Rise of the Mechs
Seemingly by coincidence, two free-to-play online mech games are releasing relatively soon: Hawken and MechWarrior Online. MechWarrior Online (MWO) is being developed by Piranha Games and published by Infinite Game Publishing. MWO is currently in open beta, allowing players to join the battle by registering a free account through their website and downloading the client and patches. Hawken, on the other hand, is still in closed beta, but the open beta begins December 12 for anyone with a passing interest. Hawken is the first title from the independent developer Adhesive Games and published by Meteor Entertainment.
For the passing observer, these two titles may appear to be, for all intents and purposes, identical. In reality, this is far from the truth. MechWarrior is a long-standing franchise set in the science fiction universe of BattleTech. As such, MWO takes this beloved ancestry and emphasizes the creation of the universe to pull in fans. The game is set in 3049 AD with a 1:1 timeline, meaning that for every day that passes in real time, a day passes in 3049. Furthermore, there are six different factions in the BattleTech universe, and the implication of impending clan wars.
Mentioning the real time mechanic on the official MWO website is a curious decision that implies that there will be events over the course of the game that are restricted to specific dates, which could be quite immersive and quite interesting. Hawken forgoes this approach, instead settling for a vague future setting with “immersive alien landscapes.” By no means does this negatively impact the title, but just focuses more tightly on the gameplay.
Both MWO and Hawken allow an impressive degree of customization so each pilot can make custom loadouts to fit different play styles. There are also varying classes of mechs: light, medium, and heavy. MWO has a fourth class called assault, which are far and away the largest mechs. As to be expected, the lighter mechs have less armor but are much more mobile than their heavier counterparts. The light mechs are my personal favorite, as the ability to choose your engagements and flank the enemies proves to be more effective than the brute force heavies and assault mechs offer (although there is a certain joy in releasing massive volleys of rockets to demolish the opposition). The main difference in gameplay between these two titles is that MWO takes a much more simulated approach than Hawken.
In Hawken, each mech has boosters for rapid traversal of the environment and the ability to dash sideways to avoid incoming missiles. While every mech uses boosters, the heavier mechs are slower and use more fuel so they will never match the mobility of a lighter mech. That said, the speed at which the mechs can accelerate and dash away from incoming missiles is unrealistic, if not comical. MWO is slower paced, but more tactical approach to combat. Getting up close and personal with other players in Hawken is a legitimate approach, especially when considering the special abilities each class of mech has.
For example, a class called the Berserker has an activated ability that increases the damage you deal for a short period. On the other hand, the more open maps and longer ranges of weapons in MWO means running straight into the fray across a large open area means you are likely to get shot to pieces before being useful. This leads to another major difference between these two games; Hawken allows for players to respawn over the course of a match, MWO does not. Once you are destroyed in MWO, you enter spectator mode; you watch the match run its course, but you are of no more use to the team. There have been comparisons of Hawken to Call of Duty. Assuming this is the case, MWO would be more along the lines of Counter-Strike.
As mentioned earlier, both Hawken and MechWarrior Online are still in their respective betas. As such, my experiences are not one hundred percent indicative of the final product. While I enjoyed both games thoroughly, I find myself leaning towards Hawken as my game of choice, as I prefer the more action oriented combat. Since both games will be free-to-play upon their release, feel free to give each title a try and let me know in the comments below as to which you prefer and why.