First Look: Mechwarrior Online

By John Walker on March 14th, 2012 at 2:00 pm.

Disco party robot!
It’s been ten years since the last MechWarrior game. Which seems odd, since the idea of stomping around in giant robots is such a popular one. But now the license has been put in the hands of Piranha Games, and it’s going online, and MechWarrior Online is going free to play. I saw it in action at GDC, so read on for my report.

Piranha aren’t a particularly prolific developer. Their most recent, somewhat inauspicious work, was the console port of Duke Nukem Forever, along with its multiplayer. For their last home-grown game you’re suddenly back in 2002 with the unremarkable Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza, with various console ports of games along the way. But it was first revealed they were working on a MechWarrior title in 2005. Seven years later and they’re showing something. Thankfully, what they’re showing doesn’t look like something from 2005.

What I saw last week was a CryEngine 3 game featuring exactly what you’d expect from MechWarrior – large, stomping robots shooting at each other. And it felt like enough. (Not the first time we’ve seen mechs in CryEngine, of course, but that’s another story entirely.)

The first glance of the game revealed a highly-detailed cockpit with working instruments that usefully measured various aspects of the game, as well as your own arms and legs as you look around. Piranha say they’re keen to remind the player that they’re a person in a Mech, rather than the Mech itself. Then there’s a HUD on top of that, along with a neat double-crosshaired aiming system. This seemed to work rather well. Each Mech comes equipped with weapons on both arms and shoulders, and each can be fired separately, depending on where you’re facing, and where you’re aiming, with a circle and a cross on screen to let you aim at two enemies at once.

It won’t be deviating too far from the familiar Mechwarrior template: in 12 v 12 battles, you’ll be clomping around in metal suits varying from 20 to 100 tons, each designed to be useful in their own way. Smaller scout Mechs have been created to be a decent character, well worth playing, able to check out the terrain for other players, while also offering decent defensive capabilities. The idea is to have each type feel worthwhile, and suit a player’s style. And each can be significantly augmented through play, scoring “Efficiency Points”, which can be spent to unlock features, and eventually open new tiers. And importantly, these are something you can’t pay your way to – they’re only earned through playing the game.

The free-to-play elements are designed to work in the “time vs money” way. You cannot buy skill, but you can speed up your time fixing Mechs between battles with cash. And of course there are the vanity purchases, letting you create a custom look for your botsuit if you’re willing to fork out for it.

As for the persistent world sort of aspect of it, well, players can join Mercenary Units if they’re interested in playing the long game, in which an entire galaxy of planets are there for the taking, and defending. Or the occasional player can ignore all that and just jump into a fight wherever they wish. It seems the 12 v 12 battles will me made up of smaller squads of 3 or 4 players, but exactly how all that works wasn’t clearly explained.

And being a MechWarrior game, heat plays a crucial part in how you balance your fights. Standing in water cools off your Mech, while settings in ice wastelands and deserts will obviously dramatically affect how you maintain those levels. And while they weren’t showing it yet, they’re adding in a new setting for the series – urban maps.

Being CryEngine 3, it obviously looked very pretty, but I found what I was shown oddly sparse-looking. Set in green-grey valleys, vegetation was at a minimum, and it looked rather flat. However, the Mechs themselves were utterly splendid, and the detail for damage was incredible. Combat looked incredibly meaty, with the metal beasts able to take a lot of brutality from each other before finally falling, excellently detailed as they fell to bits, various parts no longer working.

All this leaves us feeling pretty optimistic about 2012, which is looking like the year of robot combat, what with this, Hawken, and some stuff that isn’t on the PC. Mechwarrior Online is due to go into open beta this Summer, but you can already register your pilot name now, to stop anyone else getting to it first.

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66 Comments »

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  1. Njordsk says:

    I feel like the only guy not liking mechs on earth.

    • Drakale says:

      You will be delighted to know that those mechs are most likely not on earth.

      • Phantoon says:

        I’m pretty sure, as far as Mechwarrior goes, that Earth isn’t a battleground in it, ever.

        • razorblade79 says:

          Not true. In the battletech universe earth has a unique role but only minor strategic importance. There are only few factions that actually care about it since the big houses have their own capital worlds – until about 3050 once the clans return since for them earth is their promised land.

          AFAIK the game will start like a year or two before the clan invasion and the ingame time is supposed to be 1:1 with real world time to reflect “historical” battletech timeline events.

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      felisc says:

      Well you’ll be the only guy left on earth when we will all leave the planet to colonize other systems with our cool giant robots. Is that really what you want ?

  2. Drakale says:

    If it’s similar to World of Tanks business model, without the gold rounds mechanic, I’m all for it.

    • Kdansky says:

      WoT is designed to make a ton of money, and never need any AI, but still offer a ton of cannon fodder so people have someone weaker to shoot at. Its design is absolutely perfect if you dislike fair games like Chess or Starcraft, but still want to pwn noobs. You just buy some gold ammo, and suddenly, you’re a god walking among men. Or you don’t, and become the prey for the paying clientele, but you don’t know it, because it’s hidden so well.

      • Drakale says:

        Yeah that’s pretty much my issue with WoT, getting killed by a premium tank do not bug me too much, you know what happened and why. Gold round is just frustrating because you will never know if it was a fair fight or not.

      • Gurrah says:

        Are you on the receiving end of 88’s much? But seriously, nobody uses gold ammo in random games and the few poor souls that do aren’t better for it, they just want to fire and forget and not care about the delicate penetration mechanics in WoT. I am really rather tired of people complaining about WoT’s balance, almost every tank has it’s uses even if he faces seemingly superior enemies.

        • Torgen says:

          Yes, anyone that uses gold rounds in public matches must be made of money. No one wants to piss away real cash at such a rate. Figure $15 for 3000 gold. For a high tier tank, that’s maybe 4 matches of gold ammo, so $45+ a night? I don’t see anyone doing that as a habit.

          I think that’s why Wargaming is hosting so many tourneys now, to induce people to buy gold rounds in a bid to claim the gold prizes. I’m sure they’re making more money than they’re giving out in these cases, figuring an average of 20 rounds x 12 people per round, minimum of 3 rounds per match, then multiplied by the number of matches per tourney.

          • Drakale says:

            You assume that paying players use gold ammo for every shot. They do not, instead they keep a few, 1 or 2, gold round on stock and only use it in case of a tie or close game, or to get a kill on a big target. That’s really frustrating because those close match should be determined by skill and teamwork, and they are instead (sometimes)determined by whoever had gold round stocked. It’s a very flawed mechanic in an otherwise fun game.

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        lurkalisk says:

        When people level such complaints against the game, I’m forced to assume they just haven’t spent enough (if any) time with it. Its usually not a noob friendly game. It takes time to understand just what good decisions are necessary to accomplish things. If you believe in barreling into your enemies while firing, hoping someone will die in the process, then you’d need gold rounds, otherwise a god head on your shoulders will suffice.

        • Kdansky says:

          No amount of good decision-making will allow my medium tank to kill a super-heavy tank, because I just can’t penetrate the armor.

          This post and the dozens before explain the mechanics in great detail and show what’s “wrong” in WoT from a competitive point of view. It’s not about competing, it’s about drawing the money out of players.

          http://greedygoblin.blogspot.com/2012/02/microtransactions-pay-to-cheat.html

          WoT uses so many clever tricks to hide its Pay2Win model, it’s quite a feat!

          I also resent the implied attack on my credibility on grounds of “you have not played enough yet”. I have played enough to realize that my skills make a huge difference, and that gold ammo makes a huge difference on top of that. I have not played enough to be so much invested in the game that I have to rationalize why P2Win is fine.

          • Sardaukar says:

            As a player of both tank destroyers and medium tanks, I take serious offense to the claim that “No amount of good decision-making will allow my medium tank to kill a super-heavy tank, because I just can’t penetrate the armor.” You really haven’t played enough if you believe this, that’s just the fact of it. Yes, there is some ugliness when you’re a tier V tank thrown into a match where you’re at the low end of the bracket, but there’s at least one other tank there you can fight on totally equal terms with- and most of the middle tanks are ones you can face with some help and clever maneuvering. But to state that you cannot win because you’re in a medium and they’re in a heavy? You need to learn more about the armor values and penetration mechanics.

            Good grief, I even got the killing blow on an IS-7, one of the most feared tanks in the game because it’s tier X, quite fast, possesses wickedly sloped armor, and a great gun- with naught but my measly tier VI American medium tank, the T20. I did it by sneaking around his side and shooting his flank armor. Didn’t even have to go for his back, just shooting the rear side did it, no gold rounds required.

          • Kdansky says:

            @Sardaukar: That’s what we call “outplayed AND lucky”.

            If that’s okay with you, why don’t we have a friendly game of chess someday, and ideally bet a decent sum of money to make it interesting. Of course, you will play black, and your board will be one king and 15 pawns instead of proper pieces. Because technically, you can still win that. Or you know, we could play SF2 Turbo, and I get to pick the boss character Akuma.

            Just because there is a low chance of winning against the odds does not mean the game isn’t fundamentally broken because the odds are highly unfair. WoT hides it better* than Chess, but the odds are no better than that. I am sure I can win against many people at chess in above mentioned scenario, because they don’t even know the rules and will make mistakes on which I can capitalize.

            *You actually fell for one of its tricks right there: 16 enemies, and you can beat 8, and stand a chance against 4, and have to fight an uphill battle against 3, and will lose against 1.

          • Sardaukar says:

            So which is it? Is it a game where only gold rounds matter, or a game where you can in fact win by playing well? In my 2,500~ games played so far, victory has almost always been the result of coordinating the team- a tiring challenge in public games to be sure- and defeat always from a team that made poor decisions about where to go and what to do.

            Gold shells used regularly cost a fortune and will never win a public game unless, by some mutant luck, every team member not only used them but still knew how to work together and where to go. The gold shells only enable them to penetrate the armor of something that might not normally be able to; They will not fire faster, nor more accurately, nor for more damage in many cases. And premium tanks? There is only one that is actually good in a fight, and it’s been pulled from the shelves and hopefully those that were bought before WG realized their screwup will be removed or altered someday as well.

          • Real Horrorshow says:

            I have 3,000 battles and Sardaukar is absolutely right. I’ve spent a total of maybe 20 or 30 bucks on WoT, and all I’ve ever used it for was to get some tier 5 premiums on sale, buy purely cosmetic camouflage, convert experience and then some short stints as a premium member to speed along the grind. And I have a 55% win rate.

            If you think World of Tanks is pay-to-win, then you just aren’t good at the game and/or don’t understand the reality of it. That’s that.

            No one uses gold rounds in random matches, and 99% of premium tanks are weaker than a fully upgraded tank of their same tier. Blaming your lackluster performance on these things is just making excuses, like blaming terrible aim in an FPS on having a 20ms higher ping than your opponent.

          • Smoof says:

            I want to also point out:

            You aren’t supposed to be able to take out a super heavy tank in your medium. That is to say, if I’m running my T-43 with an 85mm, there’s no possible way I’m going to penetrate a Maus. Do I cry and throw my hands-up in defeat? I certainly could, but it ignores the fact that WoT is a team game, not a game where I should be able to do everything lone wolf. If I’m in my T-43, I’m relying on my artillery to knock-out that Maus, or my support from heavier tanks with better penetration to take him out. WoT is about playing as a team; each tank has it’s strengths and weaknesses and are all balanced around supporting each other. I keep my arty safe from scouts, they keep me safe from those heavy tanks I can’t penetrate.

            Gold rounds don’t mean a thing if you’re not playing as a team. Gold rounds don’t automagically track their targets and ammo rack them, killing them in a single shot. WoT is far more often won by skill, tactics and proper team play than by the player who pays the most money. The games I most often lose are the ones where I’m the only one guarding a flank because the rest of my idiot pub team decides to lemming and follow the leader.

    • Grakkus says:

      If it’s like World of Tanks except NOT made by people who haven’t got the slightest clue about good game design, then I’m all for it too.

  3. Bassem says:

    I remember playing Mechwarrior 3 with mouse for torso aiming, keyboard in my lap for commands, and a steering wheel and pedals for leg motion. It was probably the most immersive gameplay I’ve had, control wise. I really felt like I was inside the thing.

    PS. I hope they bring back the zoom targeting reticule (clearly a Zipper Interactive idea, because it was present in Recoil as well.) That was one of the best features and I’ve often wondered why more games haven’t adopted it.

    • deadly.by.design says:

      Even with mouse & keyboard control alone, MW3 was the most fluid ‘mech piloting experience (IMO). It might’ve taken away from the “your keyboard is a futuristic switchboard” feeling of the other games, but it really was visceral and made me feel more in-control.

    • Sardaukar says:

      Something I loved about MW3 and don’t recall being able to do in MW4 (which I otherwise preferred) was mapping the mouse to control your arms. Q and E twisted the torso, while the mouse moved the reticle around the screen, the arms following it. Made for a more stable and subtle aiming experience.

  4. MistyMike says:

    A lot of pew-pew-pew going on on those screenshots.

  5. Nallen says:

    Doubt it’ll be as good as MWLL.

  6. danly says:

    All this leaves us feeling pretty optimistic about 2012, which is looking like the year of robot combat, what with this, Hawken, and some stuff that isn’t on the PC.

    Don’t forget the free-to-play, PC-only game Mechwarrior Tactics.

  7. Reefpirate says:

    “…first glance of the game revealed a highly-detailed cockpit revealed working instruments that…” You only need ONE ‘revealed’!! My gods, men! Sometimes I wonder if this is a deliberate RPS style…

    (I love you guys anyways)

  8. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    I’m tired of all these online-only titles. How about some PC games with strong single-player content? What about a full-blown giant-robot-RPG?

    • Blackcompany says:

      I could get behind a mech RPG. Maybe even leveling up your pilot and mech separately, for increased depth and development?
      .
      I really do agree that PC needs some strong, deep single player games. We get MMO games. We get console ports. What we need are more Flying Wild Hogs and CDProkejt type dev houses working on PC-first titles.
      .
      Its a nice dream….

      • Drinking with Skeletons says:

        That’s an intriguing idea. The mech levels up through use (XP gained from defeating enemies, blowing stuff up, etc.), the pilot levels up from mission/quest XP rewards?

        • Blackcompany says:

          Good idea. If the mech levels through use, but the pilot levels through completing quests…this could mean pilots could switch roles – er, mechs – between missions to play different roles. A scout in one mission; heavy gunner in the next. Support mech in a third. All the while the pilot skills increases, and carry over between missions.
          .
          Maybe pilots learn to drive mechs more efficiently as they pilot the heavies. Or push mech speeds beyond ‘test pilot parameters’ by driving faster scout mechs. These skills could carry over, letting you customize the pilot to your play style.
          .
          Meanwhile mechs could increase in durability, get weapon upgrades, speed buffs, reduced overheating or cooling times, etc, as you use them. And instead of gold/cash/money type loot…you could capture energy cells and spare parts from enemy mechs that you recycle for these mech level ups.
          .
          Just a thought because I am sick of chasing gold and loot in so-called RPG games. A giant Mech RPG would be amazing, frankly.

          • HothMonster says:

            This actually sounds a lot like the system they are using for this game, though i realize it is not a true rpg.

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          Jerricho says:

          Has anyone here played Heavy Gear? Of course you had. The GEAR you piloted had its own AI which could gain experience through battle. Ironically if you didn’t add in advanced targetting upgrades and such the AI levelled up faster by, presumeably, learning from the pilot. The AI box was then carried between GEARS along with the pilot. I suppose, in essence, this was the same as increasing your character’s skill.

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        Zephro says:

        Same here. I just don’t care about multiplayer games, especially MMOs.

        I just want to play through a nice MechWarrior single player campaign again, upgrading my lance and planning assaults on installations. Which I would with MechWarrior4 if it bloody well ran on my Windows 7 Machine. Same goes for Hawken and MechWarrior Tactics. Down with this sort of thing!

      • Tom OBedlam says:

        God yes, I own nearly all of the Mechwarrior PnPRPG books and have always wanted to see that make its way to the CRPG. The universe is so rich for out of mech politicking and adventuring, with BIG STOMPY ROBOTS to hot drop into battlefields. The possibility for the best sci-fi RPG imaginable (assuming I’ll never get my Dark Heresy game) is there

    • sneetch says:

      I like the idea of a Giant Robot RPG especially if the conversation trees between these Giant Robots are in binary.

      01000110111010100011?

      A) 0010001011101011
      B) 1010011011001011
      C) 1
      D) 0

    • vodka and cookies says:

      Not possible to raise the money for that through conventional means, if Mechwarrior Online is successful then maybe they can branch out with single player campaigns.

      Or see if they can raise money through Kickstarter.

      • Blackcompany says:

        Already planning to throw at least $15 at Wasteland 2. Kickstart a giant mech RPG – single player, or maybe, just maybe coop – and I am in. Seriously.

      • HothMonster says:

        They said awhile back that they want to include single player and co-op play in this game. It just is not a high priority at the moment. So yeah, hopefully this is successful as a pvp match game and they start to really grow the product.

    • HothMonster says:

      Xenogears?

      • Drayk says:

        Xenogears. My favorite game ever… Such sweet memories. They don’t do those gems anymore, do they?

    • Fumarole says:

      You’re looking for BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk’s Inception. More info here and here.

    • mckertis says:

      “What about a full-blown giant-robot-RPG?”

      Look forward to the end of summer.

  9. Blackcompany says:

    So…its just a giant PVP thing then. Why would someone choose this over, say, Perpetuum? I guess where Perpetuum has the EVE-esque, hardcore, lose-it-all-in-a-gamble gameplay, this is strictly consequence-free PVP battle?
    .
    Shame, really. I was looking forward to something a little more…fleshed out. Maybe with a plot, a story, some co-op/PVE opportunities. Disappointing that we’re getting yet another online battle arena, this time with mechs, but that seems to be the trend in gaming these days.

    • HothMonster says:

      There is a little more too it then just the arena. There is a metagame and plot and what not. Some kind of persistent world system they have really explained yet, where clans and factions will be battling for control. But think less open world and more browser map. They have also placed the game firmly in the universe’s timeline with one realtime day equal to one game universe day.

      So yes it is CS with mechs but there is also quite a bit more too it. If that quite a bit more is interesting or any good we do not yet know.

    • TotalBiscuit says:

      Probably because one requires actual skill?

      • Drayk says:

        I hate skill based pvp. I am too dumb and clumsy for those games. I can’t play, say Gears of war or battlefield without getting owned by younger, quicker, louder gamers… (never got past 1600 rating in arena in wow for exemple)

        I prefer a more strategic pvp gameplay, or co-op play but I sometime wish I could compete in a game like LOL or Dota.

        • Mordsung says:

          The only way to become better is to play them.

          Remember, most people out there are mouth breathing idiots. Even a few hours a week of dedicated play of a single game will quickly put you above the skill curve.

          Sure, a few hours a week of LoL won’t win you any tournaments, but you’ll be pub-stomping like a champ in no time.

          This is especially true if you play in the North American region like myself. A very large number of people here can’t even get through high school due to low intelligence, so all you need to do is outsmart people who couldn’t even grasp basic math.

          If you then combine this with getting good at manipulating the less intelligent into being your canon-fodder/distraction, you’re gold. You may lose the match, but that’s something you can’t control. You can only control your own performance, so aim to be the best player on your team and leave the rest to chance.

      • dsi1 says:

        TB I hope you realize Perpetuum has very skill based combat in terms of movement decisions, bringing the right equipment is a large factor just like Eve, but unlike Eve choosing the field of battle is also huge.

  10. Squishpoke says:

    I like the general direction they are going in. Everything sounds fine, but of course I’m hesitant about the “efficiency points” system. I’m not a huge fan of unlocks, and giving players who are *already* experienced with the game better perks just serves to unbalance the playing field even more. However, I realize that you can’t apply a 100% purist Quake 3 mindset into this game.

    I’d be okay with a system where you purchase parts and weapons for your mech, I guess, and a lobby system that restricts mechs based on weight classes and whatnot. It seems more interesting than “play 100 hours and get +10 heatsink”, ya know?

    • Kdansky says:

      The industry will get over this unlock-fad at some point, and we can play better games in the mean time. Dessing up competitive games with unlock/progression crap results in unstable communities. If you’ll excuse me, I have some Go and Puzzle Strike to play over here.

  11. sneetch says:

    The free-to-play elements are designed to work in the “time vs money” way. You cannot buy skill, but you can speed up your time fixing Mechs between battles with cash.

    Hmmm… I’m ok with this idea in general but this is a bit vague… how long does it normally take to fix your mechs? How many mechs will you have? What happens if all your mechs are damaged?

    I like this in their FAQ:
    http://mwomercs.com/support#
    Q. Will the Clans make an appearance or cameo?
    A. ;)

    • Redford says:

      I predict a fairly good chance that this is actually the cash shop component which will render the game unplayable, if they decide that you need to repair your mech after every single match. Inevitably, they will make it a period of time long enough to break up the flow of the game in order to force people to pay into the cash shop. In addition, since people who pay don’t have to wait between games, they will accumulate resources faster and thus will be stronger. Depending on how significant they make it, the effect could be minor, or they could make it totally unfair and make the game impossible to enjoy unless you pay to shorten the wait times.

      While I would like to hope for the best, there are few cash shop games which have decided to learn from LoL, which has the fairest cash shop and yet is currently the most profitable computer game on the face of the earth. If you create a pay to win scheme, or an illusion of choice in your cash shop, people will notice. More people then the ones who will be fooled into giving you money. Unless your game is marketed in Asia.

  12. Walsh says:

    I don’t necessarily trust a console port developer to do this right.

    I can see it now: $1 to buy a new PPC for your mech, then they gouge you to the tune of $5 per heat sink.

    • HothMonster says:

      Pessimists always see pessimistic things.

      • Walsh says:

        Any and all negative comments are created by pessimists.

        • HothMonster says:

          “Any and all negative comments predicting the future are created by pessimists.”
          ftfy
          If the game was out and this was the case you would just be a realist. :b

          • dsi1 says:

            Pessimists are just realists ahead of their time.

            At least that’s what I’ve learned watching the gaming industry for the past decade or so.

    • FRIENDLYUNIT says:

      That’s OK. Heatsinks? Bah!
      Real Men pilot Real Mechs.
      It’s not a Real Mech unless you can overheat to shut it down in two turns, maximum. Preferably one.

  13. Reapy says:

    I don’t know if its me but I’ve always felt in most mech warrior games the scale between you and building feels wrong. I know you are supposed to be a giant mech amongst normal sized people and buildings, but I always have felt like a normal sized mech in a tiny world, rather than the scale it is supposed to convey. I can’t put my finger on it why all the buildings and things look like toys rather than normal sized ones.

    Anyway, sort of neat they are going to include some of those persistent campaign ideas that people have been patching into their mech games for a long while. I wonder though that it won’t feel much different than mech IV mercs, maybe some polished up graphics.

    I really enjoyed configuring mechs and finding a good load out, but at the end of the day the only way it seemed you could get better at the game was to basically hill hump (go up hill, alpha, go down hill) or jump sniping (jump straight up wall, alpha strike, fall back down below wall).

    In a way I think its why it seems more interesting to experience all the equipment from a mechwarrior tactics point of view rather than being in the robot. Either way it might have been that teamwork is what brings out most of the fun, and I can envision some stars of mechs working towards common goals in the persistent campaign mode.

    • Askeladd says:

      Trust me … nothing feels as good as suprising the enemy with a well coordinated rush with heavy and medium mechs covered by assaults, or is it the other way around?
      You need no coordination with sniping. It will be the prefered tactic on the public for the lone wolf player (takes a look at BF3).
      The best thing is when asking if somebody can do that or this for somebody else -> scout spotting for the artillery etc.

  14. Miltrivd says:

    2012 so weird so far. Next-gen MMOs coming (hopefully) refreshing the genre and stopping the grind (GW2 and lots of action based combat ones in development); ARPG full on glory (Torchlight II, Diablo III, Lineage Eternal); Mechs, who woulda thought, mechs again! Wasteland 2 and Double Fine doing great stuff on Kickstarter; Starfarer and FTL and in less measure SPAZ showing space top-down combat at its finest.

    I don’t know, seems like a re-focus on making games fun and polished is finally kicking in and we didn’t have to wait to a second game industry crash to start seeing it. Consoles and gaming going mainstream did a lot of damage to game quality. This year looks great!

  15. olpolpolpolp says:

    http://lnk.co/ILTHN
    this stuff is very cool