Tuesday, January 13, 2015

MechWarrior Online Perspectives Part 1

I have a million things to say about MechWarrior Online (MWO) and this post is only the first of many. MWO is a free to play game (get your boos out now) I have been playing since early closed beta in 2012. It is an arena mech combat simulation in the vein of the old MechWarrior games from the 1990’s. Of course MechWarrior is an offshoot of the old 1980’s Battle Tech table top miniatures game (the MechWarrior games benefit and suffer from this fact). If all of that is confusing to you, think about it like this, you are the pilot of a giant walking tank/robot shooting huge cannons, missiles and lasers at other giant walking tank/robots. Now go clean yourself up so you can finish reading.

I have watched MWO and its community grow and change and argue. It has been an interesting experience because I always felt like more of an observer than I did a participant. I play the game daily and occasionally post on the forms under Hobo Dan. But I rarely play in a group and mostly run the builds I like, not what the dreaded “meta” suggests. My KDR (Kill to Death Ratio) is probably well below the basic standards competitive groups would consider average, but I care not for their tomfoolery. Besides, once upon a time, in a world long forgotten, videogames were meant to be fun, right? I am writing a gaming blog and I must post about the game that, while maybe not my favorite, currently occupies the majority of my play time.

So first I would like to warn you, I have spent real money on this game. Yes, it is free to play. What I have found is that spending money on free to play has made me somewhat defensive of the flaws of the game. I can see then, I can attest to them, but the game is stuck on me in a way I cannot fully understand. Take that into consideration upon judging the opinions that follow.

The shear and utter lack of a new user experience in MWO was lost upon me until this holiday season. In a multiplayer mech shooter, I’ve played a large majority of my games solo. I started playing the game fresh out of the box and have adapted and changed along with it. So when my younger brother got a PC capable of playing MWO for Christmas, I was excited to have a teammate for once. Then he booted it up and I witnessed the awful truth first hand. MechWarrior Online is a monumental dick to new players.

The game has one tutorial that it asks you to play upon logging in. It covers basic movement and shooting, then the game drops you off in the MechLab with not a C-Bill (the in game currency) to your name and says “good luck figuring out 30 years of Battle Tech mech construction rules”. New players who choose the free to play route have only trial mechs as a playable option for between 10 to 15 matches. The player cannot customize trial mechs and only a limited number of trials are available at a time (usually 2 per weight class). Trials aren’t too bad to pilot, and things were much worse for noobs back when the trail mechs were all stock builds. But having this very limited variety is sad. Chances are you’ll drop into a match, see a totally kick ass mech waging a relentless battle against you, only to find you cannot get access to it via trial mechs and it costs 8 million C-Bills just to get the sucky stock chassis, let alone upgrade it.

The game does inject new player’s accounts with extra C-Bills for their first 25 matches, but having any idea what to do with these funds is near impossible. The urge to buy and customize your own mech is strong and without guidance, making a poor decision is easy. I conversed with my brother for an hour over what chassis he should get once he had the cash. At my suggestion, he got a Shadowhawk. A 55 ton medium mech that was cheap enough to have funds left over for customization. Without my guidance, he could have easily purchased a 100 ton Atlas, and been laughed off the battlefield when he ran it stock because he had no left over C-Bills for upgrades.

Players willing to put down some cash are not as hobbled since you can buy the stock mechs for MC (real money) and save your C-Bills for upgrades. But why put down cash if you’re not sure you even like the game? The whole point of free to play is that you can play for free to see if you like the basic gameplay. On top of new and more extensive tutorials for basic gameplay, MWO really needs a MechLab tutorial and Purchasing Guide. I also think a free mech just for signing up would do a lot to help new players out.

I love MechWarrior Online and I want to see it succeed. There is word on the street of a Steam launch in 2015, which would be great for player numbers. But if they don’t fix the new player experience first, I’m afraid it will be a waste.

MechWarrior Online is developed by Piranha Games Inc. (PGI) and is available free to play on their website. If you are interested in jumping into the deep dark waters of mech combat in the year 3051, hit me up, it is smashing good fun once you get your feet wet.

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