I've been playing a great deal of MWO with my revamped PC, and the phrase "it's like night and day" would be accurate: my frame rates consistently rest around 60, the controls are smooth and responsive and, this is the kicker, I no longer have connection or driver issues that manifest, making my "game" experience into a kind of torturous meta-game experience where I'm gang pressed by my passion into debugging a notoriously touchy game engine. But it's there more new material for me than just a nice, smooth, comfortable gaming experience. I've also begun playing "Community Warfare" games, 12v12 objective-oriented slugfests that involve managing waves of mechs, your own and other people's, and, in a larger game structure. These games are usually aimed at resolving territory disputes: the winner gets to hold on to a planet which, at present, doesn't really do a whole lot for people, aside from give them bragging rights.
The whole purpose of this "Community Warfare" thing is that it ties back into the game's larger fiction. The Battletech/Mechwarrior universe is home to a number of conflicts, but one of the biggest ones is the fight between the outlandish Clans, the self-exiled descendents of a military-space-messiah, and the savvy political houses of the Inner Sphere, the people who stuck around Earth and the variously civilized world that surround it. All these factions historically vie for territory and influence, and when the Clans initially invade the Inner Sphere factions explode in a kind of concerted cohort, all working together with the hope that they'll be able to stall out the Clan invasion. This struggle has a storied history, rich with crushing defeats (mostly on the part of the various Inner Sphere factions) and occasional bold victories comes to a head, historically, with the Battle of Tukayyid, a sort of weird trial-by-combat for the fate of the entire Inner Sphere.
Piranhi Games is trying to bring that history to life with a re-enactment of Tukayyid's famous battle occupying most of the next week. They've disabled the territory-oriented part of Community Warfare and channeled all combatants into a single high-intensity battleground, where they are fighting for supremacy over one world, instead of dozens of worlds at once. As I type this, PGI is tallying all the wins on the planet, waiting to see who's in control of more territory when the dust settles. The aim is admirable: in a game as grind-heavy as MWO, giving players an identifiable objective , especially one rooted in the Battletech mythos, is a great way to get players excited, and make their sometimes-futile-feeling efforts into something with a clear purpose behind it. Here, there's a full out, knock down brawl, filled with rewards and with a dandy tracker telling us just how we're doing.
In Battletech history, Tukayyid was a turning point, where the Clans, who had until then been running roughshod over the Inner Sphere, were thoroughly defeated. It represents a fight where the advantage of superior technology that Clans had, until then, been reliant upon was removed, thanks to the interdiction of the Com Guard, a kind of ancient order of surprisingly well armed telecommunications-oriented warrior-monks, and thanks to the less restricted battlefield tactics employed by the Inner Sphere units, who were free from the behavioral restrictions that Clans imposed upon themselves during combat. During this reenactment, however, the Com Guard aren't a part of this conflict, since that faction and the technology they brought to bear doesn't exist in MWO at present, and the other advantage, that of improved unit cohesion and tactical coordination, isn't something that can be mechanically reinforced. PGI attempted to alloy the advantage of Clan mechs somewhat by doing things like making Inner Sphere mechs a little bit hardier, and giving them some behavioral quirks that give them a slight combat advantage over their Clan opponents, but it's widely debated just how effective those bumps have been. After all, the whole point of the Clans is that their tech is just better: their weapons hit harder, more often, from farther away.
So this historic turning point, wherein the Clans are pushed back by hardy Inner Sphere fighters, has become something very different. As of when I write this, the Clans are winning, and by a significant margin: 65% of all matches have ended in a Clan victory. With a mix of coordinated units and random players involved in the event and concentrated in a single engagement, it's presenting a pretty clear overarching narrative: the Inner Sphere is losing, and the tweaks that were made to their chassis aren't really helping. The historic victory that Tukayyid was is being replaced, in the continuity of MWO's history, by a moderate defeat that might turn to crushing with enough time behind it. In fact, the only aspect of the battle that seems to follow Battletech lore is that Clan Wolf, the only Clan to achieve an unqualified victory during Tukayyid, is kicking every other faction's ass. Wolf pilots have been racking up points at nearly a 2:1 ratio, compared to the players in other factions.
Aside from that, Tukayyid appears to be a pretty one-sided conflict, with the Clans beating back the Inner Sphere handily. And while part of that is certainly the way that Clan and Inner Sphere mechs play differently, a big part of it also likely comes from the way people actually engage in play. Because Inner Sphere mechs do actually have a tactical advantage in this fight: they're more customizable and, as a result, players can do some crazy shit with them. Their light mechs, used for scouting, can move much more quickly, and their heavy and assault mechs can take advantage of smaller or lighter engines that allow them to carry more weapons and ammunition into combat. A coordinated group of Inner Sphere mechs is more flexible and versatile than their Clan counterparts, but that coordination is a must if they want to beat back the technologically superior Clans. And therein lies the rub: most of MWO's player base isn't actually associated with a unit and, as such, isn't playing Tukayyid as part of a team.
Pugs, a shorthand term for "pick-up groups" in gamer parlance, dominate the landscape of MWO. Sometimes that means a coordinated unit gets an easy win against a bunch of filthy pugs, but Tukayyid is proving that it's just as possible for pugs to be matched against one another and, when that happens, the Clans seem to win at an alarming rate. Perhaps meta-data will emerge later on that will help illustrate how accurate this presumption is, information that will present a recognizable pattern in terms of how games play out, but at present there's none of that to be had. All we can really see here is what happens when all the Clan players and all the Inner Sphere players mash together, and the result is less like what happened at Tukayyid and more what happened in every conflict leading up to it: the Clans are winning at a steady pace.
Does this mean "historical combat" is dead in MWO? Probably not. Even if this doesn't play out the way it did in the history books (or franchise novels) it isn't the end of the world, and Battletech has a wealth of massive historic battles to mine. It could be that PGI will run the clock back and fight the Battle of Luthein at some point instead, a longer campaign and a much closer fight. Or it could be that PGI will look forward, to an era when Clan tech began to integrate into Inner Sphere mechs and units. With lighter, more powerful weapons, Inner Sphere mechs could become less distinguished from their Clan counterparts, which could lead to a re-enactment of the sundering seen in the darker late chapters of Battletech history, which involved the fall of most of the Clans, and the rise of a terrifying religious faction. At this point, it's impossible to say, but whatever happens, I'll be there. As long as PGI keeps dangling prizes in my face, I'll be there.