Mechwarrior Online Review: Grinding Gears

 

Impressively, Piranha have managed to give the lighter ‘Mech classes a true battlefield role. Unlike earlier Mechwarrior games, they’re no longer just fodder for the enormous, lumbering 100-ton Assault ‘Mechs. It’s quite possible for a single 15-20 ton scout to outmaneuver a heavier foe so completely that the larger ‘Mech will never get a clean shot off, letting the smaller ‘Mech distract, annoy and chip away at the softer rear armor of its foe until victorious or driven off by incoming fire from another direction. It takes a bit of practice, but a small, organized squad of light ‘Mechs can do a terrifying amount of damage through hit-and-fade attacks.

Being giant space-robots, even smaller ‘Mechs can take a bit of a beating. Under each detailed 3D model lies a complex mess of statistics, armor ratings and internal components. Fully customizable in the ‘Mech Lab once you’ve scraped together enough money to buy your own ‘Mech, each chassis comes in several variants with slightly different starting internals and unique configurations of weapon hardpoints. While most components can be placed anywhere, weapons are restricted to where the chassis supports them. While each chassis variant will only allow a certain degree of customization — a missile pod will only go where one can visibly fit — the multiple base variants mean that on the battlefield, a similar-looking ‘Mech might have completely different capabilities.

While it is something of a grind to afford your first full ‘Mech (if you want a larger model, you’re looking at playing upwards of 100 matches, or as few as 20-30 for a light), everything worth speaking of can be bought entirely with in-game funds. While you can pour in some real world money for a boost, it’s hard to say that anything is really worth the cash, with the exception of occasional steep discounts on certain models. Once you do have your own ‘Mech, it’s at least comparatively cheap to refit it. Outside of the engine — the heart of any ‘Mech — no internal component is particularly expensive.

One limiting factor common to all ‘Mechs is heat, and it’s something you’ll have to factor into any ‘Mech Lab decisions. All those huge guns run hot, and firing too often will overheat your whole machine, causing damage if left unchecked or forcing an emergency shutdown to cool off. The more heatsinks a ‘Mech has, the more excess heat it can disperse, and you can speed up cooling further by standing in water if your heat sinks are in your ‘Mech’s legs. Either way, you need to pick and choose when to fire, and it’s often best to wait until you’re within the optimal range for your weapons and have a clear shot at whichever part of your enemy you want to hurt most.

The environments affect heat as well. A battle through a blizzard may give you poor visibility, but it’ll let you keep shooting for much longer, especially if you’re packing a lot of energy weapons. Conversely, a battle on a volcanic world crisscrossed with rivers of magma forces both teams to be very conservative with where and when they shoot, although this does put solid-shell weaponry on slightly better footing. Environmental conditions also provide incentives to use night and thermal vision modes, which are a standard feature of all ‘Mechs, and you can often spot enemies outside of your radar range through their heat signature. These factors add a respectable level of depth to the core gameplay.

The cost of all this depth is a learning curve that looks more like a brick wall. The game has little to no tutorial content, and the official site even links to YouTube videos explaining the finer points, rather than letting you learn things in the pilot’s seat. Unless you’re intimately familiar with the series to date, your first dozen or so matches are likely going to end in an embarrassingly swift death and possibly your team heckling you for wasting opportunities, breaking from formation or using your weapons improperly. This is especially bad in lighter ‘Mechs, which can die in seconds without an experienced pilot. More than any other role, good scouting takes a lot of time and effort to learn.

Serious UI issues hamper enjoyment. The main menu for the game is both weirdly locked to a desktop window and also a cluttered mess, primarily dedicated to advertisements for various cosmetic tweaks or highly overpriced “Hero” ‘Mechs. These unique variants cost a small fortune in real-world cash to buy and only offer a small boost to winnings and a slightly different loadout to their regular equivalents. The ‘Mech lab isn’t much better in its design; important info and descriptions are often hidden from view, and some text boxes even cut off the ends of sentences. You can find recommended ‘Mech builds on fansites, but the game itself provides no guidance on what needs to go where.

The variety of the ‘Mechs themselves is undermined somewhat by the playmodes and maps currently available. In the current build of the game, there’s no campaign, no faction system and nothing to tie matches together other than an agonizingly slow progression grind to unlock small ‘Mech-tuning upgrades. As it stands, almost every single match is a 12v12 battle using one of two playmodes: Conquest or Assault. The former is a familiar multi-point capture-and-hold gametype; the latter is lifted almost directly from World Of Tanks. It’s a straight battle in which you can force an early win by sitting on top of an undefended enemy base for a period of time.

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6 Comments on Mechwarrior Online Review: Grinding Gears

ArchAngelWC

On September 30, 2013 at 6:51 pm

As a former Starlance Admin for MW3, MW4, MC, and MC2…Let me say if PGI had done to this game what Microsoft did to MC2…It would be a much more merciful fate…PGI has exploited the loyalty of the community and desire for certain mechs to monetize the Intellectual Property…While completely ignoring the story, the history, and the fundamental focuses of Battletech..the planetary campaign which they had a wicked huge resource pile to cherry pick from and completely ignored…They have turned it into World of Tanks/Call of Dumbass…..every few months PGI will do some lame “ohh we are going to add that soon..but we soo busy working on new content…by the way we have new mech for 25$…and it has 4 new special camos you can buy for 5 dollars a piece..and you can buy some decorations for your pit for 2.50 each…and then you buy some heatsink things (which they initially promised founders would never be added..and then they added 3rd person view which they also said they would never add) and make a completely exploitative build as PGI didn’t think to learn CBBR rules from every other BT game…

In conclusion…I love Battletech..I have loved it since I first played Mechcommander when i was 13…and I live in Vancouver where PGI is located…and I honestly want this incarnation to crash and burn worse than MS’ Mechcommander 2…Which was so bad that people who had waited 5 years for a new game would not buy it…Just so when the IP’s value might drop low enough for someone who actually values it and the LOYAL community that comes with it..instead of thinking giving them a reach-around with mechs they should have anyways compensates for milking the community for eveyr dime they can think of a way to get..

JDW

On October 1, 2013 at 7:31 am

I admit I am a bit of a MechWarrior fan-boy; but 60 is a pretty harsh score. If a game reviewer give a game a 60 it is usually not just bad, but completely unplayable.

MechWarrior online have its issues, but it is not that bad. Let’s look at the cons…

>Vertical learning curve, with almost no tutorial content in-gameOnly two play modes, both of which often devolve into death matchesNowhere near enough maps to support repeated 12v12 matchesNo framework to tie gameplay together, outside of tiny XP perksA huge grind required to get off the ground and into your own mechHero mechs and consumables are vastly overpriced for what they offer<
True. And Free to Play.

JDW

On October 1, 2013 at 7:35 am

I admit I am a bit of a MechWarrior fan-boy; but 60 is a pretty harsh score. If a game reviewer give a game a 60 it is usually not just bad, but completely unplayable.

MechWarrior online have its issues, but it is not that bad. Let’s look at the cons…

–Vertical learning curve, with almost no tutorial content in-game–
If you have not already played one of the ten MechWarrior games that came before this you are probably not playing this one either. If you have, there is a very small curve as most things are right where you would expect them to be.

–Only two play modes, both of which often devolve into death matches–
Yes, instead of games like World of Tanks that only had one mode of play.

–Nowhere near enough maps to support repeated 12v12 matches–
More maps would be nice, but meh.

–No framework to tie gameplay together, outside of tiny XP perks–
I would love to see this, but what made you think they would be able to pull it off? No other free to play game has.

–A huge grind required to get off the ground and into your own mech–
Free to play. Again, not as bad as World of Tanks. At least there are no tiers.

–Hero mechs and consumables are vastly overpriced for what they offer–
True. And Free to Play.

Sorry about the double post. I screwed up the first one with unintended formatting.

Dominic Tarason

On October 1, 2013 at 7:40 am

60 sounds about right on our review scores. Here’s what a 60 typically means:

“Pretty good games, but also sloppy and perhaps inconsistent. They may fit nicely within a genre and have a couple good gameplay elements, but those positives are threatened by several problems”

Sounds like it fits the bill. Good graphics, a solid combat engine are the key advantages, offset by a very problematic business model, balance issues, a shortage of content and no tutorial stuff.

psycros

On October 1, 2013 at 8:59 am

So basically its EVE Online with giant robots.

Garrett

On February 27, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Please downgrade the score to a 50 due to U.I. 2.0