MechWarrior 101: A Newbie’s Guide to Not Sucking – Part 3 “Basic Gunnery”

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** This article was originally posted on August 12th at Big Stompy Robots with Guns . It has been re-published on this site by request. A big thanks to {QQ} RageQuit Mercs for the invitation! **

So, we’ve covered the basics of piloting your ‘mech, (and believe me, we’ve really only covered the basics!) now let’s talk about what you really came here to do – blow stuff up! You’ve got all those weapons, now let’s talk about how to put them to use effectively.

Before you pull the trigger, you’re going to want to setup some weapon groups. Firing everything you have (known as an “alpha strike”) every time you pull the trigger is not only an inefficient use of your firepower, it’s likely to cause you to overheat… and that’s likely to get you killed.

At the time of this writing, there is no means of configuring your weapon groups outside of a drop. While it’s been stated that such a feature will eventually be added to the MechLab, currently our only option to do so is during a match, after the countdown has completed.

On the lower-right side of your HUD, you’ll notice a weapons readout. This readout lists every weapon currently equipped on your ‘mech, the optimal range of each, how much ammunition remains (if applicable), whether its arm or torso mounted and the weapons group(s) it is currently assigned to.

Okay, so that’s a lot of information from one little image, so let’s take a moment and do a quick breakdown: In the tabs which stick off the left of the display, you’ll notice two icons; these tabs indicate weapon location. Everything grouped in rows by the circular icon [o] indicates an arm mounted weapon. Everything grouped in rows by the crosshair icon [+] indicates a torso (or head) mounted weapon.

The numbers (1 – 6) to the right of the location tabs indicates the weapon group(s) each weapon currently belongs to. Active weapon groups for an individual weapon are white, while inactive groups are black. In the image above, the ‘mech has a gauss rifle (mounted in an arm) assigned to weapon group 1, and three streak 2 SRM’s (mounted in the torso) assigned to weapon group 2.

Next to the weapon groupings, the name of each weapon is displayed. Just to the right of this, the optimal range for each weapon is displayed. When your targeting reticule is over a surface that is within this range, these numbers will light up green. When your reticule passes over a surface within its maximum range, they will light up grey. When your reticule passes over a surface beyond the weapons maximum range, they will be unlit.

The rectangle to the right of the range indicators is a reload/ recharge indicator. When a weapon is fired, the box will fill up red. As the weapon reloads or recharges, the bar will decrease. Once the bar is empty, the weapon may be fired again. In the image above, the gauss rifle has been fired and is in the process of reloading.

The numbers on the far left of the display indicate the remaining ammunition for that weapon. Note that in the event of identical weapons, the number displayed is the same since the ammunition pool is shared among all weapons using that ammunition type.


- Weapon Groups -


Quite a bit of information being relayed there right? Don’t fret, for now all we care about are the weapon groupings.

In the previous image, notice that the first row and column are highlighted, causing the first row, first column to be very bright – this indicates cursor placement. In order to move the cursor use the arrow keys. The left and right arrows [← →] will move the cursor through the available weapon groupings, while the up and down arrows [↑ ↓] will move the cursor through the available weapons. Pressing the [right-ctrl] will assign / un-assign the selected weapon to / from the selected group.

In all, there are 6 available weapons groups. It’s highly encouraged that you group your weapons logically, although that’s a loaded statement in and of itself and much of what makes sense will be dependent on your build, its role and your individual play-style. At a minimum, you’ll want to consider the following with regards to assigning weapon groupings:


  • Range: Having weapons with similar ranges grouped together ensures damage efficiency by excluding weapons which don’t have the same reach. Firing a PPC at range with a group of medium lasers isn’t going to be very efficient since the mediums can’t reach as far.

  • Heat: Splitting higher-heat generating weapons, like lasers, into separate groups allows better heat management. Even when dealing with ‘like’ weapons, splitting them up can be beneficial since it affords you greater control over your heat generation.

  • Type: Ballistic, missile and energy weapons all behave differently. For example, ballistic weapons (at range) typically require a pilot to lead the target, while laser weapons generally don’t require as much (if any) lead.

  • Placement: Separating arm-mounted from torso mounted weapons is always a good idea since your arms have a greater range of movement. Giving arm weapons their own groups prevents wasted ammunition and / or unnecessary heat generation.

It’s important to note that weapon groupings can be changed at any time during the course of a game. If you’ve come to a sudden realization regarding your weapon groups mid-game, take a moment (when there’s a lull in the action) to change them up. Also note that weapons can belong to multiple groups – this affords you the maximum flexibility with regards to setting up your groupings.

An additional option to consider with regards to weapon groups is that of chain-fire. This option can be toggled on or off of any grouping by selecting the desired group (using the [← →] keys) and pressing the [backspace] key. When activated, this will cause each weapon assigned to that group to fire in succession, one after another, for as long as the trigger is held down. This can be used to provide better heat efficiency, ammunition management, or just to stagger fire in order to increase the sense of urgency your target is likely to feel when you unload.


- Weapon Placement -


So, you’re running around the battlefield, you’re no longer getting stuck (except for those annoying bugs that pop up once in a while) and you’ve got your weapons assigned to logical, heat efficient groupings. Now you’re almost ready to pull the trigger on the enemy. There’s just one more thing (not really, we’ve still got a crap-load of topics to go over) you need to be aware of before you shoot.

So far we’ve discussed the difference between arm and torso mounted weapons and how the targeting reticules reflect this. What we haven’t discussed is the overall placement of weapons as it applies to vertical location. Yes, this matters…

You need to be aware of where weapons are placed on your ‘mech because this will determine the point-of-origin for each shot that weapon generates. This is important because, while you may be able to see the enemy from high-atop your perch in the head of an Atlas, that low building could prohibit your AC20 from making contact. At 7 shots per ton, wasting shots is ill-advised.

Let’s say, for example, we have a Cataphract and a K2, both firing weapons from their arms. The K2, with its arms perched high on the chassis is likely to have a clear line of fire from its arms to virtually any target it can see. The Cataphract on the other hand, likely packs a bigger punch with its arm weapons, but must ensure that their arms have a clear line to the target since they’re fairly low slung.

Much of getting this ‘right’ comes with time and experience, but knowing where each weapon is physically located on your ‘mech will help you to compensate for your weapons placement very quickly.


- Basic Marksmanship -


At a fundamental level, marksmanship is the simple act of lining up your reticule with a target and firing. This is accomplished by pressing the number key that corresponds with the desired weapon group; e.g. pressing [1] will fire weapon group 1, [2] will fire weapon group 2 and so forth.

In addition to this, you can fire two of your weapon groups simply by using your primary and secondary mouse-buttons [left & right mouse-buttons] respectively. By default, pressing your [left mouse-button] will fire the currently selected weapon group. (In the image, weapon group 1 is currently selected, which would cause only the gauss rifle to fire.) The [right mouse-button] is automatically assigned to weapon group 2. In the case of the example, clicking the [right mouse-button] would fire all 3 streak missile launchers.

If the shot strikes a target – meaning if the shot strikes any target, even a friendly – the crosshairs will register a “hit report”. If your targeting reticule or crosshair flashes red for a moment, that’s your targeting system reporting that the shot hit something. Visual verification and/ or damage readouts are the only means of ensuring that the shot hit the intended target, but this is a subject we’ll address in greater detail later on. For now, we’ll focus on the basics of it all.

So now that we know where our triggers are located, let’s discuss how to bring our weapons to bear efficiently. Since this issue can get a bit specific with regards to weapon type, we’ll address them categorically.


- Energy Weapons -


Direct fire and ammunition independent, energy weapons provide a theoretically unlimited number of shots, but do so at the cost of heat efficiency. Comprised of the entire spectrum of laser weapons, energy weapons also include the Particle Projectile Cannon (PPC), flamer and TAG laser.


  • Lasers fire in the form of a beam and have a set duration. Damage is applied to the target over the course of the beam’s duration, as opposed to all at once. This means that dragging a laser across a target will apply smaller amounts of damage to several locations, rather than all to one location.

Note: “ER” weapons (ER stands for “Extended Range”) have a longer range than their standard counterparts, but this range comes at the cost of additional heat generation.

  • Pulse Lasers also employ a beam application, however this beam is split up into several distinct, but rapid pulses (thus the name.) While damage is still applied across the duration, the pulses used each apply a set amount of the total, making it much easier to place a given portion in one location on a target. Be aware that pulse lasers are heavier and run hotter than their standard counterparts.

Note: in the case of both lasers and pulse lasers, the velocity, or travel time from barrel to target is nearly instantaneous. In most cases, you’ll want to place your targeting reticule directly over the intended target when firing.

  • PPC’s, while being an energy weapon, behave a bit more like a ballistic weapon. Each time you fire, the PPC propels a ball of charged particles (like a ball of lightening) at the target. These projectiles have the same velocity (at the time of this writing) as a gauss round or an AC2. Because the travel time is not instant, target lead must often be employed to account for the target’s movement.

Note: Standard PPC’s have a “minimum range” of 90 meters. Damage to targets within this range is reduced. This reduction is greater, the closer the target is. ER PPC’s do not have any minimum range.

  • Flamers are essentially ‘mech sized flame throwers. Originally intended to function as an anti-infantry weapon in the classic tabletop game, flamers function in MWO is to add heat to the target ‘mech, and otherwise annoy the Pilot. Currently, you’re unlikely to get a kill with this weapon.

  • TAG lasers, much like standard lasers are a beam weapon, however they do no damage and produce no heat. The TAG is designed to assist in achieving missile locks and helps to tighten the damage spread of those (guided) missiles which impact the target. Simpy passing a TAG laser over a target will incur this effect for 2 seconds, so raking the beam back and forth can be an effective means of keeping a target TAG’d.


 - Ballistic Weapons -


Much like conventional modern day firearms, ballistic weapons are ammunition dependent weapons systems which fire a physical projectile at their target. This includes numerous variants of auto-cannon, the gauss rifle, machine guns and even the anti-missile system.

 Note that currently, the firing of ballistic weapons is handled server-side. This means that each press of the trigger does not register until the server processes the command. Players with higher ping times have experienced a noticeable delay between pulling the trigger and the actual shot taking effect, though this has since been largely mitigated using an algorithm called “host state rewind”. Don’t worry if you don’t know what this is, it’s built into the game. ;-)
  • Auto-Cannons come in various flavors: AC 2, 5, 10, 20, Ultra AC 5 and LB10-X all behave a bit differently from one another, but all are ballistics and require a bit of practice in order to aim properly. The number (AC 2, AC 5, etc.) generally indicates the amount of damage a single round inflicts. As a side-note, the LB10-X behaves more like a giant shotgun, while the Ultra AC 5 can fire two rounds per cycle, but has a chance to jam for a period of time when doing so.

  • Gauss Rifles use an electro-magnetic charge instead of explosive chemicals to propel their rounds. You’re probably more familiar with this weapon type being referred to as a “rail gun” and it’s the same basic principle at work. Users should note that, while traditional ammunition is prone to explode when damaged internally, the opposite is true fo the Gauss Rifle – the ammunition is inert, but the RIFLE will explode.


  • Machine Guns are, as the name implies, exactly that – machine guns. Another weapon intended to function as an anti-infantry weapon in the classic tabletop game, machine guns in MWO are intended to do very little damage to armor, but will shred internal components once the armor has been removed. Note that they have a very limited range, but a high rate of fire.
  • Anti-Missile Systems are not a weapon per se’, but a defensive measure designed to destroy incoming missiles. AMS will activate automatically anytime missiles come within range of the ‘mech, but once their ammunition is depleted, will cease to function.


- Missile Weapons -


Missile weapons are a different animal altogether. Comprised of both indirect fire, guided and direct fire weaponry, the behavior of the weapon system in question depends largely on its type.


There are currently two primary categories of missile weapon; Long-Range Missiles (LRM) and Short-Range Missiles (SRM), though “Streak” Short-Range Missiles compose a unique subset of the SRM family.


~ Long-Range Missiles (LRM):


As the name suggests, are best used on targets at long range. LRM’s come in several sizes; LRM 5, LRM 10, LRM 15 & LRM 20, the number in the name indicates the number of missiles the launcher fires per salvo. Because of this, it’s important to be aware that larger LRM launchers have greater potential damage per salvo, but use ammunition more rapidly.

LRM launchers are additionally affected by the number of “firing tubes” available on the ‘mech in which they are mounted. This means that an LRM 20 mounted in a location designed with 5 launcher tubes, will fired 4 distinct salvos of 5 missiles each time the trigger is activated. It’s noteworthy that anti-missile systems tend to be much more efficient at stopping long streams of smaller salvos than they are at stopping smaller streams of larger salvos.

LRM’s have an effective range of 180 – 1000 meters. Prior to reaching 180 meters, the warheads will not have armed; therefore, targets struck by LRM’s within 180 meters receive ZERO damage. Likewise, at 1000 meters, whether they’ve reached their target or not, LRM’s will detonate. Because of this, LRM’s due ZERO damage beyond 1000 meters.

LRM’s are an indirect fire weapon, meaning that the missiles will arc toward the target, rather than flying in a straight path (like a ballistic). This is useful when engaging enemies who are utilizing cover, but requires the pilot to be cognizant of exactly how targeting LRM’s work.

Although LRM’s can be fired without a target and / or lock, they’ll be most efficient when locked onto a target and guided in by the pilot. This requires the pilot to first select a target; this can be any enemy to which your ‘mech has direct line of sight (LoS) OR, any enemy ‘mech to which one of your team-mates has LoS AND has selected as a target. ECM plays a major role in terms of valid targets, but we’ll cover that in another article.

When locking on with LRM’s, you’ll be presented with a missile-specific, lock-on reticule.

Note that this reticule only appears for those ‘mechs equipped with missile systems capable of achieving target lock and will only appear when you have selected an enemy target and have your reticule within, or close to within the red box which outlines the enemy ‘mech.

Initially, the lock-on reticule will be yellow in color. You’ll have to hold your reticule over the target for a few seconds in order to lock-on. When you have achieved a firm lock, the reticule will turn red as well as providing you with an audial cue. Firing at this time will cause your missiles to track the target, adjusting their trajectory to compensate for the target’s movement.

WAIT! You’re not done…

LRM’s are NOT “fire and forget” weapons. Just because you achieved a target lock prior to releasing a salvo doesn’t mean that the LRM’s are guaranteed to hit, you need to maintain that target lock in order to ensure you get the most out of your missiles. If the lock is interrupted, or you lose your target for any reason, your salvo will proceed to the last known target location – that is, the last point at which you had target-lock. Odds are your target will have moved on if they’re smart.

As a final note on LRM’s, you can fire them without selecting a target or having a lock. This is typically referred to as “dumb-firing” since they missiles will follow a simple trajectory (to a point designated by your crosshair) at the time of firing. While not the most efficient method, a little practice will allow you to still inflict damage upon unwary enemies, even when achieving a lock is not possible; most notably, while under the effects of enemy ECM.


~ Short-Range Missiles (SRM)


Short-Range Missiles, or SRM’s, also come in a number of sizes; SRM 2, SRM 4 and SRM 6. As with LRM’s, the number in the name indicates the number of missiles the launcher fires per salvo. Once again, larger launchers hit harder, but use ammunition more rapidly.

SRM’s, like their long range counterparts, are also affected by the number of firing tubes available. An SRM 6, for example, mounted to in a location with only four launcher tubes would fire one salvo of four missiles, followed by a second salvo of two each time the trigger was pressed.

Unlike LRM’s, Short-Range Missiles, or SRM’s, function as a direct fire weapon and do not utilize a lock-on targeting system. Larger salvos tend to behave like a shotgun; spreading out the farther they travel to their target.

SRM’s have an effective range of 0 – 270 meters. Like their long-range counterparts, SRM’s detonate themselves when they reach their maximum range (270) and therefore inflict ZERO damage beyond this, though SRM’s (and SSRM’s) are considered to be armed when launched and therefore have no minimum range.

As a final thought on SRM’s, it’s best to treat them as though you’re firing a ballistic weapon; particularly when firing on a target travelling perpendicular to you, leading your target properly will result in the most efficient application of damage.


~ Streak Short-Range Missiles (SSRM)


Streaks are an odd puppy; having the range of an SRM, the lock-on mechanism of an LRM and a target tracking ability that is unrivaled by any other weapon in the game. Streaks are currently only available as SSRM 2’s, which limits their utility somewhat, though in the future I expect to see SSRM 4’s and SSRM 6’s as well.

As a form of SRM, SSRM’s have an effective range of 0 – 270 meters. Like all missile weapons, once they reach their maximum range, they detonate and therefore inflict ZERO damage beyond this.

The method of acquiring a target lock with SSRM’s is the same as with LRM’s, albeit at much closer range. The primary difference is two-fold:

  • SSRM’s cannot be “dumb-fired” at the time of this writing. This means a lock-on is required in order to utilize the weapon.


  • SSRM’s are “fire and forget”, meaning once the missile(s) is(are) away, you don’t have to maintain the lock – the missile(s) will do the rest.

It’s important to note that, although SSRM’s are self-guiding, crafty pilots will be able to “scrape them off” from time to time. This is due to the fact that the missiles have a limited ability to turn and maneuver – they can’t pull off ninety-degree turns. This allows wary pilots to utilize cover to mitigate some of the damage.

Stay tuned, we’re not done yet! Next up, Managing Heat and Damage…

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