While doing "research" for this I've rebooted Mechwarrior Online which I haven't played much for the last year. Since I last reviewed it a year or so back I thought I'd give a bit of a "state of the union" run down for my latest experiences.
Yesterday's painting haul....
New mechs are not proper "content"
I think there's one new game mode and one new map in a year. In the same time, they have introduced 296 new mechs* (*number might be slightly exaggerated). I notice this in a lot of freemium arena games, like World of Tanks. I mean, I understand why - selling new shiny mechs is how they keep their doors open (and probably 1000 times easier to make/balance than a new map) - but surely it is also good to retain customers (not everyone likes playing the same half dozen maps 1000s of times.) But honestly, there's no point getting a new jet ski if the only place you can use it is the local swimming pool. Over and over again.
I saved the clan Battle Armours for last. This is the Warg assault class.
More Mechs = Less diversity
Due to the way you can customize your mechs (one of the most fun part of the game is mix-maxing weapons loadouts and balancing your weight, cooling and slots) a lot of the time people end up building different mechs with the same loadouts. You can make two different, unique chassis into something functionally similar. In the early days, there were only a few mechs and differences were marked; i.e. "this one goes 40kph faster than that one" or "this one has 8 energy slots, this one has only 2. "this one has jumpjets, this does not" With the increasing amount of mechs and variants you can end up with very similar builds and the differences between mechs can be cosmetic - literally. High mounted weapons are good for "peeking" over hills and a good mech body shape can give favourable hitboxes - these can be the main determiners if the mech is "good" or not.
They are actually power armour, but at 15mm tall they scale well as 6mm mechs.
Balance Improved... ...but not a brawlers paradise
I've played during the poptart meta (PPCs+ACs with jumpjets) laser vomit (clan mechs boating mucho lasers) and survived a few LRMpocalypses (where the mindless missile spammers had their day and ECM/AMS was mandated). At the moment it's reasonably balanced - they talk about a "brawl" meta but that's just wishful thinking. Close range duels are cool in theory but tend to require specific circumstances - co-ordinated, bold team mates (lol!), the right map, and the right situation. The vast majority of times you are better off with longer-ranged weapons.
Over time, clan mechs have been nerfed (and IS mechs "quirked" by getting unique mech-specific bonuses) so they are a lot more balanced. Hilariously, a year or so back clanners were claiming their mechs were "balanced" despite dominating the match tables every game with superior speed, firepower and more survivable XL engines.
I wonder what clan these belong to? ;-)
Still "pay for early access" (i.e. disguised pay-to-win)
They still sell mechs for cash months before the general populace can access them - meaning someone spending real life money can gain advantages over someone who does not. It's not as overt as back when the clans were new and ridiculously OP (the clans seem reasonably balanced now with the exception of the Kodiak and by now most average players have their own clan mechs) but if the item (mech) behind the paywall is even slightly better or offers gameplay advantage (Night Gyr vs Timberwolf) then it's still pay-to-win.
As usual, with small minis, bright colours are important...
Same oddball community
Mechwarrior Online seems to be a polarizing game. There are "white knights" to whom PGI (the company) can do no wrong. There are many bitter veterans from beta who have "quit" the game five times but still have thousands of forum posts. There are the mil-sim guys who "Charlie Tango Foxtrot" and call instructions in game chat with utter seriousness. There are very helpful players who will team up to teach you the ropes and write exhaustive guides. There are guys who religiously fit out their mechs to tabletop specs even if it is hopelessly non-competitive.
The tanks and infantry (6mm) are by Brigade. They are OK and affordable, but I think GZG are better. Their buildings I do recommend.
Once you get your first mech, it takes probably 100 games to earn enough for a new mech (there are also hidden costs; weapons, ominimods, and upgrades like endo-steel and double heat sinks usually add a lot to the cost of your mech; and XL engines can cost as much as the mech itself). Obviously, it's designed to make you spend money to "shortcut." It's a "free" game but spending $30 or so will definitely make your starting experience more pleasant.
Trial Mechs aren't bad
Back in the day, trial mechs (ones everyone gets to use without owning, but cannot be customized) used to be hilariously bad but now they are quite competitive and a few have rather optimal fit-outs. So as a new player the experience is better.
I may end up using Battletech stats/background as the basis for my mech game - they come with established stats/balance and I do like the heat management to add a more "mecha" feel.
If you want to feel like your are piloting a towering steel monster, Mechwarrior Online is still your best bet. It's repetitive, and not without its flaws, but it's family-friendly, free, and "Dad friendly" - i.e. slow enough paced that old reflexes can keep up and with rounds of ~10 minutes which keeps wife rage under control.
Most of the advice in the old thread is sound, but as game balance changes so do suggested mechs... so here's my December 2016 recommendations. Generally you stick with one faction in case you want to play Faction vs Faction (a good source of free stuff). Inner Sphere is cheaper (and not gimped like they used to be) so there is that.
As a new player, avoid assaults (they are too slow so if you position yourself wrong you are screwed) and probably lights (they are fast, flimsy and suicidal in rookie hands... ...but also fun!). Mechs can be customised a lot, and anything can be played well in random games, though I'm going to give a list of mechs to avoid for both IS // Clan. If not flat out bad, they are obsoleted by similar mechs who can do the same job much better.
Lights to avoid: Commando, Urbanmech // Kit Fox, Mist Lynx
Mediums to avoid: Pheonix Hawk, Vindicator, Trebuchet, Kintaro // Ice Ferret, Viper
Heavies to avoid: Archer, Orion, Dragon, Cataphract // Orion IIc, Mad Dog
Assaults to avoid: Awesome, Victor, Highlander, Zeus // Gargoyle, Warhawk, Highlander IIC
If you ever have a hankering to try MW:O, it is free - and catch me up - I play as Dunning Kruger Effect on both NA and Oceania servers.