The appeal of piloting a robot to competitively blow up other giant robots should be obvious. Yet the acclaimed mech-warfare franchise MechWarrior has been utterly silent for nearly ten years, when the last iteration of the series – MechWarrior 4 – hit PCs back in 2002. Developer Piranha Games is currently working on reinvigorating the series with MechWarrior Online, a free-to-play PC title set within the classic BattleTech universe. This writer sat down with Piranha Games to see how MechWarrior Online was shaping up.
MechWarrior Online, much like previous titles, takes place in an interstellar region of space called the “Inner Sphere.” In MechWarrior Online, the Inner Sphere shares a living timeline with the real-world – that is to say, a day that passes in the real world passes in the game’s Inner Sphere. Friday, April 13th 2012 is Friday, April 13th, 3049 in the Inner Sphere. As a result, the world of Mechwarrior Online is always active and changing based on player actions or in accordance with major events in the BattleTech universe’s robust history.
Factions and territory are crucial in MechWarrior Online, as the Inner Sphere is broken up into several warring parties. These factions control the planetary resources within their region in the Inner Sphere, and are constantly fighting with other factions for territory. Players will be caught in the middle of this power struggle and must choose who to side with – they can remain neutral, aid a particular faction, or join a mercenary corp.
Piranha Games really wanted to emphasize the idea of piloting a mech (as opposed to players associating themselves with the mech itself). As a result, the in-game HUD depicts the pilot sitting within the mech’s cockpit. Players can look around to study the various monitor displays, each revealing crucial information about the terrain and mech. This information includes the throttle speed, heat meter (mechs shut down when they overheat), the mech’s weapon readout, damage/armor conditions and more. Keeping track of all of this information is pivotal to properly piloting a mech. As players look out of the cockpit window, they will notice two targeting crosshairs – one corresponds to weaponry mounted on the mech’s torso, while the other aims the mech’s arm weaponry. These can be aimed independently, giving pilots the ability to aim and fire at different targets.
Once the hurdle of piloting a mech has been overcome, players must learn how to engage enemies. Acquiring and maintaining target information requires direct and indirect detection – players must make use of radar, satellite scanning, UAV, thermal and night vision upgrades, and allied units to detect and keep track of enemies. Players also have access to evasive countermeasures to help keep themselves hidden. These include false beacons (spoofers), scrambling devices/disruptors, and the like.
There are four base roles players should consider when fighting with and customizing their mech. MechWarrior Online is a multiplayer game, and overcoming enemies takes teamwork and coordination, which requires that players assume certain roles in combat. Mechs themselves are designed with specific roles in mind, as they vary in size and weight to suit specific tasks. The four combat roles in MechWarrior Online are:
- Scouts, who are intended to venture out and gather intel for the team.
- Defenders, which are more sentinel-like, and focus on holding ground and protecting allies,
- The assault role, which focuses on taking down enemy units and advancing the front line.
- The command role, which is perhaps the most crucial for team play. A “lance” (team of four) of mechs must be led by commanders. Lance commanders must direct and coordinate with the other three players to take down targets and advance. Three lances form what the Battletech universe calls a company, which is led by one of the three lance leaders. This company leader must coordinate with his two lance commanders to make important decisions in the battlefield.
Finally, Piranha Games revealed information about the customization of mechs in the their most recent dev blog, detailing the “MechLab.” In essence, certain regions on a mech’s chassis are receptive to specific weapon types. Each location on the mech also has a limited number of slots in which weapons can be equipped. So long as the weapon systems equipped on the mech do not exceed its maximum allowed weight, and fit within the allowed location slots, players can arm themselves however they wish. The MechLab also allows players to allocate and distribute armor throughout the mech’s frame, select modules (skills and perks), and even customize the visual appearance of their mech.
As stated earlier, MechWarrior Online is a free to play online multiplayer title currently being developed by Piranha Games. It is scheduled for release later this year. You can read more about MechWarrior Online by visiting the official website.
MechWarrior Online GDC 2012 trailer: