Mechwarrior: Online, by Piranha Games, is set for open beta this summer for the PC and it’s the best thing that’s happened to the first-person shooter genre since Call of Duty created perks. Not only that, but it’s going to be the best first-person shooter that’s ever been released to date. That’s right. I said it.
Shooters are a dime-a-dozen these days, right? There’s Battlefield, Call of Duty, and Medal of Honor, most of them with more than one game that are all on the market right now. But what’s the difference? They’re basically interchangeable; you may as well have Battlefield of Duty, Call of Bad Company, Medal of Explosions, or whatever. Either way, you’re going to be sprinting down some desert alley getting shot in the head by some kid who isn’t better than you (yeah right), he just has the next best gun unlocked, that’s all. But Mechwarrior: Online is going to revolutionize what you demand from your FPS games, and Piranha Games isn’t sorry.
First off, let me just say that I’m sick of carbon copied quasi-realistic military shooters that act, feel, look, and sound the same. They borrow the same scripts (I’m looking at you Battlefield 3), they borrow the same design concepts (I’m looking at ALL of you – perks were great though, so I can forgive you), they use the same guns, they seem to use the same sounds, locations, and graphics too. As paying gamers, shouldn’t we demand more? What progress is created when we settle for replicas of the original? What invention was ever stumbled upon by crafting the same thing? I want something that challenges my mind, not just my twitch reflexes and the DPI sensitivity of my mouse. Which is what Mechwarrior: Online aims to do.
A lot of modern shooters these days try to get you to work together with your team to win. I think most of us have had first-hand experience that it doesn’t work in practice, especially as developers continue to throw more and more people into a match. It just makes for more loose cannons in the end. Mechwarrior: Online is toning it down, focusing on 12v12 battles (for now). In battletech terms, it’s one company versus one company. Broken down further, three lances will be squaring off against each other. A lance is more than just a unit of designation, though. A lance is the building block of the entire military formation in the battletech universe, and that holds true in here as well. You’ll have to compile your lances in complementary ways so that information can be shared and spread efficiently among your lancemates, otherwise don’t expect to be winning any time soon.
That’s right, information is the key to victory in Mechwarrior: Online, not how big your gun is, or how many perks you’ve unlocked. During battle, you’ll want to have a mix of unit types. Hitting the field with an entire company of assault mechs, weighing in at 100 tons each, will get you destroyed by smaller, faster, more informed opponents that can literally dance around your lumber behemoths. Instead, you’ll need mechs that are fast and use jump jets to bound over obstacles, relaying enemy positions and loadouts to your long-range missile mechs who can use that information to bombard the appropriate vector. You’ll need medium mechs, which are the workhorses of any properly prepared outfit, to do most of the fighting. They’re not as quick as the light mechs, nor as heavily armored as the heavy mechs, but they pack a punch and can take a hit, too. Then you’ll need an assault mech or two to slowly, but inexorably plod through the enemies lines. Lastly, you’re going to need a commander in each lance, with one company commander, to dole out orders, relay information, and keep track of what’s going on. The company commander gets a special map with real-time information that’s passed to him/her via the company’s first-hand knowledge. Without the right combination, you won’t stand a chance.
I like this strategy that Piranha Games is taking. They’re purposefully making their game slower, allowing your brain to have the time to complete actual thoughts and make decisions based on tactics rather than holding the trigger until you die. You’re rewarded for intelligent play and working with your team, and that is more satisfying than being a lone wolf worrying only about your own kill to death ratio. And using your head won’t just be important in the matches. I’ll guarantee that the best mercenary corporations (Mechwarrior: Online‘s version of clans) will be spending a lot of time in the mechlab – the customization feature accessible in between matches where you can edit your mech’s loadout by replacing weapons, editing the amount of ammunition you store, how many heatsinks you use, etc.
You see, like any proper Battletech game, Mechwarrior: Online holds true to a few gameplay elements that stem from the original tabletop game: heat, weapon management, and modular damage. First off, when you fire your weapons, you generate heat. Too much heat and your mech shuts down automatically (although you can override the command at great risk) to ensure you don’t blow yourself up. To mitigate heat, you need heat sinks and proper weapon management. It won’t matter how many heatsinks you have if you fire your weapons all at once as soon as they reload; you’ll overheat and shut down or explode. Finally, each area takes separate damage, and limbs can even be destroyed – along with whatever weapons were attached to it. Furthermore, any ammunition stored inside a damaged area can explode if it takes too many hits. If you don’t die, you’ll at least be out of ammo, so proper allocation is vital.
This is definitely not your typical shooter. It’s going to be slower than most shooters, you’re piloting massive robots, after all, and fights will last longer. Rather than being able to pump a few rounds into a guy’s dome and dropping him in a second or two, you’re going to have to chew through a considerable amount of armor, if you can even hit the guy. Expect fights to last a minute, if not more. But every minute is going to be a white-knuckle, sweaty-palmed adrenaline rush. When’s the last time you were actually excited and nervous during a firefight? Exactly. Never. So why continue playing a game that doesn’t excite or challenge you? If you’re sick of boring, derivative gameplay, I think it’s time you graduated, my friend.
Mechwarrior: Online is set to go into open beta this summer and will start in the year 3049, game-wise. One year before the Clan invasion. Oh, and did I mention there is a galaxy-wide persistent map that you can fight over through canon Battletech factions or by creating your own mercenary group? Do you really think you’re ready for this much fun?