Shooting for the Stars
Looking at the official forums developer posted information, the Nov. 20 patch was going to be huge. The developer-announced content additions included a new 'mech, the return of the eight-man premade, and a 'mech camo editor. Also rumored for the 20th was a new game mode (conquest) and a second alternate map. Looking at that cornucopia of content, it was easy to be excited for and feel positive about MWO.
The actual meal, seen on the official patch notes, was the Cataphract, 3 'mech upgrades, and a salvo of bug fixes. Even some bug fixes themselves are questionable, as you'll see below. While bug fixes and giant robots are an essential part of MWO's development, many players can't help but feel betrayed. Has PGI inadvertently hurt themselves by being so open about their intentions?
One man's bug fix, another man's buff
The most controversial part of the Nov. 20th patch, affectionally called 'Phractmas', is the streak short range missile buff. This weapon, often praised for its effectiveness against lighter 'mechs, received not one but two buffs:
- SSRMs were doing less damage than designed, that is now fixed.
- SSRMs will now hit 100% unless something in the way or latency issues.
This fix repairs an issue with the weapon system that many had considered a purposeful nerf by PGI. Speculation of anti-light tweaks aside, it's undenable that the fluctuating strength of the Streak Catapult has been rejuvenated, and Catapult pilots across the game have jumped back into their six streak or four streak two SRM6 'mechs.
The heart of Phractmas: Cataphracts
In ancient times, 'cataphract' was the name for a suit of Roman scale armor, often covering both a horse and it's rider as seen here. In MechWarrior lore, the Cataphract was created from other 'mech components, creating a less-than-symmetric "FrankenMech."
The 'Phract in MWO was released in the Nov. 20 patch with four variants, and is the eleventh 'mech. Three of the variants cost between 5.2 million C-bills and 5.8 million C-bills. The third costs 9.8 million C-bills. Each variant has something distinctive, whether it's the 4X's 2 ballistic slots in each arm or the 3D's jump jets and torso ballistic slot complemented with another in the right arm. There are some constants, however. Every Phract variant has at least 2 laser slots with a maximum of five on the 1X, and every single variant has at least one ballistic slot. This makes the Cataphract a versatile chassis, but with considerably less long range missile options than its sibling the Catapult.
As with all 'mechs, the Cataphract does have some weaknesses. A particularly large cockpit hitbox located low on the 'mech's torso gives the 'Phract a vulnerability to streak missiles and LRM's, along with making it a juicy target for direct fire snipers. This may be tweaked as we see the next several patches, similar to the way PGI handled the Awesome's not awesome cockpit hitbox, but until then this is a weakness that can be both worked around and taken advantage of.
Stalking the next patch
With three 'mech chassis in each weight class except assault it would be logical to assume that the next addition to the MWO lineup will be the Stalker. This 85-ton assault 'mech is an armless, bulky 'walking egg' that seems to be the bastard child of a Catapult and an Atlas. It boasts ECM stock on several variants and a potent six laser, four missile hardpoint configuration on the primary variant. This 'mech is speculated to be slower than an Awesome 9M, but faster than an Atlas and with more weapons than an Awesome.
A Double-edged Sword
The level of community outcry seen Tuesday was quite high, even for the normally excitable official forums. If PGI had taken a more close-mouthed approach like most other developers, would this controversy have been averted? Before players blast PGI for dishonesty, they should consider that game development is a moving target. When given a choice between a date estimate that might not be correct or no time estimate at all, there are negative and positive consequences no matter which choice PGI makes.