MechWarrior Online: Three Years Later

MechWarrior Online: Three Years Later

One of the great things about the vast majority of Free to Play (F2P) games is their constant development cycle. F2P games usually have regular patches and updates that include many things, such as bug fixes, but more importantly extra content or game changing features. With that in mind, I’m going to give you my “Three years later” review of MechWarrior Online (MWO), a Piranha Games Incorporated game based on the popular and enduring Battletech series.

MechWarrior Online is a game I’ve invested a lot of time and money into. Having played it since day one of closed beta, I’ve been around for the up and down journey of the game’s development. My judgments and criticisms might sound harsh, but don’t get me wrong here; I want this game to do well. I want this game to be awesome and I know that, ignoring the faults, there is some real potential here. Today, I’m speaking as a fan of the Battletech universe, a fan of the MechWarrior series of games and both a casual and competitive MechWarrior Online player.

MWO sees the player take control of enormous Battlemechs (known simply as ‘mechs) to battle against other players in a variety of game-modes using the destructive weaponry and advanced systems available with which to do so. Lasers, missiles, gauss rifles and massive autocannons are the tools of the trade, strapped onto a variety of different mechs which range through different sizes and weights; from the relatively tiny but supremely fast 20-ton ‘mechs all the way up to almost 20 meter high, 100-ton assault ‘mechs that reign terror upon their foes as they attempt to reduce all that stand in their path into heaps of exploded, molten remains.

‘Mechs are customisable, with an array of weapon systems to be strapped onto the different ‘mechs in accordance to their hardpoint restrictions, limitations set in place that help retain some individuality between the different ‘mechs you see on the battlefield as well as attempting to keep some trickier aspects in check, such as game balance.

The process of theorycrafting and fitting a ‘mech has long been one of the go-to aspects of many a MechWarrior game, with players and fans of the universe happy to spend hours in the mechlab building and tweaking their loadouts to suit their own needs and desires. The tool to do this in MWO has gone through a number of changes, with a recent patch having updated the mechlab to what is being penned as UI 2.1.

ScreenShot0013

New MechLab User Interface

The new mechlab is an improvement over previous iterations, but I still feel like it’s lacking in a number of areas. There’s a certain awkwardness to the flow between menus, scale isn’t entirely right and at times you can’t help but get the feeling that a number of people were working on this most recent of updates but never actually coordinated. It is still, however, a massive improvement over the previous versions, with better saving times and somewhat more efficient ways to find weapons or components. The lab is a work in progress: recent tweets by PGI head honcho Russ Bullock lead me to believe this will be continually reworked over the coming months.

The game is built with CryEngine 3. On the battlefield, the ‘mechs look gorgeous, with a lot of time, effort and love of the genre having gone into the art and design of them. Different weapons change how different parts of the ‘mech will appear, adding further to the level of attention to detail that is prevalent from ‘mech to ‘mech. The visual love seems to have ended there, however.

Something I think PGI have really missed out on especially is the scaling on maps

Textures and scaling on pretty much all of the maps is severely lacking and you’d be hard pressed to imagine this game having been built on the same engine as the likes of Crysis 3 and Star Citizen. Something I think PGI have really missed out on especially is the scaling on maps. I often find it hard to imagine I’m stomping around in 20 meters of metal, strapped onto a nuclear engine with immense weapons unleashing hell when every building and terrain feature feels like it’s been blown up to sit on the same scale as the ‘mech I’m in. With the exception of a few token cars and lampposts, each map is filled to the brim with buildings that are all of a convenient height to offer some sort of cover. Some of the more natural maps have a tendency for completely uniform trees, all of almost the exact same shape and size–usually as tall as your ‘mechs. And on the few maps that have some sort of grass, you can’t help but wonder what sort of soil it’s planted in when it grows to be several meters tall and with a width broader than a powerlifter’s shoulders.

Another issue is the strategic design and layout of maps. A lot of games focus on their maps having a balanced set of positives and negatives for each team, advantages to defending and attacking various points. MWO has a number of maps that are largely one-sided affairs, with teams able to control most of the available strategic points simply through the luck of having spawned on a certain side. A prime example of this would be the massive Alpine Peaks. Anyone that’s played knows that in most cases, the team that controls the central peaks, the high ground, usually comes out on top. The problem is that depending on which side you spawn one team will be able to reach those peaks twice as fast as the other.

When it comes to maps, however, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. An announcement was made earlier in the year that River City, one of the oldest MWO maps, was being re-made. A short while back, screenshots were revealed in a weekend update by community partners, No Guts No Galaxy, and for the first time I found myself looking at something that rightfully feels as though it’s been made with CryEngine 3. There’s a greater variance in terrain elements and the textures look infinitely better than what has previously been used. Hopefully, this new approach to map design also means a more balanced experience in terms of layout and movement strategy.

Combat is often swift, with the majority of standard games played out never reaching the full 15 minutes of time given to accomplish that particular game modes’ objective. As of the time of this writing, three game modes are available in the standard queues. Assault is, essentially, an attack on the other team’s base (or a defense of your own) which is watched over by turrets. Conquest is a sort of ‘point control’, where a number of strategic ‘cap’ points need to be captured and controlled across the map. The more strategic points held, the more points accrued with the winner being the first to 750. Third and final is skirmish, which is simply a no-respawn deathmatch type game.

The biggest downside here is that these game-modes, with their different names and layouts, all play the same. Regardless of what objectives are in place, matches usually result in teams moving to the most favourable positions and fighting it out until a winner is declared by way of eliminating all ‘mechs on the opposing team. There’s little incentive to try and play the objective game and, more often than not, it will be more detrimental to your team’s effort if you focus on anything other than fighting and battling directly against the enemy.

Community Warfare Map Interface

Community Warfare Map Interface

In addition to the standard game modes, December 2014 saw the long awaited release of Community Warfare (CW), or the initial beta phase of it. For those that haven’t followed the history of MWO at all, Community Warfare is one of the ‘pillars’ of MWO. Originally intended for release early 2013, it was almost two years before this long awaited feature finally made an appearance.

Often seen as something of an “End-game” feature which would give level-capped players a reason to persistently log in, CW saw heavy play during the first months of its release. However, due to the early beta stage of CW, a lot of people have reverted back to playing standard queue games.

The design of CW is that players and units (in-game organisations formed by players) will battle for control of a planet. While this may sound like an exciting prospect, the reality is that these are just a series of repetitive battles with the sole purpose of accruing points on the chosen planet. When the daily ceasefire window begins, the planet will be under the control of the faction that has the most victories and controls the majority of segments on the planet map.

It’s easy to understand what PGI is trying to accomplish here. They churned out a number of maps fairly quickly, all designed with a base sitting behind massive, steel doors. One team usually plays the role of the defender while the other will attack, trying to open these doors by destroying power generators to ultimately push into the base and take out key structures. The vision is to create a universe full of conflict yet the biggest incentive for a persistent design such as this is still missing. Reward.

One of the many things communicated from PGI during its time at the helm of MWO is that the ultimate goal of CW is to have planets fought over and contested so that various rewards would be in place for holding control of said planets. There’s been a number of things said, such as discounted items for ‘mech building and the like, but all is quiet on the communication front. Most recently, CW entered Beta Phase II. What that actually means I’m still not entirely certain of, but one thing I know for certain is that PGI needs to hurry up and find a way to dangle the carrot in front of players before CW loses what momentum it has.

There has been talk from PGI recently of a potential Steam release, something which would likely usher in a much needed influx of new players. What’s more is that in preparation for this move, it seems as though PGI is finally going ahead with the implementation of multi-regional servers which is something that will only help further the MWO cause should it make an appearance on Steam.

MWO can be a daunting prospect

I’ve had an interest in the Battletech universe for many years. Not only that, but I’ve played previous MechWarrior titles and have a fairly solid understanding about ‘mechs, their design, weapons and components. To a new player, coming in fresh with no previous experience or history in the genre, MWO can be a daunting prospect.

The learning curve in MWO is steep—very steep—and it is perhaps PGI’s biggest stumbling block. Anyone familiar with the concept of a shooter can load into a game, move around without much difficulty and get their crosshairs into the right area. But what about managing their heat? What about building their ‘mechs with double heat sinks instead of single? Why should they be taking an ER Large Laser over a standard Large Laser? What’s the difference between a Clan ‘mech and an IS ‘mech?

At present, MWO has a single in-game tutorial that covers the very basics. Moving, shooting, things which most people will understand anyway. What it lacks is anything explaining the game beyond that. Finding any official documentation regarding heat scales or something explaining the pros and cons to standard and XL engines is left to search through the thousands of posts on the forums and the seemingly ever-increasing amount of stickied threads put up by players and community members. If this game launches on Steam without an easy-to-access and clearly explained guide, it will be painfully difficult for MWO to retain players long enough to take full advantage of their cadet bonus, an incentive that rewards players with extra c-bills (in-game currency) during their first matches.

Since PGI split from their now defunct partners, Infinite Game Publishing (IGP), they’ve made improvements across the board

It’s unfair of me to say that the future of MWO is in doubt. In fact, since PGI split from their now defunct partners, Infinite Game Publishing (IGP), they’ve made improvements across the board. Communication with the community has improved vastly, promised features have arrived in a prompt and timely manner and you can’t help but think that the split from IGP has let PGI slip loose of some very heavy, binding chains.

Now that their relatively small team has a few years’ experience with the game and less restrictions to do as their vision would have them do, they can take the momentum they’ve started to gather and keep on pushing it so that MechWarrior Online can be the product that this player believes it can be. It was never going to be a AAA title, the Battletech universe and associated games have always been a niche market but regardless of that, it can still be a lot of bloody good stompy robot fun.

 


8 Comments

  1. Avatar
    jim June 25, 2015

    Nice review, thoughtful and accurate. They’ve still got a ways to go to even think of competing on an even footing with games like War Thunder in terms of basic features, but the core game is so rock solid it’s hard to hate it.

  2. Avatar
    Michael Chater June 29, 2015

    Thank you. An interesting point I picked up on recently in the town hall that Russ Bullock held was that they’re looking at / going to soon be moving towards both an ELO reboot / change as well as finally going towards the potential balance-solver of Battle Value.

    Another positive step in my eyes.

  3. Avatar
    GetGuds August 12, 2015

    Too little too late. It’s broken beyond repair and nobody’s rushing back.

    Try explaining how the weapons work to a newbie. yeah that laser creates x heat, except if you use y amount because the devs made extra rules in fail balance attempt but on z mech it goes back to being really cool cause quirks is another failed balance attempt.

    Try explaining how founders and early pack buyers have mechs totally redundant by the latest power creep, that they’ve paid hundreds of dolars and have less than 25% of the available mechs to show for it. That CW is so broken there’s hardly 100 people playing and waitimes can easily be half an hour. PGI have screwed customers over hard.

    The UI won’t explain all these broken designs, cause it too is terrible, little to no tutorial. the economy means many grinding hours or just jump on the $100s dollar mech pack train for this “free game”, or be stomped by mastered meta mechs piloted by vets in your stock mech.

    The devs lies ran out the founders leaving nostalgic addicts with $1000+ mech pack deal debts alone to stomp newbies and prohibt the growth along with all the beta bugs in this 3 year old game.

    IGP may have made a horrible buisness model but PGI have forever made an unfinished broken arena shooter.

  4. Avatar
    Shadow August 29, 2015

    The recent Artic Cheetah mech demonstrates the overwhelming and repeated goal of MWO to make it a pay to win game. The AC is about 25% more powerful than any other 30 ton mech in the game. Guess what, you cannot buy it unless you spend real money on the game. Just like the Stormcrow and Timberwolf before the AC, they drastically reduce the power once it can be bought for in game currency. MWO is not and has never been a free to play game, unless you like to lose.

  5. Avatar
    Michael Chater August 30, 2015

    PGI need to revisit their current pay model, that much is certain.

    The “Free 2 Play” tag comes from, well, the game -is- technically, free to play. It’s just not free to get quick access to all of the good ‘mechs.

    Another thing is, when these ‘mechs are first released to those that purchased them, there’s little in the way of nerfs done. That comes when they go full public release, aka c-bill availability.

    Remember how badly OP the clans were? Especially the Stormcrow and Timber when they were first released to those that bought the clan pack? The nerf came much later, once they’d gone on sale for c-bills.

  6. Avatar
    shr84 November 10, 2015

    I dont know why people beeing so punishing to the game…
    Sure it can be hard at start to compete in the game, but telling that its a auto loss when you not buy the mech packs for real money is simply not true.I had my best matches in
    c-bill (ingame currency) mechs.Because everybody use the same weapons, you cant get
    weapons with extreme advantages for real money, what makes the argument the real money
    new released mechs are extremely over powered simply not true.
    I have to say that this game keeps me playing since nearly 3 years and i didnt invested the amount of money others did, no founder, no mech packs.Just buyed the amount of garages to keep my most enjoyed mechs and around 15 colors to paint them.And i can say without a doubt that i still have very satisfying gameplay moments and intense battles,even after 3 years of playing MWO heavily.
    Long story short: when you enjoy the whole mech thing with customizing your loadout, challenging combat with an in-depth damage system that contains various aspects of destruction (armor and internal structure, blown of body parts, ammo explosions, critical damage of internals like heat sinks and weapons) it´s definitly worth a try in my opinion.

  7. Avatar
    Colonel Kay Wolf June 22, 2016

    I truly enjoyed reading your article, one year old, now, and agree with all of it, save one point which I only MOSTLY agree on, hehe. First, a little history… I’ve been in BattleTech since November ’84, started playing online in mid-’97, formed my own mercenary unit in fall ’97, Armageddon Unlimited, have completed all of the titles that are BattleTech on the computer, except for MechAssault, have played all online versions of these games, and I joined Closed Beta for MechWarrior Online in July 2012, and have been playing most of the time since. I took a break for a year for personal reasons, but have been fairly solid since.

    Now, the one item I take a small amount of exception to is what you had to say about the maps being one-sided, for the most part. Yes, I agree, they are one-sided, but the idea is to force the disadvantaged team to think tactically. It’s not the fault of PGI for designing the maps to be the way they are, otherwise they wouldn’t be very realistic in their layout, would they? A real map will be lopsided, will not have advantages for both sides, and the idea is to get even your PUGgies to work together and complete the mission on that map, thinking their way through every move and doing what needs to be done.

    Unfortunately, the way PGI has left out the training, as you pointed out, for newer players, there is no encouragement or real design aspect to get them to play together. My thoughts are that, apart from the new MechWarrior Academy, where one can gain the best familiarization process I’ve seen in a game, yet, and work on accuracy, heat management, etc., PGI needs to develop three stages of training where new players work with AI partners, or even other new players, to learn how to work as a team, perform heat management techniques and fulfill requirements and/or objectives, as a team, and then graduate up to one team of new players fighting against another team of new players -Lances would be best- on absolutely even advantage/disadvantage maps. Next, they graduate up to maps that are skewed a little in favor of one team or the other, where both teams swap out and play with higher and lower advantages, equally. Other stages could be added, making the idea that, without real risk in the game, players could learn how to play it so that, when it’s time for them to graduate the Academy, they are actually ready to move on.

    Heck, make the Cadet Bonus a part of this pre-release training.

    I don’t want my maps to be absolutely equitable, I don’t want the advantages and disadvantages to be even, but I would eat the ass out of a dead Rhinocerous to have team mates who actually attempt to think tactically and work together. The only way it is PGI’s fault that we don’t have these sort of team mates, is that PGI has not made it so units can actually build their communities within the game and/or on PGI supported forums. Recruitment, organization (Lance, Company, Battalion, Regiment or, for the Clans, Star, Binary/Trinary, Cluster, Galaxy, and Touman), training set up by individual units in maps designed by the unit for training executed by the unit above and beyond the MechWarrior Academy, rank earned by time in service and some manner of merit system, awards and recognition, etc., ad nauseum, could be integrated into the game. Remove the capability of mercenary units to sign on with the Clans, which the Clans would never ever allow, make it so camaraderie and loyalty to your unit -whether you’re a mercenary or a loyalist- means something, and garners something for you in the unit, make sure contracting isn’t just select someone to fight for and go play, but real BattleTech-style contracting, so there’s purpose behind sticking with a unit other than you have fleeting-fair-weather-play-only-friends there… basically, make it mean something, and you will have players coming back to the game in droves.

    The largest problem PGI has is not to do with procedures or maps or game types, it has to do with the fact there is no staying power, there is no keeping power, there is nothing of even a semi-permanent nature that means anything to anyone, so loyalty to the game is equally fleeting.

    I always hear, even from Russ Bullock, that this game was never meant to be a AAA title, and I think that’s a load of crap, frankly, a cop-out used by PGI to keep from making the best game they possibly could, and it’s time for that garbage to stop, frankly. MWO COULD be a AAA title, but there is no desire on PGI’s part, apparently, to make anything that would engender loyalty in their customers.

    Again, extraordinarily well-written and true article… what do you think of it, now, 22 June 2016?

  8. Avatar
    Paul Cede July 16, 2016

    I’ve played Mech Warrior games since 1990 and though this game is somewhat similar, it simply is not professional done like the previous titles. I was in the 2nd best clan in MW4 and one of the top 100 pilots for a couple months and the big difference was that in MW4 everybody had access to everything for the $20-$50 dollars (depending on coupons). In MWO you can’t buy jack squat for $50.

    My biggest 2 beefs with MWO is first that you cannot save load-outs unless you buy every component for each different save (including the Mech!). This makes building and experimenting with builds unnecessarily tedious (or very very expensive!). Secondly, there is no persistent universe – all the matches end in 15 mins or a bit longer for CW, but nothing like the hours of persistent play in MW4 that you could come and go whenever you wanted.

    I downloaded the update last month after not playing for over a year and guess what – my two beefs remain and I only played one match and will not play more (unless they fix those two problems).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *