Meet MechWarrior Online, Piranha's free-to-play tactical Mech sim

MechWarrior Online Coast Battle thumb

After two years of near-total silence about the fate of the MechWarrior reboot, Piranha Games has announced MechWarrior Online, a free-to-play, team-based multiplayer BattleMech sim that'll go live in the second half of 2012. Starting from just before the Clan Invasion of 3050, MWO will tell the story of the Battletech universe in real-time. Each day, players will do battle on behalf of the universe's major factions, and each day in the game will represent a single day's action in the fictional Inner Sphere.

MechWarrior Online (MWO) might be free-to-play, but MWO Creative Director Bryan Ekman and Piranha President Russ Bullock insist this is going to be a proper MechWarrior game in the tradition of MechWarrior 2 through 4, not a successor to the Xbox action game Mech Assault. Ekman says joystick support is a strong probability, and both call this a Mech sim.

"I think it's really the MechWarrior you know," Bullock says. "It's fully first-person. It's not a new interpretation. We're modernizing things a little bit, I think we'll get to those questions, but certainly it's MechWarrior."

Read on for more with Piranha, and exclusive art.

Another major part of the game is customization and organizing into mercenary units, Ekman explains. "Players will be able to band together in the format of a lance, which is four, and they'll be able to band together as a mercenary corporation for hire. That's not unlike a guild. We have a whole editor and mercenary HQ for players to explore that allows them to customize the look and feel of their corporation, their membership, the structure of how they enter battle, the lances, their names, ranks, and all kinds of things."

However, in some significant ways, this isn't the MechWarrior you remember, because Ekman and Piranha games have some promising ideas for how to make MechWarrior more of a tactical sim and less of a shooter.

"One of our core pillars is what we call 'information warfare,' which basically boils down to controlling the flow of information on the battlefield, whether it be your own information, or the information of your enemies," Ekman says. "We want to make gameplay be less about an arms race, where you start in a light Mech but you really want to get into an assault Mech, because it's the best thing there is."

The matches themselves will support multiple teams and multiple four-person squads ("lances" in MechWarrior parlance). The primary focus will be Conquest mode, which will allow for more tactics and teamwork, but there will also be a variety of deathmatch modes available.

Ekman also promises that while players will be able to buy items with real money, nobody can buy anything that will confer a tactical advantage. "Anything that would affect or give you a tactical advantage, you can't purchase with real cash. You have to earn that by playing the game," he says.

MechWarrior online features multiple upgrade paths, both for Mechs and pilots, but it should not be too complicated. As Bullock says, "If someone has played a combination of Mechwarrior, Call of Duty, and Diablo in their gaming life, they're going to have seen everything that we're offering for the most part."

MechWarrior online, in keeping with the original games, will feature a variety of maps set across different environments and climates. In a universe where heat plays such a major role, with Mechs overheating from weapons fire and local temperature, that means different weather will make for very different tactics.

But big difference from previous games will be urban combat. "One of the things we can do these days that previous games weren't able to do well is urban combat," Ekman says. "And it's a cornerstone of MWO, this ability to actually fight in detailed urban settings."

You can find out more info from the official website: . You should also stick around PC Gamer today for exclusive interviews with Ekman and Bullock, as they explain what happened these past two years, and go into detail about what MechWarrior Online will be.