As one might hope for from a convention, Mech_Con 2016 was a time to not only hang out with other fans and meet the devs but get exciting announcements for MechWarrior Online. And Piranha Games didn’t disappoint. From the new game modes to the new skill trees, there was definitely new content revealed and showcased. Then there was the surprise announcement of the single-player MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, which brought the audience to its feet.
Beyond the staged announcements, I also had the chance to sit down with Piranha Games President Russ Bullock to talk a bit about the future of MechWarrior Online. Here’s a run-down of the news that came from the game’s first convention, as well as a peek in pictures of the other ‘Mech related activities — like watching the first world championship play out, play testing Catalyst Games’ upcoming BattleTech board game, and hearing more about the Hairbrained Scheme’s BattleTech turn-based game in development.
Before I even got to my interview with Bullock, one question was answered on stage. I wanted to know whether the team has any plans to introduce new original ‘Mechs to the game. After all, many of the most iconic ones are already there, and there is a finite number of ‘Mechs in the original IP. The answer is a definite yes, and the first custom machine is already designed: Roughneck. (He’s actually become the logo mascot of the convention).
More than just tossing out a new ‘Mech for the sake of a new ‘Mech, the team has taken the time to make sure it fits in the existing lore. Bullock told me that the team “made sure it was all written up so it was like it always existed in the cannon and lore, so it’s very official.” Roughneck already existed as an industrial front loader, but now it is now retrofitted as a ‘Mech, giving it a blue-collar feel that is carried over in its exposed-cable look. This new Innersphere machine is in the 65-ton class. Don’t expect it in game right away, however; Roughneck is still in the concept phase of development. Bullock expects it to release around March.
Are there plans already in the works for more custom machines? “Not yet,” he answered. “I think this was an initial experiment to do this and see how it all went.” The team will assess how it is received, which Bullock felt was pretty positively so far at the convention.
Speaking of ‘Mechs: Since the Marauder IIC was introduces into MWO, can fans expect to see the Warhammer IIC in game in the future? Bullock’s response: “You know it — it’s gonna happen.” There is no hard date and this machine is not in production yet, but he told me it’s just a matter of time.
I speak for the skill trees
I’m not the Lorax, but I am a fan of skill trees. And MechWarrior Online is about to have them! And things will definitely change up a bit when they are implemented. When will it enter the game? February is the targeted release date of this new system, with a public test aimed for January.
The skill section as players know it will be gone. Also going out the windows are quirks and modules (consumables, however, do remain). Enhancements will now be done via the skill trees, where players can truly customize their ‘Mechs in whatever way they want — within the skill point limit. The nodes on the skill tree can be unlocked with either the ‘Mech’s XP or GXP. Favorite enhancements each have their own tree, as well as a few extra trees, like one that adds a boost to jump jets. The nodes on the skill tree can be unlocked with either the ‘Mech’s XP or GXP.
With this system, players can also own multiple copies of the same ‘Mech, and each will have its own dedicated skill tree. Each tree can also be fully respecced. And with this major change, players may be wondering about all the XP and Cbills spent on modules. Bullock said that 100% of everything spent on modules will be refunded to players.
I am sure every MechWarrior Online player has had a gripe about some part of the game’s interface at one point. Some parts are just not intuitive, and getting anywhere takes a lot of clicks. Bullock noted that the team is always working on some portion of the interface. “We’ve gone through a lot of iterations,” he noted. “We’re always trying to improve the UI. We’re always working on a portion of it.” Players will definitely see some changes when the new skill trees launch. Besides just the new trees themselves, a screen for XP to GXP conversion will be added so players will see all their owned ‘Mechs with XP in one place. Players will be able to spend XP on any ‘Mech from this one window.
Faction Warfare phase 4
Faction warfare is one of the main focuses of the team, and Bullock told me that other features will be looked into, but only after this one is all set. “We’re going to keep working through the phases until we get it right,” Bullock promised. And come December 13th, players will get the latest iteration of faction play — phase 4.
What does faction play phase 4 entail? Faction warfare is now going to be a single border conflict between the Clans and Innersphere. Player’s will vote for their faction’s attack vectors. Outside of the main battlefront, there will also be special event based inner-faction skirmishes that Bullock feels will keep the pride of aligning with a particular house alive. To get to these, there will be quickplay game modes and maps added to the battle queue as well as drop ship respawns for those who are taken out of the battle can join right back in.
In the mode: Escorts and assaults
Bullock explained that the studio is committed to going deeper with the gameplay in MWO for 2017. One way that is happening is with two new game modes, the first of which will actually be available next week.
On December 13th, the escort game mode will launch. This has one team working to get the VIP safely to an evacuation point, while the other team is set on smashing said VIP to smithereens. “We’re really anxious to see how it plays in your hands,” Bullock told con attendees.
The upcoming assault mode won’t join the game until the first quarter of next year. The ultimate goal is to conquer your enemies’ base while protecting your own. However, amidst that goal there are multiple other objectives as well, like destroying generators and neutralizing enemy radar towers. In this mode, players will finally be able to destroy items, like blowing their way through walls.
AI and non-PvP play
Two of my questions for the future of MWO involved non-PvP play elements. One, could fans ever see a time when guild groups could congregate somewhere like a hangar, perhaps even with avatars that wear clan colors to show pride, etc.? “I like the idea,” Bullock said. “I would say that’s possible, but there’s a few things that our players want as priority.” For instance, faction play needs to be in a better spot than it it so far. “What you described kind of feels like a natural progression to faction play, to get together as units and clan members and things like that,” he elaborated. “I think if we get faction play stable and locked into a position we are really happy with, we can look into features like that.”
My second question was focused on the possibility of any plans for groups of players vs AI opponents for the future. “I want to say it’s going to happen, but it’s one of those things that we always felt like there was something more pressing,” he said. “Because first and foremost, MechWarrior Online is a PvP product.” That means the PvP will always take precedent over any PvE features; the team will focus on those areas — like faction warfare — that need work for the player base to be happy with. Bullock said he knows players are desperate for that single-player experience, but he isn’t sure that MWO is the best place for that. The same answer goes for if MWO will ever have non-‘Mech opponents like tanks, VTOLS or Elementals. He stated, “I think there’s a place for that absolutely. I just don’t know if MWO is the the best product or place for that stuff.”
At that point, I asked whether Piranha had considered expanding MWO to encompass other parts of the Battletech Universe, or whether the studio would branch out and maybe offer a single-player experience. Cue the big announcement…
More on MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries
Oh yes, Virginia, there will be a singleplayer experience! While attendees expressed excitement at various things at the con, from the tournament play to the announcements, nothing elicited the sheer enthusiasm that the MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries announcement did. Bullock sat down at a computer and started playing something, and you could feel the excitement grow in waves the longer folks watched this demonstration and picked up on the hints. When the title was finally announced, the room erupted in applause, granting a standing ovation. Many MechWarrior fans are quite happy to have a new Mercenaries game to play.
If you are concerned about MW5 following in the cash shop footsteps of MWO, breathe easier: MW5: Mercenaries will be a single purchase game with no microtransactions according to Piranha Games. Bullock stated on stage that it’s a “single point of purchase — you buy it, you own it,” and the studio re-comfirmed later that there won’t be microtransactions.
Another questions fans have raised is whether or not the new game will support virtual reality. It definitely seemed likely after I experienced a stroll through MWO in VR last year. The good news that VR support is definitely an option. The game, due out in 2018, is still in its early days in development, however, so key features are being planned now. So the answer for the moment is a definite maybe.