If you're new to Mechwarrior Online, you will notice that you start with no cash and no Internet Space Robots to call your own. Short of ponying up some cash to inject Mech Credits into your bank account, you're going to have to take a ride in one of the freebie "Trial Mechs" that PGI generously provide for the spacepoor. These change around every two weeks, and whenever they do we'll give you a quick rundown of the pros and cons of each of the four on offer.
Since I hate myself, I'll put aside my beloved custom mechs and drive these. What you see here is based on both some theorycrafting and some actual experience. Oh, and if you like maths, WoL mechnician Leminiscate has run some damage output simulations for each to give you some hard numbers on damage dealt over time at various range brackets, so a massive thanks to him too. In each of these, the simulation shows how much damage you can potentially generate at 800m, 300m and 100m if you fire whatever you can without shutting down, and removes weapons that would do no damage in each range bracket. The "Damage done over 10s" on these I think is a much better indication of a mech's brawling capability than just it's alpha damage.
Let's dive in to the current selection, shall we?
Engine: Standard 150
Speed: 97.2 kph
Large Laser (RIght arm)
Medium Laser (Left arm)
SRM 2 (Centre torso)+ 1 Ton Ammo (Left Torso)
10 Single Heat Sinks
4 tons armour
Where to begin with this? Well let’s start with the positives: you’re quite small, which makes you slightly harder to target. And if you stand near an Atlas he might not be able to see you nor hit you. Um... you... you probably have enough ammo to use that SRM constantly... I’m reaching here.
A light’s strength is generally in being able to move fast enough to get into and out of trouble without presenting an easy target - this one can’t do that. 97.2kph isn’t nearly fast enough for something that’s only sporting four tons of armour. A Hunchback or a Centurion can hit 80kph without much trouble, and 10/20kph relative speed is not going to get you away nearly fast enough. You’re going to die horribly as soon as someone looks at you funny, and LRMs are going to utterly ruin your day.
Weapon wise, The large laser is just plain too big and hot for the Commando too - with only 10 heat sinks you’re going to have serious issues firing that thing on any sort of regular basis. For all practical purposes you’re either going to be using the LL or using the ML/SRM2 at any given time. Look, you’re going to die. You're going to die having output a pathetically small amount of damage and accomplished little of import. Especially if you come up against goons, who will irrationally fire everything at you even if there’s better targets. This is a terrible space robot.
I was actually pleasantly surprised here. The Large Laser can fire for longer than I was expecting, and it and the medium give you a decent punch. The SRMs are a nice bit of extra bite, (although as per the damage chart, you're still pretty anemic) and you're small enough that people often just ignore you. As soon as they DO notice you, however, you're completely stuffed, as I suspected. It doesn't take much to knock you out of the fight, so just keep moving.
Engine: XL 320
Speed: 129.6 KPH
2 Medium Laser (Right Torso, Left Torso)
1 Small Pulse (Centre Torso)
1 UAC-5 (Left Torso) + 1 ton ammo (Right Torso) + Case
10 Single Heat Sinks
4 tons armour
Oh, ok, this looks a bit more like it. 129.6kph means you can zip in, get behind people, unload your guns and run away again. The UAC-5 is quite nice, if maybe a bit suboptimal, and a pair of medium lasers is always welcome. Shame about the small pulse, but you can’t have everything. Oh, and you’ve got as much armour as that Commando I just talked about a minute ago up there, which I thought had a piddling amount for a light, never mind a medium. And you’ve got an XL engine, so when your torsos go (and they WILL go, because there’s not a lot else for people to shoot at on a Cicada) you’re going to die.
You can probably make this work as a hit and run machine, and with the UAC-5 you can also sit at 500m and plink away if you really want to, but the main takeaway from this should be NEVER STOP MOVING. If you bump into a wall or another mech or slow down to take a better shot, expect to get thoroughly reamed in seconds. Seriously, don't stand still. Note as well that if the UAC jams (which it will) you need to unbind it from any weapon groups you have it in and rebind it again to unjam it. As far as I know, this isn't documented anywhere obvious, so watch out for it.
This is terrible. The heat sinks aren't nearly enough to cope with the weapons on offer, the UAC loves to jam. You're about twice the size target of the commando, so you're easier to hit, and the XL engine means you really do die absurdly fast. Really do avoid this one.
Engine: Standard 260
Speed: 64.8 kph
4 Medium Laser (2x Centre Torso, 1x Left Torso, 1x Right Torso)
2 LRM15 (Left Arm, Right Arm) + 2 tons ammo (Left Torso, Right Torso)
4 Jump Jets (2 Left Torso, 2 Right Torso)
15 Heat Sinks (4 legs, 1 head)
10 tons armour
Getting better, I think. You’re not super speedy in this, but you CAN stand off at 1000m out, let other people spot for you and unload LRMs on people. Your LRM ammo won’t last a particularly long time, but you’ve still got four medium lasers when the tubes run dry. I’d probably bind the CT and side torso lasers to separate fire groups, as you’re going to run pretty hot with only 15 sinks, but with ten tons of armour you’re reasonably able to survive a bit of a brawl (though with the catapult’s massive headbox you’re best off staying at the 270m effective range of your medium lasers to avoid being decapitated).
Standing off and loosing volleys of LRMs is pretty good, but I ran out very very fast. Once I closed to use those lasers, even firing them in pairs I was running up against my heat capacity pretty quickly. I guess the jump jets are useful for dodging incoming fire (especially if someone's up close). Better than the Cicada, probably on a level with the Commando for how fun it is to drive - this gets the edge on being able to dish out damage.
Speed: 48.6 KPH
LRM20 (Left Torso) + 1 ton ammo (Left Torso) + Case
Gauss Rifle (Right Torso) + 2 ton ammo (Right Arm) + Case
2 ER Large Laser (Left Arm, Right Arm)
2 MPL (Centre Torso)
1 AMS (Left Arm) + 1 ton ammo (Left Arm)
20 Sinks (4 legs, 2 Left Arm, 2 Right Arm, 2 engine)
19 tons armour
If it wasn’t for the ER Large Lasers, this would be an absolute winner. You’ve got a decent set of weapons for most ranges here, but the ERLLs just run too hot to be used on anything like a regular basis. If I were in this I’d be standing off until my LRM ammo was depleted, maybe popping off a shot or two from the ERLLs, then wading in with the pulse lasers and gauss rifle.
If you get into a brawl (and at 48.6kph you’ll find yourself in one at some point and not be able to escape), forget the ER large lasers, no matter how tempting they are. The pulses and gauss rifle will serve you fine, and as soon as you start combining those ERLLs with anything else you’re going to be shut down and a sitting duck. 19 tons of armour will keep you alive for a while, but anyone worth their salt will be aiming for that big ol’ gauss barrel that makes up your side torso, and as soon as they breach your armour, that XL engine will go up and you’ve had it. Honestly, the XL here is such a bad idea, the Atlas' raison d'être is to tank, and you can't tank when you're this fragile. You also NEED to keep your team around you. A light mech getting into your back arc will kill you incredibly fast, because you won’t be able to torso twist or turn around fast enough to stop it. If you do find yourself out of position getting harassed by a Jenner, find a wall and back up against it. A dumb light pilot will stick around and continue trying to shoot you, and you will kill him. A smart one will run away, leaving you not dead and therefore still the winner. Resist the urge to fire the ERLLs at his retreating back, if you've been brawling with those pulses you'll end up shutting down.
Chain firing the ER Larges makes them tolerable enough at range, and volleying LRMs along with the ERLLs works nicely enough. Heat is managable if you're doing it this way, and if you're approaching heat capacity you can use just the gauss until you cool down a little. The XL engine isn't as big a vulnerability as I was expecting
Because they're all drawn from tabletop (with a couple of little changes where rear firing weapons are switched to front and the like), the trial mechs are usually pretty suboptimal. Quite aside from the heat issues I talked about in this piece here, the weapon loadouts are frequently bizarre and don't really synergise especially well. The Cicada would be better off dropping the small pulse (which stinks, see here) and packing on another half ton of armour, the Atlas would be much better served by regular large lasers (and regular medium lasers to, to be quite honest) as well as dropping the CASE which doesn’t help it if the ammo goes up because the engine’s in the side torso anyway. The Catapult could swap out two of those medium lasers for another ton of ammo and another heat sink, and the Commando could dump the large laser for another medium and ramp up the engine size AND STILL BE TERRIBLE. Sorry, force of habit. Anyway, those are by no means optimal builds for the chassis, but even those minor changes would make then a damn sight better than what you get out of the box. And it's mean of me to taunt you with that because you're stuck driving them as is.
If I had to pick one, it'd have to be the Atlas, with the Catapult a close second, and that's hard for me because I really do like mediums a lot. With the Cat you can help your team out a lot, rack up a few kills and even brawl a little if you're forced to. The Atlas can similarly keep enemies at arms length, but you can survive a close up fight better, and with the gauss rifle you've always got an option when you start to overheat. I have to be honest though, I remain unconvinced that this is the best way to get players into the game. They're a decent enough fallback option for when you're running out of credit, but I can't help but think that giving new players a mech of their own to start with (even if it's just a Commando) would help them see a lot more of the parts of this game that I really enjoy, and that's without even getting into the horribly small amount of cbills you earn in a trial.
Finally, in case any of you doubted it, here's the proof I actually ran these things for one evening. Big thanks to the men of Kerensky Lance that helped get me through this evening. I had no beer in the building so I couldn't have done it without them.