Tuesday, 12 January 2016

A Beginner's Guide to Mechwarrior Online

I've seen a lot of confusion among new players and thought I'd try to alleviate some of it.

Getting Started

First thing's first - play through the tutorial.  Not only will it give you a grounding in how to play - this is no typical FPS, after all - but it will give you a not-inconsiderable amount of C-Bills to get you started on the path to owning your own BattleMech.  Namely 3 million C-Bills.  The Piloting Challenge in the Academy will also earn you even more - 500,000 just for completing it and then another 500,000 for each medal you earn (so the Piloting Challenge can get you up to another 2 million in total).

Next; look over the available Trial 'Mechs.  These are BattleMechs you are, effectively, renting.  You can use these 16 'mechs whenever you want, there's no limit to how often you can use them.  To see the available Trial 'Mechs and pick which one to use, click on the Select 'Mech button in the top-left corner (I've circled it in red).
This will bring up an interface to look through the available Trial 'Mechs.  Some of the filters at the top of the interface should be self-explanatory; namely the slider reading "Both - Owned - Trial".  The Clan and Inner Sphere slider is for the technology base of the 'Mech; for someone just starting off, the only real difference is in weapon behaviour (ie; Inner Sphere autocannons fire a single shell that does the full damage, Clan ones have their damage split among four or five consecutive shells).  But for future reference, there are two easy ways to tell them apart without having to use the filter - see that coloured bar over each machine's portrait?
'Mechs with a blue line over them are Clan ones, brown lines mean Inner Sphere.  The buttons at the bottom of the filter section let you limit your search by a BattleMech's weight class.
  • Light 'Mechs are 20-35 tons
  • Medium 'Mechs are 40-55 tons
  • Heavy 'Mechs are 60-75 tons
  • Assault 'Mechs are 80-100 tons
When you're starting out, I'd stick to Mediums and Heavies.  Lights and Assaults take a bit more situational awareness and, while there's nothing stopping you from starting with either, I'd keep in mind that they are harder to use.

Once you've found a 'Mech you like the look of, click on the Quick Play button in the top-right to go into a match.  The drop-down arrow next to it can be used to limit which server or servers you want to play on - there are three at the moment: North American, European and Oceanic.  The game's pace is slow enough that ping isn't that massive an issue but if you really don't want to deal with high ping, limit it to the one closest to your location.  Unless you're Australian, like me - the Oceanic server is in Singapore so our ping to it is about the same as to the North American one.

Over your first 25 matches, you'll earn bonus C-Bills as your Cadet Bonus.  The total of it comes to 12.5 million - that plus the money from the Academy will be enough to afford just about any 'Mech in the game short of the most expensive ones (which, off the top of my head, is the Executioner and possibly some variants of the Summoner - maybe a few others I've missed).

Piloting 101

The tutorial should have covered most of the basics, so this bit's more general advice.

LRMs: the bane of newer players, these follow a semi-common phenomena of gameplay balance where something seems powerful at first, but more experienced players know is actually rather underpowered (If you're familiar at all with Overwatch, Bastion and Torbjorn suffer the same issue there - Blizzard are looking into modifying them to be more competitive among the more experienced players).
Of all the weapons in the game, these have the most counters.  ECM suites can be mounted on certain BattleMechs and will render both the carrier and any friendly 'Mech within 90m completely un-targetable.  Meaning LRMs can't lock onto them.  LRMs automatically detonate after travelling 1,000m - if the 'Mech firing them is further away than that, you have nothing to worry about from them until you get closer.  Some 'Mechs also mount Anti-Missile Systems which will soften up incoming LRM volleys once they come within the AMS' range, whether the AMS-equipped 'Mech is the missiles' target or not.  Finally; physical cover.  This one is trickier due to the missiles' high flight path but after a while, you'll get a feel for how they fly and have enough awareness of the map to know which pieces of terrain are tall enough to intercept them.  There's plenty of other advice for dealing with LRMs out there and you can always ask on the forums.  Just don't claim or suggest that they're OP - most of the replies that'll get you are just going to be claims that LRMs are actually weak; specifically ask for anti-LRM advice - you'll get more results.

Targeting: This is the big one, hence why I actually formatted the name and not just leave it normal.  Always, always, no matter what - press R to target what you're shooting at!  You'll get a damage readout of them showing where their armour's already taken a beating, you'll see what weapons they have (ie; if the target is armed only with LRMs and you see it there, you'll know that it's safest to get within 180m of them as that's the minimum-range of LRMs) and you'll relay their position to the rest of your team.  There are only two situations where not targeting them is understandable - one is if the target is under ECM coverage and you're not close enough to be within the ECM bubble yourself; you physically cannot target such a 'Mech.  The other is if you're in a high-speed 'Mech and are racing through on hit-and-run attacks where the target'll only be in view for a few moments; you'll be gone before your targeting systems get you the damage readout.
Other than those two situations, there is literally no excuse for not doing this.  If you've changed your controls so that either R is doing something else or is too far away from where your hands are, re-bind the targeting command to something you can reach easily.
I know your BattleMech will automatically target someone once you have them in your crosshairs for long enough, but manually targeting them is a hell of a lot quicker.

SRM Maximum Range: Like LRMs, SRMs automatically detonate when they reach their maximum range.  If your target is beyond their maximum range (the range listed on your weapons panel in the bottom-left of your 'Mech's HUD), don't fire SRMs at them - you'll just be wasting them.  This ties into the Targeting bit above - targeting someone will also show how far away they are so you won't go wasting missiles.

Mission Objectives

There are currently five game modes in the game, though one is only available in Faction Warfare which I'll touch on later (but for now, all I'll say is to stay well away from Faction Warfare until you have several 'Mechs of your own and have a solid handle on the gameplay).  The four you'll be playing the most for a fair while are:
  • Skirmish - Straightforward Team Deathmatch.  One team wins when the other is eliminated.  If both teams still have active 'Mechs at the end of the match's 15-minute time limit, whichever team has more kills wins.
  • Assault - The first game mode the game had back in Beta and where a few of the World of Tanks comparisons have come from (the most common game mode in WoT follows much the same format).  Aside from the same victory conditions as Skirmish, each team also has a base near their spawn area; capturing the enemy base will win the game for your team.
  • Conquest - Five control points are scattered around the map.  Controlling them gives the team a periodic influx of resources.  First team to reach 750 resources wins.  Killing the enemy team won't instantly lead to victory, however, so don't ignore those control points.
  • Domination - The latest mode, it's basically King of the Hill.  Each team has a timer that they run down by holding a point in the centre of the map, first team to get theirs down to zero wins.  Capturing the point is more difficult than in the other modes, you can find the details of it in the patch notes from when it was added.
I'll add other game modes as they're added to the quickplay queue.

Buying Your First Battlemech

First of all; remember what I said about how much money you'll get from the Cadet Bonus and the Academy?  Well don't spend any of it until you've played at least those 25 matches.  Take those 25 to learn the game, experiment with the available Trial 'Mechs, do as much as you can to figure out what sort of 'Mech you'll like to use before actually spending anything.

Once you feel you have a good idea of what sort of 'Mech to get, click on the bright yellow Store button at the top and then on the BattleMechs option on the left.  A lot of the stuff in there is for MC (the premium currency you get by spending real money) but it is also where you buy BattleMechs for C-Bills.
Ignore the MC prices under the 'Mechs - those are only if you want to buy one with real money, they aren't part of the overall cost.  So the 'Mech I have selected, the Centurion CN9-A, can be bought for either 1,480 MC or 3,697,080 C-Bills; one or the other, not both (I've seen people assume that you need both to buy a 'Mech).  The flyout panel shows additional information on the BattleMech - much of it is based on the default loadout which you'll most-likely be editing once you've bought it.

The blue text is the quirks; stat differences unique to that particular variant of the BattleMech.  So the CN9-A has additional armour on its right arm, letting it use the weaponless limb as a shield by twisting your torso to take damage on that side (which is helped by the bonus to its torso turn rate).  It has bonuses to all of the weapon types, but they have nice incentive for having the CN9-A use its iconic AC/10 - those general Ballistic weapon quirks stack with weapon-specific ones, like that AC/10 cooldown one at the bottom of the list.

The flyout has other information as well if you want to really get into specifics, like the diagrams showing the 'Mechs torso and arm rotation ranges.  Ignore the Cockpit section, though; that's just so you can find which 'Mech you left your Classy Urbie bobblehead in.
Seriously - you wouldn't believe how often I forget where I left this little guy.
You can own as many BattleMechs as you have Mechbays.  You start with just four bays (none of the Trial 'Mechs occupy them, if you were wondering) and the easiest way to get more is to spend MC on them.  That being said; the developers often run events where you can win Mechbays or MC (or both) and you can also earn them through Faction Play.

Faction Play

Some may argue with me on this point, but I do feel the need to make it clear - stay away from Faction Play until you have four BattleMechs modified to your preference - Faction Play is a more competitive game mode, case-in-point is that the mode has no matchmaking system whatsoever.  People who just got into the game are thrown in against experienced 12-man teams who are communicating through Teamspeak.  Go into Faction Play while inexperienced at the game and you will get your ass handed to you on a silver platter.  Which will then be force-fed to you (the platter, I mean, not your backside).  Any more on Faction Play beyond this warning is better served by dedicated guides; this one's for beginners after all.

General Weapon Advice

After you've played with your new 'Mech a bit more, you'll probably be wanting to customise the loadout a bit.  Now, I'm no expert on that front but here's some basic advice as well as some weapon-specific notes courtesy of a forumgoer by the name of Thor Sten.

Armour: Most stock 'Mechs are rather lacking in this department.  Generally speaking, you'll want to bolt on as much armour as the chassis can support.  Where you'll get the weight for this depends on what the 'Mech is equipped with.  For example; the Warhammer 6R (currently only available off the website for real money but should be available for C-Bills in May) has, among its weapons, a pair of small lasers and a pair of machine guns.  Now those weapons aren't inherently useless, but I was setting it up as a mid-range fire support 'Mech and neither of those weapons helped on that front so I yanked them out, chucked them into storage and used the extra weight to beef up the armour.
It might also be a good idea to shift some of the rear torso armour to the front - this personally works for me, but I tend to play the tankier Heavy and Assault 'Mechs so I can't vouch for it working in all situations.

Now here's Thor's advice with my own additions in italics:
  • Lasers might be a good choice for a start, because they don't run out of ammo, and you can correct your aim (as long as the laser burns). On the minus-side they generate a lot of heat, also you'll have to "look" at the enemy as long as they burn (if the enemy gets away from the lasers, they wont do full damage), and you'll give away you position. With other weapons everyone can make a good guess where it's coming from. Laser's give it totally away.  So if you want to make a laser-based sniper build, make sure it's a mobile one as they'll know where you're shooting from the moment you pull the trigger.
  • LRMs might also be good for a start. They require you to lock a target (which you should always do anyways) and keep them in focus for a few seconds before firing. LRMs even allow you to shot at targets other players spot for you (you still need to lock them), so there's no need for a direct line of fire. They're a little dumb but they'll try to seek their own way to the target. On the minus side: You can run out of ammo and there are a lot of ways to counter LRMs (from ECM to taking cover, or to come really near to you). Keeping the distance (at least 180m) or knowing the territory (no need to fire if there's a big wall between you and the target) might at least save you a few shots of otherwise wasted ammo.  I was a bit reluctant to suggest using these things earlier - lot of new players believe LRMs are overpowered.  That being said; sometimes using a strategy yourself can highlight its flaws better than being on the receiving end of it.
  • Streak-SRM are basically like LRMs with way better accuracy, but far lower range. They pull quite a punch, but if your enemy has ECM they might feel useless.  Streaks are a bit hit-and-miss - they can't fire without a lock and, even if you're close enough to target a 'Mech with an ECM suite, the ECM will increase the lock-on time.  And most ECM-capable 'Mechs are very fast so you'll have a great deal of difficulty getting a lock on them.  They are good at dealing with fast 'Mechs that engage you at close quarters without ECM, though.
  • Pulse-Lasers burn shorter and hotter than normal lasers at a reduced range. This allows for better "hit and run" tactics, but nets you also less time to correct you aim. On the plus side, if you hit with pulse lasers the damage is usually concentrated on one spot (Normal Lasers tend to distribute the damage a bit, especially if the enemy or you're moving).  One other drawback with pulse lasers is that they have shorter ranges than their normal versions.  Noticed this with my Warhammer after I switched its Medium Lasers for Medium Pulse Lasers; the ranges I was engaging at were fine for Medium Lasers, but the Medium Pulses just couldn't reach as far.  That being said; if you found this guide through this video of mine, you'll see just how much of an improvement the Large Pulse Lasers I had on my Marauder were over its previous ER PPC-based build.
  • Auto Cannons, PPCs and [non-Streak] SRMs might be hard to play at first, because, once you've fired your projectile, you can't correct your aim. This might be very frustrating at first, especially with a moving target. On the plus side this allows you to shoot and retreat, i.e. you don't have to look at the enemy the whole time and can get cover while the projectile flies and the weapon reloads. They also might run out of ammo. OK, the PPC wont run out of Ammo, but generates quite lot of heat instead.  He's not kidding about the PPC heat, those things are going to turn the inside of your 'Mech into a sauna in no time.  Don't have much else to add to this one, really.
  • MGs are support weapons. They don't generate heat, fire without reloading and instantly hit where you aim them. Sounds great, but the bad thing about them is their short range and that they'll do very little damage over time. Best use them to attack parts of enemy mechs that don't have any armor left (they tend to destroy Weapons and other things hidden on the insides). That's their primary purpose, however If, after a few matches you notice, that you never live long enough to deplete all the MG ammo: Fire at will. Ammo is for free and It never hurts to do a little bit more extra damage, even if it just hits the outer shell of an enemy. I personally don't use Machine Guns but Thor's bit about attacking areas without armour is right - every hit to a section that's been stripped of armour has a chance of destroying one of the pieces of equipment in there.  And if that piece happens to be an ammo bin or a Gauss Rifle...
  • Gauss Rifles; my own addition to this list, these are a sniper weapon but can be a bit finnicky.  From the actual build side of it; they're big and heavy so you might have difficulty fitting it into your loadout without having to make sacrifices elsewhere.  In gameplay, they have a charge mechanic - think of it like firing a bow in, say, Skyrim or Warframe; you have to hold the fire button down to charge it.  Difference from the bow analogy is that you can't let it go early to fire a weaker shot (letting go of the trigger on a gauss rifle while it's charging will just cancel the charge) and it only remains charged for about a second so you can't just hold the charge until a target presents itself.  They require a lot of trigger discipline and a good sense of how far to lead your shots.  They also explode like an ammo bin when hit by a critical (the mechanic mentioned in the machine gun section just above).  Their ammo doesn't detonate, though.


You've probably noticed that you've been earning a form of Experience with each battle.  Most of this will be 'Mech XP - Experience points tied to a particular chassis variant - while a portion will be Global XP - which can be spent on anything and the total is shown in the bottom-left of the interface along with your MC and C-Bills.  'Mech XP can only be spent on 'Mechs that you own - so you can earn it with the Trial 'Mechs but can't spend any of it until you actually buy that 'Mech variant.  If it wasn't obvious; you access these through the Skills button at the top of the interface.

'Mech XP is spent on what's known as Efficiencies.
Efficiencies are split into three tiers - the Basic ones (the eight at the top of the panel in the above screenshot) are what you have to buy first.  You can buy them in any order and their costs range from 750XP to 3,500XP.  They are:
  • Cool Run (750XP) - Increases Heat Dissipation by 7.5%
  • Kinetic Burst (1,000XP) - Increases BattleMech acceleration by 7.5%
  • Twist X (2,500XP) - Increases the maximum amount a BattleMech can twist its upper torso by 2.5%
  • Heat Containment (1,000XP) - Increases the maximum heat threshold before a BattleMech shuts down by 10%
  • Hard Break (1,500XP) - Increases BattleMech deceleration by 7.5%
  • Twist Speed (2,500XP) - Increases the speed at which a BattleMech can twist its upper torso by 2.5%
  • Arm Reflex (1,500XP) - Increases the speed at which a BattleMech can move its arms by 2.5%
  • Anchor Turn (3,500XP) - Increases the turning speed of a BattleMech by 2.5%
So if you see a 'Mech moving a bit better than yours or the like, this is probably the reason.  After you purchase the Basic Efficiencies for three variants of a chassis (so in my case, I have all eight Basic ones unlocked for the Timber Wolf Prime, Timber Wolf S and Timber Wolf C) you can buy the Elite Efficiencies for any of those three 'Mechs (any future variants you buy will have access to them as well once you have all of that new one's Basic Efficiencies).  The Elite Efficiencies are:
  • Quick Ignition (4,000XP) - Start-up and shut-down sequences sped up by 33%
  • Fast Fire (6,000XP) - Weapon cooldown rate increased by 5%
  • Pinpoint (3,000XP) - Weapon convergence speed increased by 15%
  • Speed Tweak (8,500XP) - Increases top speed by 7.5%
Unlocking all of the Elite Efficiencies for a variant also doubles the effects of its Basic ones.  So if you see an OmniMech (like a Timber Wolf) running faster than yours despite having the same engine, now you know why.  There is also the Master Efficiency, which you unlock by having all of the Elite efficiencies for three variants of that weight class (so they can be three different chassis entirely - I almost have this done for Heavy 'Mechs; I've gotten the Elites for the Cataphract 3D, Marauder 3R and I'll be able to get their Master Efficiencies once I finish off the Warhammer 6R).  The Master Efficiency costs a whopping 21,500XP and will unlock a new Module Slot on the BattleMech which I'll be covering in the next section.

There are also Pilot Skills, which unlock or augment modules and consumables, so let's take a look at those.


These are more of a late-game mechanic, so I won't be going into massive detail here.  Modules mostly cost a lot of XP to unlock (usually about 5,000XP at a minimum) and then buying the module itself costs a lot of C-Bills.  They do have potent effects, though.  One of the most prevalent of these is Radar Deprivation - while it's among the most expensive at 15,000XP to unlock and a further 6 million C-Bills to buy the module, it has the very powerful effect of letting your 'Mech instant drop off enemy sensors as soon as you break line-of-sight (normally this takes about two or three seconds to occur).  You can have just one of these 'Mech Modules mounted on your 'Mech at a time.

Weapon modules are a more straight-forward type of module - increasing the range or cooldown rate of the related weapon.  So make sure you're unlocking the right one for the weapons you're using (ie; don't go getting the Large Laser one if you're using ER Large Lasers).  You can have two Weapon Modules on your 'Mech at a time.

Before I move onto the consumable-related ones, I'll just point out that the slot unlocked by the Master Efficiency can be used for either a 'Mech or Weapon Module.

Now, you may have noticed in the MechLab that there are two versions of each consumable - one for C-Bills and another available for MC.  Before you go worrying about buying power, there are Pilot Skills you can purchase that augment all of the related C-Bill purchased consumables.  Buy both of the upgrades for a particular consumable and the C-Bill version will now be identical to the MC-bought version.  So if I buy the two UAV-related Pilot Skills (UAV Upgrade, which increases their range by 25%, and Improved UAV, which increases their duration by a further 15 seconds, both costing 15,000XP each), then all of my C-Bill-purchased UAVs will be identical to the MC-purchased versions.

Spending Real Money

Some of you may be willing to spend some real money on the game, and that's fair enough - if you feel the game deserves support, you may as well throw some money their way.  But what to spend that money on?  Mechbays are one option, but I'd avoid buying more until you've used up most of the four you start with.  Premium time's another option; earn more C-Bills and XP per match.  Beyond that, though; you have some options.  I'd avoid using MC to buy BattleMechs, though - their pricing is a bit much.

If you do want to buy 'Mechs with real money, I'd suggest having a read of this guide from AnimeFreak40k.  The guide covers every package with BattleMechs as well as the MC-only Hero and Champion 'Mechs.  He covers the subject far better than I can, so I'll leave it at that.

There is also cosmetics - paint colours for your 'Mech, camo patterns for them and various items to have in your cockpit.  Those are going to be entirely to your discretion and taste, though.


That should be enough to get you started, I'll update this with more info as I think of it or as things change, but anything beyond what I've covered here feels beyond the scope of a beginner's guide.

If you want a more detailed guide; Kin3ticX has done a rather extensive one and included a number of video tutorials for certain aspect of the game (such as certain roles a BattleMech can serve in the field).  fat4eyes has also done a very good tactics guide, detailing formations and otherwise how to move and fight as a team rather than a dozen individual players, while also making it a much more enjoyable read than I've probably made it sound.

Still; I hope this helps those of you getting into the game and I wish you luck on the battlefield.

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