Guest Author - James Shea
A free-to-play multiplayer reimagining of the classic "Battletech" franchise, Mechwarrior Online is somewhat unpolished in terms of features, but still delivers classic Mech action.
The Battletech universe depicts a far-future scenario where the battlefield is dominated by "Mechs", massive walking machines armed with guns, lasers, and missiles. Battletech has been previously represented by the "Mechwarrior" games, as well as spinoffs like "Mechcommander". Mechwarrior Online is a multiplayer-only game with modern graphics that brings that same experience into a new age of computer technology.
Mechwarrior Online is free to play, and theoretically you can get most of the things you need (aside from cosmetic items like paintjobs) just using in-game money. However, this is a long and arduous process. You get four "trial mechs" who are permanently free but cannot be customized or improved in any way. Buying a decent mech of your own requires you to go through a pretty solid number of battles, and then if you want to buy different parts you're going to need cash for every single bit. Even if you pay with cash, an average mech costs about $7 - not a huge sum compared to the price of a AAA game, but still a bit much considering.
The game itself is pretty good, with the kind of gameplay that captures the essence of the previous games. The game is presented as a first-person view from inside the mech's cockpit (and it's possible to look around in the cockpit and see all the detailed bits and baubles, which are different for each mech). The keyboard is used to control the mech's legs (with the WASD keys), while the mouse controls the torso (aiming and looking). The precision necessary to target with the game's intentionally erratic reticule is coupled with the need for mobility - a balance has to be struck between driving and shooting, since standing still makes you an easier target but also makes it easier to shoot back. Targeting specific body parts is also an important aspect of gameplay, making precision even more important than it normally would be.
The game LOOKS great, too. The particle effects on lasers and missiles are especially nice. The difference between the graphics of the old Mechwarrior games and the new one is evident by the fact that the gameplay footage in Mechwarrior Online looks better than the cutscenes in the older games did. The game's main problem is its limited play modes, but it looks like those should be patched in the future. Other than that, it's a solid game that has some minor issues with its paid content setup - but if you can look past that (considering it's free otherwise), Mechwarrior Online is a great revitalization of the Battletech franchise.