Monday, October 7, 2013

Mech Warrior Online: Faltering at the Launch Pad by Kyle Johannessen

So, Mech Warrior Online has had its “launch”. I put launch in quotes because it isn’t really a launch. A launch suggests is that the game is in some sense complete. But what we get with Mech Warrior Online is far from a complete game. In fact, it’s safe to say that this game is far from complete, with a complete lack of game modes, maps, polish and the functionality you would expect from a free to play MMO. And you have to wonder what the hell is taking developers Piranha Games so damn long to finish it.

For those of you who don’t know, the Mech Warrior series is based on the very popular Battletech table top game. Its set in the 31st century, where humanity has spread out across the galaxy, but constant war between the four or five (depends on the year) Great Houses has led to much of the technology that we used to get out there to be lost. The greatest technology still available to humanity is the Battlemech, giant bipedal tanks loaded to the teeth with lasers, missiles, and artillery. Battletech is not quite the granddaddy of Mecha (I think it’s either Gundam or Marcoss, I don’t know for sure) but it’s certainly the most successful Western Mecha by far. I started playing Mech Warrior way back in 1995 with Mech Warrior 2 (most people don’t remember Mech Warrior 1) and I’ve been hooked ever since.

The last Mech Warrior game we got was Mech Warrior 4: Mercenaries way back in 2002. It was a pretty great game, but it was more like a really big expansion pack rather than a full game. It used the same exact engine as the original MW4, but added a boat load of new Mechs and a new branching storyline. You would think a video game series about Giant Robots blowing the heck out of each other with lasers would be perfect video game fodder, but for a variety of legal and financial reasons I won’t bore you with, the series disappeared for a decade. Piranha Games got the rights a few years ago and quickly released a concept trailer for a new Mech Warrior game. We didn’t really get the game that trailer promised.

What we got instead was a free-to-play MMO in the style of World of Tanks. Which is fine, the Battletech universe is filled with Faction on Faction warfare. The setting lends itself very well to the MMO genre. Battletech has literally hundreds of years of back story. It’s like Game Of Thrones with giant robots with all of its political intrigue, back stabbing, politicking and nonstop warfare. The only problem with MWO is that they have done NOTHING with the setting. Absolutely nothing.
I’ve been playing the game since the Closed Beta more than a year ago. At first it was refreshing to climb back into a Mech and start laying waste to those who wished to challenge me (I’m REALLY bad at this game, btw). But, damn, did I get bored quickly. There has only been one game mode added since the Closed Beta ended and the Open Beta began, and they haven’t added any more at launch. There is Assault, which is basically Deathmatch with the possibility of one team capturing the other team’s base if they aren’t paying attention. One of the biggest problems with this mode is it can be very easy for teams to avoid each other entirely and it is common for there to be games of Assault where you won’t fire a single shot at the other team. The second game mode is Conquest where you capture points on the map for resource points. The first one to reach 750 points wins. But there is no respawn in Mech Warrior Online (which I like), so this game mode often de-evolves into Deathmatch because it’s often easier to destroy the other team than to get 750 points. And that’s it. That’s all there is. Two deathmatch modes.

The matchmaking function in the game also isn’t great. If you aren’t playing on a premade team with all your buddies on a Teamspeak server, then you’re probably going to get blown away in minutes. It can be extremely frustrating as you’re marching down the map with your team and you suddenly turn a corner to see that not only are you facing down the entire enemy team, but your teammates are  nowhere to be found.

The game also begs you to spend real money. You can buy just about every piece of gear and most of the stock Mechs with the C-Bills you earn in games. But the accumulation of C-Bills is SLOW. I haven’t been able to purchase a new Mech for months. Now, as I’ve said in other articles, I am desperately trying to cut back on my video games. But I feel as though I should have earned something back for all my time playing. I just haven’t felt any sense of progression in quite some time. And with the lack of game modes, the game gets stale quickly.

This is a shame because the game is beautiful to look at and the combat itself is very satisfying. Mech design is varied with no two Mechs looking alike. You can easily tell an Assault class Mech from a Light class, and missles and lasers streak across the battle field convincingly. It can sometimes feel like your weapons aren’t doing much damage, but it is immensely satisfying when you pull the trigger and see your enemy explode into a cloud of smoke and watch his Mech fall limp. The maps, what few there are, are designed well enough I suppose. Again, it can be easy to bypass an enemy team all together for some Assault matches and this is largely due to level design and game play choices.

But the biggest crime is not using the lore of Battletech to develop some more interesting game modes. The developers keep telling us that there is a Community Warfare mode coming where players can swear loyalty to a faction and battle over planets. Piranha Games has been promising this mode for a long, long time and it seems to be nowhere in sight. It was a huge mistake on their part to not include this mode in the Launch and for that reason, the game still feels like a Beta. Perhaps if they spent less time creating “Hero Mechs” that cost real money and focusing on the development of the game itself it would feel more complete. But as of now, Mech Warrior Online is a bore of a game that draws me in only because of my love of Mech Warrior and the hope they will do more with it.. Maybe one day we will get a proper Mech Warrior game but for now, I’m stuck with MWO.

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