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MechWarrior Online Review

Updated Fri, Sep 20, 2013 by Dalmarus

MechWarriorOnline is a free-to-play futuristic mech combat game that uses a setting created by FASA back in the early/mid 1980s. Though FASA no longer owns the rights to the intellectual property, the universe they created lives on and has a fanatic following. The IP itself has been used for numerous games, including a series of video games that had MechWarrior in the title. MechWarrior Online is the latest and most ambitious title to date. MechWarrior Online officially launched earlier this week in a whirlwind of accusations against the company, with the hardcore crowd crying foul (since coolant flushes are in the game after it was stated they would not be added, third person view being added, and other complaints), and the casual player base rumbling along as normal. 

For the sake of full disclosure, I am one of the game’s Legendary Founders and have been for over a year. Some may feel this means I have an axe to grind, but I’d like to think you’ll find this review objective because despite what some players want to believe, what we Founders purchased were mechs, in-game currency, early access, and a couple other perks – nothing more. We certainly didn’t pay for the vision of MechWarrior Online the developers talked about at the time. In other words, I got what I paid for and that’s that.

With that out of the way, let’s get to it, shall we?

Cautions


Since this is an online multiplayer title, Little Johnny may see some language he probably shouldn’t. That being said, I have rarely seen anyone throw a complete tantrum in the team chat. Overall, there’s not a lot of discussion going on other than that of weapons, mech builds, and tidbits of “GL HFA (good luck – have fun all)” and “GG (good game)”. In-game, the player base is generally quite well behaved. 

The forums are an entirely different matter. The community team does what it can to keep things reigned to a dull roar, but right now, there is just too much backlash over what players feel are broken promises in terms of game features. I won’t go so far as to say the forums are toxic, but there are days it certainly comes close to matching that description.

Gameplay

77Pretty Good
The Good

MechWarrior Online has some of the best feeling mech combat out there in terms of staying true to the BattleTech/MechWarrior universe. Piloting your mech effectively enough to be a genuine asset to your team is a tough challenge and requires hours of diligent practice. I can’t count how many matches I’ve been in over the past year yet there are times I still feel like a complete noob when I get caught with my britches down (meaning I run into a pack of enemy mechs by accident and get mowed down). Then there are other days where I get that perfectly timed kill shot to save the day just before the enemy team completes the takeover of our base. The game feels like a proper mech game. The mechs feel and respond how I feel they should and that’s great. 

Most mechs that you own are fully customizable as they should be. Why Founder mechs can’t change their camo pattern is beyond me. Moving on though! The MechLab is very well done and allows you to see every detail of your mech and its configuration. Min/Max players will have a field day trying to squeeze the most they can out of every available ounce of tonnage. Players will find there’s a fine balance between armor point totals, weapon loadouts, and more. The development team obviously spent a lot of time working on this section and it shows.

 

There are currently two modes of combat matches available for players – Assault and Conquest. Assault is a straightforward 12 vs. 12 deathmatch mode with the additional option of capturing the enemy base. Conquest is all about gaining control over resource points (there are 5 per map) and attaining a total of 750 resources. The alternative method of winning in this mode is to destroy all the other team’s mechs. Be careful if you choose this route. Trust me when I say there’s nothing worse than your team having 9 out of 12 kills (while our team had 8 mechs still alive) and still losing because the other team still gained control of all their required resources. 

There are a decent number of maps, but many of them are just variations of themselves and can feel repetitive fairly quickly. For example, there’s Frozen City and Frozen City Night, or Forest Colony and Forest Colony Snow. The maps all vary in temperature which in turn directly affects the heat levels of your mech. Cold planets help to keep you cool while really hot ones never let you get below 10% max heat. It’s a nice touch that really adds to that sense of attention to detail when it comes to how mechs operate.

The Bad

So why did I only give the Gameplay portion of this review a 77? Sadly, there are some big issues still plaguing the game overall. By this point in time, they should have been addressed or caused the postponement of the official launch. The players were expecting a massive patch on launch day to address such issues as heat balance bugs, the addition of factions, and more, yet all they received were a few bug fixes and a change to disable third-person-view (3PV) use in the 12 players pre-made group matches. 

The MechWarrior universe lore and history is very deep, and while you’re teased with that on the forums, there’s no indication of this in the launch window or the game itself minus some purchasable holographic House (factions) mini-statues you can put in your mech. The game is in desperate need of a fully fleshed out House/Clan system and the battle for the Inner Sphere of planets needs to be known. Without this, the game quickly becomes a grinding mill of pointless matches. Sure, you gain cash and experience for upgrades, but at the end of the day, what’s the real point?

 

If you’re a hardcore MechWarrior fan, you’ll get most out of the MechLab and the more intricate aspects of mech combat. It’s exactly because of this though that those players will also be the first to see just how many shortcomings MechWarrior Online has in terms of balance bugs and missing MechWarrior universe depth, thus curbing their enthusiasm and fun with the game. 

While the casual crowd will potentially have the most fun with the game, they’ll also be the ones the most confused because the game does a horrific job of explaining mech customization and combat to players. In fact, it doesn’t explain either one at all. It also does nothing to explain the concept of heat penalties for firing too many of the same weapon types at the same time. This lack of guiding new players in the absolute basics of the game directly impacts the experience they’ll have – and not in a good way.

Graphics

90Great

In order for people reading this to have a reference point to judge how the graphics may fare on their systems, here are the specs for the machine MechWarrior Online was tested on: 

Processor: AMD Phenom II X2 565 (3.4 GHz)
RAM: 16 GB
Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti (4GB)
Operating System: Windows 7 Home Premium (Service Pack 1)
Internet Service Type: Cable 

MechWarrior Online does a very impressive job of allowing high resolution graphics while at the same time, not turning matches into a stutterfest. The game has a wide variety of graphic options that can be tweaked and altered just the way you want to get the best out of a wide range of machines. My system is a little over three years old now and I run the game with everything maxed. The good news for the plethora of people out there with better systems than mine – with everything maxed out it runs smooth as silk 95% of the time. There are times I get stutter, but truth be told, I’m not convinced that’s due to the game and may very well just be my internet connection acting up.

 

Playing all the maps with normal vision is fine, but another highpoint of MechWarrior Online’s graphics are the other vision modes each mech possesses – thermal and night. The thermal vision system has gone through a couple changes over the past year, and while I agree the previous Predator-movie-style thermal vision was too much of an advantage for players with good aim, I’m not a fan of the current black and white version. Too much of the time, an entire mech is nothing more than a washed out shadow – so much to the point that I sometimes can’t tell what panel I’m actually shooting at. 

On the other side of the vision mode fence though, I’m in love with the night vision mode and think it’s perfect in its current iteration. It looks great overall, but I especially love the fact that I get nearly blinded when I’m getting bombarded with energy weapons, or firing them myself. Why would I be happy about being blinded? Because it makes perfect sense – night vision is nothing more than a system that greatly magnifies the available light. At night, that’s not a lot but fire a massive laser and you can bet your ass it’s going to be *bright*. I love it.

Sound

65Average
The sound in MechWarrior Online is the epitome of what I would call “adequate”. The sound of the lasers, Gauss rifle, and other weapons are perfect. The sound of everything else is fine, but I can’t help being nagged that there is no form of soundtrack. I realize that sounds stupid to the super hardcore players that want as much realism in the game as they can, but hear me out. Maybe it’s because I watched Iron Eagle too many times in the mid-80s, but I think I should be able to have some music playing in my mech when I’m going into combat, even if it means strapping a tape recorder to my leg. Whether the development team adds a soundtrack of their own (making it optional to turn off), or plugs in a system similar to Win Amp from back in the day, there needs to be something in addition to just the sound of weaponry and walking.
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