New Mechwarrior Online Patch Makes the Game Fun, Finally
The last time I spoke about Mechwarrior Online (MWO), I had yet to get my hands on it. Since that time the game has entered Open Beta, welcoming one and all to the Inner Sphere. It just received a rather large patch that has made the game easier than ever to get into.
Up until now, anyone entering the game would be facing an uphill battle. In MWO, owning your own mech is key to advancing in the game. Without one, you’re relegated to using one of a rotating selection of “trial mechs.” Like many free-to-play games, MWO uses two currencies in-game, C-Bills and Mechwarrior Credits. You earn C-Bills through normal play, and pay for Mechwarrior Credits with real-life money. You can use either to buy a mech, and they cost considerably less Mechwarrior Credits than C-Bills.
That’s fine if you’re willing and able to lay out money, but if, like me, you’re not so keen on paying money to play what is till very much a Beta, then you were faced with a fairly harsh grind.
Before the recent patch, earning enough C-Bills to pick up your own mech was hard going, with an average player needing literally weeks of playtime to earn enough for a medium-weight mech. That would maybe be fine if MWO was styled as a twitch response game along the lines of Hawken or Team Fortress 2 — games where quick responses and sharp reflexes can generally win you the day without too much trouble. MWO however, is a different beast.
The mechs in MWO have weight, heft, and momentum, and the weapons have reassuringly meaty feel to them and incoming weapons fire. Even the lightest mech can take a fair amount of punishment before going down. While it’s possible to jump into the game and run around spam-firing all of your weapons simultaneously, you won’t get far. MWO is a game that rewards patience. There are four classes of mech; Light, Medium, Heavy, and Assault, and each class suits a different playstyle. Within each weight class, there are a number of mechs, each of which has a different feel to it. Getting to know your mech, customising its weaponry and equipment, and finding a playstyle that suits you are all keys to success. It’s a game that you have to spend time with to get the most out of it.
One of the reasons that you need to spend that time is that the longer you play, the more Experience Points (XP) you build up. You spend XP on various abilities, unlocking passive abilities that give you an edge in-game, for example, allowing your mech to move or turn faster or withstand more heat before shutting down. Before the latest patch, you didn’t earn any XP while playing, unless you had your own mech, meaning that earning money to buy your own mech was just the first step in the aforementioned grind. With the new patch, you can earn XP even in a trial mech, which not only helps close the gap between new players and older ones, but encourages experimentation with a mech or weight class you may not have tried before.
Cash flow is also much easier to handle now. You no longer need to spend money repairing and rearming your mech after every round; this is particularly helpful if you’re still struggling to find your feet. Plus, new players get a bonus of just under 8 million C-Bills after completing 25 matches. To put that in perspective, 8 million is more than enough to buy two mechs of your own, and previously could have taken months of play to earn. You should be able to complete 25 matches in a few days, meaning you should be able to feel as if you actually have a chance in a much shorter time.
Of course, it’s not all free money and fun times. As I mentioned near the top of the article, MWO is still very much in Beta, and as such there are a few things very poorly implemented or simply missing completely.
The first and most obvious of which is a tutorial. MWO is crying out for a proper tutorial. At the moment, the closest the game has to one are a series of ‘Training Ground‘ videos. While they’re useful, they’re nowhere near a match for a proper in-game, hands-on tutorial. I’m fortunate in that I’m familiar with the lore and story of the Mechwarrior universe, which gives me a headstart. I already know the difference between a Heavy Laser and a PPC, why I have to monitor my heat closely, and why alpha striking is a risky maneuver. I know what CASE is, and why you should invest in it. A brand new player, however, isn’t likely to be blessed with my wasted youth and love of 1980′s tabletop wargames. Sadly, there’s almost no explanation of these terms and concepts in-game.
Nor is there a decent walkthrough of the Mech Lab where you buy, customise and upgrade your mechs. There’s no clear way of comparing the benefits and hazards of various kinds of weapons against each other outside of expensive trial and error. It would be nice to see an actual training ground where you could pilot your mech against some AI-controlled enemies or even static targets. That being said, the removal of rearming and repairing costs also removes some of the risk involved with experimenting, so that isn’t a huge issue. To get a real handle on the foundations of the game, you either have to dig through the forums looking for ‘Getting Started’ posts or go to an external fan site to learn about the game. I’m all for community engagement, but … damn.
I’ll take a brief moment here to mention the guys over on the No Guts No Galaxy podcast. Phillip, Daeron and the rest of the guys have released an impressive amount of content in the shape of some very well-done podcasts. Take some time and check them out.
Yet another glaring oversight, is the poor social tools in the game. Yes, you can tag players as “Friends” so you can see when they’re online and group up with them, but outside of that, there’s not much else going on. There’s no way to create Corporations (MWO’s version of guilds or clans) yet, and no voice chat. While this wouldn’t normally be a huge issue in a Beta, MWO thrives and relies on teamwork and co-operation if you want to win matches on a regular basis.
If you’ve been on the fence about trying Mechwarrior Online, now is most definitely the time to do it. It’s still a little rough around the edges, but it won’t cost you anything to dip your toes in. If you see someone flailing around in a Hunchback HBK-4h, trying to look smarter than they are, wave hello, it just might be me.