Progress Report - MechWarrior Online
Some may recall an earlier article where I previewed the MechWarrior reboot, MechWarrior Online. Some may also recall the fierce reaction of fans defending the game. Well, let it be said that Im a fair guy. Here we are several months further into the MechWarrior Online open beta and its time to take another look at MWO and the progress Piranha Games has made with it, quiaff?
The mechlab GUI has seen some recent love in MechWarrior Online. It now has a much better look and feel than it had before. Subtle graphical touches like the raised effect on slotted components have done a lot to bring a more finished look to the mechlab. Weapons and equipment now have a stats and a description tab which provide more complete information.
Beyond cosmetic differences, a lot of functionality and customization has been added to the mechlab. Two new tabs, Camo Spec and Cockpit, have been added. Camo Spec allows the mechwarrior to choose from a fairly significant selection of paint patterns for their mech, with the ability to pick primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. Theres also an option for custom decals thats not currently populated but looks to be a placeholder for an impending decal system. Then, of course, theres an increasing amount of customization options in the cockpit tab for those who enjoy things like fuzzy dice, or hula girls gyrating in time to barrages of LRM fire.
The modules tab has been in for a while, but the selection has been expanded quite a bit. Even new pilots now have access to a couple slots. The higher end modules for improving sensors, targeting, and such still have to be unlocked, but everyone can access modules such as artillery strikes, bombing runs, and coolant shots. There are currently at least two versions of each, one for CBills and another for MechWarrior Credits. Artillery and Air strikes may not be all that deadly, but for the scout mech looking to soften up entrenched enemies, they can come in handy.
Of Mechs and Mayhem
Mechwarrior Online has also added a number of new mechs recently, and thats really helped make matches a lot more dynamic. The mechs all feel pretty well balanced, so while there are always plenty of popular ones, each match for me has been salted with a number of less common choices as well. The new mechs chassis options create opportunities for matches on the same map to play a little more differently each time.
With previous MechWarrior games, that level of versatility in the stable and customization potential by the mechlap combined to produce cheese monsters of epic proportion. Luckily, because there are no omni-mechs at this time, MWO does a solid job of preventing ridiculous load-outs for the most part. You still see the occasional idiot load-up with as many ER PPCs as they can fit and then promptly shut themselves down after each alpha strike. My Jenner and I thank you for the free kills, whoever you are.
The additions of the Beagle Active Probe and ECM suites have started to add an extra dimension to the game as well. While the BAP is just a generic sensor boost, the ECM specifically offers a little complexity to the game. ECM can be used in either disrupt or counter mode, which is basically disrupting enemy mechs ability to spot nearby teammates by radar and disrupts the ability to lock-on. Thats helped to check missile boating pretty well from what Ive seen, and its make it worthwhile to occasionally run mechs fitted for close-quarters combat.
The disruption by ECMs can only be defeated by another mech running their ECM in counter mode, by a mech with BAP getting within 150 meters of the ECM, or by use of targeting assist devices such as TAG or Narc Beacons at a distance. Another advantage to running ECM in disrupt mode is that nearby hostiles will also disappear from their lancemates radars, which makes ECM invaluable for a well-executed ambush. All the new electronic warfare and target assist packages are helping to make lighter mechs useful and fun, which has been another win for the game, especially when combined with unlocked component upgrades that increase their effectiveness.
The last big mech-related thing thats been recently introduced is the testing grounds. Select the testing ground in place of the other two match types to take a selected mech out for a spin without having to worry about hurting your team, or dodging enemy fire. The testing grounds allow the mechwarrior to test out new mech load-outs and get a feel for heat-levels and fire-rates. Plus theres the advantage of being able to fire at stationary mechs to learn where their hit boxes are.
In the Pipe and Whats Still Missing
New maps have been added to the rotation and have done a lot to alleviate the repetitive feel of the game as well. Whats more, the team has also modified most maps to rotate between day and night, as well as deathmatch and conquest modes. All of which has gone a long ways to make matches feel a little more interesting, especially as theres starting be enough maps for a nice mix of terrain and environments. Additional maps appear to be in the pipe, including one featuring canyons which may already be out by the time this article goes up.
The elephant in the room, and one big thing still missing, is some sort of faction meta-game. The tab already exists for it in the launch GUI, but I havent seen much talk about it from the devs recently. The concept for factions as laid out early on is certainly cool. Loyalty points, fighting over planets, it all sounds fantastic, but it doesnt exist just yet and without that additional meta-game MWO still feels a little flat. Still, the tab exists in the launch GUI, so maybe were getting closer to seeing it. Current expectations appear to be that it will be rolled out sometime this year.
Should You Download It?
In the end, most people are probably reading this to answer that one question: is it worth picking the game up? Well, since its free-to-play, I say absolutely. While there is a big part of the game still missing, what currently exists is quite fun. Its comparable to any FPS out there and already beats simplistic games like Call of Duty handily.
The problem is that mechwarrior fans tend to want their games a little deeper than that, and especially we older fans. We fell in love with the strategic feel of the franchise and the atypical nature of the combat. MechWarrior Online has really come a long ways in bumping up the quality of the combat, but without the meta-game it feels like youre endlessly stuck on Solaris VII. The eventual ability for the great houses and famous mercenary companies to vie for control of planets and systems could make a good game into a great one.
Piranha Games has added a lot of nice touches, but they do have a way to go. Since the game is still missing that large and critical part of what attracted many of the Founders to begin with, its no wonder that theres more than a little grumbling about how far weve come. But all that said; dont let the negatives drive you away from the game. MWO is a fantastically entertaining game in short bursts as it is now, and with a solid community of fans it should be healthy for some time. If youre looking for a free game this summer, youd probably do well to check this one out. But a word of caution; if and when you do be wary of the Jenner, for it awaits you with sharp pointy teeth!