I'm growing older all the time. It's getting to the point where it's embarrassing.
I think Dark Souls is a work of art that belongs in a museum. The Royal Ontario Museum disagrees, but I think I'm starting to wear them down.
When I was in grade 5 I went to school as Robin for Halloween. The costume was basically a pair of green lady tights and a tunic that had to be Velcroed at the crotch like a baby's onesie. My self esteem never fully recovered.
I believe Alan Wake was criminally under-appreciated. It's unclear if this notion stems from a legitimate love of the game, or my loyalty to any piece of media that is going to include tracks from Nick Cave, Poe, and Depeche Mode.
Some of my stuff has been front-paged. I'm super proud!
Mechwarrior Online is a game where 16 giant stompy robots fight each other to the death with laser guns and cannons that fire shells the size of an average family sedan. If that image tickles your heart, you owe it to yourself to need to download this game and try it out.
MWO is a F2P title currently in Open Beta, a nebulous limbo that seems indistinguishable from full release in every way except that the developers can always blame bugs on "its a beta." The good news is that this means it is totally available and free to play right now.
The bad news is that your first impressions of the game are likely to be a frustrating cluster-fuck.
Your first hour with the game will be filled with questions. Questions like "Why am I exploding all the time!?" Or "Why is my mech a giant oven!?" The newbie Mechwarrior will have to contend with a million systems and rules that the game refuses to tell you anything about, piloting lemon trial mechs, and getting rolled over by pre-made teams again and again before you can even figure out how to stop spinning in one place. Many players will DL the client, play three or four matches, then quietly uninstall MWO and never speak of it again. I think that's a damn shame.
- Our first day with the game was super great!
I love this game. I think it's a game worth playing. But I also think it is a game that is deeply flawed in how it brings new players into it's population. What I want to do with this guide is give you a smoother ride towards actually enjoying it then I had and to fill in many of the questions and resources developer PGI fails to provide new players with (sadly, this will be a recurring theme.)
The rock bottom basics - Control > The biggest stumbling block to many new players is controlling the mech, the most fundamental aspect of the game. MWO has a somewhat counter-intuitive control scheme compared to other FPS games. The most important thing to understand is that your mech is not a giant man, but more like a giant tank. Think of your torso as a turret and your legs like treads. You can swivel your torso one way while your legs take you another.
- A handy mental image to hold on to.
Mechs cannot strafe. This is something that annoys a lot of FPS players coming into MWO. You are considerably less manoeuvrable than most games, so you need to be careful about where you are and where you are going. Don't expect to escape a bad situation without taking some damage.
Throttle acceleration> You can set your forward or backward movement using a throttle that is easily viewable in the HUD. While it is initially a little odd, I soon came to love this feature. You can set a very specific speed without having to feather the controls or use an analog input, letting you easily run in a pack with slower mechs, or continue moving while concentrating on aiming. With default controls standard WASD rules apply and you can cut all movement by pressing X – although a mech has to take a few slow-down steps before fully resting.
Aiming > There are two types of cross-hairs on the screen. One is a big T-shaped guy that stays pretty much in the centre, the other is a O-shaped one that will travel a ways around the screen as you move the mouse. The T represents weapons located in your torso while the O represents weapons located in your articulated arms. It differs between chassis, but most mechs have both and its important to know where your guns are located and what they can shoot at. You may have trouble hitting people below or above you with guns pointing out from your chest, while low hanging arms can be caught on terrain and waist high obstacles.
There is also another form of aiming with guided missiles. Guided missiles require a lock. Pressing R will cycle your targeting between any enemy in your current line of sight or any enemy that a friendly has targeted. This is important because it lets you know where the enemy is, how far they are, and their mech's load out and condition - but more on that later. With guided weapons you need to first R-lock an enemy, then hold your aiming reticule over that target until the targeting circle turns red - at that point you can fire away and your little rocket buddies will do their best to introduce themselves. Make sure to hold on to the lock the whole way through. If you lose it for any reason your missiles will still fly towards the enemies last known location like good little soldiers, but sadly will never likely hurt anybody. How tragic.
It is a good idea to group weapons on separate firing axis/types apart. Which takes us to -
Weapon grouping > Every weapon in the game is a tool with a specific purpose. You don't want to chuck the whole tool box at the enemy every-time you click left mouse, so it's important to group your weapons to separate inputs.
- Notice how the arm mounted lasers are grouped separately from the torso level guass rifle. Missiles are relegated to 4 since you don't always need them at your finger tips.
You can assign weapons to different buttons and groups on the fly in game using the control panel at the bottom right of the screen with the cursor arrows and leftcntrl button. Whatever row the vertical bar is located on automatically becomes left-click, with what is directly to the right of becoming right-click. It's a good idea to leave this on 1 and go from there just to keep things simple.
Setting similar weapons to fire at the same time with a single button press, or in sequence with multiple taps (set by pressing Backspace on a row), is an essential concept in Mechwarrior. You want to make the best use of your resources. An example of simple and effective weapon grouping would be to have a frequently used brawling weapon like medium lasers on left mouse, your more powerful and rarely used big hitter on right mouse, and your less aim dependent missiles set to a third mouse button if you have it, or 3 if you don't. This way you can easily control what weapons you are firing and when.
Vision Modes > Some maps contain vision obscuring conditions like blizzards or very far sight-lines. This is when thermal vision and zooming in comes in handy. You can snap on thermal vision at any time by pressing H. It will make navigating terrain a bit harder, but mechs will pop out like Christmas lights. You can zoom in by pressing middle mouse or Z.
Night vision can be activated by pressing N. It does nothing. In fact, it is actually a little harder to see in the dark with it on. So um, don't press N.
Where there's smoke, there's HEAT -
Heat > Heat is the big balancing factor in Mechwarrior. Present in both live firefights and the mechlab.
Every weapon builds up some amount of heat when fired. If you overheat your mech, you'll temporarily shutdown to cool off. At this point you will be shot at by everyone on the enemy team. You can override this automatic shutdown by slapping the O button (frantically), but usually to suicidal results – you don't want to turn the internals of your mech into molten slag by over-shooting.
Every weapon generates different levels of heat and it's easy to see how things are balanced. Easy to aim and ammo-free lasers tend to build more heat than their heavy and tricky to aim ballistic counterparts. The larger the missile pack, the more it will spike your heat. Firing a LRM5 pack has about the same heating effect as turning on the coffee maker, while the mighty LRM20 is like showering with a flame thrower.
What this means in practice is that you need to be disciplined with your shots and careful not to overheat yourself on the field. In the Mechlab this means you can't just load up as many guns and ammo packs as you want in your mech, you need to make room and tonnage for heat dissipating heat sinks; the more the better. Often it is a wiser idea to make a mech balanced around a few heat-manageable weapons than something with bristling with massive firepower that can only be used every 30 seconds or risk melting itself.
While on the topic, heat is also the reason the trial mechs suck so much.
While PGI offers you a free ride in several outwardly appealing mechs any given week, they are ALWAYS heat sink deficient. A trial Awesome-9M may have 3 kick-ass PPC lightning cannons on it, but you'll only be able to shoot them once before it keels over in heat exhaustion. Combined with a few other chinzy moves (low ammo stores, odd default weapon groups, bad armour dispersion), and it's clear that PGI wants you to get frustrated with the trial mechs as soon as possible and pony up some dough for a real big-boy robot. What happens is most people just reach for the uninstall button. The trial mechs are a horrible unfun introduction to what can be an otherwise very enjoyable game.
Making lemonade with your lemons -
- Use the escape buldge- fuck, I mean pod! Use the escape pod!
Trial Mechs > As I just alluded to, your first missions in Mechwarrior WILL be bumpy since you're stuck with the universally crummy trial mechs unless you pay up (which I don't recommend right away until you're sure this is a game you want to play.)
On the plus side, you never have to pay for any repairs or rearms in a trial mech, so even when you lose you'lll be making money towards a real ride. So don't think of your first few games as actual matches, think of them as THE WORST TURTORIAL EVER DEVISED.
In lieu of any actual in-game tutorial, you're going to be attending the Mechwarrior school of hard-knocks. Learn to control your mech. Play with the different trial rides available. Ignore any and all hecklers in the team chat. Play around with the different weapons at your disposal and see how they work. Any damage you do to the enemy is just gravy at this point.
- Hum... Think of it as a learning experience?
Learn the basic layouts of the limited map selection and general strategies like moving with the team (IE: Cowering behind the Atlas) and capping the enemy base. You might be in a crappy mech, but with judicious firing and cautious play, you can contribute.
The trial mechs vary from week to week, but always feature the full class spread from light 30 ton scouts, to medium and heavy brawlers, to towering 80-100 ton assault mechs. I recommend trying them all just to see how they handle and what you like/dislike about them, but in the end I suspect most will be spending their time in whatever medium or heavy de jour is being offered. The light and assault selections might constantly change models, but they have always been deathtraps.
The main take away from this is DON'T GET DISCOURAGED. It isn't your fault the game has no tutorial and the trials all suck. Just know that the good times are getting closer with every match.
Learning how to blow up mechs (and keep yours in one piece) -
Locational damage > One of the most important concepts to grasp in MWO is locational damage. IMO it's what makes the game me so much fun to play and adds so much of the tactical versatility to the minute-to-minute battles you'll have.
Mechs don't carry a set amount of hit point that are depleted until it explodes. In fact, these things can take a beating! Unlike other shooters where being caught out by the enemy usually means death, mechs in MWO can soak up huge damage; especially if they know how to roll with the punches.
While you will see a percentile health rating next to any enemy you target, that is more of an approximation of a mech's overall state than how close it is to dying. Rather, mechs are made up of several parts (center torso, back torso, shoulders front and back, arms, legs, head, ect) with a layer of armour on each and an internal health value underneath. Each of these components can be individually targeted and destroyed.
In your HUD you will see a paper-doll cut out representation of your mech at the bottom left and its myriad components. Areas outlined in colour still have amour, areas filled in have been stripped down to the internals. The closer the shade to dark red, the more damaged the piece.
You will also see the same paper-doll for any enemy you target at the top right part of the screen. Not only can you see where the enemy is damaged, it will also tell you that mechs armaments. This is essential information! You need to learn to love the top-right of your HUD.
- Looking at the paper-doll we can see this enemy Atlas still has moderate front armour, but none at his back, and his centre core has been fairly damaged through this gap.
Mechs will ONLY go down if their engine is destroyed, both legs are destroyed, or if the cockpit (and pilot inside of it) is reduced to a crater. It is quite possible to finish a round alive and (sort-of) well missing both arms, half your torso and a leg! What this means in practicum is that you generally want to target the centre mass of an enemy where the engine is stored to take them out. Preferably from behind where the armour is thinnest. However, there are other tactics to consider.
Taking the enemy apart, one piece at a time -
Strategic targeting > Armour ratings vary among different components, and are adjustable by the player. But know that the front centre torso will always be packing the heaviest armour. While coring them out from the centre may be a sure fire way to kill a mech, it might be better in the long run to take apart its capabilities rather than going straight for a kill.
Losing a leg will hobble a mech to a crawl. Legs usually pack a lot less armour than the torso and it is practically a death sentence to lose one. While it may be trickery to focus your aim on one pumping leg than the large centre mass of a mech, it may be worth the effort. Legs only have one pool of amour each (no front and back, just one value for all sides and parts on a leg), so it's possible to quickly knock one out while circling around in a light mech already aiming around that level. Annoying little ankle biters.
Many mechs concentrate most of their fire power in one place. The large shoulder "hump" on a Hunchback almost always makes up most of their offensive punch. Rather than trying to bore through a Hunchback's thick chest armour while it slings cannon shells right back at you, it might be smarter to target it's more lightly defended hump first and defang the beast. Then you can either take your time destroying it without taking horrible horrible return fire, or even ignore the now combat ineffective heap for a more threatening target (a tactic that has the added benefit of being a stone-cold dis.)
Hitting where it hurts –
Exploiting weaknesses > You can make yourself a huge threat on the battlefield by learning to spot certain weaknesses or opportunities in the enemy's design.
Mechs packing ballistic cannons or missiles need to store that ammunition somewhere in their internal structure. This can make for a delicious treat; if you hammer the internals of an area storing ammo there is a good chance you will set it off, causing a terrific chain of explosions inside the mech almost guaranteed to destroy it!
Most players trying to save room in their chassis for weapons and heatsinks will typically move ammo to their legs or arms. If you see a mech carrying a lot of combustible weaponry, it might be worth picking around at some of the weaker and less targeted areas to see if you can't cause some fireworks. This tactic works particularly well against the lumbering Atlas mechs. Usually one of the most fearsome opponents on the battlefield, a lot of players trucking LRMs in an Atlas tend to sock the ammo away in the legs while at the same time shaving armour from them to free up extra tonnage for other "crucial" systems. A crafty pilot can take out one of these behemoths using their own munitions against them.
Remember how I said an mech's engine must be destroyed? Sometimes that doesn't just mean the core. The somewhat counter-intuitively named XL Engines are frequently used in certain tonnage-tight mechs as a weight saving measure. XL Engines go the same speed as an equally rated STD Engine, but weight less. In exchange, the engine is spread out more, taking up space in the side torsos. What this means is that taking out the side torso or shoulder area of a mech packing an XL will destroy the whole thing! While an Awesome-9M might have a mighty 80 armour points in its centre torso, the sides might only have a piddly 35. A medium class mech can go toe-to-toe with the big guys if he knows where to aim!
Learning how to identify an XL engine user comes with time. If a mech is moving significantly faster than that type usually does, or is packing a lot heavier weapons than normal, chances are he's made the devil's XL bargain – and should be justly punished.
Gauss cannons are electromagnetic rail guns that fire inert ammo that doesn't explode. Which sucks. Good thing the cannon itself is extremely fragile and will catastrophic explode when destroyed! If you see a enemy hanging a gauss cannon off an easily targetable limb, take it out. Not only will you stop yourself from getting hit by one of the most damaging weapons in the game, you may just take out the enemy in one-go.
Taking it like a champ >Locational damage applies to you too, and learning how to use that to your advantage is what separates the Mavericks from the Gooses.
Try to keep in mind where your critical systems are and what areas are damaged. It's often a far better idea to twist to the side and allow an arm carrying a few heatsinks to take a cannon shell than to let it land in the exposed internals of your shoulder. If you know you are going to take some hit, put the least valuable parts of your mech in the line of fire, or at least spread out the damage evenly so you don't end up with holes in the armour.
Some mechs are particularly adept at this. No model of the Centurion carries any weapons in its left arm, and the specific arrangement of that limb makes it an excellent shield. Armour it up and keep it facing the enemy while making a charge or retreating. The Cent also generally carries a pair of energy weapons in its centre core, letting it keep fire power even after losing both arms and sides. Keep twisting that chest, spread out the damage, and kill the enemy with attrition!
Learning how to best utilize locational damage and recognize opportunities when they arise is one of the most satisfying elements of the game. My tips only cover the surface of the options and tactical choices you can make. It is a skill that comes in time and familiarity. Always keep your potential options in mind.
Rocking the microphone -
- This is the most deadly weapon in the game.
Teamspeak > After you have familiarized yourself with the basics of MWO, GET ON TEAMSPEAK.
Yes, inexplicably, mind-bogglingly, unbelievably, MWO does not support native VOIP. Yeah. PIR made a team based game and took out the most important element of teamwork – communication.
You can still type in team chat, but when the lasers start blazing and missiles are raining down on your cockpit, you probably won't be too inclined to tweet out your predicament.
There are many Teamspeak servers for MWO, two of the best being ComStar North America (teamspeak address: na1.mech-connect.net, password: WordofBlake) and the No Guts, No Galaxy Outreach servers.
I know, I know. It is ridiculous that this basic functionality doesn't exist in the game. Yes, I didn't want to have to use a 3rd party system either. I played for several weeks without using Teamspeak before I broke down and installed it. But the second I did, I was kicking myself for taking so long. MWO is an entirely different game with dependable teammates. Don't make the same boneheaded mistake I made, get on the mic early and often.
Join in and either sit in the looking for group dock (it never takes long) or poke around to dropships with only two or three members. Pre-made drop teams are limited to 4 players for casual games, or demand a full 8 to take on other 8 player teams (I don't recommend the current 8-on-8 format, balance issues.)
The benefits or getting on the mic and talking with others are several fold.
One, even a modicum of team work makes any group or player several times better. Simply focusing your combined fire on one target, having a buddy who can help shoo a light mech off your tail, or even just move in the same general direction helps immensely. I can't overstate the value of even simple teamwork.
Two, people who take the bother to join a Teamspeak server are, generally, better players. Or at least more into the game. You won't run into people who think friendly fire is a great way to introduce themselves. You won't run into suicide farmers (jerks who grind up cbills by intentionally dying as soon as the round begins and joining another game). And the players you meet will probably be flying some snazzy well designed mechs. Not only will they be more likely to carry you to victory than random PuGs, but you might get a few ideas for what kind of mech you will eventually want to design while watching them.
Building your first mech -
The Mechlab > OK, so you've played a bunch of games in the trial mechs and now you have enough cbill space-bucks to invest in your own ride. Congratulations!
The good news is that almost any mech you buy is going to seem amazing compared to the trials, even running the stock equipment it comes with. The GREAT news is you can upgrade and improve your mech to your specific tastes once you own it. This is when the fun really kicks in.
- I named all my mechs after David Bowie songs, but in retrospect I think the stronger tactical choice would have been the Wu-Tang Clan.
The mechlab can look intimidating at first, but it really isn't that complicated once you get into it. While it may seem complicated, the key things to keep in mind are tonnage, hardpoints, and critical slots. Every mech is subject to these limitations.
Tonnage is the total weight of your mech's structure and equipment. Each mech has a hard limit on how many tons it can carry and you want to get as close to that cap as possible to make the most of your mech.
Hardpoints limit what type of weapon can be mounted and where on a mech, energy, ballistic, or missile (including rockets). Keep an eye on not just how many hardpoints of each type of mech has, but where they have them.
Critical slots represent the internal space of the mech and how much stuff you can toss in there. A mech carrying a lot of heatsinks, ammo, or bulky weapons might fill up all its slots before it fills up its tonnage.
Building a mech basically boils down to making tradeoffs to each limitation. Energy weapons are generally light, don't require ammo, and take up few slots. However, they don't hit very hard and run super hot, forcing you to slot more and more heatsinks to support each laser gun you add. Ballistics are heavy and take ammo, but generate less heat. Missile racks are bulky, taking up lots of critical slots just for the weapon, let alone the ammo to feed it.
Bigger engines will let you move faster, and the largest engines even let you pocket extra heatsinks in them, saving on critical slots – but they have a massive weight footprint. You might end up flying around the battlefield at 130kph with only a pee-shooter to back it up. But maybe that's all you need.
It's all about making the right trade-offs to find a play style you enjoy. No single mech can do it all, but you can fill a specific role on a team.
I highly recommend consulting the MWO wiki for exact weight, heat and damage values for weapons and other specs when building a mech. Again, as baffling as it is, PGI doesn't provide even half of this data in game. Extra credit goes to those who go to extra effort I suppose.
I don't want to get too into the specifics of the mechlab and every possible upgrade, it would just take too much space. But some quick tips -
- Almost every mech can benefit from the Double Heat Sink (DHS) upgrade.
- Almost no mech can benefit from Ferro Fibrous Armour. It might save you one or two tons max, but it takes up a bunch of critical slots and will cost significantly more to repair.
- Diversity usually trumps large gambles. A balance of energy and ballistic weapons spread over your chassis is usually better than boating several of the same type. But specialization has a place (especially if you can depend on teammates.)
- Don't undervalue speed. Being light on your feet will let you make a mistake and run away to live from it.
Mech recommendations > I highly recommend running mediums as your first mech or two. Lights are less expensive upfront, but require more upgrades and skill to become useful. Medium mechs offer affordability and firepower while letting you remain somewhat manoeuvrable.
In particular the Hunchback-4SP is a fantastic starter mech. Great out of the box, downright nasty with a few upgrades. 5 medium lasers and two short range rocket packs give it devastating mid-range firepower for brawling. You can also reconfigure the mech into a long-range-missile tosser later, or swap out the 5 MLAS for 2 large lasers for more range, or put in a bigger engine to run at near-scout speeds. A lot of flexibility and one of the best cbills-to-firepower values around.
Centurion mechs are well rounded, most designs capable of fulfilling multiple roles in a battle. Their skinny centre torsos and expendable left arms allow them to take a lot of punishment for a medium mech. The CN9-AL with its right arm energy mounts allows you to equip large lasers for ranged damage that is easier to control and less expensive to fund than ballistic cannons. The CN9-A can make a fantastic scout hunter if the engine is upgrades and you put short range guided missiles in its left torso racks.
Of course you can purchase any mech you want to start with. Just keep in mind that some may be more difficult to control (Jenners) while others require a lot of upgrades to become useful (Dragons) and others are just stupid expensive (ATLAS.)
The grimy underbelly of the F2P world -
Money and value > I feel like I have to say a few things about the pay structure in MWO. F2P games can be very sneaky and underhanded about how they pry money out of their players, and MWO is no different.
I have a lot of misgivings about MWO pay structure. While every mech aside from the "Hero" variants are purchasable in-game using the earnable cbill currency, you can of course shortcut that route by trading real dollars for "MC Points" a typical cost obscuring moon-money system. The more points you buy at one time, the "better" the value. The usual kind of grimy way to make you sink in $30 when what you only want is only $17.
MC points can be exchanged for -
- Mechs (at terrible prices)
- Premium time, which will increase the dividend of in-game currency and experience at the end of each match by 50%.
- Garage bays
- Cosmetic effects (camo, paint jobs, cockpit bobbleheads, ect at not-so-great prices)
- A virtual toy hula girl for your cockpit that costs more than an actual toy hula girl for your desk, sweet!
As much as I dislike the MC point system and find the prices dubious, at the same time I can see things from the developer's point of view. They are a business and need to make money off this game. I just wish they were more upfront about it instead of engaging in some rather unseemly nickle and dime techniques.
I say, if you play the game for a few weeks, enjoy it, and see yourself playing more, you might want to invest in some premium time and possibly a few more garage slots. While I think purchasing mechs and most of the cosmetic junk a huge waste of money, premium time is somewhat more tolerable. And as much as PRI has bungled certain aspects of the game, they are a small studio and could use the support.
Paying appx. $11 for a month of Premium time is far more cost effective than buying a single mech for $8. You will make several times over that value in the cbill in-game currency with that bonus. While it is entirely possible to grind money just on the free-to-play basis, premium time speeds up the process.
It is a personal choice and I wouldn't look down my nose on anyone who decided to never pay PRI a dime, or who dropped $3 to give their mech a custom paint job (but for the love of god, don't waste your money buying mechs you can earn with Cbills.)
The Hero units are also worth mentioning. These are mechs that you can't buy with cbills. They are not full out better than their generic counterparts, but they do offer advantages – just this side of "pay-to-win." The big value is a passive 30% bonus to cbills while riding them. Stack that with premium time and you can make serious cbills. Personally, I think the prices on them are WAY too high, but a player with deep pockets might consider them an investment (I'm skeptical.)
Hope to see you out there!
- Stompy stompy!
MWO is a weird game. It's full of bugs, super complex, and suffers from some baffling choices made on the part of the developers. At the same time, it can be sublime. MWO Rewards a unique combination of reflexes, strategy, planning, and teamwork that can be immensly satisfying when it all clicks. It seems self-serving to call it the "thinking mans" shooter, but that's what it is.
For all it's problems, MWO is one of the most engaging experiences I've had this year and it absolutely kills me that the introduction to the game for new players is so harsh. If you take the time to get a grip on the game, it's super rewarding and fun. If you take nothing else away from this guide, take away this – MWO is worth putting the work in.