Ekman is careful these special Mechs don't translate from free to play into "pay to win". "For us pay to win means you're able to bypass skill with money that you're able to gain tactical advantage over your fellow player via only one paying course of action," he said. "How we balance that, for example with Hero Mechs, when you bring that on the battlefield, they're not any better than any other Mech on the field they really just give you that extra meta game boost."
The "meta game boost" Ekman refers to is a boost to the rate at which you earn experience points and the ingame C-bill currency of MechWarrior Online. The only thing you get with paying real money is convenience in unlocking more Mechs.
One thing that was mentioned a lot back when MWO was first announced was the timeline advancing to the lore event of a group of Clans invading the Inner Sphere worlds. The Mechs employed by these new factions are more advanced in technology, so Ekman and his team are planning for their introduction to fall after MWO launches. "The clan warfare's going to come out after launch. It's going to roll out within the first two to three quarters after launch and it'll start with some basic content and then the players will be able to join the clans and then they'll be able to buy the clan tech," he said. "We're not quite sure on the full details yet because we're just focused on launch right now but it will happen probably within the first six months after launch."
As a pilot known as a "MechWarrior", you are about to take control of the most powerful mechanical battle units the universe has ever seen: BattleMechs, heavily armored combat platforms that utilize an internal structure similar to a skeleton, along with actuators (joints) and myomers (muscles) that, when combined, take the form of a giant, rough, bipedal humanoid. The game is set in a 1:1 timeline with the BattleTech universe, meaning that the current year 2013 equates to 3050 in BattleTech lore and each day that passes in real life also passes in the game. This means we are on the brink of the upcoming Clan invasion and utilizing the latest in technology available in the 3049 timeframe. And when the Clans come - everything changes.
Players will be able to play as members of the Clan factions, but it's an interesting challenge to keep the new Mechs balanced with the older ones. "The Inner Sphere mechs are BattleMechs and the clan Mechs are also BattleMechs but they're called OmniMechs," Ekman said. "They have the ability to change their equipment in a slightly different and more efficient way and the equipment that comes standard on these OmniMechs is quite a bit more powerful. Clans are the only ones who have them to start so we're looking to see how we can balance that. The introduction of technology and make sure that we don't obsolete all the Inner Sphere Mechs that already exist in the game."
If that sounds tricky in a game that's all about competitive PVP, you are quite right. It's easy to add content to a tabletop miniatures game like the one MechWarrior Online is based, but that doesn't work in a MMO. "We've always said that MechWarrior Online is an interpretation of the BattleTech rules not a straight port so we can hide behind that and say hey, we're going to interpret this to make sure that it's fun for players, it may not be perfectly true or accurate to the original tabletop rules but it's in the best interest of everybody that we make this balanced and engaging."
I haven't had a chance to dabble in the vehicular warfare of MWO's beta yet, but just speaking with Bryan Ekman for a few minutes on his game made me want to strap into a Mech and blow up some Heavy Metal.