Think of MechWarrior Online’s bipedal metal beasts not as an Iron Man suit that moves like a gigantic armored human, but as a walking tank that you drive. That’s the mental adjustment I had to make before I could get the hang of the mechs I drove into 4v4 combat with IGN’s Anthony Gallegos (read his MechWarrior Online preview here) and Piranha Games’ team of developers.
Though I had some great moments slugging it out in the heavier mechs, my proudest came while playing as a nimble, ostrich-like Jenner, which I’d outfitted myself in the Mech Garage with a pair of the heaviest lasers it could carry. The drawback to that loadout is a severe danger of overheating: firing more than one blast without waiting for them to cool down could cause a shutdown and turn my fragile mech into a sitting duck for a few seconds. But especially relative to the lumbering Atlas assault mech and the sturdy medium Hunchback, this thing moves startlingly fast and can use jumpjets to fly out of harm’s way, so I figured a hit-and-run attack style was exactly what I needed.
Getting my Mech Legs
As I relearned the controls of mech piloting (it’s been a while since MechWarrior 4) it often seemed like the metal beasts I drove had minds of their own. Instead of moving forward when you hold the W key and stopping when you release, these behave more like a throttle on boat or a plane. You set your walking speed, and the mech will continually march ahead at that pace until told to speed up, slow down, or stop… or until it gets blown up. And then there’s the steering — that’s done with the A and D keys, because moving the mouse rotates the mech’s torso like a turret.
It’s disorienting at first, but I couldn’t be happier — it means MechWarrior Online plays like a real, traditional MechWarrior game and not a typical first-person shooter in a MechWarrior skin. Piloting one is a different skill to master, and a challenge that’s welcome for those of us who’ve already gotten about as good as we’re going to get at first-person shooters and want to try something a little different.
As our team (or Lance, in MechWarrior lingo) marched forward to meet the enemy in the middle of the large rocky, lightly forested map with a wide river through it, we busied ourselves with the fiddly process of mapping our weapon groups to the mouse buttons and number keys — handy for managing heat and ballistic ammo use. I used the Jenner’s jumpjets to perch on a hill looking down on the valley, and though I was quickly chased off by laser fire, my team was already using the targeting data I’d relayed them to lock on and launch volleys of missiles from halfway across the map — one of the main advantages to having a scout in play.
RoboDavid vs MechaGoliath
What began as a 4v4 match soon whittled down to me and an allied long-range Catapult mech against a lone enemy Atlas. It’s two on one, sure, but that Atlas is mean, carrying a full arsenal of powerful particle projection cannons (PPCs) and assorted lasers, plus long-range rocket pods and nigh-impenetrable armor.
As a light mech against a heavy I was badly mismatched, but while my ally survived I felt like we had a chance: whenever the Atlas turned to track down the source of the missiles raining down on him from afar, I’d dart out from behind cover, zap him in the relatively vulnerable rear armor with heavy lasers, and jump-jet over a rock to take cover again before he could swivel his guns to target me. That tag-team approach showed how two coordinated light mechs can ruin a heavy’s day. That is, until my ally failed to dodge a missile barrage and got himself killed; then it was just me and the Atlas. I still made him work for it.
MechWarrior Online isn’t about bringing targets down quickly with headshots. (Hell, some don’t even have heads.) Battles are much more about consistency: picking a body part and hitting it until it blows off. I targeted the Atlas’ right arm as I strafed by at top speed, using jumpjets erratically to throw off his aim, hoping to disable at least some of the laser-hell chasing me everywhere I ran. Since there’s no way to repair in the field, that could’ve evened the odds a little.
On One Leg
But it was only a matter of time before his PPCs took a leg out from under me. It didn’t kill me outright, but it did rob my poor little Jenner-that-almost-could of the only thing keeping me alive: speed. The Atlas closed in for the kill, shrugging off my last laser blast as it pummeled me to dust with rockets. So I lost, and lost hard, but it was a well-fought battle — and any time the most memorable story of an afternoon of matches was a battle you lost, it generally bodes well for a game.
While the Atlas is definitely the most powerful raw combatant in MechWarrior Online right now, Piranha says that, as with all class-based games, it’ll be balanced so that a team of all Atlases is going to have a rough time. Only after my glorious death was it pointed out that I didn’t need to defeat the Atlas in single combat to win — I could’ve lured him to the middle of the map, then bolted for his base and captured it before he could lumber back. Oh.
I’m looking forward to trying out a massive 12v12 match, and with the free-to-play model, it won’t be hard to find enough players to fill it. Keep an eye on the mountaintops when the the beta opens up at an undisclosed time this summer — you might just see a Jenner up there relaying your location back to his friends.
Got questions about how MechWarrior Online plays? Leave’em in the comments and I’ll answer as many as I can. And don’t forget to check out all the fresh new MechWarrior Online screenshots!