Teased with a concept trailer years ago and officially announced in late 2011, MechWarrior has come a long way since Microsoft gave up developing the franchise with MechWarrior 4 over a decade ago. Developer Piranha Games and publishing partner Infinite Game Publishing officially unveiled the online-focused free-to-play, mech simulation title MechWarrior Online in October of 2011.
In the months following, the first details on MechWarrior Online promised a new type of experience for long-time fans, one that focused on the pillars of role warfare, information warfare and community warfare where players battled on their own or as part of larger mercenary groups and factions for planets across the galaxy. That game, the persistent universe and story, and those features are not exactly what launched yesterday on September 17, 2013 when MechWarrior Online officially dropped its “beta” status.
Since introducing players to the general gameplay of MWO last summer via the closed beta (read our preview – open beta launched last October), the game has always revolved around PvP. It began with 8 vs. 8 team battles where one team wins by killing all of their opponents or capturing their base. Later, a second mode called ‘Conquest’ was added where one team wins by killing the opposition or by earning 750 tickets by capturing the majority of five bases on the map. Over the last few months, MWO has grown to feature 12 vs. 12 combat, later adding a third-person play option, with the goal of letting newcomers have an easier time acclimatizing themselves to piloting a mech whose torso can twist in the opposite direction of the mech’s feet.
This is where the game – at least from a community and PR standpoint – began to stumble. The developers had initially stated that the game would always be first-person only, later changing their tune and explaining that they’d add a separate mode for third-person players. The compromise was generally accepted as players could still play in first-person against players also only playing in first-person, since the fear was that the more arcade-like third-person mode would give users an advantage of seeing around corners and seeing light mechs up close behind them. When third-person was added, none of this was the case and the player pools were shared.
On one hand, the perception was that the developers had gone back on their word twice where on the other, the reality is that third-person doesn’t offer any advantage and the devs explained as much in an apology letter to the community which had begun vocally expressing their dissatisfaction with the game and how the situation was handled. It’s harder to aim and players lose a pair of key HUD features (the map and team status displays) when playing in third-person. Still, judging by the forums, in-game chatter and what the media picked up on, there was a clear misstep in communication between the developers (busy at work) and the players (some who have high expectations after sinking significant amounts of cash into the game based on a set of promised features).
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This was just the beginning and clearly wasn’t what PGI (the developers) wanted to deal with in the road leading up to the launch. For a long time now, the launch of MWO was built up to be the long-awaited beginning of the actual meta game, dubbed Community Warfare. This is the big feature set touted, promoted and described in detail in the months following the game’s announcement in late 2011. We covered it extensively here:
- MechWarrior Online: Community & Information Warfare (December 8, 2011)
- Details on MechWarrior Online Factions, Mercenary Corps & Warfare (January 5, 2012)
Up until a few weeks ago, we were sure that the official release date of MechWarrior Online would mark the launch of Community Warfare and we were wrong, corrected via a series of mentions on the official MWO forums, in emails to us and even a few comments on our site. How is it we had no idea that the launch of the game wasn’t actually the launch of the game announced two years ago? Why is this even a launch?
As it turns out, the “launch” is nothing more than a milestone where the “beta” label could be dropped from the official website and game client. Not only is Community Warfare nowhere to be found, even after a year of a playable beta, but the much-needed user interface upgrade (dubbed UI 2.0) is also not here yet. This information on the lack of new features was only revealed less than two weeks before the game’s release date on the No Guts No Galaxy podcast where PGI’s Bryan Ekman guested for three episodes (beginning here).
Instead, the launch update of MechWarrior Online maintained the status quo and the devs feel the core gameplay mechanics are at a place where they feel satisfied enough to introduce the game to more players. No new mechs, no new map, no new features, no overhauled interface and no beginnings of Community Warfare. The game is the same as it was in the beta, so we wonder why – at a point where the forums are a place of hostility – the game is launching without its most-needed upgrades and without its high-profile features? Should the “launch” of the game be when the “full” game, as originally envisioned and advertised is ready to go?
“Our official launch is a jumping off point for a continuous stream of meaningful content updates to the game. We are looking forward to implementing the next round of major features for our pilots, including an entire new interface, new pilot tutorials, new Mechs and Maps and the long-awaited Community Warfare pillar. This is only the beginning. There is no final product.” - Russ Bullock, president of MechWarrior Online developer Piranha Games.
If the forums (here, for instance), reports of forum moderation, user reviews on metacritic (here), Reddit jokes, and the fact that comments are disabled on the official MWO channel’s launch trailer are of any indication, probably. By launching the game now, the bigger issue the devs face is that they’re inviting publications to review a product that’s not reflective of the entire game (when it’s truly ready for launch) and worse, new players will be entering a situation where in-game chatter and forums are poisoned with community uproar. The timing couldn’t be worse. We were hard-pressed ourselves to find a match yesterday (launch day) where players weren’t being sarcastic about the game’s launch and expressing dissatisfaction with the current status of the title. Again, it’s all about expectations.
The good news, is that despite the negativity, those vocal players are still seemingly playing. The bad news is, it’s truly awful to read nothing but borderline trolling when jumping into a new game experience just to have some fun. Developmental hurdles and overcoming the stigma of high-priced goods in a “free-to-play” game is one thing- and trust us, there are sales being pushed on gamers on a weekly basis – but inviting players into an online game that’s not always welcoming and doing something(s) to upset existing players as much as they seem to be, is another. It’s legitimately worrisome as much as it’s depressing to read the negativity and it all comes down to the devs managing expectations through communication.
Next week is the official MechWarrior Online launch party where details on UI 2.0 and Community Warfare will finally be discussed. Hopefully that will shed light on what’s coming and when, and more importantly, get the disappointed fans excited and positive about the game again. The game is a good one, and fans of mechs and team-based PvP will find a lot to like about the gameplay. There’s a long way to go however, in making MWO more than that though. Expect our full written review in the coming weeks and for now, check out some gameplay of us playing from the early days of beta and present.
Early Beta Gameplay:
The MechWarrior community is a strong and vocal one – and they can be united for good. Just look at what the devs and players accomplished together in raising money in the fight against cancer with the Sarah’s Mech fundraiser. And they will have to unite again – because the clans are coming…
[Update: Piranha Games boss Russ Bullock explains to NGNG why the game launched when it did despite his personal wish for an official release a little further down the road, pointing to PR pressure and business reasons. Inexplicably, the date chosen was the same as the biggest game launch of the year in GTA V and without its two biggest features - As we know now, it's resulted in minimal video game media coverage and a lack of reviews (still zero publication reviews on Metacritic) in the first week]
Have you tried MWO and if not, will you give it a shot? Let us know your thoughts on the game and franchise in the comments below!
MechWarrior Online is available now (for free!).
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.