Mech games were rare in the latter half of the last decade, but now there are two new options for enthusiasts of big stompy robots. Both of them are now in open beta and both are free-to-play. Blowing stuff up is just a matter of creating an account and downloading the client.
But which is the best? Neither costs money to start playing, but both ask you to invest your time, and you do need to spend a little cash to obtain certain perks. Two mech games have entered, but only one can be the victor.
Starting either game is just a matter of creating an account and downloading the client. The minimum system requirements of the games are similar, but Hawken’s recommended requirements are lower. It can manage with a Core 2 Duo while Mechwarrior Online recommends a Core i3. Realistically, you’ll need a gaming rig that has been updated within the last few years to play either game at medium to high detail.
Hawken introduces players with a brief tutorial that tells players how to use their mech. Mechwarrior Online, on the other hand, has no in-game tutorial. Players can learn the game only through a series of videos. They are comprehensive, but learning a game through video is often inferior to learning in the game itself.
Mechwarrior also suffers from its focus on team play. Joining a random match as a lone player will throw you in with strangers, but matchmaking doesn’t separate these random groups from pre-made teams. Players who lack friends to play with will often find themselves being stomped by enemies with superior coordination. There’s no re-spawning, either. Players who die can only watch the match continue as an observer.
That’s not so in Hawken. The game supports death match and team death match along with domination and siege game modes. Respawning is unlimited. Both make the game more forgiving.
Mech games look like first-person shooters but they have a feel all their own. It’s important for the player to believe they’re in control of the hunk of walking metal that weighs between 10 and 100 tons.
The scale of each game differs – Hawken’s mechs are the size of a tank, while Mechwarrior features robots up to four stories tall – but both make you feel in control of a big, heavy machine. Movement is about momentum. Sometimes it works in your favor – and sometimes against.
That’s where the similarities end. Hawken revolves around close-quarter combat on maps that are small, purposeful and full of cover. Mechwarrior is closer to a simulation game. Different components and areas can be damaged individually, arms can move independent of the mech’s torso and details like weapon grouping and location become important.
Hawken is more successful at what it does, though that’s likely because what it does is relatively simple. A single mech in Mechwarrior has as many customization options as all the mechs in Hawken. That means it offers more depth but, in the current state of the game, that depth is offset by balance issues. There are many options but most are sub-par. It’s easy to spend a load of in-game currency on a terrible loadout.
With that said, Hawken isn’t as suitable for coordinated team play. If you want to join a clan, practice maneuvers and yell “Raven ECM at Foxtrot 6, watch for hostiles!” across voice chat, Mechwarrior is your game.
These games are allegedly in beta, but they’ll take your money. That’s okay because both offer a decent level of polish. Crashes are not common and matchmaking is usually stable. There are a few bugs , but the developers of both titles are quickly squashing issues when they appear.
Mechwarrior Online feels a bit less mature, however, because of its launcher. Instead of using the launcher as an update program, it’s used to control every aspect of customization, experience point allocation and matchmaking. The actual game engine only opens when a match begins. This isn’t as smooth as Hawken’s beautiful in-game interface.
A lack of game modes is another problem with Mechwarrior. Both titles have a similar number of maps, but Mechwarrior has only two game modes, one of which was just added. Both game modes can be – and usually are – won by destroying all enemy mechs. Public matches usually boil down to team death matches.
Both games are free to play, but they of course want players to spend money. Certain cosmetic customizations can only be obtained with cash and many items can be obtained much quicker with cash than with in-game credits earned from playing.
Each game gives players a rotating selection of trial mechs. Hawken also gives players a respectable starter mech that’s a bit bland but competitive in matches. Getting another mech takes time, however. My estimates show that you’ll need to play about 16 hours before you can buy a new mech in Hawken (all mechs have the same price). Mechwarrior takes less time for light mechs, but most players won’t want them. You’ll need to play about 15 to 25 hours to afford a medium or heavy mech.
Customization seems in favor of Hawken. Many components cost nearly as much as a full mech, but a mech can only have a handful of components. Mechwarrior’s more robust customization offers a buffet of options – and it’ll take a long time to afford them all.
Hawken’s real-money pricing is reasonable. Mechs are $5 each and most customization options, both aesthetic and functional, are about $2 to $4. The pricing in Mechwarrior starts at about $4 for a basic light mech, but a decent assault mech is around $14 and the special edition mechs are nearly $30!
I think Hawken is the victor. It doesn’t have a legendary franchise backing it, but that may be its advantage. The game is tighter and more balanced than the sprawling, unintuitive Mechwarrior.
Pricing is another advantage. The high cost of a decent loadout in Mechwarrior can make playing the game feel like a waste of time. This is the dreaded “grind” – repetitive gameplay that players endure rather than enjoy in hopes of one day having better in-game stuff.
Hawken avoids that trap. The starter mech is competitive (in fact, some players argue it’s better than a few that you must pay for) and paid upgrades are available at a reasonable price. Give it a try – I think you’ll like it. If you want more free-to-play fun, check out our list of the best free action games and the best free MMOs.