Social – 4
In the same vein as that disappointing tutorial, MechWarrior Online’s social features are primitive at best. The basics are there – it’s possible to build up a friends list, invite players to a group and block those you don’t get on with, but that’s all. It’s also managed from that awkward client, with almost no control available in-game. More advanced social features, such as clan creation and management, are entirely absent. We’re promised that ‘they’re coming’, but it’s an unforgivable omission in a launched game.
The lack of any form of laddering or league brackets is also surprising. Climbing those ladders is a big motivator for competitive players, with the top brackets becoming an accolade for the best. Although we’re told that an elo system helps to perform matchmaking in the background, the lack of transparency makes it difficult to gauge individual performance.
There’s also a lack of any kind of persistence. With just two game modes – Assault and Conquest – and a dozen or so maps, ‘Mech combat can start to feel repetitive. Faction representation has been added, but doesn’t impact gameplay in any meaningful way. It means that there’s no sense of an evolving conflict, of making gains then falling back. With a rich and diverse lore to pull on, there’s a missed opportunity to wrap those short battles into a much larger interstellar conflict.
Through it all, it’s the fans that are keeping a large part of MechWarrior Online going. Everything, from BattleMech loadout examples and workshops, to clan recruitment and group finding, is handled by a dedicated group of enthusiasts. While it’s great that these facilities exists, I can’t help but think that Piranha rely on their community to do most of the heavy lifting, choosing to ignore or delay adding features that would strengthen the game immensely.
Polish – 4
For a launched title, MechWarrior Online isn’t just unpolished; it’s incomplete in several key areas. The new player experience is shambolic, acting as a test of mental endurance rather than a meaningful welcome into the futuristic universe. The launcher client is an unintuitive, poorly laid-out mess that makes almost every activity a chore. The lack of any wider context – either league laddering or factional persistence – makes MWO feel limited. While some allowance can be made for rough edges, no amount of spackle is going to fill the gaping holes that currently exist.
Over the next few months, Piranha Games has a major challenge on its hands. Will it continue to push out new maps and ‘Mechs to keep existing players interested, or will it switch to working on the basic features and comfort factors the game clearly needs? After waving farewell to that beta label, it’s going to be difficult for them to justify stalling the new stuff in favour of basic housekeeping.
Innovation – 6
In all fairness, MechWarrior Online does bring a fresh and interesting experience to the table. The core experience of ‘Mech combat is good fun, with sprawling maps providing plenty of space for the tactical play that Piranha wants to encourage. Each ‘Mech class has a definite role to play, making battlefield combat a true team-play affair.
When comparing it to Hawken, the other ‘Mech brawler currently in the wild, there are some firm differences in play. Hawken is a much tighter experience, focusing around the rapid combat and respawn mechanics favored by shooters like Team Fortress 2. The pacing is faster, the action more intense. It also benefits from a much more detailed tutorial and in-game support.
But much like PlanetSide 2 is to Team Fortress 2, so is MechWarrior Online to Hawken. They scratch different itches, with one offering immediate action while the other emphasises team-based strategy. Even so, where PlanetSide 2 wraps the experience in a rolling and evolving war, MechWarrior Online has nothing.
At the core, MechWarrior Online delivers deep, fun tactical combat, serving it up with a fantastic visual experience. There are all sorts of nuances and tricks to discover that help set skilled players apart from newcomers. But all of that is squandered by an incomplete wrapping that’s more focused on selling items than covering the basics. This is reinforced by the high price of some item shop ‘Mechs.
The shameful new player experience is one thing, but the lack of any kind of context is the biggest crimp on long-term interest. Acquiring new Mechs and bonuses the more you play is one thing, but in MechWarrior Online that’s the only thing. There’s no team ladder to work your way up, and no factional conflict to give you a reason to fight. It’s just cycling through maps and game modes, with no larger purpose than earning currency.
For an early beta, this would be forgivable but, as a launched game, it falls short of expectations. Unless you have a hunger for heavy metal tactical combat, other titles will provide you with a more meaningful and longer-lasting experience.
Gareth Harmer / Gareth "Gazimoff" Harmer has been blasting and fireballing his way through MMOs for over ten years. When he's not exploring an online world, he can usually be found enthusiastically.dissecting and debating them Follow him on Twitter at @Gazimoff.