It's that time again folks - trial mech time. Before I get into the wailing and gnashing of teeth though, I'd like to first talk about what PGI has done to the new player experience in the latest patch. As I noted in the article about said patch, something called a cadet bonus has been introduced. This means that over a new player's first 25 matches they'll earn a total of nearly 8 million cbills - that's enough to buy pretty much any mech short of an Atlas or an assault mech with an XL engine. In practice then, you're going to be out of the trial mechs within about three hours of play and into something that suits your play style. Before you would have been spending around four hours and would only really have been able to get yourself into a light mech. That was fine if that was your thing, but for a lot of people it isn't. You also now earn experience while in trial mechs, and your regular (I.e. non cadet bonus) match rewards are earned at the same rate as owned mechs instead of the vastly reduced rate from before. So now if you buy one of the mechs you've been playing as a trial, you'll have experience to spend on pilot skills instead of having to start from scratch. As an example of what this means, the account I've been using for these trial mech reports has now played 35 matches and has 10.2m cbills sitting in the bank. And I really haven't been winning much with it.
Basically then, trial mechs are now a much smaller part of the new game experience than they were, and that is an excellent thing. New players get to experience mech ownership and customisation sooner, which means they're more likely to stick around and that PGI is more likely to get them spending MC on customising their paint jobs and buying cockpit decorations. This is all good news.
However (and this is an enormous, Atlas sized however), this latest batch of trial mechs may very well be the worst bunch yet. No, I know I've said that before, I MEAN IT. This time around we have one of the slowest light mechs in the game, a heavy that has all its tonnage used up on its engine, an assault with so many weapons any new player is going to be bewildered and kill themselves from heat, and a sort of ok medium. Strap in, folks, it's going to get bumpy.
Engine: Standard 175
Speed: 81 kph
2 Medium Laser (Right Arm)
1 Large Laser (Left Torso)
1 SRM 6 (Right Torso) + 1 Ton Ammo (Left Torso)
12 Single Heat sinks
6.5 Tons Armour
1.01 heat efficiency
Yes, you read that right. A light mech that does 81kph. If you skipped down the page a bit you'll have also noticed that the Dragon on offer this week does the same speed and the Centurion is nearly 20kph faster. This thing is confused as to what it's supposed to be. It's not fast enough to scout, it's not well sinked or armoured enough to brawl effectively, and it can't keep enemy mechs at arms length and plink away with that large laser because it's not fast enough to control the engagement range. I guess the best bet is to stick with the pack and hide behind bigger mechs and hope for opportunities to unload that actually pretty impressive armament at people before ducking back behind the rest of your squad again.
Yeah, this one really doesn't work for me. I'll hold my hands up as not being a light pilot but this feels way more like a medium but without the heat sinks to deal with the armament it has and the armour to deal with the beatings it's likely to attract because of that armament.
Engine: 300 XL
2 Medium Laser (Centre Torso)
1 LB-10X (Right Arm) + 2 tons ammo (Right Torso, CASE)
1 LRM 10 + Artemis (Left Torso) + 2 tons Ammo (Right Torso, CASE)
10 Single Heat Sinks
8.5 tons armour
1.05 heat efficiency
So, it's fast, it's packing a shotgun, a couple of lasers and the LRMs have Artemis on them. In a post ECM world it's questionable how much use the LRMs will be but it's not the worst combination of guns in the world. This thing is well suited to hit and run fighting - leg it into range, dump shotgun rounds and lasers on your target of choice and run away again before your target can return fire in any significant way. As with all centurions, you need to watch that arm though. Once it's gone you're running without your primary weapon and are more vulnerable to side torso hits, which with that XL engine will ruin your day really quickly.
The arm is a bit more durable than I was expecting but only if you're playing it smart and twisting to use the other arm as a shield from incoming fire. The speed is nice too - I miss the days of closed beta when you could stick a 350 XL in a hunchback and go running around at 120kph and the CN9-D is the closest you can get to that experience these days. However, that shotgun is really not as good as it needs to be. Yeah, if you're close you'll do 10 points of damage with it but you'll scatter it all over the place, unless you've got the barrel against the component you want to hit. It also runs really hot - 10 single heat sinks doesn't give you a lot of dissipation.
Engine: 300 Standard
1 Medium Laser (Left Arm)
1 UAC/5 (Right Arm) + 1 Ton Ammo (Right Torso, CASE)
1 LRM 10 (Centre Torso) + 2 Tons Ammo (Left Torso, CASE)
10 Single Heat Sinks
10 Tons Armour
1.22 heat efficiency
On paper this looks a bit underwhelming. You’ve got little in the way of ammo for anything, the UAC is in the big ol’ arm just like the Centurion and most of your tonnage is eaten up by the engine. Best plan of attack is probably similar to the Centurion - run in, unload, run away again. Failing that, try to sit back and plink away with the long range on the LRMs and UAC (though ECM will probably put a stop to the former at the moment).
I hate this robot. I hate it. The arm comes off faster than the Centurions, but that’s ok because you’ve only got 25 rounds for the damn thing anyway. That’s 125 points of damage you can do and if you single fire the UAC you’ll do that in just under 30 seconds. Double tapping it is barely worth the jam risk with that few shots. LRMs are pretty quickly shut down by any sort of organised team, so that’s going to leave you with your decent-ish speed and a single medium laser. You’re basically a worse armed, better armoured version of the Raven, with a bigger profile. Oh, and don’t let that heat efficiency stat fool you - having only ten single heat sinks means you’re going to be waiting an age to cool down if you get anywhere near your heat cap, especially if you’re on a map like Caustic Valley. Note: I may be biased because a bunch of us tried this thing on caustic, and once you hit your heat cap, good luck getting cooled down if you want to move around at all.
Engine: 255 Standard
Speed: 48.6 kph
4 Medium Lasers (2 Left Arm, 2 Right Arm),
2 Large Lasers (Left Torso, Right Torso)
2 LRM 10 (Left Arm, Right Arm) + 2 Tons Ammo (Left Arm, Right Arm)
2 SRM 6 (Left Torso, Right Torso)+ 2 Tons Ammo (Left Torso, Right Torso)
20 Single Heat Sinks
13.5 Tons Armour
0.85 heat efficiency
Stalkers are terrifying monsters if you’re stood in their forward arc. Ridiculous quantities of laser fire and missile volleys being hurled in your direction is something you really want to avoid, so being the one doing the firing and volleying is definitely worth it. You can see from the loadout above that this thing can put up damage numbers that are fairly obscene, especially at the 200m or so mark where everything can do damage. Unfortunately you've only got 20 heat sinks in it, so if you try and alpha strike you’re going to wind up in shutdown country very quickly. The trick is probably to stick to the LRMs at long range, the medium lasers and SRMs up close and only use the large lasers when you’ve got a shot on an ECM protected target at distance or you’re pretty damn sure it’s going to take your target out of the fight.
This is the most fun trial mech. If anything lighter than you gets into your side or rear arc, you’re pretty much dead, but up until then you’re walking death to anything in front of you. The heat IS tricky to manage at times, and the default weapon groups make sense but are pretty cumbersome so you probably want to mess with those a bit. Basically find an Atlas or something to buddy up with and make sure they’re the ones doing the tanking and you’re the one bringing the firepower to the party.
Another cycle, another load of robots that aren't really suited to the way MWO handles heat compared to tabletop. I’m not going to bang on about this too much though, as it’s clear from comments made by Garth Erlam that PGI hasn’t found the trial system to be doing what they wanted it to do. The Cadet Bonus may be the complete solution, and it’s one that certainly takes a lot of the play that felt like work out of the newbie experience. There probably wouldn’t be any harm, though, in opening up the trial stable to include every single stock mech there is. All the better to help new players work out which chassis they feel more at home in.
In terms of a winner this time, it's a tough one to call. If you have to pick one to play in, I’d pick the Centurion or the Stalker - in my case, probably the Stalker because I love assaults and knowing I’d be racking up experience in something I’m probably going to buy anyway is a big plus. And finally, as is now traditional, the proof I slogged my way through these robots. Enjoy!