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…)