It was over there years ago when a three-minute concept trailer promising the return of the stagnant MechWarrior franchise caught our interest and excitement. That game has undergone substantial changes since its idea phase but lives on as MechWarrior Online, a multiplayer battle arena where pilots sit in the cockpits of giant, bipedal weaponized robots.

MechWarrior is back and we’re happy to say that it’s awesome. Or that it features the mech called the “Awesome.” Both, actually.

Over the past week, we’ve devoted ourselves to playing hours upon hours of MechWarrior Online’s closed beta on a daily basis, trying out every mech, every system and every feature currently available in the beta of the Piranha Games developed title. As a free-to-play online multiplayer game, MechWarrior Online can easily be compared to World of Tanks. In fact, it’s exactly that on its most basic level, but appropriately more tactical, detailed and robotic.

Where the standard battle mode in World of Tanks pits 15 vs. 15 tanks in a World War II deathmatch where one team wins by destroying all enemy units or capturing the enemy base, the one mode available in the MechWarrior Online beta is the same, except 8 vs. 8 (two lances vs. two lances) and taking place in the year 3049.

MechWarrior Online Screenshot Lance

For longtime fans of the franchise, we’re happy to confirm that MechWarrior Online is absolutely the long-awaited and worthwhile successor to MechWarrior 2-4 and its 100% true to the canon. Its control scheme, HUD and even mech customization will all be rightfully familiar to MechWarrior veterans. Players will feel each step and each weapon blast as they enjoy the simulator-esque mech experience that other mech games simply cannot deliver. It’s this gameplay that Piranha Games has absolutely nailed so far and is the key aspect of MechWarrior Online that the closed beta showcases so well.

How To Mech

Large mechs move slowly as small mechs dance around them in circles offering support to friendlies or distractions to enemies, occasionally colliding and knocking each other down (this part is very glitchy but is currently being worked on). Storms of incoming long-range missile fire light up the sky while some of the bolder pilots get in the faces of enemy mechs with flame throwers to overheat their systems. Snipers using long-range ballistic and energy weapons stand upon mountaintops while players who’ve mastered the controls use jumpjets to move their mech into strategic positions. Precision targeting can cripple the legs of mechs, hindering their movement, or blow off entire limbs containing weapons. There are mechs and builds for every role and it’s up to you to define yours.

The core mechanics of MechWarrior Online are successfully implemented, but the user interface both in the mech and in the menus need work before the game reaches its full potential. And by potential we mean MechWarrior Online has the chance to be a genre-defining experience if Piranha Games is able to continually evolve the game with the help of players just like World of Tanks has done with frequent major updates. Let’s break down the nitty gritty details.

MechWarrior Online Screenshot Raven

In its current beta state, MechWarrior Online features nine mechs and four maps (there are more on the way). The maps are completely random in how they’re selected during matchmaking but each is very detailed, very large and perfect in emphasizing how the environment affects gameplay – From the cold temperatures of Frozen City which keep mech heat levels down and laser fire up to the Caustic Valley where the closer you are to the volcanic mountaintop, the more susceptible you are to overheating and shutting down.

While the maps are detailed, they lack interactivity. Piranha smartly designed gameplay so mechs can traverse smaller objects smoothly without hindering player movement, but walking through trees has no effect on said rooted objects, nor does unloading a pile of short-range missiles into the side of a building. As a game that’s still early in its continuous development cycle, we hope to see map objects eventually become a factor in the CryEngine 3-powered gameplay and it is something that’s being worked on. Who wouldn’t want to destroy some bridges that enemy mechs are walking along?

As for the mechs themselves, as soon as players enter the game, they’ll have access to four trial mechs, one for each of the four classes (light, medium, heavy and assault). They’re free to use and freely repair and rearm themselves after each match. By participating in matches with the trial mechs, players earn C-Bills (the in-game currency) which can be saved up until the player has enough to buy a mech of their own. After the initial grind, purchasing a mech opens up the real meat of the game. Using owned mechs allows players to earn more C-Bills per match, earn experience to unlock skills, and allows players to customize the mech design.

The MechLab will quickly become a player’s best friend as they configure the loadouts of their mechs. From armor distribution and heat management, to weapon swapping and sacrificing components for more ammunition, the MechLab is where each player can build a war machine to match their gameplay preferences. But there are restrictions.

Next: Customizing Your BattleMech

« 1 2 3 »