I’ve been beta testing this multiplayer battle arena style game for a while now, last week it went into open beta and I’ve been playing it, here are my thoughts below.

I’ve been a fan of the Mechwarrior IP ever since I first bought Mechwarrior 2 way back, it came on several discs and had an opening cinematic and musical score which was for its time, truly epic. Mechwarrior 4 was my first online game using a 56k modem and I spent about a year playing competitively in various leagues as part of a Ghost Bear clan. After a long hiatus the Mechwarrior IP has returned with Mechwarrior Online or MWO for short.

It’s multiplayer only at the moment, teams of 8 players match up on battlefields representing different environments or “planets”. You choose your mechs, earn cbills as money and experience to unlock skills for each mech chassis. You can buy new mechs, new weapons etc and progress by acquisition of more of both. There will eventually be more match types, 12v12 teams and a campaign of global conquest in the form of a star map. All this is future progress though and currently the game is very bare bones, classified as “open beta” it’s very much an unfinished game, definitely not the sort of open beta purely for marketing purposes.

Personally, while I could see the potential during beta, enough to convince me to become a founders member, laying down advance cash before it was finished, it isn’t quite there yet. Players should be aware of its flaws as both an unfinished game and an unpolished one.

For example the major issue for most new players is the poor match making, currently random players grouped up into a team can be pitched against organised teams on voice coms. This is an unfortunate setup as it often leads to those unorganized teams getting repeatedly beat up on without much hope of equal competition, unless they too find an organised team. This is creating bad will among the community, organised teams feel threatened by all the complaints and solo players are not enjoying an equal chance of victory. There is a patch tomorrow which should hopefully address this problem by reducing the maximum organised team from 8 players to 4, meaning every team will have a minimum of 4 solo players. I don’t think it’s enough, but it’s a start.

The real fun happens when the competition is fairly matched, 8 random vs 8 random is great, 8 team vs 8 team is also great and I have spent days playing in both team and solo mode. There are some under powered weapons and some overpowered weapons, as is typical of any competitive game, players find what’s wrong and then either exploit it or feel wronged by those that do. It’ll be a forever ongoing process but I’m convinced it’s getting there.

Soon there will be ways to customise the appearance of your mech, the paint scheme, nose art, cockpit decorations and the like, there is currently only one premium mech you can only buy with money but there will no doubt be others. Some people are convinced the premium mech is wrong but it is in fact done in the best possible way, its weapons and armor are not better than what any free player can already use, the only benefit is a slightly higher bonus to money reward multiplier at the end of a match, which means if you do well in it you will reap the rewards and even if you don’t you’ll probably still make a modest profit.

There are currently 4 map types with different weather and combat conditions. with more on the way, There is a decent selection of available mechs and variants although more is always welcome and will no doubt be added when ready. I think performance and stability still need work, I also think they need to reduce their reliance on post processing effects, motion blur, fog and haze, because they made a pretty game and then made it look rubbish beyond 100 meters to try to make performance manageable. My pet hate really, games trying to look good rather than be good and I think trying to make the game look attractive rather than functional has caused huge problems in both performance optimization and gameplay feel. Still it’s something that will constantly be worked on and so it will improve.

Right now, it’s ok for a free game and decent if you’re in a team before you launch the game. There are plenty of voice coms set up for free by the community and they can all be accessed via the forums, however if you’re insistent on playing solo with 7 other random players, you may want to wait until after Tuesday 6th Nov patch, because then there will be less chance of organised teams farming you for easy kills.

I believe this game will grow and improve dramatically, I just believe it needs time to develop and should not be judged too harshly within its first weeks of open beta. Piranha games seem to know their IP and are on the right track ensuring not to offer competitive advantages for money. If they keep this up and add some more maps/mechs and match types, this will be a rival for world of tanks. Give it a try, if you like it great, if not, consider coming back in a few months, when all the teething problems have been smoothed out.