MechWarrior Online (MWO) is radically different from many other first-person-shooter titles on the market; a pilot can’t strafe side to side to evade fire, a mech has a throttle to control its speed, and vertical movement is an uncommon and limited feature. Due to these constraints on the direction and velocity of a mech’s movement, the mechs of MWO bear more resemblance to a tank which happens to have legs rather than a more anime-styled machine from media like Armored Core, Hawken, or Macross. As a result maneuvering is one of the most important skills a pilot can learn, especially in the heavier and slower mechs. It’s also easy for a new player to pick up, so let’s get started!
With a very few exceptions, which I’ll talk about later, you should always be moving, and thinking about where you are moving. You don’t have to always move at full speed, or always move at the enemy, but you should almost always be moving. Being constantly in motion, when combined with looking around for targets or swinging your torso, helps to keep your enemy’s chances of hitting you down and makes hitting a specific part on you far more difficult. Important things to think about when moving are: “Where am I going?” “What will I do when I get there?” “Where is/are my team/my enemies going?” and “What is my team doing?”
While only the first of these questions will be fully answered in this article, I will be discussing all of these questions in due course. For now:
"WHERE AM I GOING?" USING COVER
Typically you should attempt to head in the general direction of the enemy’s base, get to a good firing position, and shoot them. There are three things that define a good firing position: Cover, Clear Shots, and More Cover. Note that when I talk about a firing position, I don’t mean a single spot where you just stand and shoot at a person until one of you is dead. Rather, a firing position is an area that you move around in and peek out from cover to shoot at your opponents from.
In MWO there is no concealment or ‘camouflage index’ and you can be spotted from very far away by your opponents. As a rule, if you can see your opponent they can see you. You’ll want something more solid between your opponent and yourself than just some trees or some pine needles. A good firing position for you, and by extension your team, is a spot where you can duck behind a solid object like a hill or some buildings to avoid enemy fire.
Cover can also help mitigate a lot of the damage from lasers, as all lasers, even pulses, do damage to the part they’re held over, and if you’re quick about ducking behind a building you can avoid a lot of damage from a large laser or a battery of medium lasers. Ballistics don’t require the gun to be held on target to deliver the full damage of one shell but you can keep their damage-per-second (DPS) low by forcing them to either wait for you to pop out or maneuver to a new firing position to see you. Tall obstructions also can block incoming missile fire, so if you notice a salvo headed for you (courtesy of the missile alarm) duck behind a building or a hill and let the missiles hit that instead.
UTILIZING COVER OFFENSIVELY
Since MWO primarily rewards shooting the ever-loving crap out of your opponents, a good firing position should also allow you to have a line of sight to the area where your target is, or a spot where you can shoot at a weakened section of your opponent.
For example, let’s say you’re fighting in an urban area. You fight here by moving to a section of cover where you can easily get to a spot with your target, which happens to be moving up a street. You move out to shoot your opponent then get behind a different building before they can shoot back, minimizing the effects of their return fire. Areas like this are good because they have cover to protect you, a place where you can easily see and shoot your enemies from, and more cover nearby so you can keep moving, getting back into cover without spending time turning in your opponent’s field of fire. That last part is what makes the hills on Forest Colony much better for heavy mechs when compared to the river. The river does have some tall rock formations you could duck behind, but they’re too far apart for a slow mech to move between without getting shot up.
As that last sentence implies, piloting a lighter, faster mech is far different from (and is frequently more difficult than) piloting a slower, heavier one. The speed that a fast mech can bring to play is its primary advantage: it’s sacrificed either armor or weapons for speed, and if you want to drive a lighter mech (or a Dragon) knowing how to drive your mech is doubly important as armor is usually something in short supply.
If you are driving a fast mech you should always have your throttle at least 50% unless you have a very, very good reason for not using your speed. Reasons such as: pausing momentarily to ensure your lasers do full damage to the center-rear of a missile boat who doesn’t know you’re there yet; pausing behind an obstruction to keep out of someone’s vision and/or block missiles; etc. The next article in this series, Flanking and Strafing, will go into some specific tactics for lights in more detail as there’s quite a bit to talk about.
All tactics are conditional tools to be used and discarded as the situation demands. The first thing I want to put out here is an exception for snipers:
Unless you are a gauss-sniping machine who can effortlessly 360º noscope a mech’s face (you aren’t) or have not been noticed by the enemy (you probably have been or will be soon), do not stop and shoot in the open unless you have a shot that you will immediately take. After shooting, always immediately start moving again to get out of sight before they locate you. People tend to notice when they get zapped in the face from 500 meters out with ER-PPCs/ER-Large Lasers/Gauss Rifles, and if they’ve read the next sentence they’ll take cover before your weapons have re-cycled and reported where your shot came from to their teammates.
If you get shot at by a person who is not brawling and you are not brawling, try to put something solid between you and where the shot came from, figure out where the shot came from, and report it to your team, even if you’re not in a pre-made group. Snipers are a serious threat because they weaken people up before the inevitable game-deciding brawl or kill people who just sit there and let them shoot at them. This also applies for getting shot at by a cheeky light mech: figure out what shot you, where it went, and tell your team about it before you try to chase it off. Light mech pilots love it when someone ignores them long enough for them to rip all the armor off your back and/or distract you from what you were doing.
Unless you have nothing better to be doing at the moment (and you almost always have something better to do), do not let Jenners and Commandos lead you on a wild goose chase. This bears repeating: Do not chase Jenners and Commandos. They are almost always faster than you, and wily pilots will try to pull you into their teammates’ guns. This behavior gets mechs killed, weakens your team, and will be discussed in more detail in a future article about tunnel-vision. Remember: Do not chase Jenners and Commandos.
Brawling is a surprisingly complicated thing, despite the whole “two glaciers slowly smashing into each other” aspect, and winning a brawl usually means that your team has killed more mechs than your opponents did. Due to the match-changing importance of brawling, it will be discussed in its own article. For now, it’s enough to know that sometimes you just need to charge out and smash your opponents with your guns, cover be damned.
Given the tank-nature of Battlemechs it’s important to think about what you want to do with regards to movement even before you know what map your round will be fought on. Mounting a large engine in a mech takes away tonnage that could be spend on weapons or armor, but a mech with an engine that is too small will be slow to move and can be easily outmaneuvered and dealt with by the opposing team, even if it’s an Atlas.
Once you’re actually in a match you need to think about where you should be heading and keeping an eye out for both your opponents and good places to shoot at them from. Don’t be afraid to pull back if there’s a better area to fight your opponents in, especially if you can pull them forward and out of their cover, but make sure you tell your team what you’re doing. MWO is a team game and talking (through both voice communications and text) is important for keeping everyone alive and killing your opponents.
I feel my manly powers surging, so I’m off to kill more people in giant robots and write about it later.