A reader writes:
I enjoyed reading your MWO posts, even though I never tried it myself. I came across this article regarding its current state and the ongoing community ragefest: Mechwarrior Online Forum Ragesplosion/
I'd love to hear your take on the situation.
I haven't written about MWO for ages, but I've still been playing it a lot. Well, at least until I got Saints Row IV the other day and started spending my time killing aliens with dubstep while listening to Paula Abdul. (Or possibly the other way around.)
There has indeed been a sudden spike in stories about MechWarrior Online Community Rage, and those stories do indeed reflect a rageful portion of the game's community. But this is of very little importance to casual players. If you like big stompy robot violence, give it a try; you can have a lot of fun with it without paying a penny.
Here some things that can actually ruin an Allegedly Free Game like MWO.
1: Developer goes broke/crazy/off to the Bahamas with all of the money.
2: Technical problems - frequent crashes, things not dying when you shoot them, awful performance on sub-$10,000 computers, et cetera.
3: Zillions of cheaters ruining the game for everyone else.
4: Zillions of griefers ruining the game for everyone else.
5: Zillions of foul-mouthed children attempting to ruin the game for everyone else.
6: Forests of bizarre incomprehensible rules and mechanics that turn off new players, and which even experienced players often can't figure out.
7: Not fun to play for more than ten minutes unless you pay real money.
9: Boringness. Every match is much like the previous. Caused by insufficient difference in stuff you can do, too few levels, too few game modes.
In MechWarrior Online's case:
1: Not a problem. So far as anybody can determine, the developers are getting a reasonable money-flow, and aren't blowing it all on ale and whores. The people complaining about the game are, of course, really complaining about the developers, non-delivery of promised features, delivery of unwanted features, and so on.
Given that development of the game started in late 2011, I think it's in pretty good shape. Which is good, because its non-beta Actual Launch is happening on September the 17th.
(All of the stuff current open-beta players have will carry over into the "Launched" game. There may or may not be any major new features launching along with the game.)
2: There are only minor technical problems. A few players suffer frequent crashes, which may of course just be their computer. Once in a while it crashes for me, too; there is, for instance, a bug that currently crashes the game if too many people have been shooting too many machine guns for too long. But it's basically fine. The game also does not have huge system requirements.
It is currently strangely difficult to hit small, fast 'Mechs - the Spider is currently disproportionately difficult to destroy. There are no major hassles beyond that, though.
3: The only "cheat" that currently exists is Third-Person View (3PV), which is the pole holding up the middle of the Big Top at the Circus of Forum Complaints.
By default the game now starts in 3PV, with your camera above and behind your 'Mech; you can turn of 3PV-on-startup in the options.
The idea of the new view mode, besides letting you see at least the back of your cool paint job, is to help newbies by letting them see their 'Mech from the outside. You're meant to be able to see what direction your walking tank's legs (which are like the tracks of a tank) and your torso (the tank turret) are pointing. This reduces the amount of time newbies spend rubbing on buildings and wondering why they're not going anywhere.
3PV is moderately useful for this, but the view is close enough to your 'Mech that you actually can't see the legs of many larger models. Which is a bit silly. 3PV also makes aiming a bit more confusing, because your targeting reticle is still "projected" from the 'Mech's cockpit; this makes it seem to jump around the landscape from the higher point of view of the 3PV drone.
F4 toggles 3PV mode, and you can see who's using it because the 3PV "camera" is actually visible in the game - it's a little floating drone with a red flashing light on it that you, and your enemies, can see clear across the map. (The drone is indestructible, but highly visible.)
In certain situations...
...you can use 3PV to see the enemy without them being able to see anything but your drone. This can be very bad news in "pro" games, and it's fairly bad news in normal games, because there are a lot of snipers in the game at the moment. This gives rise to a lot of matches that involve people hiding behind hills or buildings, trying to spot the enemy, then popping out for one shot and hiding again.
I, however, do not often find myself in a snipe-fest game, mainly because I play the "Conquest" game-mode (stand on various spots to "capture" them and add their points accumulation to the team total), rather than the simpler team-deathmatch "Assault" mode (which still has capturable bases at each team's start point, but you're only meant to capture those as a last resort, or to conclude a game where you can't find the last surviving baddie).
Organised snipers can still pretty much lock up a Conquest win, but it really doesn't seem to happen much, and I don't see much 3PV peeking either. If I played nothing but Assault, and if my Elo score were good enough that the game kept throwing me into games with "pro" players, I'd probably be much more annoyed about this.
The sniping problem has been exacerbated by the fact that the last big patch for MWO introduced the "12v12" game mode, putting 24 players on the field (provided the matchmaker can find that many before its timer runs out...) rather than the previous 16. Even in 8v8 there were often situations where one schmuck wandering out into view of the enemy team was killed before he could get a single shot off; that's now 1.5 times as likely.
Again, though, I haven't found this to be a major problem - it just encourages more tactical play and situational awareness. And being aware of where your guys are and where the enemy probably are is actually harder in 3PV mode, because in 3PV you don't have a minimap. It also takes two seconds to deploy or recover the 3PV drone, so you can't just keep quickly flicking between modes to keep an eye on everything at once.
6: Confusing rules? Ghost heat. Oh, lawdy, ghost heat.
Just go to the Smurfy stats page and scroll down to "Heat Penalties per weapon"; the orange numbers (with details when you hover the mouse pointer over them) tell you how much extra heat you get if you fire more than X of weapon-type Y within one second of each other. Penalties for SRMs and Streak SRMs are small, for other stuff are larger, for AC/2s are kind of buggy last I looked, it's all a complete schemozzle.
Just don't install more than the green-number quantity of a given weapon class and you don't have to worry about this crap at all. It's a silly mechanic, and I hope they scrap it.
Besides that, the only really confusing thing in the game at the moment is ECM, which when it was introduced was pretty close to all-powerful. Now, ECM can not only be countered by an enemy ECM in the correct mode or inactivated by a TAG laser fired from outside its range but inside the TAG's range but now the Beagle Active Probe also neutralises a single ECM within 150 metres and your ECM will also be neutralised for four seconds if you're hit with a PPC or ERPPC.
Fortunately, this is not actually very annoying in play. If you're a newbie and don't have ECM of your own, then you still can sometimes target enemies and sometimes not, depending on the state of the ECM chessboard. If you're a newbie in one of the 'Mechs that does have ECM, just resign yourself to the ECM sometimes not working.
Oh, and there's some weird stuff involving missile tubes at the moment, too. Not only can it be difficult to get your LRM 15 shooting out of the missile mount on your 'Mech that has 15 tubes, and your LRM 5 shooting out of the mount with six tubes, but in certain situations some 'Mechs shoot more missiles than the launchers should have, apparently with completely corresponding damage done and ammunition consumed.
Again, though: Not a game-breaker.
7: No, you don't have to pay real money to have a good time. You don't even have to pay real money to get "General XP" to unlock fancy modules and such; you make GXP (very slowly) in normal play. The "Hero" 'Mechs that can only be bought with real money vary from "lousy" to "OK".
8: MWO is fairly grindy at the moment. They reduced money rewards in the big 12v12 patch, and it does indeed now take rather a while for a non-real-money player to earn enough to buy and kit out a big 'Mech. You still get a fountain of money in your first 25 games, though, so newbies can get into anything they like quite quickly.
By the standards of really grindy free-to-play games, MechWarrior Online is quite mild. This is not much of a compliment, though; Koreans be crazy.
9: On the boringness front, MWO currently has only two game modes, not very many maps, and no overarching galaxy-conquest metagame. But there's a lot of 'Mech customisation possibilities, so anybody who likes stompy-robot games is likely to find MWO diverting for quite a long time just as it is.
If you play high-level Assault games then the infestation of snipers may indeed make your game more boring; it's not very exciting to be a sniper, either. Conquest in the middle of the Pick-Up-Game pack, though, is quite varied, especially if you've got a few very different 'Mechs to pilot.
The only really serious missing feature in MWO, if you ask me, is a good way for PUG gamers to communicate with each other. At the moment there's text chat... and that's it. No quick text-chat macros, no voice chat. (There's some voice-chat thing that's partially integrated with the game, but you have to install it separately and nobody uses it.)
There's a half-decent command mode, though, with a full suite of move-to-here, attack-this, defend-this sorts of waypoint commands. Few PUGs feature anybody using this mode, but there's nothing stopping you grabbing command for yourself and trying to herd the cats.
Overall, MechWarrior Online is not fatally flawed, or a pain to play. And you really can play without spending a penny, though realistically you're likely to end up dropping at least ten to twenty bucks if you really enjoy the game.
I'm still going to be jumping over buildings and blowing up tanks with missiles from my power-armour in Saints Row IV for another day or three. But I have played a lot of MWO, and needed the holiday. Do feel free to check it out in my absence.
Changes relevant to this post:
* There's a little tutorial now, which takes you through elementary movement, but not weapons. Better than nothing.
(To get to the tutorial, click the "Game Modes" button, which is next to the big "Launch" button. Game Modes also lets you go to the Training Grounds, where you can plod around an empty map and shoot stationary enemies.)
* PPCs, ERPPCs and Gauss Rifles have been nerfed in various ways as a further anti-sniper effort. Gauss projectiles are now much faster, but all other news for these weapons is bad.
* The third-person camera now gives a better view of your 'Mech's legs.
* Changes to hit-detection and ping-compensation code which may make it possible to shoot a bleeding Spider once in a while.
Also relevant to new players: The new patch has changed the "trial" 'Mechs (which anybody can play without buying them) again, too. Now they're a stock Raven, Quickdraw and Stalker, and a "Champion" Centurion-A.
The stock tabletop builds used to be all you ever got as a trial 'Mech, which was bad, because it meant newbies' first experience of the game was always in something that doesn't work right in MWO. Almost all stock builds run way too hot, have far too little armour, or both.
The addition of "Champion" builds to the trials has helped a lot, because Champ 'Mechs are community builds with quite good loadouts. But this time the stock 'Mechs aren't too dreadful either. The Quickdraw-4G runs too hot and is missing some armour, but the trial Raven-3L is not too dreadful and has ECM, allowing newbies to play with that a bit. The trial Stalker-5M is only missing a little armour and actually has a decent number of double heat sinks; it still runs hot because of all those lasers, but having more guns than it can safely fire at once is the whole idea of the Stalker.