MechWarrior 101: A Newbie’s Guide to Not Sucking – Part 5 “Dealing Damage”

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** This article was originally posted on August 26th 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 navigated the map, managed our heat, and taken some enemy fire, now let’s return the favor shall we? Set your targeting reticules on the enemy and pull the trigger!

Well DUH, Right?!

Hopefully, at this point in the article series, you won’t be a bit surprised when I say there’s a lot more to it than that… if you want to do it well I mean.

You can always just plunk those shots out there and hope for the best, hell, sometimes you have no choice and that’s the best opportunity you’ll get… stupid Jenner, running 150K and jumping over hills 600M out. :-(

More often though, you’re going to want to get the most out of every shot you fire, and while it’s not realistic to make every shot perfect, a little know-how will get you over the hump from just getting “lucky” to getting “good”.

First thing is understanding your weapons. If you haven’t given it a read-through, l suggest you go take a look at Part 2 “Basic Gunnery”. In that article we touched on some of the basics as they pertain to the different weapon types and in this article we’re going to draw on that information a bit.


- Focusing Your Build -


When you first start playing MechWarrior Online, you’re only going to have access to the trial ‘mechs that are currently in rotation. Sadly, you cannot modify these builds in any way and, quite frankly, they’re terrible when compared to a custom built variant.

The reason behind this is that the basic ‘mechs (from which the trial ‘mech pool is derived) are taken directly from the stock variants available in the table-top game. Not a bad starting point really, but what constitutes a “good” build in a table-top game using dice to randomly determine things like shot accuracy is not the same thing as what constitutes “good” in a real-time, pinpoint environment.

After you have suffered through the trial ‘mech grind long enough to buy your first actual chassis (think of the trial ‘mechs as “loaners”), you’re going to want to think about how you tend to play, and what role you really want your ‘mech to perform.

I bring this up up because the old analogy holds true; “jack of all trades, master of none.”

It may sound like a good idea to generalize your build and become a “threat at all ranges”, but more often than not, it’s a bad idea. Fact is, when you suddenly have an enemy bum-rushing your grill at 90M, all that tonnage you tied up in LRM’s does nothing for you. Conversely, when you and your team are plinking away at enemies 900M out, all those medium pulse lasers sit there going to waste.

What I am driving at here is that you’re going to want to focus your build and select weapons which compliment that role. Doing this affords you the opportunity to (try and) control your range of engagement and combat the enemy on your own terms.

Before we go further, let me clarify something; I’m not saying that having a few short range weapons on a sniper or LRM ‘mech is a bad idea – what I AM saying is that if you’ve determined you prefer the long range engagement over say, brawling, focus your build on that. Let the short range stuff be a secondary consideration, something you add when you’ve run out of tonnage to squeeze in another Auto-Cannon or Missile rack.

I’ll leave this topic for now as ‘mech builds could be an entire series in and of itself. Hmmm… maybe I’ll have to tackle that? Later though, I’m on a mission!


- Weapon Range & Damage Fall-Off -


All Energy and Ballistic weapons have an “optimal” range. This is the number indicated in your weapons readout (as discussed in Part 3 “Basic Gunnery”). This number indicates the range at which your weapon will inflict maximum damage… however, it can still inflict damage well beyond this.

As your shot travels beyond the optimal range, the damage it will inflict begins to diminish until it reaches zero. A good example is the medium laser – it has an optimal range of 270M, yet can still inflict minor damage at 500M plus.

With energy weapons, this is a less critical issue as simply being good at managing your heat can somewhat mitigate the need to maximize every shot. That AC 20 on the other hand only gets 7 shots per ton and generates a crap-load of heat, so trying to squeeze every last point of damage out of each shot is a good idea.

As a general “rule of thumb”, consider each energy weapon to have a maximum range of double the optimal, ballistic weapons to have triple and missiles to have zero (recall that missiles self-detonate when they reach their maximum range.)

Here are the weapon ranges as of the time of this article:


Small Laser
Large Laser
AC/5 Ultra
ER Lg. Laser
Sm. Pulse
Med. Pulse
Lg. Pulse
Gauss Rifle
90 – 540
180 +


- Leading Your Target -


Something you’re going to have to not only know how to do, but when to do it as well. Recall that laser weapons have a near instant travel time. This means that you’re typically going to want your targeting reticule directly over your target when you pull the trigger. Firing that AC/5 on the other hand, is a different matter entirely….

Leading your target is the act of placing your reticule at a point in front of your target and firing your weapon such that the target literally runs into the projectile. It can be tricky to do well since there are a number of factors that you’ll have to account for when determining the appropriate amount of lead.

  • Projectile Speed: Different weapon projectiles travel at different speeds. As one might guess, smaller caliber projectiles, such as an AC/2 travel faster than the large slug fired from an AC/20. Because of this, firing an AC/2 would require less target lead in order to make contact.
  • Target Trajectory: This one can be really tricky. If your target is running straight at you, obviously you don’t need to lead your aim at all. If they’re running perpendicular to you, then you will need to lead. The amount of lead needed is entirely dependent on their angle of approach, requiring you to adjust for their heading, as well as your projectile speed.
  • Target Speed: If your target is standing still, you won’t need to lead your shots. On the other hand, the faster they are moving, the more lead you may need to apply.

In all, leading your target is essential to making solid contact with your shots. Be aware however, that crafty pilots will make a “shell game” of it for you, constantly changing their heading and speed to throw off your aim.


- Locational Damage -


Just as we discussed in the last article, you can somewhat manage incoming damage… and so can your opponent. Fortunately, they’ll have to face you at some point in order to return fire, so timing your shots with their movements can be the difference between coring that nearly dead Atlas and being a smoldering heap of scrap metal.

When you’ve acquired a valid target, you’ll get a damage readout at the top-right of your HUD (head’s-up display). This displays the current status of the target ‘mech in the same way your own readout reports the status of your ‘mech.

You’ll want to get used to snapping glances at your target displays during combat as doing so can net you some nice kills. In fact, it’s my personal opinion that this is the first thing you should do when you acquire a target – look at his damage readout to see what state he’s in. It’s important in my opinion because a smart player will change their modus operandi based upon the information provided here – consider the following example:

Preparing to fire on an enemy light, I acquire the target and notice that his legs, my typical target priority on fast movers, are near fully armored, his center-torso on the other hand, is stripped and showing internal damage. At this point, I will attempt to apply the bulk of my damage to his CT. I’ll do this because it will take fewer hits, less damage and less time to finish him off in this manner.

Now that’s a very specific example of adjusting one’s tactics based on the damage readout, but the ultimate lesson to be learned here is that knowing the condition of your enemy affords you the ability to be opportunistic!

This leads me to my next topic…


- Vital Points -


Depending on the chassis and the nature of the specific build, each ‘mech is going to have one or more locations that are of vital importance. Understanding what, and where these are can significantly increase your battlefield performance.

Let’s take a hard look at the Atlas for example. Each variant in the game has the ability to mount energy weapons in the arms, ballistic weapons in the right-torso and missiles in the left-torso. Now, which of these areas constitute “vital” areas that I’d want to concentrate fire on?

The answer is: it depends!

If said Atlas is built as a brawler (likely having SRM’s and an Auto-cannon), I’ll likely strip his right-torso first, likely denying him the use of an AC/20 or a pair of UAC/5’s. Conversely, if he’s a missile boat, the obvious answer is to remove his left-torso.

It takes time to get familiar with all the different chassis and their hard-point locations. Some ‘mechs even have “default” vitals, meaning the actual load-out of the ‘mech is fairly unimportant – stripping the arms off a Jaegermech for example, will often debilitate it’s damage output, regardless of the weapons it came equipped with.

As the game grows and more chassis are introduced, getting familiar with each variant and it’s hard-points will become more of a daunting task, but there are a couple of considerations here; the first of which is simply looking at the various chassis in MechLab to see their hardpoint configurations. Over time, the aesthetics of the hardpoints will become second nature and, simply by looking at the targeting read-out, you’ll know at a glance where a given weapon is really located.


- Focus Fire -


This one sounds pretty simple, and at a fundamental level it really is, but in the heat of battle, it’s also easy to forget.

Pay attention to the target(s) your team-mates are firing at and shoot them as well. 2 ‘mechs of virtually any weight class is preferable to having to handle it 1 on 1. The more ‘mechs there are focusing on a single target, the faster that target is going to take a dirt-nap!

Hopefully, this one is a no-brainer. It doesn’t mean that there are no circumstances in which you’ll need to split your fire from the group, or that these circumstances don’t come up with surprising regularity (looking at you, sneaky would-be backstabbers!), but for the most part, shoot as a team.

If you are using voice communication software, you’ll need to be aware that it is a common practice to call out focus targets using the phonetic alphabet to indicate the desired target. “Alpha” would designate target “A”, “Bravo” would indicate “B” and so forth.

You can find more information regarding use of the phonetic alphabet here:




This marks the last of the MechWarrior 101 articles and I sincerely hope this series has found its audience and helps to improve the new player experience. There are additional topics that could, and will be covered in future articles, but for a beginner’s series, I feel this is about as complete as it gets.

Until next time, Good Hunting Mechwarrior.

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