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“Field the Lance of Your Dreams” in MechWarrior Tactics

It wasn’t terribly long ago that BattleTech was deemed a fading property, at least in the digital realm. The last true MechWarrior experience was released in 2000. Two action-oriented games, MechAssault and MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf, found such success on the Xbox that it only seemed natural that the property receive more attention. Tactics, in the form of MechCommander, also met reasonable, but not overwhelming, critical acclaim. More giant robots seemed inevitable and life as a Mech pilot was good.

And then, there was silence.

It’s been a long time coming, but 2012 is shaping up to be the Year of the Mech. We had the opportunity to participate in a conversation with Tarrnie Williams, President of Roadhouse Interactive and Chris Cleroux, Lead Designer for A.C.R.O.N.Y.M Games. While we weren’t able to pry all of the secrets of MechWarrior Tactics out of them, what we did learn has driven our hype for this free-to-play, tactical mech game through the roof. Williams and Cleroux told us that we would have the chance to “field the lance of our dreams,” and supported that statement with some new details about how the game is going to work.

To say that we’re excited to get our hands on MechWarrior Tactics might just be the understatement of the year.

The game is going to be browser-based, and we confirmed that it will be fully functional on Mac and Linux along with PC. When you create your account, you’ll be handed a starter set, that provides you all the tools to get started with every aspect of the game. Boosters (called “stacks”) will be available, but price points haven’t been locked down yet. Your “cards” will come in different flavors.

Some of these will be stock mechs, ready to hit the field right out of the box. Others will be “chassis.” These are mech shells that must be equipped with different resources (weapons, heat sinks, and more). The customization will be limited by lore and the intricate technology depicted in the source material. Chassis will support different weapon types and numbers, and you’ll be able to mix and match in the mech bay to your heart’s content before ever paying a dime.

Should you desire to expand your collection, you can use earned or purchased in-game currency to buy new “stacks.” These function as boosters, with cards coming in common, uncommon, rare and ultra-rare varieties. Stacks will include stock mechs, chassis, resources and aesthetic options. Weapons and parts will come from different manufacturers with set bonuses in play for smart construction. It only makes sense that you’ll have better synergy among components designed for complementary installation.

When you are ready to field your team, you’ll issue a challenge and head to the battlefield. The only limit to the number of simultaneous games is your mech collection. Your bay has an infinite amount of room, so you won’t need to worry about purchasing garage expansions. However, each of your units may only be committed to a single battle at one time. Choosing to accept or decline a challenge is going to be about what units you have at your disposal at any given time.

To ensure you don’t get tied up longer than you want to, you can set different turn timers. Play can be scaled to near-hot seat levels or allow for more drawn out conflicts. It’s up to you. The four vs four skirmishes are about the skills of the players and not as much about who has been playing longer. Your units will not level up, nor will they suffer permadeath. Much like most collectible card games, each match starts you fresh. You will have to consider build costs when fielding a team, so it’s not as simple as bringing your four biggest, baddest mechs to the table.

On the battlefield, you’ll need to consider elevation, heat, angles and more. The water features on the map will allow for double cooling, provided your heatsinks are submerged. Terrain factors into your movement, and the exact placement of your weapons will play a role in whether or not you can make contact with an opponent. Everything you expect of a game steeped in MechWarrior and BattleTech history is present.

One of the things that caught my attention was how turns will play out. Not only is the game handled asynchronously (“Mechs with Friends” was the prevailing joke), but execution is simultaneous. Rather than reacting to your opponent’s position and past tactics, you need to consider what they will do on this turn. This creates a more organic feel, bringing psychology into the mix in a big way. When it’s time for another turn, you’ll have the option to be alerted in different ways. The team is exploring email, SMS and more. They were demure on mobile applications, though there was some sly hinting that the game might just be under consideration for tablets (fingers are tightly crossed for that).

With any free-to-play game, one question will inevitably pop up, “Am I going to have to pay to win?” In this case, the answer was a resounding, “no.” There is no grind and your wallets will only be opened as far as you want them to be. At the end of each battle, players are awarded scrap (in-game currency) and, should they choose, never spend a dime of real money. Of course, the caveat was in place that these are the plans for launch. Premium content may be coming down the road, but right now, the team has their focus firmly set on rolling out the game this summer, with this model.

I greatly appreciated this approach. There will be a future filled with evolution and growth for MechWarrior Tactics, but the team isn’t biting off more than they can chew. Trading will come later. They haven’t ruled out support units, but it isn’t happening yet. A persistent universe seems like a great idea… but come back after launch. It’s not time to talk about anything more than two players squaring off with four-mech lances.

Between the details about the gameplay revealed and the smart, conservative approach to making MechWarrior Tactics a success, strategy fans (including most of the staff here at RipTen) have much to be excited about when the game arrives this summer. There will be a beta test, more details will be coming and we’ll be bringing you as much information from the battlefield as possible.

Do try to be patient (and, yes, we know it’s hard)… everyone knows that rushing headlong into an enemy lance is only going to leave you with a pile of scrap and a gloating opponent.

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