Tuesday, Feburary 19th marked the release of an ambitious patch by PGI, developers of Mechwarrior Online. This patch featured plenty of new content and a slew of balance changes. A full list of changes can be seen here.
The long awaited matchmaking phase three was released. This system added an ELO rating function into the drop game, similar to the way ranked League of Legends players are matched. Theoretically this sort of a system will take people who 'play well' and stratify them away from AFKers, farmers, and beginners. After the patch came, it became quickly apparent that there were issues with phase 3 matchmaking. It created remarkably long queue times for single players, and was rolled back the day after the patch was released. As of this writing the ELO ranking system has just been reintroduced with a dev apology and explanation.
Let's Go Skiing
The newest map, Alpine, is the biggest map yet to be released and really highlights the long range game. This presents a few problems revolving around the fact that map choice is totally random. If you happen to be using a high-heat, long range build and Alpine appears, you'll have the perfect setup. If you get a much smaller map, you'll have to adapt or die. Looking at it from the other perspective, imagine how some popular 'mech builds that rely on short-range missile boating will perform on Alpine's tremendous slopes. Some speculate that it was designed to reward fast-moving medium 'mechs over the big heavy hitting assault class 'mechs, but PGI has so far refused to comment.
Players have a few other oft-mentioned comments on the map: Alpine rarely shows up in the map rotation. Whether that's by design or if the developers are easing it into play with care remains to be seen. Additionally, "The spawns don't seem super balanced at the moment. The high side one seems to have an advantage," said TM.com writer Fil5000. "[The High base has] better sightlines and easier to just hunker down into and defend." Hopefully these issues will be addressed. In any case, Alpine sets a intriguing precedent for future maps.
Speaking of long-range weapons, ERPPCs and PPCs have found a new use. Their new EMP effect disables ECM for 4 seconds when an ECM 'mech is hit by a PPC. With heat reductions last patch, EMP this patch, and Alpine's incredible size, we may see many more ERPPCs in use.
This will likely have a few effects on the metagame. The only assault with ECM, the Atlas-DDC, is pretty easy to hit. Expect assault ECM coverage to become considerably more spotty. HUD displays should become a little more reliable now, as well, especially when you consider the buff to the Advanced Sensor Range module. This single change might make anti-Raven Jenner builds more viable, and you may see some six SRM-6 splatcats replaced with streak SRM Catapult pilots trying to make use of the 50m range lock increase. The devs seem to be slowly tweaking ECM strength down since this patch has definitely reduced the power of ECM, at least on paper.
Another 'slow tweak' program named the "Variant Quirk" mechanic is slowly being put into action, including this patch's Centurion buffs. Most Centurions received increased turn speeds, engine sizes, torso twist and arm rotation increases at the cost of acceleration and deceleration rate penalties. The Centurion should become a faster and more versitile platform in general, and the acceleration rate changes should add a feeling of momentum when piloting one.
Rounding out the exciting weapon balance changes is the NARC beacon change and the LB10x/flamer/machinegun critical chance increases. The NARC beacon finally received a much-requested mechanic to differentiate it from the TAG laser. In the past, the TAG laser, at a ton, had a clear advantage on the 3 ton NARC system that required ammunition. Now, NARC beacons will create a 'global lock' that will make an enemy marked 'mech targetable by anyone on your team. As long as the NARC shooter maintains LOS and no pesky ECM interferes, the NARC lock will last until the NARC'd 'mech takes 35 damage.
The critical hit changes to Flamers, LB10xs, and machineguns added in were supposed to make these weapons more competitive, but despite the claim in the patch notes that "due to the rate of fire, the Machine Gun is now a heavy crit seeker and will be VERY effective vs. items on non-armoured locations," the popular verdict seems to be "Machineguns are still godawful." Thanks to Poptartsninja for that summary. The jury is still out on the new improved LB10x autocannon, however.
[Editor's Note: a Word of Lowtax 'Death Race', involving two 8-man teams of unarmoured light 'mechs packed to the limit with ammo, machine guns, and flamers ended with only several casualties over three rounds, and few components/ammunition bins breaking. While they are fun to shoot, it seems these weapons are still set to gather dust. An error regarding the TAG has been corrected.]
Meet the Trebuchet
The latest giant Battlemech joined MWO as well. The 50-ton Trebuchet 'mech entered in the patch with 5 variants, two of which feature jumpjets. This means the Trebuchet is the only jump-capable medium, and already "poptart 2.0s" have been hopping into many games. The pop2.0 is a Trebuchet-5J with PPCs or ERPPCs, taking advantage of the latest buff to those weapons, along with a full complement of 5 Jumpjets. This thing is way more mobile compared to the traditional Cataphract-3D poptart, but also considerably more fragile. We will be taking a closer look at MWO's latest Medium 'mech in an upcoming article.