This review is the big one, the one that gets saved for last. One of the most well known and beloved mech games that exist. The mech game that people eagerly forked over $100+ USD in order to have early access to. The game that people have been waiting years for. The game where people build simulation cockpits on a whole new level. This is MechWarrior.
So, the real question is, how is it?
The plot follows the existing Battletech timeline at a 1:1 scale, so one day in the game is one day in the franchise. The year 2013 is the year 3050, which means that things like the Clan invasion are going to happen soon. That isn’t a spoiler, it is on the official website. This plotline means there are two possible choices. The developer can either follow the existing timeline, which means that every plot change is already known well in advance, or they can diverge from the well established story, which would basically reset the entire franchise and irritate all the players.
Given the massive list of hit games, well-loved games, and critically acclaimed games Piranha has developed (none) that really could go either way, it is a bit too soon to tell.
The gameplay itself it adequate enough. None of the twitchy fast-paced action of Hawken but instead, the slow lumbering simulation based mechs. Buttons exist for several extra features, such as closing weapon doors, turning on the cockpit light, launching an Alpha Strike, overriding the shutdown, and powering on and off besides the regular move and shoot controls.
Certain features are welcomed, like the ability to change weapon groupings on the fly. Unfortunately, you can’t set up things like that between matches or in the countdown phase of a match, so you instead have to wait for the battle to start before you can set up your weapons how you like them.
Most mechs are reasonably balanced, although certain features leave a lot to be desired. The big and heavy mechs can be circled around until they die, the light mechs can be killed in fairly few hits, a mech with nothing but long range missiles is powerless against someone with close range weapons. The main focus of the game is on teamwork, and the difference between victory and defeat is usually as simple as which team can work together.
On the negative aspect, the matchmaking can best be described as in bad need of repair, since it is supposed to match up two teams of similar weight and power. For example, if one team has a 100 ton assault mech, the other team should also have a 100 ton assault mech. That would be nice if that happened reliably, since all too often your team will get stomped by a team comprising of nothing but 100 ton assault mechs with the largest, scariest weapons which is really bad when your team is nothing but heavy and light mechs.
One additional negative is the lack of training. Hawken puts you through a tutorial to get the basic understanding down so you can at least not feel utterly overwhelmed. MechWarrior Online simply drops you into the battle right away. To be fair, there are some tutorial videos where someone voices over what they are doing, but they are less than helpful. A tutorial level and a basic training map with AI opponents woudl go a long way towards eliminating the frustration new players feel. It isn’t as bad as DOTA which can take months to get the hang of, but it will take a lot of floundering that could easily be avoided.
While teamwork is nice to have, the game itself doesn’t really do a lot to encourage it. You join a match, and after the match, you return to the main menu. You don’t get to form up a team and learn to work with them and subsequently go stomp everyone else who dares to face you. Instead, it is essentially the standard public server issue where you get thrown with a group of random people and you need to work together with them to have a chance at victory.
Basically, the one way matches go is called ‘pubstomp’ as one team stomps over the other on a public server. Either you get stomped or you do the stomping, I have yet to encounter any real grey area.
I even joined a faction (House Kurita, given what I do here) since I assumed it would allow me to play something other than the public matches, like faction v. faction warfare or at least, a match where my team is nothing but my faction, no public players. That feature seems to be missing, as none of that has happened.
While I do rather like the simulation aspect, a lot of stuff was left out. You can destroy the limbs of an enemy mech, but you can’t leg them, since that wasn’t added to the game. Melee combat, ramming, and death from above are also notably lacking, despite being common enough in the Battletech franchise. Either Piranha is leaving them out intentionally, they don’t care, or they are just failing to deliver. Given their history of great games like Duke Nukem Forever, I really don’t want to speculate on why a lot of stuff is missing.
I honestly do like the slower paced simulation aspect. it forces you to make decisions and plan out attacks instead of running across the field shooting anything that moves and dodging return fire. The Art of War applies here far more than in other games, and every type of mech is vital to success, unlike other games, where there is no real reason to use certain mechs, since alternatives exist with the same firepower and fewer disadvantages. In MechWarrior Online, every mech has a role and can be vital to the team.
As far as full-scale simulation goes, I still think Steel battalion was the best pure simulator type game of the mech simulator games. MechWarrior Online, in contrast, has some heavy simulator aspects, but due to the random matches, lack of any repairs for the mech, lack of buying ammo, and other such features of a simulator, MechWarrior Online seems to be trying to attract both the hardcore simulator fan and the more casual mech game fan.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much overlap, since a lot of the hardcore fans I can think of returned their Founder’s package and got refunds, while the casual players dislike the lack of third person and other features. If MechWarrior Online decided what group it wanted to appeal to, then it would have a better chance than it does. it could be a fine pure simulator game if it was built specifically for that, and it could be a fine casual mech game if the simulation aspects were removed. Right now, it feels schizophrenic and half-baked.
However, I do have to say one good thing is that it did inspire me to start on making my own mech simulation game, since I think I may be able to do better.
Score: 2/5 not good
Pros: Lots of customization, lots of cool mechs, the gameplay itself is pretty fun
Cons: can’t decide what it wants to be, previous successes of Piranha, lack of any tutorial, complex and unintuitive controls, poor matchmaking
Verdict: Play Armored Core V or Hawken instead. You need to really love MechWarrior to be able to ignore the faults. That said, previous MechWarrior games are being suggested for Good Old Games, and if they get enough support, you will be able to play good examples of MechWarrior games on modern systems.