Apparently we've all been very good girls and boys because PGI has given us a doozy of a Christmas present. To begin, two big pieces of new content.
RESTRAINING ORDER REQUIRED
The Stalker is an 85 ton assault mech with an utterly absurd number of hard points. It may be 15 tons lighter than an Atlas, but it can easily outgun one, with the base variant (the STK-3F) coming as standard with a pair of large lasers, two LRM-10s, two SRM-6 launchers and some medium lasers thrown in for good measure. Naturally this doesn't come without any downsides, and the Stalker has a couple. Firstly, it's difficult to keep all those guns cool easily; there's only so many double heat sinks you can cram into a mech, and if you're trying to fill all those energy slots (perhaps with six PPCs as one TM.com contributor has already seen) you're not going to be able to keep firing them all without shutting down. God help you if you're filling out the missile slots as well, you’re probably just going to explode as soon as you pull the trigger. Secondly, it doesn't have a particularly big range of motion for it's torso. The variants differ, but it's around 60-70 degrees of twisting, the narrowest of any mech to date. In a close up brawl it's going to be hard to keep a persistent enemy off your back or sides, which is in line with the Stalker's canon role as a fire support mech. This thing is designed for standing off and delivering a withering hail of fire rather than wading in and smacking an opponent in the teeth like the Atlas. Stalker prices range from 7.3 million cbills all the way up to nearly 11 million (for the -5S variant which comes with an XL engine).
The next big thing is the addition of Conquest mode. This puts five capture points on the map that can be controlled by either team and award points for every second they're held. Once one team hits 750 points or wipes the other team out, the game is won. In practice (and appreciate it's early days) the latter win condition is happening a lot more at the moment, as the points don't seem to tick up fast enough for a capture win to be something that anyone would really aim for. What it DOES do is remove the threat of having your base capped and generally make each team a lot more mobile. This could well bring about a resurgence of the medium mech, which despite being a lot of fun to play, was generally outclassed by lights and heavies in the original "Assault" game mode.
HAND OVER YOUR CASH
That's not all we got though - in a further effort to part players with their money, PGI introduced two new hero mechs. Fang and Flame are a pair of Dragons with different hard point layouts to the stock ones and come with the now standard hero mech 30% lifetime C-Bill booster. At 4500mc each (around $18), they're possibly a little bit overpriced for what they are. Wiith Conquest arriving though, there's likely to be a market for fast heavy mechs, making this a fairly canny move.
There’s also a bunch of new cosmetic items in the shop, most relate to New Year, with a champagne bucket, a glowing 3050 banner (reminding us that the timeline is still moving and we’re heading into the Clan Invasion) and best of all - this guy:
Now THAT is a dapper Urbanmech. Yours for the price of 1000 MC (around $5). That apparently still isn't enough content, so PGI also threw in a night version of River City, bringing the total maps up to 7.
On top of all THAT, we also got a reworking of the economy. New players will now earn around 8 million cbills over their first 25 matches, so no more slogging it out for a few days of play in a trial mech before you can afford one of your own. Every player with more than 25 matches under their belt received a 7.9million cbill boost, which has doubtless caused a lot more Stalkers to be bought than perhaps would have been the case. This “Cadet Bonus” combined with the removal of repair and rearm costs and a shift for trial mechs to earning the same as owned mechs makes the game suddenly a LOT friendlier to new players, which is excellent.
The match rewards in general have also been given an overhaul, with the cash for a win now reduced and participation being much more strongly favoured. Blowing things up is the way to go if you want to earn money now, reducing the incentive for people to AFK farm, a move that’s difficult to argue with.
Plenty of balance changes also showed up this week, and we'll just touch on the key points. Firstly, jump jets now have a scaled effect based on how many you have on the chassis. The number each mech comes with stock is now the baseline for getting the jet performance everyone was used to, so you can no longer get away with just slapping a single jet onto your mech and rocketing skyward with wild abandon. In most cases you're going to need four or five to get where you want to be - and there's a cap on the number you can cram onto your robot too, so no filling that Jenner with twenty of them and launching yourself to the moon.
Next, autocannon and PPCs have had their projectile speed boosted - most notably the ppc projectile now travels as fast as an AC/2 round, which along with the introduction of the stalker might mean a surge in the number of ppc users. Remember though, friends don't let friends use ER PPCs. TAG and NARC also get changes , with TAG range increased to 750m and NARC duration increased to 20 seconds. Given TAG was already the better option here (lighter, doesn't need ammo, penetrates ECM bubbles) the NARC buff is frankly a bit lacklustre. There's still not really a good reason to take one over a TAG or (if you've only got a missile hard point to play with) a Streak-2.
There's also a note that the effect of ECM set to counter mode has been changed to just counter the nearest enemy mech with ECM. This change brings ECM closer to PGI's original plans, so it'll be interesting to see how this affects a brawl full of people flipping between disrupt and counter modes.
PGI's last patch of the year is the third in a row to give a decent chunk of content and, crucially, nothing that breaks the game. There's plenty here to keep players going until the new year, and with the new player rewards now greatly improved it's a good time to find a group to play with and jump in. There's a new batch of trial mechs too, including the Stalker, so we'll be taking a look at those in detail soon as well.