Piranha Games, the developers of MechWarrior Online – and saviors of the franchise – took to the Game Developer’s Conference (GDC) this week and while talking with the media, confirmed the launch window for the free-to-play multiplayer mech shooter. MWO will be releasing out of beta this summer, by September 21st at the latest.

Leading up to the launch, key features and an interface redesign will be implemented, meaning the game will be even friendlier to non-mech-experienced gamers and players will finally be able to partake in guilds and faction warfare.

Polygon posted quotes from an interview with Piranha Games president and cofounder Russ Bullock, who outlined three major updates on the road to releasing MechWarrior Online in full this summer.

“Right now the game is 8 versus 8, so you have eight mechs per side. But in the next 60 days, roughly, we’ll be going to 12 versus 12. So you’ll have a full company of BattleMechs, which is BattleTech nerd talk for 12 mechs.”

Over the last two months, two new maps were added to the original mix of four, and both of them represent the largest maps in the game, built for 12 vs. 12 play. The second major update is what Bullock says the company calls “UI 2.0” and it’s a redesigned interface that caters toward helping new players stick with the game long enough to get over the learning curve, because once they do, they’re usually hooked. And MechWarrior is not an easy first-person type of game to pick up for newcomers, thanks to the level of complexity required to customize and control a battlemech that doesn’t always move in relation to where the player (the mech torso) is facing.

MechWarrior Online Jagermech

The third major update is one of the MWO cornerstone features that’s been hyped since the game’s announcement, but totally absent during the beta up until now, and that’s Community Warfare, the meta game, which will introduce the galaxy map, factions, guilds, etc. Piranha Games creative director Bryan Ekman explains:

“We’ve identified three kinds of players. There’s the lone wolf, the guy who doesn’t care about role playing, being a part of any organzational structure whatsoever. Then we have factions, and factions are NPC factions. They belong to the universe, they’re a part of the lore. These are the great houses of BattleTech. These guys participate in territory control in a more passive way. Their matches affect the universe, but indirectly. And then you have the Merc Corps. These are the guilds, these are the clans, these are the guys who come together, band together, fight together and play together and actually want to control as much territory as they can through their actions.”

The lonewolf style of play is what the game currently is. Players pick one of two (currently available) game modes and get a randomly selected map against random players. For the Merc Corps, here’s where some tricky wording from Ekman caused a firestorm among the MechWarrior Online community:

“We’re looking at possibly charging a one-time setup fee. This is just to make sure there’s not a flood of one-player corps… We really want people who participate in this to be as engaged as possible. And we’ll probably require them to have a premium time account, as a kind of dedication level.”

And with that, free-to-play MechWarrior has seemingly entered on a path to pay-to-play, when it comes to the core game experience. Understandably, taken by itself, this statement would mean that PGI pulled a bait-and-switch with the community, detailing the community warfare features for over a year, just to place it behind a pay wall. Immediately the MWO forums lit up, and moderators funneled the topic into a new thread which in the span of a day garnered over 100 pages of player fury, but not to worry. On Twitter, Ekman explained that the quote was misinterpreted, that a subscription is not required to play as a Merc unit, and that subscriptions will not separate players.

Due to the Canadian Easter holiday following the end of GDC – where the interviews took place – PGI has opted to not respond right away and will wait until the weekend is over, meanwhile the pitchforks are raised in the forums. Stay tuned for clarification, but overall, it seems the game will maintain its free-to-play design. We cannot explain the quote at this point however.

MechWarrior Online Heavy Metal Highlander Hero

For active players, Tuesday will see the next major bi-weekly update which will add a new hero mech, the giant bright pink Highlander. The last major update added the Tourmaline Desert map which you can see in action in the video up top. Despite being in beta, MechWarrior Online was nominated for two Canadian Videogame Awards.

Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes and find him on the battlefield @failcube.

Source: Polygon