Hawken is coming back to PC. Five years after the first game stacked up the chairs, turned out the lights, and switched off the servers for its PC version, Hawken Reborn is a free to play "revitalization of the long and beloved Mech combat franchise" from 505 Games that's set to hit Steam early access on May 17.
It's a bit of a pivot, too. While the original Hawken was a multiplayer, PvP affair that saw you pilot your 20-foot steel contraptions across a variety of game modes, Hawken Reborn will be a purely single-player experience when it releases, with a co-op multiplayer mode "planned for a later date".
"By going PvE, it lowers the barrier to entry a little bit with people who might see a PvP game and get discouraged, just because they think they don't have the skill set needed to come in," said senior producer Brian Decker when I asked about the shift to single player, so 505 is "focusing on the PvE, the narrative, the world," at least for now.
"There is something very engaging about playing games, especially mech games, with other people," Decker acknowledged, "So the co-op is our sort of chance to tick that box … to let you enjoy the experience with your friends" and show off the various lethal and cosmetic doodads you've affixed to your mech to someone other than the game's NPCs. 505 says it's "open to other features and systems down the road," too, so it's possible multiplayer modes like Deathmatch, Missile Assault and Siege will return someday. "The sky's the limit on what's to come," said Decker.
But at launch, Hawken Reborn will have nine weapons, six missions, five mechs, and one player, with more of each to come as the game progresses along its early access development path, which Decker estimates will last "12 to 18 months". There's also a freeplay Patrol Mode that unlocks after a certain amount of missions, letting you gather resources and test loadouts outside of the main story.
The mechs—which function almost as character classes, each filling their own niche—can be tweaked and customised on a pretty granular level. Your mech chassis, as well as its weapons and thrusters, can be upgraded from level one through five, and modded according to a "tech skill tree" that will let you nudge them in a direction of your choosing.
You could spec for agility—much like the original game, Hawken Reborn's mechs are pretty light on their feet for bipedal, ambulant battle tanks—or damage, or health, or some other fourth thing. Or if you're me, you can succeed in speccing for 'dying rapidly': Just because your enemies are NPCs doesn't mean they can't hit hard, particularly the ones who have their own mechs.
Game director Luigi Fusco emphasises that the plan is to make the game's mechs distinct in both look and feel. "We kind of asked the question, 'What does the Darth Vader mech look like? What does the bounty hunter mech look like? … We wanted to sort of get that characterisation".
There's still work to be done on that front, though, hence the early access release. "We're trying to move slightly towards a character-driven mech … we haven't achieved that quite yet, but I think as we go on you'll see that more and more as their abilities come out," said Fusco.
It's in the crafting and upgrade system that Hawken Reborn makes its money. Your new mechs, weapons, and other enhancements have to be crafted from schematics, a process that requires materials you'll gain during combat or—if you're so inclined—by purchasing them with real money.
505 is emphatic that Hawken Reborn will have "absolutely no paid loot boxes" and Fusco told me that "The foundational philosophy" of the game's monetisation system "was based on the premise of anything that a player can purchase using real money they must be able to play towards". So nothing—at least right now—is under lock and key behind a paywall. Instead, it's at "the very end of the funnel," meaning you can purchase the crafting materials you can't be bothered to grind for, letting you get your hands on your new toy a little more quickly.
That might end up being a bit different for cosmetics, or it might not. When I asked if the new game would adopt a different approach to monetising purely cosmetic upgrades—perhaps paywalling them—Fusco said that the design of that hadn't been "worked out yet". Although cosmetics were in the original Hawken and will, someday, be in Hawken Reborn, they aren't in this early version. "We've been focusing so much on just trying to get the core gameplay loop in there," explained Fusco.
It sounds idyllic and unobtrusive, but the proof will be in the pudding. The build of the game I've played doesn't have any monetisation features switched on—they'll be activated when the game goes live—so it's impossible to evaluate right now.
When I mentioned Andy Kelly's original Hawken review for PC Gamer, and noted that he specifically criticised the game for being slowed down by its "tight-fisted F2P structure," Decker said that 505 was taking a deliberately "cautious approach" to Hawken Reborn's monetisation. "We don't want to lock everything behind paywalls," he said, "Our goal is to be generous".
And hey, if you don't like it, you can always let them know. "We just want people to jump in, give it a shot, and give us feedback," said Fusco, "let us know what you liked and what you didn't like". "That's really what we need; it's gold for us".
I hope they strike the right balance. There aren't enough mech games in the world, and Hawken's surprisingly agile take on the genre was a special thing even when the original was in the process of shutting up shop on PC. If 505 can make that work in the framework of a monetisation system that doesn't suffocate the game, I'm eager to see it.