I put my throttle to full, and my BattleMech shudders as it accelerates to full speed and pulls ahead of my team. I'm running a Raven, a light 'Mech with minimal armament, but my job isn't to score kills. I am a support 'Mech. In addition to my pair of medium lasers and short range missiles, I'm carrying target acquisition gear (TAG) and electronic countermeasures (ECM). The TAG laser doesn't do damage, but paints targets for my allies, showing their location on the battlegrid and reducing the amount of time it takes to get a missile lock. For our heavy Catapult 'Mechs, affectionately called "missile boats," this lets them stay out of the thick of the fight and unload massive payloads of long range missiles on targets, even when they don't have line of sight. The ECM blocks my enemies' sensors, so that my 'Mech and any 'Mechs near me don't appear on their battlegrid until we're too close to run from. I keep an eye out for enemy 'Mechs sporting a TAG laser - if they hit me with it, my ECM goes down and every trigger-happy pilot with a particle projector cannon (PPC) will be coming my way.
If you've ever played one of the MechWarrior series of games, or the BattleTech tabletop miniatures game, this will all sound familiar. MechWarrior Online revives the franchise in the form of a free-to-play, multiplayer, online brawl. In both of the two game modes, two teams of twelve 'Mechs compete to destroy one another or capture objectives. Each match is usually over in just 10 minutes, with both modes limited to no more than 15.
The game has come a long way since the beginning of beta, boasting eight maps (three of which have night or snow-covered variants) and increasing the number of available 'Mechs to 21. Especially welcome is the Training Grounds game mode, which lets you explore all of the available maps and populates them with unmanned enemy 'Mechs so you can test your loadout without having to dodge missiles. A badly needed tutorial has also been added, which introduces you to the basics of moving around the map and the important distinction between turning your legs and turning your torso. The lack of this kind of tutorial was a sore spot early in beta. Players familiar with the older MechWarrior games picked up movement quickly, but the learning curve was steep for players new to the genre.
The options for customization of your 'Mech are broad, allowing you to tweak armor, weapons, defense systems, and engine size to create the 'Mech that plays the way you want. Within each weight class (light, medium, heavy, and assault), each chassis has a number of variants available, which determine what equipment you can use. Player-written guides for the best loadouts are plenty, but finding one that works with your style of play will take time and currency, and can be overwhelming. As a free-to-play game, MechWarrior Online has monetized some of this customization, of course. The two in-game currencies are C-Bills, earned in each match, and MechWarrior Credits (MC), the real-money currency. You also earn experience points from each match played, which can be spent on perks like increased cooling or 'Mech movement speed.