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GDC 2012: Locking on to MechWarrior Online


The notion of strapping oneself into a massive battle robot chassis and duking it out with other 'Mechs appeals to the inner child in all of us (or it should), so it's hard not to feel a tingle of excitement when the makers of MechWarrior Online promise that we'll soon be able to do just that. We caught up with the Piranha Games crew at GDC to become one of the very first non-studio witnesses of MWO's in-game footage and to hear why this is a title that should be on all of our radars.

The team is filled with huge fans of the MechWarrior and BattleTech franchises, so the devs were eager to construct a proper MechWarrior title when Piranha got ahold of the license this year. The studio seized upon the free-to-play model early on as the best way to draw in as many potential 'Mech pilots as possible. It also snagged the CryEngine 3 to provide the best possible graphical fidelity for its product. Unfortunately, it's going to be hard to categorize MWO as "massively," as its non-persistent arena maps will host up to only 24 players in 12v12 fights.

Setting-wise, MechWarrior Online begins in 3049, but that date will keep tempo with the real-world calendar (so tomorrow it'll be March 9th, 3049, and so on). As events happen in the story according to the game's canon, the game will change to reflect that in real-time.

Read on to hear what the devs had to say about two of the game's four pillars: mech warfare and role warfare.

Cockpit view
Mech warfare

Mech warfare is Piranha's fancy term for utilizing the complex 'Mechs in combat. Every cockpit for every 'Mech is unique, as Piranha wants to make the player feel as if he or she is the actual pilot in the machine. The HUD is a vital part of the feedback that will help you control the vehicle, and the devs said that when you take damage, you'll even see instrument panels explode and spark. Lasers will carve lines of molten steel into enemies -- and it'll show -- and explosions will dent armor.

'Mechs range from the light 20-ton models to 100-ton beasts, with front and rear armor to protect the pilot. Weapons can be divided up into three groups, which is helpful when dividing between torso-based and arm based. Interestingly enough, your arms and torso can target different enemies at the same time.

If your 'Mech takes too much damage in a fight, you'll have to take it to the shop and get it repaired before heading out again.

Role warfare

This is one of the most significant advancements in the MechWarrior video game franchise. Previously, players would simply work their way up in weight classes; the heaviest 'Mech was always the best. However, Piranha wants all types of 'Mechs to be viable on this battlefield, so light 'Mechs are extremely useful in providing quick strikes, scouting the environment, and helping to assist with kills.

Essentially, battle 'Mechs come in several different varieties, each with its own role. There are light, medium, heavy, and assult 'Mechs, and these can be adapted to perform in Scout, Striker, and Commander roles. The roles are roughly equivalent to MMO classes so that players can identify more easily with them.

There is another type of warfare in the game that the team briefly mentioned: community warfare. It's in this sphere that you can join mercenary groups to try to take over sections of the world and control the meta-game. Unfortunately, Piranha wasn't quite ready to get into detail about that yet.

We also asked about crafting, and the team said that there is a 'Mech lab that allows players to come up with custom variants of weapons and 'Mechs.

While it doesn't look to be a proper MMO, considering that recent titles like World of Tanks have proven to be immensely popular, we'd be fools not to keep MechWarrior Online on our radar. The title is slated for a summer 2012 release.

Gallery: MechWarrior Online | 8 Photos

Massively sent four resolute reporters to San Francisco to bring you back the biggest MMO news from this year's GDC, the largest pro-only gaming industry con in the world! From games like The Secret World to PlanetSide 2, we're on the case, so stay tuned for all the highlights from the show!

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