PAX East 2013: Hawken Hands On


The free to play business model has exploded in recent years, which was more than evident from the offerings found on the PAX East show floor; there were a ton to be found. And most could be easily confused for each other; generally speaking, they’re first person shooters. You’re usually some grunt running around in space marine attire.

But not Hawken. Other than a first person view, the similarities end there. If there were any other free to play mech games, or mech games period at the show, I completely missed them. After many months of build up, it was unleashed at last in the form of an open beta at the tail end of 2012 and has been going strong ever since, if not stronger.

For those not familiar, you basically pilot a gigantic robot on the behalf of one of two corporations that are fighting over dwindling resources. At this point in the future, all of Earth is more or less a junkyard wasteland, due to an alien virus that has take over the planet. Like a cancer, it’s turning everything mechanical. Sounds like the Borg doesn’t it? An apt description, but it’s MUCH prettier. The first thing that really jumps out is the visuals; they’re some of the nicest graphics you’re going to find anywhere, period. End of story.

I wasn’t able to get specifics as it pertains to how the horsepower of the PCs on hand at the show, but I was assured that users at home would enjoy satisfactory graphics nonetheless. But if there’s any game worth investing in your gaming rig for, Hawken is it. At one moment, during my demo, it felt as if I was playing an interactive concept painting, from Blade Runner and the like. They were that good.

Though the most important question is: can I play Hawken? After all, mech games are known for mostly one thing: a very high barrier of entry. Which is why it’s business model, again free to play, is so curious since those type of players are mostly known for being the casual type. Actually, the game is surprisingly approachable, thanks to its very simplified controls. It’s mostly just ASWD keys to move and the mouse to aim. Basically, you don’t have to remember what every single button on the keyboard does to play. This is not Steel Battalion 1.

Hawken is meant to be a “gentle introduction to the mech genre” as one of the community managers explanted to me. The mechs might look like tanks on legs, but they don’t move like them (or at least not all of them). Many are quite limber, graceful even. Which can be used to jump around and run all over the battlefield (thanks to the thrusters that most are equipped with).

There are 12 classes at the moment, with a 13th arriving next month. Each are separated by weight class; it’s a sliding scale, between armor and speed. Mechs that are super protected are slow, while those that have little shielding have the advantage of being super speedy.

Back to its price tag; many are skeptical of the whole free to play deal, because such things aren’t truly free to play. But I was assured that this wasn’t the case. Apparently, everything that affects gameplay can be upgraded via in-game currency, known as Hawken credits. So you don’t have to put any money down if you don’t want to, though doing so will speed things up, since it will take time to earn credits.

Real money can also be used to purchase boosters, which increases the rate in which in game experience points and credits are earned. As for the only things that can purchased with real money, and there is some, it’s simply cosmetic stuff, like paint jobs, symbols, and the like.

Hawken can be played right now, this very second. Again, it’s in open beta, which means anyone can get in. Though, because it’s not exactly complete yet, there’s some parts that are missing. Like the single player campaign; there isn’t any. At the moment, it’s purely multiplayer, but the solo player component, along with the story, will come eventually.

Till then, they’re relying upon the comic book and web series to help flesh out the world.