MechWarrior Online Hands-on Preview -- Multiplayer Meching and MoreBy Miguel Concepcion - Posted Aug 03, 2012
After the latest round of hands-on time with MechWarrior Online, I can't help but think this upcoming F2P game has hit a mechanized sweet spot. Developer Piranha Games wisely avoided the simulation route that doomed Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor, and the studio isn't interested in the fast paced mech combat of Armored Core and Hawken. Instead, Piranha does the practical thing and dives deeply into years and years of MechWarrior history, takes advantage of the established universe, and more importantly, the line-up of fan-familiar mechs like the Jenner and the Awesome.
This session provided ample time to explore and appraise the game's initial set of multiplayer maps. Artistically, each setting has a distinct tint, lending a sense of character to each map. It makes sense since every locale is based on its own unique planet.
According to one Piranha developer, the moody, dark, rainy, cloudy Forest Colony was inspired by Vancouver, British Columbia. Developing a strategy in this map means understanding its three-route design. One route is an open lake area, and another is a waterfront with a few islands to hide behind. The main highway goes down the middle of the map, a direct base-to-base route with rolling hills. This highway also has a dicey canyon with areas too steep for mechs to climb, so you can look forward to countless life-or-death battles in this narrow road.
The initial seconds of walking a mech in the snow laden Frozen City conjures images of Shadow Moses from Metal Gear Solid. Yet it's actually a much different environment upon closer inspection. The midnight sun and constant snow storms befit the terrain, which is mostly comprised of thousand year-old skyscrapers and towers partly buried under a glacier.
Having so many of these structures offers opportunities to practice stealth tactics. It’s one thing to know how to hide behind these buildings, but imagine the possibilities when you’re able to power down your mech, thereby being temporarily invisible to the enemies’ radar.
The black and white terrain is the primary look of the map known as Caustic Valley, though this locale also has acidy green touches and yellow highlights. It's a fittingly bleak map, with a volcano in the center, making for an imposing view, especially when you first spot enemy mechs coming over the crest. The columns of dark smoke rising from the volcano plateau almost looks like another battle is going on; it's just dirty volcano exhaust.
This kind of elevation made me want to see whether one does get the upper hand on higher ground. After a number of map cycles, being on a ridge helped, but wasn't a significant advantage. It was especially helpful once I mastered using the lock-missiles, which can catch the enemy off guard if you're staying mostly hidden behind the ridge.
There is a significant trade-off when using this particular kind of platform to your tactical advantage. MechWarrior Online features localized heat, so if you're standing on a volcano, that hastens the overheating time of any mech. On the opposite end of the temperature spectrum, you have that open lake in Forest Colony which can keep opposing mechs cool and make skirmishes long-lasting.
You could say the "Warrior" in MechWarrior Online is represented by the pilot you develop. It’s an integral part for optimizing yourself for combat. Through spending experience you earn through battle, you can unlock a number of pilot-based skills such as Arm Reflex and Twist Speed, which ultimately enhances your mech.
This greatly complements the mech customization. For those who want to jump straight into the action, the hanger has sets of various mechs for each class, each with different optimized loadouts depending on your combat preferences. You can go with those suggested specs or adjust parts as you see fit, especially if you’re a seasoned BattleTech fan who knows how to manage tonnage, firepower, heat efficiency, and other important stats.
There's a kind of comfort and familiarity to these mechs (for as much as one can say about piloting fictional walking tanks). There's certainly a sense of heft when moving a slow but fortified Atlas, even more so when you're trying to keep your reticle on a fast moving scout. In trying a mobile Jenner myself, I initially got some gleeful satisfaction in dodging nearby enemy attacks, not so much when I came across foes who knew how to use lock-on missiles.
There’s a cockpit seat waiting for you on August 7 when early access play begins via the game’s Founder’s Program. More details can be found at Mwomercs.com/founders.