Note (December 23, 2014): This article was written in February of 2013. The information as a whole is still accurate, but there has been some shifts in meta and there’s been an enormous amount of content released since then. In my opinion, the hunchback is still the best chasis for any new player to purchase as their first mech, due to low costs (no XL engine requirement) and versatility. Also note that the HBK-4H has gained quirks to make it much more effective with an AC10 and the HBK has gained quirks to make it much more effective with an AC20. Other than that, the listed builds line up with the quirks IS mechs gained Winter 2014.
For a new pilot, Hunchbacks are always recommended by me as a first chassis to unlock Elites on. Unlike most chassis, they excel without XL Engines which keeps costs down. They are Medium Class, limiting your opponent to having a medium on the other side to counterpart you. They are decently fast, decently well armed, and decently armored making them one of the most well-rounded chassis in the game. Most of them tend to have a hunch containing a good portion of the mech’s weapons, which can be targetted and destroyed. But this can be circumvented with a conscious effort to only expose the left side of your mech to enemy fire. If you are new to the game and have your cadet bonus burning a hole in your pocket, these are the mech I highly recommend you buy to learn the game while you save up for the more expensive and specialized mechs. Here’s my top 3 picks and loadouts, since chassis come in 3’s to unlock pilot skills.
This is the most balanced mech in the game, hands down. It isn’t easy to kill, with its weapons evenly spread all over the mech taking out a single section doesn’t disable it. Its evenly sized torso and side torso hitboxes also work toward the longevity of the mech allowing you to twist while taking laser fire, easily spreading the damage to healthy parts of the mech. A Standard Engine inside of it lets you lose side torsos without fear of being killed, and still lets you run around 85-95KPH. And topping it off, its array of missiles and lasers make it deadly to any class of mech, especially ones you approach from behind.
I recommend this mech to be the first one anyone purchases. Its natural balance and symmetry of design will let you keep your mind on battlefield awareness and the enemy instead of on a weakness of your mech that can be exploited.
My personal build contains: STD260 Engine, Endo Steel, 16 Double Heatsinks, 4 Medium Lasers, 2 SRM6’s (2 tons ammo), and 320/338 Armor. This build goes 85KPH, 93KPH when you unlock Speed Tweak.
The second Hunchback I recommend is the infamous 4P, the ‘Swayback’. It is an understatement to say it is one of the most effective laser boats in the game. It is able to maintain the speed of the 4SP but boasts more focused damage. It is more difficult to play, however, due to the absolute necessity of protecting your hunch. Like all Hunchbacks (with the exception of the 4SP) losing your hunch typically means you lose more than two thirds of your firepower. Once you learn the technique of only exposing your left side to an enemy, you will be able to disable and kill most mechs in the game rather quickly. The keys to this technique are: only directly face an enemy if you’re firing your weapons, move at right angles to your enemy and avoid running straight at them or straight away, and most importantly keep enemies to your left absolutely whenever possible.
The hunch practically disappears when looking at a hunchback from the left side, which must be exploited to use these mechs to their maximum potential.
The most effective loadout in my experience is using 9 medium lasers. This is a very hot build but cools off very quickly, and paired with the Hunchback’s natural hit-and-run tactics works very well. I separate the lasers into 2 groups, group 1 having only the 2 arm lasers, group 2 having the 7 lasers located in the hunch and head. Group 1 allows for precision, firing up and down hills, and firing when your heat is over %80. Group 2 allows for hitting hard when your heat is below approximately two-thirds. And firing both at the same time can be devastating if you focus on a single enemy hitbox. Most importantly, don’t overheat to the point of shutdown! Most of your deaths in this mech, like most Hunchbacks but more pronounced in this one, will probably be you standing still overheated.
My personal build for this mech is: STD260 Engine, Endo Steel, 17 Double Heatsinks, 9 Medium Lasers, an Anti-Missile System (1 ton ammo), and 336/338 Armor. This build also goes 85KPH and jumps to 93KPH when you unlock Speed Tweak. You can remove the AMS and ammo to fit an 18th DHS, but you will end up with half a ton that can’t be spent. At that point shaving armor in the legs will let you install a Medium Pulse Laser in the head, but I feel that the simplicity of the earlier build is an advantage.
Coming in at third is the 4H, the AC20 monster. Slower than the two previous mechs by 20KPH, this beast delivers an 20 damage blast and can immediately follow-up with lasers. With precision aiming you can quickly core mechs out that have to rely on sustaining laser fire on your hitboxes by shooting the AC20 while glancing at the enemy and quickly torso twisting around while the weapon reloads. This causes the enemy’s damage to spread over your chassis while you are able to do 20 damage bursts that apply as soon as the projectile hits. And for those times when you have an extra second, following that burst with laser fire can quickly cut through armor and internals. This mech differs from the other Hunchbacks by being a touch slower, so over-committing in it can quickly become fatal in situations where the others could run past the enemy or around a corner. This makes keeping your left to the enemy doubly important, since it’s harder to get away from them. But in the right hands this is a hard-hitting and quickly repositionable support mech that is often underestimated.
My personal loadout contains: STD200 Engine, Endo Steel, 13 Double Heatsinks, AC20 (4 tons ammo), 3 Medium Lasers, and 320/338 Armor. This build goes 65KPH, 71 with Speed Tweak. If you aren’t very good with ballistics, you can substitute the AC20 for an AC10, freeing up the space to hold 5 Medium Lasers. In this configuration the 4H can also substitute the STD200 Engine for an XL255 giving it an 83KPH base speed and freeing up space for an AMS system (if you shave the leg armor to 31), but this is much more expensive to assemble and typically causes death early, when the hunch is blown out.
Notes: The HBK-4H is a close relative to the HBK-4G. The 4G has 2 less laser slots, and 2 more ballistic slots in the shoulder, allowing for 3x Machine Guns or AC2’s. However, neither of those builds is very effective, one relying on Machine Guns which currently do abysmal damage and the other being far outclassed by the (much more expensive) 3x AC2 Dragon 5N. When Machine Guns get their critical hit chances updated in the near future, 3x Machine Guns or AC10/AC20 + 2x Machine Guns might be more effective. Until then I use the same build in my 4G as I list for the 4H, the only advantage to the 4G being my Founder’s Bonus.
I avoid the HBK-4J because of the ability of the 4SP to outclass it with balance. It’s a very similar mech, the 4J having only one more laser hardpoint. But if a single side torso is taken out on the 4J, you lose 6 of your 8 weapon hardpoints, unlike the 4SP which would cause you to lose less than half of them. The 4J also has more tubes in the launcher allowing it to shoot large LRM volleys at once, but with the release of the Trebuchet on the 19th it will be outclassed as a medium weight missile support platform.