Today's BattleMech advice column

Someone I actually know in real life writes:

I've been following your blog, and decided to install MechWarrior Online to have a go at it (having played the board game version back in '88, the PC CGA version in 91, the new VGA version in 95.... these mechs are all the new ones... bring back the Marauder I say!). Anyhoo... I've played 50 or 60 matches now, and my kill/death ratio is about 0.15 and I have no idea what to be spending my credits on, I'm trying to get a Hunchback build that is reasonable... any tips?


Dapper 'Mech

Yeah, that's right: I've got a pinstriped Hunchback, baby. Most important part of the build.

But given the current structure of the game, I think (relative) beginners are best off in a 'Mech that can fit electronic countermeasures, which no Hunchback can. An ECM module largely prevents you from being the focus of enemy attention, and lets you sneak around capturing things in Conquest mode, and you can help teammates just by standing around near them.

Only four 'Mechs so far can accept ECM, though; this Commando, this Raven, this Cicada and this Atlas. Of those, I'd recommend the Raven, because it's pretty fast and flexible, and a 35-tonner, the heaviest possible "light" 'Mech.

This matters, because the current game matchmaker matches any 'Mech on one team with any other 'Mech in the same weight class. So if you launch in a 25-ton Commando, you are likely to attract a Raven or Jenner on the other team. Likewise, Cicada pilots attract Centurions and Hunchbacks.

The new "cadet bonus" feature means new players can actually quite easily afford even an Atlas after not terribly many games (everyone else just got a lump-sum payment of almost eight million C-Bills, which was nice). But if you've already blown that money, the alarming purchase price of the Raven 3L (because it comes with ECM already installed, and an XL engine...) will force you to play quite a few games to buy one. (Or spend eight to ten bucks of real-world money on "Mech Credits" to buy one directly.)

The Commando 2D, on the other hand, costs less than 1.8 million C-bills (or only 715 Mech Credits, about $US2.50 worth). If you can afford the 'Mech but not yet ECM to put in it, you can just run it ECM-less and grind up some experience points while you save money. One solid hit from a big 'Mech can rip off a limb or kill you outright, but as long as you keep moving (which means not running into dead ends and rubbing on walls...) it's surprising how seldom that happens.

The 2D was the Commando everyone feared before ECM, because it's got three missile hardpoints so you can put three Streak SRM launchers in it and hit very surprisingly hard. ECM makes Streak-monsters much less dangerous... unless the Streak-monster has ECM too, in which case he just hits J to switch ECM from disrupt to counter mode, blows away the ECM-packing enemy, then returns to disrupt and keeps on fighting. My 2D has three Streaks, one small laser, and a pretty good kill-to-death ratio.

To answer your actual question, though, I think the secret of a non-annoying Hunchback is to put a big enough engine in it that you can do about eighty kilometres an hour. Then a couple of LRM 5s, some medium lasers or twice as many small lasers (the nine-small-laser Hunchback-4P is a sight to behold), and away you go. Put the lasers in chain-fire mode (backspace, by default, while the appropriate weapon group is highlighted in the bottom right of the HUD), for the best chance of hitting. Chained weapons will fire in slow sequence while you hold the fire button down, but if you want to fire them all quickly you can just click rapidly and get one shot per click.

Beyond that, the difference between frustration and misery and numerous kills and happiness is all in the piloting. Especially if you, like J and I, live in Australia and so routinely get 200-to-300-millisecond pings. When shooting at enemies with lasers with a high ping, ignore the glowing armour your game client shows you, and look at your target's status display at the top right of the HUD. If there are bits of it flashing, you're hitting it (well, someone is, at any rate...). If nothing's flashing, you need to lead the target more.

I'm sure that even you, J, will eventually be able to master this, despite the miserable reflexes and poor concentration that no doubt got you into your cushy government job driving a steamroller or a tram or whatever that thing is you actually drive at work.

Oh, and with regard to the abovementioned various versions of this game... It's come quite a way, hasn't it?

UPDATE - J's reply!

Sweet... I've spent most of tonight running around in a Raven 3L :) Still have to work out the best way to use the TAG and NARC... maybe I'll upgrade the engine to get more than 97kph out of it.

NARC launchers are not much use in the game as it stands. The last patch boosted the duration of a NARC beacon from 15 to 20 seconds, at least, but 20 seconds still isn't very long, and ECM neutralises NARC completely.

And the darn launcher weighs three tons, requires ammo, and that ammo only gives you six lousy missiles per ton. (This makes NARC missiles the heaviest ammo in the game; even AC/20 ammo gives you seven shots per ton!)

TAG, on the other hand, is only one ton (a NARC launcher is three tons), needs no ammo and makes no heat. So it's not much of a commitment to install it, and wave it around gaily like an overstimulated raver at almost all times. The last patch also increased TAG range from 450 to 750 metres.

You need to keep TAG-lasering a target to be of any use to your team, though. The TAG effect lasts for three seconds after you cease illuminating the target, so you can keep flicking the beam over targets and at least don't have to hold it on them constantly. But brief drive-by TAG-ing is worse than no TAG-ing at all. You'll just have the missile-boats on your team lining up a shot on your briefly-illuminated target and then, usually, launching precious missiles a millionth of a second after the target lock disappears again.

If you're running among the enemy being an ECM nuisance, you're going to have trouble consistently illuminating them; if you're TAG-ing them from a distance you're announcing your location, which can be helpful if you're devoted to Team Annoying Bastard tactics, but will usually just get you killed.

For newbies, this video shows how to use TAG - it's the barely-visible red beam coming in from the right side of the cockpit view.

With regard to the engine, the biggest motor you can jam into a Raven 2X or 4X is a 245, giving 113.4km/h. The Raven 3L can take engines up to 295, though, giving a speed of 136.5 km/h. That's the fastest any 'Mech can go in the game thus far - apparently speeds above 150 km/h currently cause the game engine to do weird things, and the "Speed Tweak" elite upgrade adds 10% to your base speed, which takes a 136.5-km/h 'Mech neatly up to 150.

Even an XL 295 engine weighs 15 tons, though, making it difficult to cram much in the way of weapons into a XL-295 35-ton 'Mech like the Raven. Personally, I'm quite happy with the stock XL 210. If you want lightning speed with some room for weapons, the abovementioned Commando 2D will give it to you; my ECM Streak Commando has an XL 195 in it, giving a base speed of 126.3 km/h.

You can also use your Raven to explore different play styles and get the hang of big 'Mechs without having to buy one. Install a small engine, giving you the speed of a heavy or assault 'Mech, and some appropriate fraction of that 'Mech's weapon loadout, and then hang around with the heavies and do what they do.

I had a lot of fun in the pre-ECM world with my slow Raven missile boat, which was essentially half of a Catapult.

Just don't install a big missile rack in a location which, from the factory, had a NARC launcher; those locations usually have only one missile tube, and so wee out the missiles one at a time. This is a neat way of sucking all of the AMS ammo out of an enemy, and it's funny to watch, but that's as complimentary as I can be about it.

6 Responses to “Today's BattleMech advice column”

  1. Gridlock Says:

    Growing up (so aged 12 or so) my pride and joy was my bike - my friend's was his Konami (maybe) controller for one of these mech games, which IIRC had at least 2 throttle levers, numerous joysticks and more buttons than NORAD. Wish I could remember what it was called (*cough* hint).

    To be fair to J his company vehicle was first sketched out in 1965 or so and has no legs or DEWs. But 0.15 won't get him Kelly McGillis.

  2. RobL Says:

    Jenner 300xl. It's the only way to fly :-)

    Having blown all those free 8M on a D-DC I find the ecm less useful at avoiding damage than I'd hoped. Although an Atlas seemingly is a magnet for every ***damn Gauss round in play.

    Raven might be nicer but they seem to be only truly lethal when running in ecm pairs.

    This site seems to be running good mwo articles too.

  3. RobL Says:

    Ohmwrecker's quick reference gives top speeds of:
    Commando 215xl 139km/h
    Jenner 300xl 138km/h
    Raven 295xl 136km/h

  4. Buxtehude Says:

    I used most of my 8 million credits to buy a 295xl engine and DHS for my Jenner -F. I figured the speed difference between the 295xl and the 300xl was negligible, and the extra tonnage was helpful on the little Jenner. Plus, I can stuff the engine in a Raven 3L if I ever pick one up in the future. Currently running max armor, 4 small lasers, and 2 medium pulse lasers for countering other fast lights.

    The stock 245 STD Jenner engine works well in my Hunchback 4SP, I've found.

    I've also been trying out different crazy builds with my Commando 2D. I think my favorite is ECM, stock engine, and a PPC as the only weapon. It can hang back and provide ECM cover for the LRM boats, do a little sniping, and at typical ranges it's almost impossible to hit.

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