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‘MechWarrior: Online’ – Review

by Tim Tarbet
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Mechwarrior Online is a game that’s absolutely brimming with potential. While there is absolutely no storyline or singe player, the basic premise is still a lot of fun. The year is 3050, and you are a pilot of the most advanced war machine mankind has created: the BattleMech. These bipedal tanks range from a “mere” 20 metric tons to a whopping 100 tons, and are weighed down with every sort of weapon imaginable. You have at your fingertips every sort of ballistic, missile, or energy weapon imaginable, all while having enough armor to make a real world battleship jealous. You stride into combat atop your hulking war machine in search of an opponent worthy of your attention. That opponent will inevitably be other BattleMech (‘Mech for short) pilots. 

‘MechWarrior: Online’ Review

Sounds good, right? Who doesn’t like giant battles between squadrons of walking tanks, each with enough weaponry to level a city?

Too bad the developers of the game are doing absolutely everything they can to drive the franchise into the ground. 

Actually, that might not be true. They might simply be so wonderfully incompetent that they simply have only a basic grasp of game design.

Frankly, I’m not sure which one is worse.

That’s not to say that the game isn’t fun; it is, to a point. That’s the worst part, I think. Despite everything the developers have done to discourage players from actually playing their game, the game is still fun if you’re patient enough to wade through the obtuse tutorials, inane interface, and stunningly high difficulty curve.

Starting Out

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https://www.mmorpg-center.com/mechwarrior-online

Actually starting the game is an incredibly difficult process, as the game does very little to help you along. When you start it up for the first time, it will give you a prompt to enter the tutorial, but that’s about as much nannying you’re liable to get from this game.

The tutorial starts out simply enough. Look around. Change from 3rd person to 1st person perspectives. Go to the waypoint. Use your jump jets. This is all well and good; a ‘Mech drives somewhat differently than the vehicles you’re used to. For one thing, your legs and torso move independently from one another. This can take some getting used to, especially if you aren’t very good at controlling and keeping track of both at the same time. They give you a basic intro on how to control your throttle, use jump jets (which allow your ‘Mech to fly for a short time) and then… you’re done with the tutorial.

That’s right. The tutorial does nothing more than cover basic movement. They don’t even go into the finer points of movement, like how driving a ‘Mech is very much not like driving a car, meaning that when you go into reverse you don’t need to counter steer. This got me killed in an actual game more than once before I figured it out.

Considering how incredibly complex this game is, this is completely unacceptable. The game doesn’t show you how to fire, communicate, or even target an opposing ‘Mech (it’s R, by the way). Beyond that, there’s night vision, thermal vision, air strikes, independent arm movement, weapon groups, zooming, how to bring up your map, or even what the different game types are. 

This would be ok if the game were still in beta. It’s not; it’s been out for the better part of 10 months, and the tutorial is still in the same stat that it was when the open beta began.

After you’re done with the tutorial, the game just kind of tosses you to the wolves. Assuming you figure out how to view the selection of trial ‘Mechs, which you can use, but not modify or improve, you’ll have no idea what any of them actually are unless you have prior MechWarrior experience. Even then you’ll have trouble, as the trial ‘Mechs are only barely categorized, and all the statistics are pretty much meaningless unless you have someone to explain them to you, or until you get a good number of games under your belt. 

This is all before you actually start a real game. 

Game Types

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https://massively.joystiq.com/screenshots/mechwarrior-online-screenshots/5019622/#/0

There are three different game types, which all differ very little from one another. Assault which involves killing enemy ‘Mechs and capturing their base if it’s set out on a golden platter. Conquest is a capture and hold game type, with various nodes that will add to your score as time goes on, but these are largely ignored for hunting down and killing the enemy players. The last game type, Skirmish, cuts right to the chase, and just lets you murder (or be murdered by) the enemy team. More likely the latter.

Once you get into a real game you will have no idea what is going on, run into the enemy team, and die within 30 seconds of the beginning of the match. Game over. No respawn.

So you’ll exit, and the same thing will happen.

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https://mwomercs.com/forums/topic/88677-funny-dead-mechs-picture-thread/page__st__20

Again.

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https://mwomercs.com/forums/topic/88677-funny-dead-mechs-picture-thread/page__st__20

And again.

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https://mwomercs.com/forums/topic/88677-funny-dead-mechs-picture-thread/

No one will help you. No one will tell you what’s going on, or how to play the game types.

At best you’ll get some errant cursing in your general direction, but that’s if you’re lucky. In all reality, I’ve only encountered the type of caustic and callous community that MechWarrior Online has in MOBAs.

You’ll be tempted to just exit the game and play another (but with a different ‘Mech), but don’t. If you stay and watch, you might just learn something from the more experienced players.

More importantly, if you leave and jump into another game, the program will almost always crash at the end of your second match. I think it’s something about trying to process two sets of cadet bonuses at once, but I’m not entirely sure. Of course, this bug sometimes pops up on its own, regardless of what you’re doing. 

Getting Your Own ‘Mech

Anyway, for the first 25 games you’ll be getting bonus cash. By the end of it, you should have around 9 million credits. This might sound like a lot, but it’s really not. It’s only enough to buy your first ‘Mech, modify it so it runs the way you want it to run, and have a little cash to spare, so don’t buy anything without a lot of consideration. 

And by a lot of consideration, I mean at least an hour’s worth of time pouring over various statistics on a third party site since the actual site has absolutely no useful information on it regarding the various ‘Mechs. I recommend https://mwo.gamepedia.com/

Https://mwo-builds. Net/tag/loadout/

Oh, look. You spent 20 hours just to access the spreadsheet function.

All things considered, you’ll probably want to pick out a heavy chassis. Light chassis are like motorcycles: really fast and maneuverable, but if someone hits you, you’re dead. Medium chassis are a little bit better. They can take a few hits, but not many, and they can sport more weapons than a light ‘Mech can. That’s hardly a glowing recommendation, though, as the medium class ‘Mechs typically end up feeling like the awkward little brothers of the game. They don’t have enough firepower to contribute a great deal to a straight up fight, and they aren’t fast enough to either scout or run away when the situation gets rough. Heavies are a bit slower, but they pack enough armor that you won’t die the moment someone sneezes at you, and you have enough tonnage to pack a few weapons as well. Assault class ‘Mechs are the heaviest, but also the slowest, and since you’ll be so slow, you’ll be completely dependent on your team for support. If you get caught out of position, the enemy team will spare no effort to kill you, and even an assault class ‘Mech can’t survive being attacked by 3 or 4 enemy ‘Mechs at once. 

Once you’ve decided on and bought a ‘Mech, then the real fun starts.

Of course, by this time you’ll have dumped around 10 hours into the game, which means that something is very, very wrong. Games that take 10 hours to start to be fun are games that probably aren’t games that want to be played.

Modifying Your ‘Mech

Gripes aside, having your own ‘Mech and modifying the living crap out of it was the true fun of the original games. How can I maximize my damage potential? How well does this configuration stand up in a fight? How much heat am I generating every time I fire this weapon group (funny story: I blew myself to smithereens once in MechWarrior: Mercenaries by loading an Atlas to the brim with medium lasers and then firing them all at the same time. Good times.)?

The amount of customizability means that you can play however you damn well please. Want to go pure energy weapons? Just make sure you have enough heat sinks. Think you’d rather play as a long range artillery unit this game? Load your ‘Mech with long range missiles and lob death from afar. Want to scout out the enemy position and execute some hit and run attacks? Put an ECM on a light ‘Mech and you’re good to go.

Of course, this is where MechWarrior Online fails in the most spectacular manner possible. First, since you have to pay for all your weapons, upgrades, and chassis with in game money, they made it nearly impossible to earn any significant amount. I’ve gotten significantly better since I’ve started, and I’m still only averaging sixty thousand in game credits per match. The cheapest weapons sit around twenty thousand each, and the more expensive ones range upwards of six hundred thousand. New engines are at least seven hundred and fifty thousand, and the cheapest ‘Mech is 1.3 million.

In other words, the developers are trying to make it as painful for you if you don’t want to fork out some money. And we’re not talking about small amounts of money here. It takes at least $30 to buy a single new ‘Mech with real money, and that’s for some of the cheaper ones. There are mechs that are more than $50. In the end, you’re either dropping hours upon hours into this game to try and save up for even the most rudimentary upgrades, or you’re going to be spending a significant amount of money on it.

Once you’ve got the cash to outfit your ‘Mech (either in game or real), you’ll find that the actual customization process is like pulling teeth. Not only are you instantly overwhelmed with the amount of statistics that the game just throws at you willy nilly, but the interface is pure crap, and a significant portion of the information that’s actually useful isn’t actually there. Take engines for instance. There are two different types of engines, the Extra Light and the Standard, each with ratings ranging from 120 to 360. The only bit of useful information that they give you is that XL engines take 3 slots in your left and right torso as well as 6 in your center torso, but even that’s deceptive since they don’t tell you that damage to any one of those places has a chance to destroy your engine and either cripple you or kill you outright. They don’t tell you how quickly your ‘Mech would accelerate with the new engine, if a new engine will influence your turn rate, or even the new top speed of your ‘Mech. Additionally, final DPS isn’t calculated, how they calculate your ‘Mech’s heat management is esoteric and confusing, and they never explicitly say what the maximum effective range of any given weapon is. Instead you have to guess from the silly damage graphs that they provide, which are woefully imprecise. They never let you go over your maximum weight limit, so any time you want to try and work in a larger weapon you have to strip everything out first instead of dropping it in and stripping out parts until you’re within tolerances. The worst of all though, is that there is no save button. The only way to save changes made to your mech is either with the checkout button (which doesn’t work unless you’re actually being something) or by going to the Weapon Groups tab, which will bring up a dialog box informing you that you’ve made changes and asking you if you want to save. Either the game developers so naive that they assume that every time you go into modify your mech you will be buying something new, or they are actively trying to make it difficult to modify your mech without making a purchase, further cutting into your minimal funds. This coupled with the fact that they don’t actually give you any meaningful statistics for the more essential characteristics that a new upgrade would modify, I’m inclined to believe that the developers are actively trying to cheat the player out of his money, be it real or imaginary. 

Now You’re Getting Somewhere

https://themittani.com/features/mwo-trial-mech-roundup

However, once you have a personal ‘Mech and you’ve outfitted it the way you like it, the game does get a lot more fun (too bad it takes 10 hours to get to this point). The gameplay itself is incredibly tactical. Each match is between two teams of 12 players. Each team is divided into 3 ‘Lances’ of 4 players each, and unless you’re piloting a light ‘Mech, you’re going to want to stick with your Lance at all costs. While individual ‘Mechs are incredibly tanky, making them difficult to bring down in a one on one fight, even a single additional ‘Mech in the mix, changes the balance of power significantly. If you get caught off guard by 2 or 3 opposing ‘Mechs, you’re not likely to survive. This means that if you want to last more than 2 minutes in each match, you’re going to want to stick with your lance and make good use of cover. I know, the concept of 3 story walking war machines using cover is somewhat absurd, but if you don’t hide behind the nearest hill as soon as you start taking enemy fire, you’re more than likely going to end up as a burning heap of scrap metal before you can deal a significant amount of damage to someone else. Sticking with your group, however, will allow you to capture objectives, go toe to toe with other lances, and even perform complex maneuvers such as flanking or sneaking behind enemy lines.

Of course, this level of tactical gameplay requires a great deal of communication, which is another place the developers have dropped the ball, as the game has no form of VOIP for you to talk with your team. In the heat of battle, no one really has time to divert from maneuvering so they can tell the rest of the team that there are a couple of enemy heavy ‘Mechs about to come from behind and tear your lance to shreds. 

To get around this, a lot of players will join Factions, allowing them to matchmake with people who already have a predetermined third party VOIP, making them much more effective when in game. 

I don’t know that I’m going to stick around that long to do that, though, especially since Factions have gotten so competitive that some are holding actual tryouts just so you can enter. 

Playing by yourself, though, gets boring very quickly. With only 3 game types which are all essentially variations on ‘Kill the other team’ the game gets extremely repetitive, and since you earn so little in game currency for each match, that the amount of work you can realistically do to improve your own ‘Mech is tiny, and buying a new ‘Mech is virtually impossible. 

Finally, the developers seem intent on turning the game into a pay to win instead of a free to play. They’ve recently introduced a whole new brand of ‘Mechs: the Clan Omnimech, which you can only get for real money. These ‘Mechs are superior to normal Mech’s in almost every way. They have more armor, more internal space, their weapons do more damage, and they can move faster than a normal ‘Mech. This typically means that the side with the most Clan ‘Mechs wins, no matter how skilled you are at the game. This is only made worse by the fact that the Clan ‘Mechs are a hefty $50 each. Of course, if you really have money that you just don’t know what to do with, there are Clan packs that cost $500 each, which is simply absurd. 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ws4wa6DDHwA#t=27]

Apparently this guy needed something ELSE to spend his money on.

All in all, I’m incredibly torn by this game. Not only is it one of the pretties games around, along with some of the most visceral and interesting weapons sounds that I’ve heard, but it has such potential to be an awesome game, but the developers are more intent on trying to con their players out of their money than making a quality experience. 

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