Sunday, 26 April 2015

Mechwarrior Online: 2015 Review

Everyone likes giant robots.  And they don’t get much bigger and stompier than Battletech.  Nostalgia goggles aside, tabletop Battletech (for me anyway) hasn’t aged gracefully – whilst the gameplay is quite good, it’s rather clunky with a lot of things to record.  However the recently released fast play version left me cold – it abstracted all that made BT interesting.      

So – videogames?  Back in 2013 I reviewed Mechwarrior Online – a “free to play” game that allowed you to get into the cockpit of your favourite mech in a 12-v-12 deathmatch.  I drifted away from the game after 6 months due to a few factors – repetitive gameplay, few new maps, pay-to-win clanmechs, and developers who were evidently a bunch of tossers.

Fast forward to mid-2015 and it’s still the only mech game in town – apart from Hawken” which isn’t really a mech game so much as a reskinned FPS like CoD - all mech games are either unfinished or extremely dated.

Needing a mech fix, I jumped back into MW:O recently.   So what’s changed?

Well, not a lot – and that’s the problem. 

The clan mechs are cool, but inaccessible and unbalanced....

Clan Mechs are still largely inaccessible to the average player.  On release, they were blatantly pay-to-win – only available with real money (and at ridiculous prices - $50 to $240) up to 6 months after release.  Now anyone can “grind” them with enough effort in game, but as they are twice the cost of IS mechs, they are restricted to either paying customers, or very experienced players who have accumulated millions of XP.    This is a problem, because although not all clan mechs are overpowered, the three that are (Timberwolf, Stormcrow, Direwolf) dominate online play. 

The game is very grindy. Although your first 25 games accumulate XP at a good rate, after that your in-game “earnings” slow to a crawl.  So it’s easy to earn your first mech, but I hope you chose carefully – as your next one ain’t coming for a while.

The game is repetitive.  Although there are “capture the base” variants, 95% of games boil down to a 12v12 deathmatch.   And with the distinct lack of map variety, gameplay becomes predictable. 

The learning curve is steep.  Whilst the game is slower paced than a FPS, there is a lot going on.  Also, the people who like MW:O really like it, and amongst the mindless lemmings there are players who are quite hardcore with 1000s of hours played.  Maybe learn with a friend? However, there’s a problem due to the…

Matchmaker.  The game has an ELO system, which technically means games should be balanced by skill.  However if you play with a friend, you get put in the “competitive” queue which means you may be facing highly organized teams coordinated over TeamSpeak. 

The game is still a tad glitchy.  You do this weird "warp" through friendly mechs and I've clipped through walls and floors.  Ping is playable here in Australia (~250) but far more noticeable than in comparable games like World of Tanks. 

The Developers are idiots.  Never has a company so consistently alienated such a loyal and enthusiastic fanbase.  The forums are full of Battletech nerds who are happy to throw money at anything with the prefix “Battletech” or “Mechwarrior” on it.  However I’ve never seen so much online vitriol either.  Promises are never kept.  Deadlines are missed.  Development of key gameplay features are ignored in favour of selling more mechs.   Furthermore, for a crowd-funded game, it’s amazing how consistently the devs ignore community feedback in favour of unwanted, illogical solutions.  Never has the “balance team” in a game been so misnamed.  

Wow, so steer clear of this one, eh?
No.  I actually think it’s not a bad game.  I do recommend it, and it’s definitely a must-try for any Battletech fan.  Just want people to go in with their eyes open – whenever I review something I always am on the consumer’s side first and foremost. But I do think you should try this game.

From the minute you hear the computer say “reactors online” to the glow of overheated armour, and the wub-wub-wub of pulse lasers crisscrossing the air… you feel like a mech pilot!

The ability to completely customize your mech and “tweak” it is great fun and adds a lot of depth to the game – you can have fun even when you aren’t playing.

It’s very family friendly. It’s a great dad-and-son or husband-and-wife game, and a good intro to the world of Battletech.

It fairly accurately translates Battletech gameplay.

The online community are hardcore enthusiasts, but they are far less toxic and elitist than in games like World of Tanks. The forums are usually very helpful although there is more than a few whingers.

So… I’m thinking of trying it. I looooved Battletech and the old Mechwarrior PC games….   

It’s free, so go download it now.  While we’re waiting, here’s some advice.

There are about a dozen or so “trial” mechs.   These mechs rotate every month so you can try a wide range of the mechs on offer.  However these mechs have “locked” loadouts and are far inferior to the custom loadouts you can make when you actually own a mech.    Not only can you select better weapons, but an owned mech will eventually have ~15% greater speed, agility and cooling – a significant bonus.  Basically, the mechs you own will be much, much better. 

Play 25 games with the trial mechs. In those games, try a wide range of mechs.  Light mechs are agile, hit-and-run assassins and scouts;  mediums are all-rounders, heavies are slower but hit hard, and assault class mechs are monsters that can tank a torrent of fire.

So what should I get?  Well, use the trial mechs to pick a playstyle you enjoy.  However bear in mind the biggest isn’t always the best, and a rookie pilot in a slow, unwieldy assault-class mech is a recipe for disaster - usually in the form of a light pilot who will 1v1 it with ease.  With about 10-14 million in hand, you can check out what you can afford.  Remember to add +2 million C-Bills to the purchase cost for the mandatory double heatsink upgrade and miscellaneous extra weapons. 

Light (20-35t).   Lights are fast and agile.  They are also not as cheap as they look as they often require a XL engine which can cost more than the mech itself.  Used for scouting, assassinating, harassing.  The most fun to drive, but also quite unforgiving.  Consider: Firestarter (best dogfighter), Raven (ECM/sniper).  Avoid the flimsy Locust or Commando.

Mediums (40-55t).  These all-rounders are a good place to learn, as they use STD engines and are usually cheaper overall than lights. The best is the Stormcrow but good luck affording one.  Mechs that use STD engines (Centurions, Shadowhawks, Hunchbacks) are popular cheap beginner mechs.   Avoid the Kintaro.

Heavies (60-75t).  These are the heavy hitters on the team.  They usually have the same firepower as an assault, but trade armour for more flexibility.  The Mad Cat (Timberwolf) is god-tier, but outside the reach of a beginner.  I suggest a Thunderbolt, but Jagermechs and Cataphracts are still useful. 

Assault (80-100t). A slow as a beached whale, festooned with guns and armour, the assaults look badass.  However they are too-often embarrassingly caught out of position and murdered by 30-ton lights.  Once again, the clan Dire Wolf is the best but unaffordable.  I can recommend a Stalker as being easy to use and effective and the Atlas D-DC carries useful ECM.  Avoid the Awesome –  unlike in tabletop games, they are notoriously poor in MW:O. 


New players flock to big, imposing 100-ton assault mechs... and tend to die quickly to light mechs that are only the height of their kneecap... The Spider is a notorious "troll" mech

Some general advice:
*Most mechs have “quirks” – bonuses to specific weapon loadouts.
*Check loadouts in Smurfy – an online mech builder.  Basically, it allows you to fit out a mech and look at it for weight, heat etc BEFORE you splash the cash.
*Fit most of your armour to the front i.e. my assaults have 90 frontal and 10 rear armour. You can twist your torso and thus should seldom get shot from behind.
*XL engines give you more room for weapons but make you more vulnerable
*Speed is good – it helps you stay out of trouble.  150kph (light), 90kph (medium), 75kph (heavy) and 60kph (assault) are my general guidelines.
*Lasers are the most popular weapon – PPCs and ballistics have been nerfed.
*Upgrade your mech with double heatsinks to add mucho firepower
*Endosteel structure is usually also must-have to save weight
*ECM is useful for your team, making anyone in range of you immune to missile barrages
*An AMS is useful for slower mechs and also blocks missiles aimed at team mates
*Surprisingly enough, the head is the safest place to store ammo
*When firing at a light speedy mech, always aim for the legs
*Come prepared to spend $15-$30 sometime down the track– no “free” game is truly free; expect to pay money to enjoy the best experience (mech bays for extra mechs, champion/hero mechs, XP boosts)
*Don’t sell equipment – you always end up needing it later
*If you own 3 mechs of the same chassis you can get a bonus to stats
*Champion mechs come fully kitted out and are often 50% off ($3 for a light mech and a pricey XL engine seems fair enough)
*Visit the official forums 
*Google and read the many guides put out by enthusiastic MW:O players.

And if you see me around, add me – I’m the Dunning Kruger Effect ingame (I named myself in honour of my team mates…)




13 comments:

  1. I assume like most video games, one should avoid the community forums like they were infested with the plague?

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    1. Actually the forums are a mix of very helpful/very whingey & entitled. Not quite as toxic or elitist as many other games. Random browsing will make you assume MW:O is responsible for global warming, but if you have a purpose in mind, it's very useful for advice & ideas.

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    2. Nice :)
      Usually the more obscure the game, the better I find the forums.
      Crazy complicated tactical JRPG's? Fantastic forums if you can avoid all the perverts.

      Blizzards forums? Best arguments ever for the North Korean approach to the internet ;)

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  2. Well, grinding for a mech isnt that horrible. Im an average player and for a Timberwolf I needed 1 week of grinding about 1 hour of play each day. For free to play games thats not that much. Of the rest? Yeah, youre so right It is enfuriating to admit haha.

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    1. I haven't crunched the numbers properly, but offhand I'd say a fitted Timberwolf would be, what ~17mill? At an average of ~100K per game thats 170 games.
      170 x 10min games = 28 hours. That's quite a time investment for a NEW player.

      Due to the "cadet bonus" the first mech is buyable in 25 games but after that it get time consuming.

      Yes, games like World of Tanks can have far worse "grinds" but they ease beginners in with short grinds of only 5-6 games, which increase as you go down the levels until you're in the 100s. MW:O kinda throws you in at the deep end (or at least the deeper third of the pool) straight away.

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  3. Less elitism and toxicity in MWO? Are we playing the same game? I think not.

    MWO is famous for the elite lifeless battletech nerds that dominate the game. In fact i think those are the only people who still play it. New players go like "fuck this shit" after a few battles and just uninstall.

    Anyway,those guys will mock anyone running a stock or trial mech. If they see you doing 64 in a medium mech....boy you're going to hear a lot of nasty stuff.

    To put it simply...if you don't have a bunch of mechs fully built with XL and modules etc etc...AND a few millions to spare....you're a noob,a scrub, a nobody.

    Also if you die and suggest something to the rest they'll say "shut up dead guy",even if you did well.

    You start as a new player and you buy your first mech wich is usually an IS mech, something that a poor newbie can afford.
    You join a battle and you get roflstomped by a bunch of overpowered clan mechs.That's what every new player experiences in MWO.

    Everyone is running clan mechs nowadays so don't even think about running those old IS rustbuckets, they just don't "cut the cheese" as they say. Don't spend any money on those useless things.

    If you're really interested in playing MWO and you don't want to cry all the time, spend money. Yes, buy some Clan mech bundle or something, that's the only way you will enjoy the game.
    If you're not interested in spending money in MWO then you might as well not play it at all. Or be prepared to suffer untill you get enough money to buy a powerfull clan mech.

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    1. I have many opinions too.

      "Anyway,those guys will mock anyone running a stock or trial mech. If they see you doing 64 in a medium mech....boy you're going to hear a lot of nasty stuff."

      Actually I try each of the trial mechs every time they rotate. I've never once had or heard someone chewing me/someone else out for driving them; I've actually had some staggeringly good games in some, too. Half of the game is trying new fun and absurd builds. Observe: https://youtu.be/Sn7_ILqVmyA?t=173
      https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCa-fkypLpFQjKhsoscKoodg/videos

      "To put it simply...if you don't have a bunch of mechs fully built with XL and modules etc etc...AND a few millions to spare....you're a noob,a scrub, a nobody."

      Been playing seriously for about 6 months now and I have started ignoring modules in favor of new mechs. I still get invited to competitive-queue teams with people on dedicated team-speak servers. The modules help, sure, but they aren't necessary, and no-one is going to cuss you out for not having them.

      "Also if you die and suggest something to the rest they'll say "shut up dead guy",even if you did well."

      ??? I'm starting to lose words. Is this the same game? Where people are calling for LRM fire support at target Delta in Foxtrot-6? Maybe it's a teiring thing, but my experience has been vastly sodium-free as I climbed from tier 5 to 2.

      "You start as a new player and you buy your first mech wich is usually an IS mech, something that a poor newbie can afford."

      Actually you can afford to buy a Timber Wolf, arguably the most flexible mech in the game, with the Academy bonus+25 game bonus.

      "You join a battle and you get roflstomped by a bunch of overpowered clan mechs.That's what every new player experiences in MWO. "

      Another big generalization here about the new-player experience, which is odd as the solo queue has a skill-based matchmaking algoritham so that you aren't matched against people who have been playing - as you claim - long enough to buy a Clan mech. But lets give this the benefit of the doubt:
      Yeah, fair enough, and this is something the game's tutorials should be stressing to new players. Clan mechs are frequently boasting improvements over Inner Sphere mechs, as a way of staying true to the lore the game is based upon. However, the Clan mechs are not actually more powerful than IS mechs as you claim and this can be boiled down to high alpha vs. high sustained DPS. As a new/IS pilot, the trick is to draw a clan mech into a prolongued engagement where their ridiculously high heat costs will have them shutting down over and over, leaving them as easy pickings. On the flip side, never get into a poking/peek-a-boom match with a Clan mech - You'll lose.

      "Everyone is running clan mechs nowadays so don't even think about running those old IS rustbuckets, they just don't "cut the cheese" as they say. Don't spend any money on those useless things."

      Quirks? No? Play to your strengths, buddy. No-one's going to give you a handout.

      "If you're really interested in playing MWO and you don't want to cry all the time, spend money. Yes, buy some Clan mech bundle or something, that's the only way you will enjoy the game.
      Or be prepared to suffer untill you get enough money to buy a powerfull clan mech."

      Or play a trial clan mech, like the wub-wub Timber Wolf, Guass-boat Dire Wolf, SRM/LBX-20 Orion IIC... All of these are top-meta builds. And that's just from the clan mechs you've been over-touting. Honestly you're really under-estimating what a good IS mech running a STD engine can do - Tank and spank for days.

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  4. "Less elitism and toxicity in MWO? Are we playing the same game? I think not."

    You really think MWO is worse than WoT? Heck, compare it to LoL, DoTA, CoD... I think it compares very well. After my year long hiatus, I'm back playing regularly, and have had 0 issues. Whilst in games like WoT, chat is frequently full of nasty comments, even people PMing players with insults. Whilst I see the odd "shut up dead guy" in WoT, I haven't seen anything like it in MWO. Or anyone mocking anyone for their mech choice. And I drive a lot of Locusts (aka rocket powered coffin)!

    Although the clan Stormcrow, Timberwolf and Dire Wolf dominate their class, I seldom use my clan mechs and I'm actually switching back to IS mechs for the most part, due to their superior pinpoint damage. Pulse lasers few! You certainly don't need clan mechs to do well. It's more a few specific chassis being powerful, rather than clans in general.

    I would expect to pay money in ANY "free" to play game - I recommend after trying 25 games, to invest $15 which will get a few extra mechbays and couple of lights mechs with XL engines which can then be used in other mechs.

    I certainly wouldn't buy any clan bundles - you'd be spending waaaay more money than you need. Heck, anything over $30 and I'd be buying metal Battletech minis instead...

    MWO isn't ideal, and I'm far from happy with the devs, who are clearly idiots. The map selection is poor, many promises haven't been kept and certain aspects smack of pay-to-win, However it's quite playable without sacrificing your firstborn, and the clans aren't the antichrist.

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  5. The maps are horrible, clunky and cluttered with garage. The gameplay is worse. Don't play MWO unless you are willing to spend 200-300 bucks. Seriously.

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    1. Thank you for your well-reasoned analysis.

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  6. The game is very much geared for the hardcore MechWarrior player who most likely has played the previous games in the series (and quite possibly tabletop as well). A poor tutorial and the appalling lack of a single-player campaign to "teach" newbies (a la StarCraft 2) seriously ups the ante. Thing is, this game has so much potential for it, and, finally, the devs are slowly listening to the community and responding. Baby steps for them at this stage, but it's a promising start. Now, if only they could bracket players like they do in StarCraft/SC2, and I'd be a very happy man.

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    1. I doubt they have the playerbase. Do love the fact we now have a Southeast Asian server. It'll be interesting to see how we play with under 250 ping and actual hit rego.... I bet some Aussie players will climb the leaderboards now they register more than 1 in 3 shots....

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  7. I can only use my experience of playing this game very little time spent in 2015 but i was well into it 2012-13 and ocassionally in 2014. really as the OP says the mainstay hasn't changed just the details and stuff like the UI, the newplayer experience, it's all worse ontop of the problems that have plagued it for years. 2 heat sytems (general rules and ghost heat) quirks to make the rules even more complicated and the general bugs from lag, hitreg to stale meta and horrible economy/leveling leaves this game a wreck.

    It was a potential winner when they started but over time the devs took developing stuff out, and bandaided stuff that needed to be redone. the devs screwed it cause they were
    a) greedy
    b) incompetant
    c) if any talent it was in lying, scamming and running down the few staff with the skills to save them. at least 3 senior devs have left in the last 18 months, crisis 3 does ammo swaps in the main code, this has been lost and along with the talent the devs say they can't add it in their shooter. really!? and the most basic of destructable terrain a huge developement? REALLY!?
    d) terrible planing/visions for what the game should be. also see Transverse trying to escape the mess they made for a new project.

    all that's left is a hugbox of nerds who'll defend their regretfull $1000+ purchases trying to make the next 12v12 deathmatch worth it. that's how the game survives a small group of wastfull nerds. MWO was a scam of enthusiasts and fans desires for something like an MW2-3 remake and the only way a BS company can stay afloat is forever farming nostalgic addicts. The buisness model for a "freegame" would make korean rolleplayers blush, be in a horrible mech for weeks or pay up to stand a chance the amount of mech packs and their prices is disgusting and the structure is immoral.

    still being everyone's bunch bag is a free experience so play it and then play MW3 and you'll soon understand that apart from a graphic update one game is an underdeveloped broken pile of arena deathmatch random pokies style shite of a shooter and the other is an intensively enguaging, well thought out video game.

    play the old games stay away from MWO.

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