My engines start up. I check to see that my heat sink is regulating, make sure all my weapon systems are online, and check that my armor is reading 100%. It’s time for war. My Jagermech slowly lumbers across the battlefield with my squad towards the enemy; the battle will only end once one side has been annihilated. Such is war in the year 3049.
MechWarrior Online is a continuation of the long running MechWarrior video games, but unlike the previous games, it is entirely multiplayer based, with 12 vs. 12 being the core of the gameplay, rather than any kind of single player campaign missions. These matches are divided into 3 different game modes: Conquest, Assault, and Skirmish. Conquest is your standard capture the points game mode with 5 different capture points scattered around the map. These points can be captured and will add resource points to your team’s overall score. The game either ends when one side gets enough resource points or all of one team’s mechs are disabled. Assault is your basic deathmatch with 12 players on each team, split between 4-player squads. This allows for basic team communication within squads, and a more concentrated group to plan strategies.
The game has a basic tutorial to introduce players to the controls and the basics of the game, although from what I have seen, they have considerably revamped the movement controls to make them easier for all players. Instead of the complicated controls the game started out with, which made you regulate your forward speed and felt clunky and alien, MechWarrior Online has changed their movement to the normal WASD movement keys, with additional movement options being available for veteran players that liked the complexity. It helps new players get into the game rather easily as the only controls they really have to know are the WASD movement keys and the two mouse buttons to fire weapons. Unfortunately, not all the controls and tactics of the game are explained in the brief tutorial, and because of that, new players will still suffer learning how to play in their first few matches. It would be nice if the tutorials explained what all the controls were for and what you could do with them other than just explaining basic movement and putting you into an arena with pilotless mechs to learn the rest.
The store is setup just like any other free to play game with the fancy looking cosmetic items for purchase with premium currency that can be bought with real cash. Everything else can be bought with freemium currency that is earned by playing matches. I was a bit concerned when I saw the prices of mechs starting at 1 million credits and going up to as high as 8 or 9 million. But after playing a few matches I was pleasantly surprised to see that the game awards you around 500k for a normal 10-15 min match which is very generous considering how other Free-to-Play games often dole out the normal currency in an attempt to wear you down enough to purchase monetary funds. MechWarrior Online is positively free of that and it only takes a few matches to gain enough credits to purchase your first mech. However, one of my biggest gripes with the store and the inventory system in general is that the game doesn’t really tell you what you are buying. Every mech has several different models that have a different assortment of weapons on it, but the game doesn’t give you a way of telling what you are buying when you purchase a mech. The only reason I had any idea what models did what is because I was already familiar with the mech models and knew what certain models did over others. But for people who have never heard of any of these mechs and are just getting into the game, they won’t have any idea of what they are looking for and what mech models they should buy for speed or power. This is one of the biggest failings of the game as the deeper you try to get into it the less it tells you and the more you’re left in the dark about. There are also upgrades that pertain to your pilot and your individual mechs. Pilot upgrades are universal and apply to all mechs but require a little more experience than the mech upgrades do. The mech upgrades are universal as well and give little bonuses like reducing heat a little bit faster and having your guns shoot a little bit farther. They are nice bonuses for people that play often, but they aren’t so powerful that they give a very distinct advantage to veteran players.
Mechs are separated into 4 different categories; Light, Medium, Heavy, and Assault. There are also Champion and Hero categories, but those are reserved for mechs that you buy for money on the store that have fancy paint jobs as well as different configurations. Light and Medium mechs are mechs that are used for their mobility in battle rather than their firepower. You usually don’t want to ever slow down or stop as a Light or Medium mech, as this can often lead to a very quick death, but if you play it to its strengths you will be able to run circles around the larger mechs and hit them in their weak spots in the back. The Heavy and Assault class mechs are mostly slow moving weapon silos with heavy forward armor designed to destroy all opposition. These are the mechs you want to use for their pure firepower, these mechs usually pack missiles, large lasers, and cannon type guns that tear through armor when placed correctly. Their biggest weaknesses though are their lack of mobility. Most of these mechs aren’t able to turn very well and, as a result, they can’t keep up with some of the more mobile mechs. Since they also can’t move very fast, objective based gameplay will see them mostly defending points they already captured as the light mechs are built more for capping other points.
Once you get into the game, you can see just how beautiful it is. The graphics show gorgeous detail on the maps and mechs, with very nice lighting effects along with explosion and fire effects that are top notch. The game breathes life into this world, and you can’t help but stare around at the maps every time you come to a new one. The maps could use more color, but since this is a grim dystopian future this game is taking place in, it creates the proper atmosphere while still making it look fantastic at the highest settings. And even though you won’t see anything groundbreaking at the lower settings, the game still looks good. At the end of the day, MechWarrior Online is nothing but mech based combat fun. It is easily one of the best mech video games to come out to date, and the fact that its free without being pay to win is just icing on the cake.That being said newcomers to MechWarrior will find a really steep learning curve and will have to look up explanations in order to understand the more intricate parts of arming and designing your own mech. But once you break through that first barrier the game opens up to become a fantastically deep mech combat game with nearly infinite ways to design and equip your own fighting robot.