Worlds Without People: Persistant Online Worlds in Console Mech Games


Fans of mecha games might remember a game from the old Xbox called MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf. It was a pretty solid mech action game all in all, but it included an interesting feature. In addition to the single-player story and multiplayer (Xbox Live, system link, and splitscreen), the game also included a mode called “Conquest.”

In Conquest, players chose one of five factions to align themselves with and fought for control over various planets. Each planet had its own environment and gametype, and winning games in Conquest shifted the balance of power in the player’s faction’s favor. The concept of a persistent online world where I could play for hours, go to sleep, wake up, and see that the situation had changed in the time I was asleep fascinated me, and I found myself wanting to play Conquest more than the normal multiplayer.

The problem, however, was that Conquest’s playerbase dropped off fairly quickly compared to those who played the game’s regular multiplayer. MechAssault 2 did have a fair-sized playerbase for a mech game, being the sequel to one of the first flagship games for Xbox Live, but even the boost in popularity given to it by the MechAssault name couldn’t save MechAssault 2’s Conquest mode.

Two years later, ChromeHounds would stomp onto the Xbox 360, bringing with it the Neroimus War, a persistent online war between three factions, vying for control over territory in the fictional Neroimus region. Players would join a faction, join or form a team under that faction, and battle other players for control over various areas and territories.

ChromeHounds had a story mode, but it was little more than a glorified series of tutorial missions, designed to let the player get a feel for how the game controls and how the game’s mechanics work. The parts selection and customization were heavily limited in the single-player mode. Xbox Live was where the real action was at. Team coordination was the name of the game, and those who ran with good teams had a big advantage over those who didn’t.

Of course, ChromeHounds came with a “Free Battle” mode, where players could fight it out with no consequence to the Neroimus War. At this point, I’m not sure how much more or less often that was used compared to the Neroimus War, but none of that mattered after January 6, 2010, when Sega shut down the game’s servers, rendering the game functionally useless.

Armored Core V has its work cut out for it. Persistent multiplayer conquest mode worked (Sort of) for MechAssault, but only because it existed as an auxiliary gameplay mode, a supplement to the regular multiplayer. ChromeHounds saw its servers shut down three-and-a-half years after its release. Armored Core V has the Armored Core name backing it up, and that means something to mech game fans, but will that be enough to save it from ChromeHounds’ fate? Only time can tell.

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