MechWarrior Online Free-to-Play Shooter Playtest (Part 1)

When rolling mechanised death just isn't cutting it, up the tonnage and go for big stompy robots with MechWarrior Online. Playtested here by idiots.

After repeated drubbings in traditional 20th century mechanised armour, the Old Pond Regulars decided a technology upgrade to 31st century armour of the stompy robot variety might change their fortunes. The Inner Sphere of Mechwarrior Online was our destination.

Of the three titles in our playtest, this was the one in which we collectively had the least experience in playing. However, we were all fond of the BattleTech tabletop and roleplaying games of the past as well as the many previous digital iterations. I don't profess to be a lore expert on the MechWarrior universe, but I have dim recollections which might allow me to tell my Jenners from my Hunchbacks and my House Steiner from my Clan Jade Falcon.

It could be argued that our BattleTech history would make as biased toward MechWarrior Online, but I think as fans of the canon, we would be just as likely to be critical of the mishandling of an IP we cherish.

Both SingingBush and Toenailgoblin were “founders” and had some experience of the beta. Additionally, SingingBush had an active premium account and access to a wide selection of mechs. The rest of us had to make do with selecting one of the four available trial mechs, each one of a different weight class and role.

I opted for a Heavy 'Dragon DRG-5N' on the basis it seemed tough enough to survive my inept piloting and it only had a few weapon systems, so I wouldn't get too confused. Bootneck sensibly made the same choice, whilst Toenailgoblin went for a small and manoeuvrable Raven light mech and SingingBush rolled out some blingy 100-ton Atlas assault mech. We waited with anticipation for the first map to load...

The Law of the Seven Ps*

As the match start counted down with ten MechWarriors on each side, I was presented with an impressive but bewildering cockpit, filled with blinking displays and HUD overlay icons. I knew the basic controls, although I'm not very good with them yet. I struggle with the knowledge I'm controlling a biped yet I don't stop walking when I release the 'W' key as my gamer instinct expects, instead charging onward, invariably into a building or a mountainside. This is by no means a criticism, in fact this control feedback is a key device to make it clear that I'm piloting a mass of walking metal rather than a human avatar. It just takes some getting used to.

The independently rotating torso demands even more finely-honed spatial awareness and direction sense and I am sure with the investment of time the control system will become second nature, but I think it's fair to say that effective mech piloting is initially very challenging.

Our first battle was even more bewildering due to the fact that it was night time and it was really, really dark. Apparently, environmental and weather effects are a recent addition so even our font-of-all-knowledge founders didn't know how to deal with it. Not one of us could figure out how to turn on the headlights. Perhaps I should have done some reading beforehand.

*Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance (courtesy of Bootneck’s Royal Marine Commando training)

Next: MechWarrior Online (Part 2)


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Broken paramedic and coffee-drinking Englishman whose favourite dumb animal is an oxymoron. After over a decade of humping and dumping the fat and the dead, my lower spine did things normally reserved for Rubik's cubes, bringing my career as a medical clinician to an unexpectedly early end. Fortunately, my real passion is in writing and given that I'm now highly qualified in the art of sitting down, I have the time to pursue it. Having blogged about video games (well, mostly EVE Online) for years, I hope to channel my enjoyment of wordcraft and my hobby of gaming into one handy new career that doesn't involve other people's vomit.

Published Apr. 3rd 2020

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