphics, gameplay, and tactics to go along with it.

Its been a fun ride and is only going to get better!

Ricoxg, I posted the following over on the MWO boards. IMO, as a journalist the questions I put in post two would be good to ask. If you get to do an interview, please ask them or ones similar! Pretty please with iced cherries on top!


This is, IMO, the most interesting paragraph in that review.

Additionally, I'm a little concerned about the game's future when there's a free mod out that includes active/passive radar, aerospace vehicles, a wide array of ground-based vehicles, access to more a lot more mechs, and the ability to play as an elemental. None of which are included in MWO, and the mod also has a wider selection of larger maps, some with unique physics and day/night cycles. So I'm scratching my head a little over why a game based on a similar engine as the mod would not look to the mod as the minimum bar

Now, some of the people involved in mwll are developing a meta game so that one can strategise over a star map etc. Having read some interesting player submitted design documents, there may be a lot of depth to such a meta-game.

It was interesting to listen to Bryan in the interview on the NGNG podcast and his explanation of who owns what with regards to IP rights. It is a tangled web with PGI granting rights to their publisher, IGP, to develop mechwarrior tactics etc. (please correct me if I have this back to front). Rather than a content heavy single player game with multiplayer tagged on, which is what we all really wanted, what we have is an IP split apart into several projects, so that a greater financial gain can be made.

I have to ask the devs, given the above cited paragraph, to what extent does this inform the types of communications that may have been sent to KingLeer and others, on the mwll team? Are PGI, the IP holders, going to aggressively pursue the mwll project if the 'fears' of the 'ten ton hammer' reviewer, come to pass? If you do decide to play hardball and given your fragmented approach to exploiting the BT IP, to what extent do you think the BT fan base will come over to your way of thinking?

Also there is NO reward for staying in game and watching the rest of the battle.
This is completely false. You will get the full reward if you exit the battle and then start up another game in another mech.

The only exception to this I believe is in trial mechs to stop people just killing themselves, even in this case however, I believe this rule only kicks in if they don't actually contribute much to the battle.

Lots of nice stuff and more build options coming out soon as well!

Go re-read your August 21st patch notes:

" Salvage is then divided up evenly amongst eligible players (early disconnects do not get awarded). "

Salvage is never awarded to players using trial mechs.

That would be correct.

I have to disagree with the author of this preview. I absolutely despise the whole tripping mechanic. It has never been in any other MW game I know of and I can see why. Plus, it's not awfully realistic as I can take my Jenner into the side of a building at over 100 km/h and suffer no ill effects whatsoever. I think the company is going to find lots of players frustrated with the tripping mechanic.

The game has a lot of promise. I too like that is is a slower paced game, more tactical, less twitch. Personally, I think the graphics are great. I'm amazed they lifted the NDA though, this game is not ready for primetime. The griping I've been seeing around the internet only confirms that. Yeah, it's still in beta, but it needs a lot of work, so I think they should have kept the lid on it. If they were expecting a flood of positive press for lifting the NDA, they haven't been reading their own forums.

I like the game, I think it can do well. I just don't think it is there yet.

Collisions mechanics definitely need work; but the fact they are doing collision at all is a great thing for me.

One guy was saying he was telling all of his friends not to play MWO because "getting tripped sucks."

I am telling my friends *to play* MWO because in this game, 100 ton stompy war robots do not simply phase through one another when two of them try to occupy the same space at the same time.

That said, the current collision mechanics do need work - both visually, and mechanically. Mostly, they need to do way more damage to both involved mechs. Two 50-ton mechs colliding at ~60 km/h should result in some spectacular twisted metal :D

p37 Classic Battletech Introductory Rulebook (RE: Domino Effect) - It was in Battletech, they just didn't have the physics for it in earlier PC games... though I'm not totally certain it wasn't there. I want to say there was a fall mechanic in MW2, but I may be remembering incorrectly.

That said, if you ran into a building you wouldn't trip either. Running past a bigger person would be different should you clip him as you go past. That's the concept in the fall mechanic, and I like it a lot. In fact, as people learn to play the game better, you'll be glad it's there. Otherwise, the average Atlas will get it's butt handed to him by every Jenner or Commando that comes along. A friend and I occasionally run modified Jenners together and about a month ago we had a great match, killing three Atlases and a Catapult between us while defending our base. Blow the arms off an Atlas, and the only way he can hit you is to knock you over. His torso weapons can't aim low enough to hit you if you're close.

I just wanted to say that while this isn't a bad review of the game, there is one critical factor of this you left out:

The game in it's current state is in a CLOSED BETA still at this moment. The developers have said that they are working on adding new material each week and they are committed to doing so until they can get to game release which they expect is another 9-12 months from now. There is still a lot of game tweaking and new material that they need to add into the game, of that is true. But for the most part, I have to applaud TenTonHammer for a much better review than most people have given it so far, unlike other websites like Evil Avatar which have completely ignored facts or twisted it to publicly lambast the game due to bias and a vendetta they have against MechWarrior: Online.

In short, the game is still in development stages and needs more time, but so far, what the folks at PGI have shown is a great step in the right direction so far. Given more time, they will most definitely improve as they go along as the BETA staff there are committed to making sure that the game does not fail.

If you aren't a software developer you might not understand that a Beta release by convention is assumed to be a feature complete software package. As it stands the "Closed Beta" for MWO is by admission not even close to feature complete. This review quite plainly does a good job in discussing the parts of the game that are currently implemented but also quite rightly points out that much of the game is missing despite being advertised as Beta release. The marketing for MWO over the past year has been split evenly between battlefield and community warfare... it would completely irresponsible not to point out that none of the community warfare features are represented in the Beta build, not even as placeholders for future content... half of the game they have been advertising is just not there. The original launch date was planned for this summer, later amended to fall. The founders package promised a month or two of lead time before the final release. The beta release has now been on for a month or so and yet half of the game is still unaccounted for. It is silly to criticize this review for daring to point out that the emperor has no clothes.

Tried playing this game, I was the guy who made Coop for Mercenaries, Sorry, was really disappointed that there are no Coop type missions. This game is nothing more than another PVP game. With a real money market to try and gouge players into buying items or money.

This game is a total fail in my opinion. No Coop Missions = fail!

I have a hard time believing that the person who did the co-op for any of the Mercenaries titles would fail to identify which one, let alone have such a difficult time forming sentences.

Think of it this way, they are on a road toward greatness, they have glimpses here and there of what the game could be, and for most of us that have pre-paid for a Founder's Pack (kickstarter) those glimpses are well worth the cost.

This is a tough IP, with very established players, preceptions, and previous titles. I think for a small dev shop, they are riding the rough waves well, and learning a ton about the community and the game.

The review is a bit short on info, and there is a large amount of info on the forums already for planned assets/game modes that are already in the dev pipe.

Grab a forum name, apply for BETA, come see what the fuss is about.

You'll be glad you did!

Reviewer doesn't realise that MWLL, the popular mod in question, has about 45-60 people playing it at peak times on weekends. for about 4-6hrs you will be lucky to find 5 people online in the off peak hours. MWO has 1000 to over 3000 people populating their servers at anyone time.

MWLL is certainly not in anyway shape or form actually competing with MWO in terms of shear player base numbers.

MWLL Developer

No, but you haven't had the marketing they have either, nor do you really have the dedicated staff of developers and additional corporate support. I'm not suggesting there's competition or anything like that between the two, either. I'm saying there's a mod, that uses the same basic engine as the new game. That suggests that the mod sort of sets the bar for the game. Not that they need to have every single thing you do, but they need to compare favorably, and right now I just don't think they do. The comparison is mechanics and content, not numbers of players.

btw, it's not a totally fair comparison because you guys have done truly exceptional work. It's not like we're comparing them to a typical mod here. So hats off to the staff at MWLL. I'd really rather you take the article as a compliment on your work and how high you've set the bar, than an attempt at creating some sort of rivalry.

For sure we take it as a compliment just being mentioned at all. But just thinking about marketing guys and publisher bean counters reading articles like this, makes me a little nervous.

Understood, mate. If I were them, I'd be having HR contact you rather than anyone else. =)

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