This week brings another patch full of features and content, and a rather neat idea from PGI on how to make themselves a bit more money. For you see, this week, they’ve done something a little different with the new hero mech.
The Heavy Metal is the new Highlander hero mech. It’s 90 tons, and it has three energy, two missile, and two ballistic slots. It can fit jump jets, and most interestingly of all, it’s available a full two weeks before the regular Highlander variants. This is such a good idea from a revenue standpoint, it’s really surprising it hasn’t happened until now—a 90 tonner with jump jets doesn’t really give any huge competitive advantage over the other mechs currently in the game (certainly not at the moment when matchmaking takes no account of tonnage, only of mech class), but people want the shiny new mech. Faced with a choice of waiting two weeks and spending in-game currency or of waiting no time and spending actual money, lots and LOTS of people are going to get twitchy and buy the thing. It comes with the standard 30% boost to C-Bills that the rest of the heroes have as well. Oh, and it has massive speakers that play these monstrosities whenever you get a kill.
On top of that, we’ve got the much-anticipated arrival of the air-strike and artillery strike modules. Much like the cool shot module, you can spend C-Bills or MC on these—C-Bills get you the standard version and MC gets you the upgraded one (more projectiles with a shorter delay before they arrive), and you can spend GXP to upgrade all your C-Bill strikes to the improved version. Artillery drops projectiles within a circle centered on the target, whereas air-strike drops its projectiles along a strip 100 meters long. The projectiles do 10 damage each, so they’re perhaps more useful to harass and force a change of position than they are to kill things outright. At the moment, they have to be targeted by dropping your crosshair on something and punching the appropriate button—hopefully at some point down the line, we’ll be able to do this via the battlegrid instead. It’s usable as it stands, but it feels like something tailor-made for the commander interface to me. There are a further two modules available that reduce the size of the area the projectiles land in by 20%. It’ll be interesting to see what these will do in the long run, especially in the eight-man queue. If they're effective then they could help shift the metagame away from entrenched snipers being the best option in 99% of cases.
Trial by Dragon
This patch also brings with it a change to the trial mechs on offer. This time around, we’ve got the Raven 4X (bad), the Centurion 9-A (great, but not in its stock configuration), the Awesome 8Q (which would be lovely if it had double heat sinks), and most importantly, the victor of the first ever trial mech contest, the DRG-5N(C) from Phorashi! At long last people without a mech of their own have a mech with double heat sinks and decent armament that goes at a reasonable speed, and it isn’t armoured with papier-mâché. It seems, however, that because there were so many complaints about the contest, PGI might not run it again. If you think the contest was a good idea, do let PGI know, or you may not see another one.
We also got our first proper go with the changed vision modes. Thermal mode has become a grayscale, high-contrast affair that makes heat sources really stand out, but it makes terrain much more difficult to see. Night vision makes terrain and mechs both equally visible, but with little contrast between the two. On the upside, night vision is now actually useful instead of the interlaced, bloom-filled mess that it once was, but thermal vision has had a significant nerf. PGI’s said before that their intent was to make it so that thermal vision wasn’t automatically the mode everyone selected, and this will certainly do that. It remains to be seen whether or not this will be well received, though.
Paint and Bugs
How do you spell the noise you make when you hurl all over your keyboard?
It wouldn’t be a patch without new cosmetic stuff. We have some more cockpit statues (Jenner, Cataphract and Centurion) and a new digital camo that offers unprecedented opportunities for making your opponents vomit. More ways to burn MC for those who want to decorate their space robots is only a good thing.
Along with all this came advice to make sure your Nvidia drivers are up to date—apparently 311.xx drivers were causing issues which the new 314.xx resolve. Sadly, there are also some people reporting performance issues; weird glitches to the HUD, black screening and lower frame rates than before seem to be popping up all over. Hopefully, with some bug reports from players, PGI will be able to narrow these down and fix them in short order.
There are some nice additions, some interesting changes, a way to make money that no one really seems to be complaining about, and a couple of bugs. I hesitate to say “par for the course,” as that sounds a bit blasé, but at this point we’ve come to expect this level of new content from PGI every two weeks. The bugs are less welcome, of course, but when you only have a small in-house testing team, that’s perhaps to be expected. It seems like opening up the test environment to a slightly wider group would give greater opportunities for bugs to be brought to light before they hit the live servers, and perhaps that’s something that’s on the to-do list down the line.
The full patch notes can be found here.