Mechwarrior Online Beta Impressions: The Slow March Forward
I grew up with Battletech. My dad played the tabletop game in college, and my childhood years were spent playing Mechwarrior 2 and its ilk. As you can imagine, Mechwarrior holds a very special nostalgia spot next to my heart. When Mechwarrior Online was announced and promoted as the first true Mechwarrior game in over a decade – simulation-based combat, emphasis on strategic thinking over twitch reflexes – I bought into the hype. My dad did too, and got us both founder’s packs so we could explode enemy robots together, just like we used to.
Mechwarrior Online may have delivered on its basic promise of simulation-focused, robot-based murder, but the slow pace of development damages its staying power
That’s not to say it isn’t fun. Piranha Games definitely wants me to stay invested in MWO, and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t enjoyed my time shooting the arms and legs off of uppity robots. I’ll probably always have MWO installed on my hard drive, waiting for the next major patch to play a few rounds in my favorite (likely bad) mech. That’s about as deep as it’s worth going into MWO at the moment, though, thanks to the lack of gameplay variety and community-driven content.
The core of Mechwarrior Online revolves around trundling around in unwieldy robots – BattleMechs, or Mechs for short – that can shoot huge lasers, missiles, and other such ordnance at each other. These robots are controlled more like bipedal tanks than like a standard shooter. Your legs and torso move independently from each other, and there is no FPS-style strafing. It makes movement a far more thoughtful endeavor, as the lack of simple FPS staples like strafing or jumping (not jumpjets) means your movement is heavily restricted. It’s far too easy to lose track of where you are going and end up stuck against a wall, but this is how simulations work. You really have to pay attention.
Your robot isn’t just a technological marvel of locomotion, though. It’s also a war machine. There are three categories of weaponry: energy, ballistic, and missile. Each category has a few weapons that fit the profile of short, medium, or long range damage. To use the energy category as an example, PPCs (particle projection cannon; shoots a big ball of plasma) are sniper weapons, while Medium Lasers are the all-purpose medium-range workhorse. The weapon balance is continually changing, but the current metagame (robots and weapons people pick) favors extremely long-distance weapons like PPCs and Gauss Rifles. Heavier mechs can field more of these devastating weapons, but as a result are painfully slow.
Huge weapons like these don’t run cool. This forces you to learn MWO’s most important concept: heat. Heat prevents you from simply firing every weapon at once the whole time, as you will quickly exceed your capacity and shut down to cool off the engine before it explodes. Factors such as your mech’s current speed and your location also factor into heat creation and dissipation. This location-based heat change is both map-wide and sector-specific. For example, Caustic is a hot map, but it is hottest in the volcano caldera. The only way to reduce heat is to have heat sinks in your mech. Lose them all and you’ll never dissipate.
Now, let’s say you detest one of your mech’s loadouts. It has Machineguns when it should have Autocannons, or Large Lasers when it should have Mediums. It keeps overheating because there aren’t enough heat sinks. In other words, it just isn’t up to snuff. You aren’t stuck with what you bought. All mechs can be altered in the MechBay to add or remove items. Want to give your mech PPCs in its arms instead of lasers? If you’ve got the cash, you can do it. Often beyond the bounds of reason, in fact; some people mount heavy weapons in slots that should technically only be able to field lighter gear.
Your alterations aren’t limited to weapons either. Every mech has a number of miscellaneous parts essential to operation, such as the aforementioned heat sinks. Bigger engines are an important improvement, as they allow you to run faster and field more internal heat sinks. Modules add things such as new vision modes or faster capture times. Upgrades fundamentally change the structure of your mech, allowing you to field double heat sinks or have tighter missile spreads. You have to take all of this into account when building the perfect robotic bipedal beast.