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Published December 4, 2012

The trial mechs have cycled again, so it’s time for me to put down my lovely gaussapult and take them all out for a spin. Before I go into detail though, some general comments.

This round of trials is HOT. Even hotter than the last lot were - there isn’t a single one here that’s even close to being heat neutral, so don’t even consider sustained firing with any of them. Every single one of them will overheat after a couple of volleys. I’m going to do my best not to repeat that as I go through them, but I suspect it’s going to be difficult.

Jenner JR7-K

Engine: Standard 245
Speed: 113 kph

Weapon Loadout:
4 Medium Laser (2 Left Arm, 2 Right Arm)
1 SRM 4 (Centre Torso), 1 ton ammo (Right Torso), CASE

Equipment
5 Jump jets (2 Left Torso, 2 Right Torso, 1 Centre Torso)
10 Single Heat Sinks
3.5 Tons Armour

Theory:

The good news - you’re fast, you’ve got jumpjets, and unlike last months’ Cicada (the nearest point for comparison) you’re not going to go out to your side torso getting blown because you’ve got a standard engine. You also pack a mean punch - get behind something with four medium lasers and an SRM4 and you’ll be stripping them of armour pretty damned fast. One of the frequent criticisms of the Jenner-K is that it runs Ferro Fibrous armour, which is ridiculously expensive to repair, but as you’re running this as a trial mech you’re not paying for any repairs. Hooray!

On the downside, you’re running half the armour you could be and your centre torso is only as well armoured as most mechs heads. Your only defense against anyone determined to ruin your day is to keep moving as fast as you can - even then, a custom built Jenner is going to go faster than you and will probably kill you. Those weapons are going to run hot too - four medium lasers and an SRM 4 generate 19 points of heat, which is just shy of your heat cap. Fire everything and you’re going to have a bit of a wait to cool back down, so firing one arm at a time is probably sensible and definately save the SRMs for when you’ve got a nice clear shot at someone’s back.

Practice:

Remember how I said I’d try not to talk about the heat too much? I lied. This is atrocious. On a heat neutral map like River City or Forest Colony you will need to run like buggery once you’ve fired a couple of volleys at someone and hide for a good 20-30 seconds before you can repeat the attack. Tissue-paper armour is predictably bad, and you’ll be dying a lot in this thing. Horrible.

Hunchback HBK-4J


Engine: Standard 200
Speed: 64.8 kph

Weapon Loadout:

2 LRM10 (Right Torso)
5 ML (3 Right Torso, 1 Left Arm, 1 Right Arm)
1 SL (Head)

Equipment:
14 Single Heat sinks
10 Tons Armour

Theory:

Full disclosure - I hate the 4J. I’ve said before that I find LRMs boring and it’s built around them - and on top of that, this 'Mech has five of eight weapons in it's huge right torso. If someone blows the torso off you’ll lose the arm too, and I really don’t like losing three quarters of my armament in one go. It’s massively undersinked as well; you’ll get perhaps two volleys of the medium lasers off before you shut down. On top of all that, if you get in a brawl you’re going to be stuck in it. Custom builds in your class are going to go faster than you, heavies are generally going to be just as quick and it’s possible for an Atlas to get to within 5kph of you without them having to sacrifice much. If you get inside effective range for medium lasers you’re probably going to be dead fairly quickly.

You can fire the LRMs for a good long while, though, so your best bet will likely be to stand off and dump them into whatever your teammates are good enough to light up for you. You’re probably going to want to twist a lot to use your left torso to protect the right one, given how much you’re got at stake in that right one. Do be aware though that your left torso has all the LRM ammo in, so if it gets breached you might end up losing your engine to an ammo explosion.

Practice:

Of all the trial mechs on offer, the 4J is probably the best, which is rather unfortunate. If you run with a couple of friends as a pack, then standing off and hurling missiles at things becomes a viable option and you can do a fair amount of damage without ever actually having a visual on your target. Once you’re inside the minimum LRM range of 180m, stick to the arm lasers (which are handily grouped up for you separately from the torso ones) unless you’ve got a really sure shot or you’re certain that no one at all is paying attention to you. Firing all five isn’t something you want to be doing often.

Cataphract CTF-1X

Engine: Standard 280
Speed: 64.8 kph

Weapon loadout:

4 Medium Laser (Left Arm, Right Arm, Left Torso, Right Torso)
1 PPC (right Arm)
1 AC/10 (Right Torso) , 1 ton ammo (Right Torso)

Equipment:

16 Single Heat Sinks
11 Tons Armour

Theory:

Four medium lasers is always nice, although they’re split between arms and torso, so you'll need to watch your aimpoints a bit to get them all on target. The PPC gives you a bit of ranged punch. The autocannon might not be the best in its class, but paired with the PPC it lets you drop 20 points of damage onto a component in a single blast then leaves you free to maneuver while they recycle. You’re not badly armoured either, with 11 tons of the stuff. There’s been some skimping on the rear armour points but that’s to be expected in a brawler like this.

Unfortunately, the Cataphract has the worst heat balance of any of the robots on offer this time around. An alpha strike is going to generate 27.5 points of heat, which means a couple of those will shut you right down. The best bet looks to be to stick to the PPC at range, the autocannon for the mid distance and the lasers when you’re up close, concentrating on using the arm lasers to make life easier in a brawl.

Practice:

It turns out that 15 rounds of AC/10 ammo is nowhere near enough for the brawler this thing is configured to be. The PPC feels tacked on as well - it’s seven tons of weapon that doesn’t gel with anything else on the chassis and generates a buttload of heat. I’d honestly rather have another seven heatsinks instead. The medium lasers are always welcome, but good luck using all of them at once. The torso and arm lasers are grouped seperately by default and, like the Hunchback, I don’t recommend trying to use all of them at once unless you’re certain you’ll survive a shutdown. Close to brawling range and use the arm lasers and AC/10 and you’ll get the most out of it.

Awesome AWS-9M


Engine: XL 320
Speed: 64.8 kph

Weapon Loadout:

3 ER PPC (Right Arm, Right Torso, Left Torso)
1 Medium Pulse (Centre Torso)
1 Small Pulse (Head)
2 Streak 2 (1 Left Arm, 1 Centre Torso), 1 ton ammo (Left Leg)

Equipment
20 Double Heat sinks
15.5 Tons Armour

Theory:

Good grief. Remember how I said over here that ER PPCs are one of the worst weapons in the game? Well, having THREE of them and putting them in a mech with pulse lasers is even worse. Twenty double heat sinks doesn’t come close to cooling this monster adequately. Each ER PPC generates 13 heat whenever it fires, so you’re throwing out 39 heat whenever you fire all three. That’s the majority of your heat capacity gone in one volley.The armour being maxed out is a good thing, but unfortunately you’ve got around a third of your torso armour on the back. Couple that with an XL engine and a pair of wide side torsos and you’ve got a recipe for Engine Blowout Supreme.

Do your best to support your team using the long reach of the AWS-9M. Stand off at 800m and give those ER PPCs a nice pause between volleys. Up close, use the pulses and streaks - you shouldn’t risk overheating. If you’re in a brawl, really, really don’t be tempted by those ER PPCs. You WILL wind up misjudging it and you WILL shut down and get side torso’d to death.

Practice:

The three PPCs get stuck in seperate fire groups by default, which leaves you with a total of five groups to manage. I’d change this quickly and put all the PPCs in a group on chainfire, the Streaks in another and the two pulse lasers in a third. I know you want to group all those lovely PPCs together, but for the love of whatever deity you believe in, don’t. One of our intrepid testers fired an alpha strike with the Awesome and found it took a full minute to recover from the heat induced shutdown. The Streaks are really nice for convincing light mechs to keep their distance, and between that and the fact that you’re relatively fast for an assault, most lights will leave you be to go bother something like an Atlas instead. Conversely, everything else will ruin your day. As expected, those side torsos go out easily if you’re anywhere near anything, so hide behind cover and pop out occasionally to snipe.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a winner here, it’s probably the Hunchback, but only because it’s the least horrible of the options that are available. The trial mechs all suffer massively from being stock designs from the tabletop game, and over there every weapon’s cycle time is ten seconds because that’s how long a turn is. With most weapons in MWO able to fire two or three times in that same interval, but confined by the tabletop heat dissipation and capacity mechanics, an inexperienced player (the typical trial mech pilot) is going to shoot themselves into a heat coma within the first minute of every match. In fact, they’re probably going to do that a couple of times, then put the game down and go and play something like CoD instead because spending half of your game time shut down and another quarter of it dead BECAUSE you shut down just isn’t fun.

PGI's got all the long time BattleTech/MechWarrior fans now. Everyone that understands why these builds are as they are has either ponied up and bought a mech to customise themselves or slogged through the trials knowing the sweet, sweet mech customisation is coming. Those players new to the franchise, which PGI needs for MWO to be all it can be, don’t want to spend four to six hours driving one of these lemons, and they’ll go and take their money and time elsewhere. Even if they don’t want to spend the money on something like the latest CoD there’s plenty of other Free to Play games out there.

Alternatives

So what other options are there for PGI to get people to work their way through the trial portion of the game and get down to the good stuff? One that’s been kicking around for quite a while now is giving players a light or medium mech of their own when they start out. The trial mechs could stay as they are for helping players decide what they’re going to spend their cash on next, and the mech customisation part of the game would be unlocked from the start. This would also put PGI in a position to be selling paintjobs and cockpit items to new customers right from the get go, generating another possible revenue stream.

However, if PGI really want to stick with the early game being just trial mechs until players have earned the cash to afford their own robot, here’s an alternative to using stock builds (suggested by fellow goon Phros). Every two weeks have a contest - PGI pick a light, medium, heavy and assault chassis and variant and challenge the community to come up with workable loadouts to be used as trial mechs. Prospective builds are voted on by the community and the winner gets some sort of prize (perhaps a unique paintscheme) and gets to name the variant, which then goes into the trial rotation. At a stroke you’ve eliminated the horrible overheating problems, engaged your established community and created a regular event that encourages everyone to share their knowledge and experiences.

Hopefully, this article provided both some guidance for trial players and some food for thought regarding MWO's future. To round this off, here is once again proof that the insights provided above are based on practical experience. Ladies and gentlemen: the Kerenskys ride again.


Fil5000
I've been writing words on the internet for years at www.tatp.org, but until I came to themittani.com, no one bothered to read them. I like robots, space and the internet and am therefore perfect for the MWO desk.

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