Wednesday, October 03, 2012

MechWarrior Online Closed Beta Preview

I'm playing the closed beta of MechWarrior Online, a free-to-play robot shooter by Piranha Games and Infinite Game Publishing.

This is the shooter half of the new MechWarrior games that are in development (the other being MechWarrior Tactics, a strategy take on the BattleTech setting), which centers on online deathmatches where you attempt to destroy hulking metallic behemoths. Step one is to choose your mech: there are four starting configurations that new players can pick from. There are a lot of mechs that can be unlocked using in-game cash, but they are too expensive to purchase unless you invest a significant amount of time in the game or pay real money. Despite the large array of available mechs, there doesn’t seem to be any hands-on customization at this point. You can add abilities to your pilot using experience points, which somewhat offsets the apparent lack of mech design. Matches are short (under ten minutes); currently only the “assault” mode, which is deathmatch with a base that can be destroyed (although this never happens before one team is completely eliminated), is available. With only one life per game, pilots will generally use the terrain to hide and strike in groups. Enemy units are spotted for the entire team, which makes covert action even more important. The controls have a learning curve: your current view is independent of which way your mech is facing, and you determine speed and must manually slow down. MechWarrior Online has several weapon classes to choose from (lasers, machine guns, missiles), and you can assign weapons into groups so they all fire at one time for maximum carnage. The damage model is impressive, with individual parts (arms, legs) receiving harm and occasionally becoming removed completely. This also disables weapons mounted to destroyed parts of your mech, which can produce strategic aiming to immobilize specific enemy systems. Heat output must also be managed, so you cannot fire you weapons constantly when under enemy fire as your mech will be disabled for a significant amount of time. The graphics and interface are also done well, immersing you into the futuristic environment. Since the game is free-to-play, you can try it out for free when the open beta begins. Overall, the game delivers solid robot destruction, although some aspects of the free-to-play model are irritating and the game has a learning curve to overcome.