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MechWarrior Online Preview

publisher: Infinite Game Publishing
developer: Piranha Games
genre: Action

ESRB rating: RP

release date: 2013
» All About MechWarrior Online on ActionTrip

When I was growing up, all my friends wanted the usual unobtainable teenage desires; free money, fast cars, beautiful women and a cure for acne. Me? All I wanted was a 60 foot tall robot equipped with jump jets and packing enough armaments to level a city block. Years later even though the free money, fast cars and end to the acne never materialized for me, my fantasy of piloting a simulated walking tank has finally been realized by the free-to-play title set for release later this year – MechWarrior Online.

Piranha Games has been working on the first officially licensed MechWarrior game in over 13 years, making use of the CryENGINE 3 to bring those giant mechs to life. What's even better is that since MechWarrior Online is in open Beta, anyone who has a gaming PC and an Internet connection can give MechWarrior Online a try.

When you download the client for and fire up MechWarrior Online (MWO), it’s a good idea to take the time and watch the new pilot training videos on the web site. These short, but very informative, videos allow new players to acquaint themselves with the basics of the game. While MWO may look like yet another First Person, team based shooter; nothing could be further from the truth. Relying heavily on a rock-paper-scissors style of weaponry and combat, smart players soon realize that MWO has more going on under the hood than the normal run and gun. What this means game wise is that MWO allows players a (slightly) slower, more thoughtful approach and therefore, more rewarding style of gameplay.

Currently game types are limited to Assault, where teams of 8 compete to capture the opposing base or eliminate the other team first and Conquest where teams try to capture and hold 5 different locations around the map in a race to earn points (or wipe out the other side first). Both game modes can be played on four different maps that offer different environmental modifiers that affect combat such as hot and caustic (which raises the heat level of weapon systems making you conserve your shots for when it really matters), freezing cold (which cools weapon systems faster) or limited visibility (forcing you to switch between normal, thermal and night vision modes to better track your foes). All maps have varying terrain that allow for a tense game of hide and seek that when used strategically can allow the smart player to get the drop on the other team when seconds count.

Once you hop into a match, you watch from first person view as your pilot initiates a startup sequence and a cool computed voice checks off system status. The cockpit is arranged with switches, display screens and various controls are mainly window dressing, but it is interesting to see how this view changes with differing chassis. It’s a subtle touch and easy to miss, but it shows the attention to detail that is being paid to every part of the game. When everything has checked out as ‘nominal’ you take over the controls and the match begins.

Teams start at either side of the map in a loose cluster. New players might be better off sticking close to the larger guys and observe the other similar sized mechs to see how they fulfill their specific roles.

Graphically, the game is a treat, even though it’s still in ‘beta’. The CryENGINE3 renders Mechs beautifully and in wonderful detail as they pound around the battlefield. When the attacks start flying, damage dealt is reflected by the type of weapon and the affected area. Mechs glow where lasers and PPCs have raked their chassis; Arms are blown free when they take enough damage and the sight of swarms of missiles flying toward you while the claxons wail and the screen flashes missile lock in bright red letters really get your heart pumping.

Even if you watched the training videos you will most likely start panicking when the other team lumbers into view and your mech starts taking damage. The important thing to remember is to stay cool, do what you can to support your team mates and learn what you can from each encounter. It also takes off some of the pressure to know that regardless if you win or lose, you are still going to earn in-game currency that you can use to buy or upgrade your own mechs. However, if you do win, the reward can be substantially larger.

While four trial mechs are available for you to jump in and pilot right off the bat, you also have the ability to purchase your own mech once you have enough currency to do so (more on that in a bit). Mechs are rated in tonnage. The bigger the machine, the more armor and weapons they can carry. Just like your aunt, the bigger they are, the slower they move (Clearly, you don’t know my aunt – Ed. Vader). So, if you want to get the most out of your equipment (no jokes please) while playing a match and be an effective team member, you need to play to the strengths of your mech while minimizing its weaknesses. This is where the game really gets interesting.

Lighter, faster mechs can dart around the battlefield sniffing out and targeting enemies for long ranged team mates, then dashing away before they are blasted into a glowing empty husk. Medium sized support units can deal damage at range while still being mobile enough to get to hot spots before all the action is over. Finally, the largest mechs -- Assault mechs -- are like heavily armed mountains that lumber into the fray while soaking up and dealing out large amounts of damage. Winning teams play to their strengths and support each other. While it’s possible to go out on your own for a little solo hunting and be successful, you will rack up more rewards playing as part of the group.

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