So, you've just signed up for Mechwarrior Online, you've thrown some money at PGI and been given some MC for your trouble (or you signed up a while ago and you've ground enough C-bills to buy your first 'mech), and now you're sitting staring at the mechlab. Ten 'mechs sit in front of you and you're hovering over that "Buy" button, knowing that whatever you buy is going to be your ride for the next few hours of play. What do you choose? Well, somewhat perversely, I'm not going to tell you which 'mech to buy. I'm instead going to run through some of the weapons to give you an idea of which of those you think you'll get on with and you can then pick your ride accordingly.
It's worth noting from the outset that 90% of the weapons in MWO are at least situationally useful, can work decently with a particular playstyle, or can at the very least be shoved in a hardpoint when you have spare tonnage and not be worthless. However there's a few that clearly stand out as being excellent choices and a few that are utter garbage. While this is probably going to be a little dry, I’m not just going to stick a table of damage done and heat generated in front of you: you’re going to have to suffer my horrible opinions as well as the facts. First up I'm going to run through the best and worst weapons the game has to offer.
- Medium Laser
Anyone who's played any Mechwarrior games or tabletop Battletech will be utterly unsurprised to learn that the medium laser is the king of MWO. It does decent damage, doesn't need ammo, takes up a single crit slot and weighs one ton. The single crit slot is a massive benefit right now as things like Endo Steel and Double Heat Sinks need a LOT of crit slots, so smaller stuff is really handy. It has an optimal range of 270m but can hit out to twice that at reduced damage. It is across the board the best single weapon in the game — a brace of them (such as carried as standard by the Hunchback 4P) can rip a hole in an assault mech in a couple of volleys and lord help them if you get behind them. The only downside is that although one by itself doesn't generate too much heat, six or seven of them can get hot very fast. Double heat sinks mitigate this a great deal (even in the currently bugged implementation), and therefore Hunchback 4Ps and Awesomes in general should be feared anywhere inside 300m.
- Medium Pulse Laser
Twice the weight of the medium laser, shorter range and more heat, but slightly more damage and a shorter beam duration. The medium pulse laser is a good choice if you have tonnage to spare but not enough hardpoints to double up on medium lasers. The shorter beam duration means that it's easier to keep the damage focused on a single component, which means you have a better chance of getting a headshot. Also, it makes an awesome "wub wub" noise when you fire it, making every round a dubstep party. I think it's frequently worth the extra heat and tonnage, but a lot comes down to individual play style with this one.
- Gauss Rifle
If you are new to MWO, you won't have heard the constant whining about how the gauss rifle is overpowered. Or more specifically, that being able to put two of them on a Catapult K2 is overpowered. Both of these statements are false: the gauss rifle is an impressive weapon, generating no heat while hitting out to 660m and doing the second highest damage of any weapon in the game, but that all comes at a cost. It needs ammo, it has a chance of exploding if it gets hit, and the cycle time makes it a poor choice up close (though it's not impossible to hit with it at short ranges given a little practice). If you have the space to mount one as well as the ammo it needs then it's a solid choice — and if you see a Catapult mounting a pair of them, get behind something. Quick.
- Machine Guns
Dear lord. A weapon with a tiny, tiny range that needs ammo (which can explode when you get hit) and that does bugger all in the way of damage. Here, look at this:
That right there is six Atlases armed with two machine guns each firing on a single Awesome that is already legged and damaged. He kills FOUR of the Atlases while they plink away with their terrible machine guns. In tabletop, machine guns are for killing infantry and light vehicles - neither of which are present in MWO. As they stand they are utterly awful and the only reasons to take them are that you're a masochist or you're screwing around.
- ER PPC/ER Large Laser
All the benefits of the non ER versions, plus a little bit more! More in this case being slightly increased range (of questionable benefit with the maps we currently have) and crippling heat generation! Seriously, the ER PPC requires 47 heat sinks if you want to be able to fire it over and over without worrying about a shutdown. Forty seven. Even with double heat sinks there's barely a 'mech in the game that can mount that many, so you'll have to watch your heat and not fire it too often. And that's just for ONE ER PPC. It DOES do away with the standard PPCs minimum range, but bear in mind that the PPCs minimum range only kicks in at 90m. Paying a 50% heat tax for that seems unnecessary to me.
The ER Large laser is in the same boat - 50% extra heat for a bit of (largely useless) extra range. There’s just no point.
- Flamer At one time in the closed beta, the flamer was occasionally worth taking. You could throw a few on a fast light mech, do continuous damage to your target and make them overheat a little into the bargain. No more. The flamer currently generates more heat for the firer than it imparts on the target when you start firing it, it does barely any damage, and holding down the fire button will cause your heat to continue to rise. At present it is a joke weapon that you can use as the final insult to a team you just utterly trounced.
- Small Pulse Laser This is probably the worst of the bad weapons, because it doesn't fail at anything spectacularly. It's not excitingly terrible like the absurdly overheating ERs, or the noisy but pointless machine guns and flamers; it's just a heavier, hotter, worse version of the small laser. Twice the weight, does the same damage, 50% more heat and a slightly shorter beam duration. There's no situation where you're better off with a small pulse than with either a pair of small lasers or a single medium laser. Avoid, these are terrible.
That wraps up the top and bottom of the tree — next time around I'll cover off the situationally useful stuff that isn't terrible, but also isn't good enough to make taking it a no brainer.