Tuesday, October 9, 2012

I've Got Robots on the Brain: My Review of Mechwarrior Online.

Some of my mechs, painted up about 15 years ago.
I concentrate on miniatures and wargaming on this blog, but like most gamers I've got a wide array of interests. Typically when I get wrapped up in some non-table top pursuit in ends up influencing the figures I paint and the games I play. My interest in World of Tanks this past summer rekindled my desire to do some WWII gaming and I expect my latest video game pursuit to generate a few new figure and terrain projects as well.

One of my first true wargames (as opposed to board or RPGs) was Battletech. I was hopelessly addicted to the Mechwarrior 2 PC game, and got heavily into the tabletop game in the late 90. I painted up a ton of mechs, collected various supplements and terrible Battletech novels, but over time my group realized that playing a game of Battletech typically took us longer than we had time allotted, and we gradually drifted away into other games that could be wrapped up more quickly. I dabbled with other mech games like Heavy Gear and Gear Krieg, but I always had a soft spot in my heart for Battletech's giant stompy robots, crummy tech that had weapon ranges more in line with black powder weapons, and tactically interesting heat balancing mechanic.

A few weeks ago I managed to get into the new Mechwarrior Online Closed Beta. Now that the NDA has been dropped I can talk about it in detail. I was a big fan of World of Tanks and still enjoy the game, but I've found that Mechwarrior Online (MWO) has been drawing more of my interest lately. Even while I was falling in love with World of Tanks I felt the various tank "roles", equipment loads, and XP trees would have been suited better to Battletech or another sci-fi game. And seeing how WoT is introducing a bunch of ahistorical French armored nonsense, it sounds like they agree. /rimshot. My full review after the jump.

The gameplay of MWO is a bit faster paced than WoT, but not quite to the intensity of other first person shooters I've played. When I first started playing MWO I was a bit overwhelmed by the visual effects and camera shake in it. In WoT you'll get hit by a round and there will be a sound effect and slight visual indicator. In MWO, rockets and lasers are all up in your face, your mech is slewing badly from all of the weapon impacts, there are sirens going off because of your heat overload. Once I got used to the impact effects I realized you could ignore them and concentrate on your own weapon reticle and sensors the game became a lot more manageable. Also, standing where you can get pummeled by multiple enemies is jut a bad idea overall.

The Good Stuff

Unlike in WoT where you are forced to grind up XP trees to unlock tanks, where higher tier tanks are always better than lower tier tanks, and after moving up a tier there's really no reason to use an older tank, MWO introduces a number of improvements:

  • Trial Mechs. When you start playing you automatically have access to four common "trial" mechs. They allow you to earn money to buy a custom mech, but at a slower rate, and don't allow your pilots to gain XP. These trial mechs aren't gimped either. The Jenner, Hunchback, Catapult and Atlas are all signature battlemechs and can hold their own in the game. Having access to the Atlas (which is like the King Tiger of battlemechs) from the get go allows you to jump into one of the most powerful vehicles in the Battletech universe at any time.
  • Niche Protection. Some mechs carry more weapons and armor but at the cost of lower speed and flexibility. Unlike WoT where lower tier tanks feel like dogs and can't hope to compete with tanks like the Maus or KV-5, I've never felt that any mech is incapable of making a difference. I have a ton of fun taking my tiny Commando (the lightest mech in the game) and tearing holes in the rear armor of enemy Atlases, who's slow speed don't allow them to react effectively.
  • Solo Fun. Planning load outs is solo fun.  In WoT you play tanks, gaining XP and unlocking upgrades. The upgrades tend to be linear, although there are few choices on whether to take a low penetration, high damage howitzer, or a long barrel penetrating gun. In MWO each mech has a number of "hard points", attachment locations for different types of weapons. Hard points are assigned a type of weapon (energy, missile or ballistic) but you have a choice of replacing the standard load out with weapons you purchase. Trying different set ups, tweaking the amount of ammo, sacrificing armor for engine speed or larger weapons are fun thought exercises that have taken over a few of my commutes. It feels a bit like the tweaking you might do with a character, their gear and abilities or rotation in an MMO.

The Bad Stuff

That's not to say MWO doesn't have drawbacks. There are a number of areas where WoT presents a more polished experience. One of the highlights of WoT for me is destroying property. Driving over a white picket fence, knocking down utility poles, bursting through a barn to take shots at an enemy on the far side gives me a visceral thrill. The landscape in MWO is static and unchanging in MWO, but destructible terrain has been promised in an upcoming patch. MWO does feature pretty intense destruction effects on mechs though. Seeing my weapon impacts turn parts of the enemy mech white hot from the heat of their destructive power or watching one of their arms cartwheel off in a shower of fire, smoke and debris ejected by a solid impact from my gauss rifle is a nice substitute.

There are only four maps compared to the wide variety in WoT, and as a group all four maps in MWO are ugly, dim and hazy. I'm hoping upcoming maps give a broader vista to fight over. Despite their grungy aesthetic, the much reviled "Assault" game format from WoT has not shown up in MWO.

Still, with all of the entertainments available (and we really are spoiled for choices), I find myself gravitating back to Mechwarrior Online, even for a few quick games in my Commando. The game is still in closed Beta, but I expect them to release the Open Beta soon. The game should be free both before and after launch, but even now you can purchase in game credits to unlock new mechs and weapons faster than playing the free version. Keep an eye out for it and give it a spin when it launches, it's fun :)


  1. Nice post...and very nice blog, I do like your "Celt Slingers"...

  2. Thanks Phil! Always appreciate nice comments :)

  3. Your review is informative and cool! I very much like the Mechs you ahve painted. they look amazing and give me a sense of nostalgia as I too was a fan of Battletech and mech Warrior 2 games long time ago. I did get to painting some of the miniatures when I was a kid but not even close to your standard. I have improved much but my Battletech gaming didn't really take off.

    I am pretty much more into Warhammer and Modern Warfare Wargaming. Apart from that, I collect action figures, modern military model kits and other collectibles.

    If you like such collections do check out and connect to my blog at www.toyconstruct.blogspot.com My friend and I do give cpu reviews and other what nots. Nerds and Geeks through and through. I hope you like it.

    Once again, great post and great miniatures!

  4. Thanks Jiaqi! Appreciate the comments :) You've got a good looking blog, nicely painted figures, and lots of geeky stuff I'm fond of too. Your trebuchet woes made me laugh. So typical... I think every gamer suffers from "favorite unit = worst performance"!