The MechWarrior Online content train is charging full steam ahead, and that’s not just because the game is now on Steam! Back when MWO launched in September 2013, devs made no secret of the fact that the game wasn’t finished. In fact, #nofinalproduct wasn’t an excuse for the state of the game then, but rather a commitment to continuing to add features and improve it. And that’s a promise Piranha Games delivered on. Over the last two years the game has definitely grown, from new maps to expanded faction warfare features to a tutorial training area for new players. Following in that trend, even the MWO’s Steam launch party this past weekend was about much more than just celebrating the strides already made — it heralded the new things to come.
What’s in store for players? Phase 3 of faction warfare — with its careers, a new 4v4game mode, leaderboards, contracts, and more — was revealed, as was a new level of customization with decals. Additionally, Occulus Rift support was introduced and even demonstrated. But the most celebrated news of the evening was the announcement of the 2016 MWO world championship tournament! During recent press festivities in Vancouver, I had the chance to sit down with Russ Bullock, president, and Bryan Ekman, creative director, to chat about these upcoming changes. I also inquired about their hopes and plans for future phases.
That was then
Before moving on to the reveals, attendees were treated to a video recap (seen above) highlighting the game’s progression. Since its beginnings, MechWarrior Online has increased the number of both mechs and maps, players have joined in from all over the world (mech pilots from Germany, Brazil, Finland, and Australia attended the event), a new faction system was introduced, and in July an EU server was launched. For those who — like myself — felt too guilty handicapping a team when first starting out, there’s a new tutorial to introduce the basics and offer some practice time before tossing players into live matches. (Apparently the tutorial can be good even for more seasoned players, and it offers achievements and rewards as well!) As for matches, over 10 million have been played to date, and over 174 million mechs have been destroyed.
Add to that the successful Steam launch and the influx of new players and Piranha Games certainly had something to celebrate. However, the party’s emphasis was not about resting on laurels. Bullock noted that the team promised to keep working on the game, and believes it has proven that. Then he emphasized that the work was still not done, nor would it be, reminding players of #nofinalproduct: “Just because we are here at the Steam launch event doesn’t mean we are done with MechWarrior Online. We have a lot in store for you in the coming months. There’s no end in sight for the updates.”
This is now (soon)
While no definitive date was given, MWO fans will have quite a few new changes to enjoy with the implementation of Phase 3 come spring of 2016. Bullock described Phase 3 as twice as big as both one and two combined. In his words, this third phase adds more depth, giving players a reason to care about planets as well as providing easier access for solo players and PuGs. Both Bullock and Ekman talked about watching factions spread throughout the innersphere as they conquer territories and reap the benefits from controlling planets.
Bullock expressed that his favorite aspect of the incoming changes in Phase 3 is community warfare. “There’s nothing funner in MechWarrior Online than getting in a really great community warfare match,” he said. “Because it’s essentially 12v12 x 4, so really 48 versus 48.” He went on to say that quickplay is great for jumping in for seven to 10 minute matches, but the community warfare is 25 to 30 minutes of battle, and it’s really exciting when you have a really close match that comes down to the wire. Phase 3 is such a big deal because “it’s the most important overarching gameplay that we have in MechWarrior Online. It’s the deepest gameplay we have.”
More depth also comes in the way of careers. Players will have the opportunity to select roles that each focus on a different type of play. They will choose between the contract-taking mercenary, the war-planning loyalist, or the freelancer. A new scouting game mode is also being introduced, including a 4v4 extraction match where players must go in, retrieve a target, and make it back out!
Another feature will be a decal system that lets players get creative with customizing their mechs. These images can be manipulated in a variety of ways, including size, angle, and placement on the machine. If you don’t like the small skull upright on the shoulder, you can twist it upside down, enlarge it, and slap it on the knee. To start, images will be selected from a predetermined list; however, that doesn’t preclude the possibility of players being able to design their own decals in the future. When asked about the personalized team insignias, Bullock noted that they would likely be a reality. He said, “It probably won’t come out with the initial version, but there’s no doubt that we want our units in faction warfare and stuff to be able to submit [images].” Considering the extra steps of development and approval, personalized decals will be later in coming. If the ability to add customized decals to the game is added, is there a possibility of the process going one step further allowing players to sell decals to one another? Bullock said yes — and not only for decals, but possibly swappable geometry of mechs for player-generated looks. But both Ekman and Bullock noted that there is so much on the team’s plate currently that this wouldn’t be make it as a priority for at least the next six months, but it is on the radar.
Unrelated to the Phase 3 content but also announced was the inclusion of Occulus Rift support. Bullock revealed that the team was committed to developing for the device, and party goers were treated to a taste of the VR mech experience. This demo didn’t involve battle, but folks could walk a mech around and experience the view from all angles. I tried it out, and it looks to be an exciting addition (once you get over the fact you see a headless body if you turn around and look directly behind you).
Where is MWO heading after Phase 3 is deployed? The fact that a Phase 4 will exist is a given, but what all it entails is not decided. Bullock said, “It will be updates to the entire game, whether it’s public queues, group queue, private matches, spectator mode, or community warfare. Beyond that, we’re working on artificial intelligence, and the single-player aspect is the top of my long-term goal.” Bullock hasn’t ruled out that the single-player aspect could, in fact, be a separate single-player game that stands alone. He said, “Once we have the AI and it speaks to us then we’ll decide on how best to use it.” That, however, is pretty far down the line still.
Saving the best for last: 2016 world championship
That old adage of saving the best for last was certainly true in this case if judged by audience reaction; the crowd-favorite announcement by far was the first annual MWO world championship reveal. Companies from all over the world will be able to compete against one another for the title of MechWarrior champion — and a cash prize. The crowd isn’t the only one excited by the prospect, either. During our interview Bullock noted that the plans to have just such a tourney have been there basically since launch, and Ekman said that all of the features are finally in place to make it a reality.
While many details are unavailable as of yet, the main premise is that regional qualifiers will lead to regional championships, and regional champions will be flown to compete in the world championship to compete for the prize pool that is seeded at $100,000 but will grow as a percentage of every purchase is added to the pot. Start date, location, and even team size has not yet been determined. Bullock noted that devs had to look at all the logistics of the tournament to determine the optimal team size. “We are willing to go to a different team size than 12v12 if our research tells us that the best tournament lay is going to be, for example, 8v8.”
For those wanting to secure a spot, start planning and practicing now: The one bit of information we have is that the tournament is slated for the first quarter of 2016. More details will be coming soon.