Game Name – Mechwarrior Online
ESRB Rating – N/A
Genre – Vehicular Combat, Action
Educational Values – Teamwork, Strategy, Leadership, Tactics, Analysis
Platforms – PC
Where to buy – Download it for Free here
When should you buy it? – When you are looking to pilot a 50 ton avatar of destruction across the battlefield.
About the Game
The Mechwarrior franchise started back in the 80’s as a board game. It has since expanded over the years into a series of collectible card games, tabletop games, and video games. Mechwarrior Online is one of the video games (natch) and allows a gamer to pilot a giant robotic Battlemech or “Mech” in combat against other pilots from around the world in giant team arenas. Your character or “pilot” can purchase and own several Mechs, deciding at the beginning of each round which one to take into battle.
This game is Free to Play and can be downloaded from their website after creating a free account. As is common in Free to Play games, there are opportunities within the game to spend money. Some of the items that you can purchase include custom Mechs, experience accelerators, toys and bobbleheads for your cockpit, etc. All of the items that can be purchased enhance the gaming experience, but none of them provide someone with an overwhelming advantage on the battlefield.
Each round of Mechwarrior Online is called a “Drop”; you can drop alone or with a group of up to 12. If you head in alone, you are matched up with a group of random players. Dropping with a group improves communication and keeps your team working together. Whether that involves moving to a location together, coordinating fire on targets, or supporting someone who runs into trouble, this communication is crucial for winning a round. A pre-built team that works well together will almost always triumph over a Pick Up Group (PUG) made of random players.
There are currently two game-styles in Mechwarrior Online. The first, Conquest, involves five ‘control points’ that need to be captured and maintained to gather points. The first team to gather 750 points, or destroys all of the Mechs on the opposing team, wins the match. The other game style, Assault, is even more simple. The goal is to destroy the entire other team, or capture their base to win. There is nothing groundbreaking in the game-styles, but sticking with these basic conventions allows Mechwarrior Online to focus more on building interesting maps, and creative Mechs.
Within the rounds, there are a combination of short term and long term goals. When not in a Drop, a gamer is given additional options. There are mid-range goals of upgrading your Mech, or purchasing new Mechs and long-range goals of upgrading your pilot. Each of these goals requires planning, and a gamer can sacrifice a short or mid-range goal for the good of improving their pilot, which will improve all of their Mechs. Or they can ignore the long term goals altogether for building a stable of powerful Mechs, or they can ignore them both and just play the Drops with the stock Mechs for fun.
Let’s hope he doesn’t turn around.
What the Game Teaches Us
Since the Mechs vary in size and armament so greatly, and they can be customized even further, there are dozens of combinations that a team can choose from prior to a drop. There may be some team members given the responsibility of scouting the enemy movements, and they choose smaller, faster Mechs. While others are there to provide artillery or indirect fire support, and choose the heavier Mechs. This kind of role based decision making, requires understanding the pros and cons of the available Mechs and equipment, then formulating a strategy to meet the team’s objectives, and showing the leadership on the team to get everyone on the same page.
While in a round, a gamer has to transform that strategy into a series of tactical decisions. They must lead their Mech or team of Mechs around terrain features, and buildings, and maintain communication with their team to accomplish their objectives. This requires analyzing huge amounts of data and making decisions that will balance short term requirements (i.e. I need my Mech to survive this fire fight) and long term requirements (i.e. I need to capture that outpost) quickly and in rapid succession.
A small example of the data that must be continually analyzed at any given point in a game include :ammunition and heat levels, damage to their Mech and their teammate’s Mechs, the location of their teammates, and their opponents, the possible weapons loadouts of their opponents, determining which is the most appropriate target, their relative location to an objective on the map, etc. Managing that kind of complex information is difficult and stressful, but it is also educational. Learning to keep your calm in a stressful situation, and make decisions based on sound judgment are very important skills to have. When individuals become overwhelmed in life, they tend to react to that stress in emotional ways, playing games like Mechwarrior Online help prepare a gamer for those situations in a safe way.
Mechwarrior Online also teaches self control and reflection. While individual games are only 10-15 minutes long, the lumbering movement of a 100 ton Mech makes the pace of the game less frenetic than a standard First Person Shooter. And while your Mech is tough, getting caught all alone in the open is a quick ticket to watching the rest of the round as a spectator.
So many Mechs, so little time.
General Feelings on the Game
The Mechwarrior games have always been near and dear to our hearts. This latest iteration is a credit to nearly 25 years of great video games. It is complex, varied, interesting, and a heck of a lot of fun. The game just came out of beta, and there are so rough edges that are being sanded down, but the developers have been putting out patches as well as new content consistently for several months.
MWO is a combat game, that has simulated violence. While all of the violence is exclusively against the Battlemechs themselves, and there is no adult language, MWO is not for every gamer out there. But if you are looking for a Free to Play game that you can drop into for a few minutes, or play all night with your friends, this is the one for you.