I’ve never really found the ability to truly appreciate games that involve mechs. Even Xenogears, hands down one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played, found me lost when it came to appreciating the lumbering beasts, always putting them second fiddle to the interesting, albeit suicidal, people who chose to pilot them. It’s not for a lack of trying however, as the original MechWarrior was first of its kind back in 1989 to keep me distracted at my uncle’s house during the many boring games of bridge my parents chose to play. From there, my pilgrimage took me from MechCommander to Armoured Core, followed by a sail across the pond to Mobile Suit Gundam. I even imported the original Neon Genesis Evangelion title thanks to an eternal addiction to the series. But nothing hooked me.
The recent resurgence of action orientated (rather than story based) online mech shooters in the forms of Hawken and the aforementioned MechWarrior has many fans a flutter. Why not? The combination of missiles, chunky steel and tactical urgency would find itself perfectly placed within an online community, particularly one obsessed with finding the perfect load-out. MWO draws on the success of the franchise’s various multiplayer options and stretches them out with an expanding slew of available mechs, equipment, weapons, pilot abilities before slapping it all between a delicious CryEngine 3 sandwich for good measure. Even more interestingly, the developers in their infinite wisdom have decided to make the whole kit and caboodle F2P, threatening to enter a World Of Tanks scenario where pay to win becomes a dangerous option.
Unfortunately, most beta access comes with its fair share of restrictions, and in this case it’s an almost complete lack of configuration, experience or choice outside of a few “trial” mechs. Those lucky punters who registered early or paid for it have access to customised bots, meaning there is a genuine gap between players who are stuck using weaker units and those with access to stronger mechs. At first, it’s difficult to see the difference between trial and paid mechs, as you’re generally pretty awful at piloting and it takes a while to get used to how the weapons work. Depending on the distance between you and your target, your weapons will automatically change between short and long range, which is important since certain primary weapons may not work at certain distances.
Damage is contextual, meaning that targeting a mech’s main window is likely to disable it more quickly (by cooking the pilot) than simply sweeping the legs or the back. At long distances, this can be difficult to pull off, and experienced players will find themselves in strong, newbie busting, positions. Coupled with a lack of clever matchmaking (there isn’t currently much in the way of custom games or level matching), games are completely random, both on map and game mode. There isn’t currently a VOIP system running in game, so coordination of your team is non-existent, so in most cases you’re usually on your own to survive, unless a couple of mates are lucky enough to join your game and everyone’s on Vent.
In fact, MWO is so barely functional at the moment that its very difficult to see what the final product will look like. The developers promise deeper functionality around factions, clans and what not, but there are no plans for expansion outside of the traditional single match system. If you were hoping for long term, PlanetSide 2 conquest style play, then this is not your game. MWO is much more similar to Tribes: Ascend, where load-outs and abilities are chosen prior to matchmaking before being dropped onto a battlefield.
Kill everyone, get experience, rinse and repeat. It’s not a particularly deep system, nor does it expand on the sheer number of possibilities for a “World of MechWarrior” scenario, but it ticks the boxes for those looking for quick and nasty bot killing.
It also looks, sounds and plays beautifully, taking full advantage of the access to a keyboard, decent audio systems and utilising the very underrated CryEngine 3 to generate detailed environments. Lasers shudder and splutter with power, missiles pulsate and puncture the air as they fly towards their targets. You can hear the gears slowly turning and the gas compression releasing pressure as you trudge through the cities, snow covered vistas and desert oil fields, seeking out your enemy. The feeling of claustrophobia is cleverly developed through the limited view from your cockpit seat, assisted only by your targeting system and mini-map, where clever adversaries will take advantage of low mobility to sneak up behind you to unleash hell.
Sadly, like Tim’s experiences with Hawken earlier this week, MWO’s success in Australia is going to rely exclusively on access to local servers, as my 250ms ping failed to do me any favours in battle. The lack of twitch in MWO due to the nature of low moving machines, does allow for a generous amount of latency but fails to compensate completely during chaotic scenes. It’s next to impossible to get the jump on anyone when you are a quarter second behind them, and that quick draw of a surprise attack is spoiled by distance. While this is a common problem, it’s one that’s become increasingly obvious to developers, with other F2P FPS games like Tribes, Blacklight: Retribution and PlanetSide 2 offering local servers either on or closely after launch.
MWO is a bit of a mixed platter in this current beta form. The lack of choice and the obvious advantages in regards to custom units for paying players has provided a dangerous precedent for final play. While it’s not impossible to win against experienced and better armed players, the inability to select anything other than underpowered units without putting down cash does not bode well for the future. Stay tuned, however, as we’ll have a full review for you once the game has launched.