MechWarrior Online GDC 2012 Preview -- World of MechWarrior?By Miguel Concepcion - Posted Mar 09, 2012
If you crossed Darth Vader with a giant mechanized linebacker, you might very well end up with the Atlas BattleMech. I gazed at its intimidating glory as it marched over a ridge and toward my direction, while I was in first-person view no less. This all-offensive mech made for a fine ambassador to this ambitious installment to the MechWarrior franchise, MechWarrior Online. My most recent encounter with it was during a hands-off demo at GDC as it’s one of the many mechs in the upcoming game.
Franchise continuity unsurprisingly centers around the familiar mechs like the Atlas and there’s a solid, recognizable roster that will please the fans in MechWarrior Online. I also had a chance to see the scout class Jenner mech in action. Each mech type has their role; while the Jenner might not have the armaments and offensive versatility of the Atlas, it makes up for that by being one of the fastest mechs in the game. You pretty much have to be if you’re a scout. The Jenner in this demo was making a break for it so it could warn its team members where the person was and relay information to the battle grid.
I witnessed this from the cockpit of a 50-ton Hunchback, another staple mech to the franchise. When the Hunchback pilot from Piranha Games wasn’t busy trying to gun down the elusive Jenner, he showed off much of the interior of the Hunchback’s cockpit. With the first-person perspective, you’re able to see the hands and feet of the character you’re controlling.
As the Piranha spokesman put it, “We didn’t want you to feel like you’re playing as a mech. We wanted you to feel like a pilot controlling a mech.” As if competing with the likes of Steel Battalion or a jumbo jet cockpit panel, every indicator in a MechWarrior Online mech will serve a purpose.
Everything from heat to damage to ammo count will be shown. Don’t be surprised if a couple screens go out if your mech takes a lot of hits. This is where the best gaming multitaskers will get a leg up, particularly with situational awareness. This emphasis on multitasking is compounded by the offensive tools one has in mechs like the Hunchback or the Atlas.
This was demonstrated when one beam weapon was firing down the center of the screen while another weapon was fired using an independently movable reticule. You can imagine the convenience of assaulting a mech in the distance without needing to rotate your torso and center the target.
These kinds of options are not available to armless mechs like the Jenner, but MechWarrior Online is not about a traditional arms race where your primary objective is to keep getting bigger and better mechs. All the mechs have their strengths and value to keep them useful indefinitely. You might lose a Jenner several minutes into a match, but it certainly wouldn’t be a wasted sortie since actions like damaging an enemy and sending valuable recon will earn you experience.
Productive playing will reward you with the in-game currency on top of the experience points. XP can be spent on the mech resulting in unlocked ‘efficiency tiers.’ That then results in pilot skill points which then can be spent on the pilot’s skill tree.
Similiar to the recently announced FPS WarFace, MechWarrior Online will also be a free-to-play PC title powered by Crytek's CryEngine 3. This highly capable engine has allowed the developers to give the game an impressive level of polish and detail. The forest environment I saw certainly had a staggering number of trees, but the environments go beyond just mere eye-candy. For instance, an observant gamer piloting a mech with heat sinks in its feet can actually regulate its temperature by walking into shallow water. Other announced environments include ice, desert, and urban landscapes.
While past MechWarrior games have had online play, it was never done it on the scale that MechWarrior Online aspires to. We’re talking about a persistent game world; none of this asynchronous multiplayer that’s all the rage these days. That means if you’re a longtime MechWarrior fan, be ready to invest a lot of time with your team because territories and planets can change hands quickly and often.