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Metal Gear Online needs major work

Despite bugs, there's fun to be had, but will Konami stick with it?

By many accounts, Metal Gear Solid 5 is unfinished. A final mission that actually brought closure to the game's convoluted plot was left on the cutting room floor, and many players felt that the entirety of chapter two, when compared to the confident execution of chapter one, seemed like a rush job. Metal Gear Online feels a bit like that too.

When you first sign in, you'll be assigned the avatar you created at the beginning of Metal Gear Solid 5's single-player campaign. You can then choose one of three classes for that character: Scout (a sniper class recommended for beginners), Infiltrator and Enforcer. You won't be able to change this at a later date. Levelling is also tied to each character, not your player ID, so if you want to re-roll with a different avatar, or if you want to play as a woman (you can't change the gender of your starting character), you'll have to start again from scratch once a second character slot is unlocked at level 6. Gear is all cosmetic, and it'll take a little while for players to customise everything to their liking. Some items start at 30GP and some are as pricey as 10,000, while changing the colour of an item costs 500GP. To give you some idea of pacing, after a standard match, some players were reporting getting between 10 and 20 GP, but playing via auto-matchmaking I was receiving 50GP per game.

On launch day, there were numerous reports that players were struggling to get into a single game, but playing on Xbox One I had no trouble with matchmaking, consistently joining a game less than a minute after launching the auto-match feature. I did have major issues with getting unceremoniously booted from the server though, or worse, getting booted from a match and immediately thrown back into MGO's big, empty hub world after the host disconnected. Having no dedicated servers or host migration is a frankly ridiculous problem to be having with an online game in 2015. Hosts can boot any player at any point without a vote, and if a player is booted mid-match, they lose all XP from it. Until Konami sorts this, only the very patient or players who were around for previous iterations of MGO will stick with this version for long. The simple fact that it's Metal Gear is the only reason I can see why a lot of players wouldn't have logged off in the first five minutes and never looked back.

At least the plushies, used to distract enemies, are really cute.

There are three modes on offer. The first, Bounty Hunter, is essentially team deathmatch. It shouldn't be; on paper, the focus is on extracting enemies with fulton balloons rather than killing them, with the numerical bounty on their head adding the equivalent number of tickets to your team's total, meaning there's a level of strategy in turning the tide of a match by focusing on its most wanted soldiers. But, unsurprisingly, very few players are approaching it that way at present. This, I suspect, will be an ongoing problem. A lot of people are playing MGO in exactly the opposite way to how it was (presumably) intended to be played. Teammates stealing kills from enemies you're in the midst of fultoning is a major annoyance; some even shoot down your balloons, despite them being worth far more points to the team than a corpse. But to be fair to players, none of these mechanics are adequately explained in-game, so most are figuring things out for themselves as they go.

Comm Control is MGO's fairly straightforward take on Domination; teams attack or defend capture points around the map. Cloak and Dagger is definitely the best mode for players keen to play MGO more like a Metal Gear game. It also feels like the only mode where playing non-lethally isn't a huge disadvantage, given MGO's more-or-less instant time to kill, even on body shots. In Cloak and Dagger, one team defends two data discs spawned on the map while the other team attempts to steal one and transport it to an extraction point. The attacking team is cloaked, but armed only with non-lethal weapons and the ability to engage an enemy in close-quarters combat if they can get close enough. If you die, you're out until the next round. There was a moment when I was grabbed from behind by an invisible assailant, only to have a teammate snipe them from the other side of the map before they could slit my throat or force me to give up my teammate's positions. In moments like that, you can feel the game's true potential.

Cover image for YouTube videoMetal Gear Online needs some work

And that's the frustration. Once you manage to navigate the matchmaking issues, overlook the lag, ignore the balancing problems with Walkers and Plushies and have the good fortune not to get booted by a host (or manage to host and populate a match yourself), you can have a fun time, especially when playing with people you know. Public matches are a breeding ground for opportunists at the moment; aside from kill steals, I found enemy team members camping or sniping spawn points on a few of the smaller maps several times. This becomes a real problem in modes like Comm Control, where spawn points can be severely limited.

Walkers, though fun and massively overpowered, seem a bit glitchy at present. I've witnessed players fly through the air without Walkers, and Walkers ambling through the battlefield devoid of players. Once, when an enemy and I, both piloting the machines, blew each other up at the same time, it actually crashed my entire console. CQC seems buggy, too; not only is the grab reach far more generous than it should be, but delays - or it just straight up not working - mean two opposing soldiers can end up doing an awkward little dance before one eventually gets a hold of the other.

Bugs really are MGO's main issue at this point: there's freezing and even bullet delay, while some videos and screenshots uploaded so far show major asset glitches, with water and explosion particles not loading and big black squares taking their place. It's good for a laugh, at least.

Of course, it's worth bearing in mind that all this is all based on day-one impressions playing with strangers equally new to the game, and all the bugs are naturally fixable with patches. The real problem is that I'm not confident Konami will support Metal Gear Online to the level that it clearly, badly needs. This would be a shame because you can see the potential is there. With better load-outs and a good team, matches can be great fun. With just three modes longevity is a worry, but once the initial rush of new players dies down, the folks left will likely enjoy a much purer experience. It's a pity, given the rock-solid mechanics of the single-player campaign and occasional bursts of fun in multiplayer - but as it currently stands, Metal Gear Online is difficult to recommend.