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Many MechWarrior fans had all but given up on a new MechWarrior game after ten years of unfulfilled promises, but after seeing MechWarrior Online at GDC we think it's safe to say that the series is totally, completely back. Piranha Games has taken the beloved mech sim and expanded it into an exciting free-to-play shooter that brings the series to the modern era for old and new fans alike.
Piranha has done a great job of making you feel like you're actually in the cockpit in MechWarrior Online. One of the signature MechWarrior elements is that you're not playing as a giant mech, you're playing as a mech pilot, and that's more than just a cosmetic difference. You actually see your arms and legs in the cockpit, and can look down at different meters and valves as you fight.
There's a typical HUD, too, for those interested in jumping to third-person, but there's still an emphasis on monitoring different meters, instead of just watching a health bar. Keeping an eye on this information is vital to success, as mechanics of balancing heat during battle still apply in this new version (as does the ability to stand in water to reduce overheating).
Above: Aim for the big weapons!
Also important is recognizing your enemy and surveying their weaknesses. During our demo the developers pointed at different weapons on the enemy mech, and explained how they were able to tell which parts of their foe was the most powerful. By aiming specifically at those body parts they were able to blow the weapons apart, destroying an enemy mech's arm and knocking that weapon out of commission. It's something that really can't be done in traditional shooters, but works perfectly in MechWarrior.
While the developers are doing a good job of bringing the old mechanics back, it's also making sure to advance the series. The times have changed, and Piranha has included some new elements to make sure that MechWarrior has changed with it. Before, it was often a battle of "who had the biggest mech," but with the new free-to-play model the developer had to create new mechanics to assure that this wouldn't be the case. Now, different types and sizes of mechs (ranging from 20 tons to 100 tons) will be able to work together as a team, with smaller mechs acting like scouts for their larger teammates. We watched as some tiny (if you can call 20 tons "tiny") enemies sprinted past the developer's mech, firing off a few weak shots before returning to the larger mechs to report their findings.
Our time with MechWarrior online was brief, but everything we got a chance to try seemed solid. Though we didn’t get to see them in action, Pirahna has plans for more locations, including urban, desert, icy environments. This, mixed together with some of the plans they talked about the last time we saw the game, should make for some big, hectic battles.
Our only concern is the free-to-play structure, as it's easy to mess up the balance by letting players pay for power. Piranha says that it'll avoid this by implementing a system that's more focused on "time versus convenience." Whether or not this will work is yet to be seen, but we're looking forward to trying it out for ourselves when the open beta launches this summer.
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