Fishbreath Plays: MechWarrior Online

The Battletech Kickstarter kicked me back into playing some MechWarrior Online. I ought to note that, on the whole, I like it. I don’t think it quite hits the heights that previous MechWarrior games hit, but it’s a perfectly serviceable stompy robots game in terms of gameplay. That isn’t what this post is about, though.

No, this post is a rant.

Let’s talk about the grind. Oh, the grind. That necessary evil in free-to-play games, right? Yes, but this one is particularly egregious. Fans of the game may try and tell you it’s less grindy than World of Tanks, say, or World of Warships. They are lying to you. Let us be perfectly clear. There is precisely one type of player for whom MechWarrior Online is less grindy than the Wargaming.net games: high-level competitive players. World of [insert vehicle] does indeed require more out of you than MechWarrior Online does if you want to experience what counts as the endgame. I would posit that these players, though, make up such a tiny proportion of the playerbase that their opinions are basically meaningless. Let’s get down to brass tacks with a comparison.

I’m a fairly casual player in World of Warships, and a fairly casual player in MechWarrior Online. As such, my goal in the former is to have a couple of historical Second World War vessels, which occupy (generally) the top half of the tech trees. I need to get to about tiers 4-6. I average about a thousand experience per game, or more if I’m playing primarily for first-win-of-the-day. To go from tier 5 to tier 6 costs about 30,000 experience, which comes to about 30 games. (Going from tier 1 to tier 5 is about that difficult too, if I recall correctly.) It takes me about 60 games—certainly, no more than 75 on a bad streak, and no more than 100 on a horrid streak. So far, I’ve never had to grind for money; in the course of getting through my 60-100 games to hit the next tier, I’ve made enough to buy my way up.

In MechWarrior Online, as a fairly casual player, my goal is to build up a stable of mechs of various sizes and roles I can switch between as the mood strikes me. There are two obstacles here. First, earnings: I make about 80,000-100,000 c-bills per match in MechWarrior Online. A single light mech chassis costs about 2,000,000 c-bills. (A little less for 20-ton mechs, a little more for 35-ton mechs, a whole lot more for mechs which can mount ECM—note that ECM capability usually makes a given mech variant the most desirable of its chassis.) A medium mech costs about 3,750,000 c-bills. You’ll spend between 5,000,000 and 6,000,000 for a heavy, and 7,500,000 to 10,000,000 for an assault.

You begin to see the magnitude of the problem. Buying a light, a medium, a heavy, and an assault chassis takes nearly 20 million c-bills and a shade under 200 games. Outfitting a mech can sometimes double that cost, especially if you don’t have a bunch of weapons and equipment sitting around your mech lab, if you’re a new player. We’re already up to about a 400-game grind to buy and outfit four individual mechs. That’s a big time sink.

It also isn’t the end of it. When you buy a mech, you unlock skill trees for that mech. Consider this: I earn about 800xp per match. If I don’t sink about 30,000 experience into each variant, that variant is between 10% and 50% worse in a variety of extremely important performance measures (speed, heat capacity, turn rate, and more) than someone else’s copy of that variant who has done the grind. That’s a 40-game grind in each mech after you’ve acquired it. I’ll grant you, that comes out to less than you need to acquire the mechs (a mere 160 games), but that isn’t the whole story.

You see, the mech skill trees come in three tiers. To unlock each tier, you need to finish the tier beneath it… on three separate variants of a given chassis. So, you don’t need 400 games and 40,000,000 c-bills to buy and outfit four mechs. You need 120,000,000 c-bills and 1200 games to grind out the requisite twelve variants to avoid being a gigantic drag on your team. More than 400 of those games will be played in mechs that are arbitrarily handicapped in an attempt to get you to buy premium time.

So no, Wargaming.net’s games are not more grindy than MechWarrior Online for the average player. Basically, if you don’t get summers off, you’re going to have to spend money if you want to fill out your mech stable, and a lot of money, at that. I leave gawking at the prices as a trivial exercise for the reader.

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