Updated Sun, Sep 15, 2013 by Dalmarus
MechWarrior Online is a very unforgiving game, especially when compared to the variety of titles available today. With the exceptions of EVE Online and Dust 514, I can't think of any game that can be quite so frustrating for new players if they don't take the time to learn everything they can right from the word go. Hopping into a match with a trial mech may not take much brain power, but doing anything aside from getting your ass handed to you on a platter once you're in there is an entirely different matter.
Before we discuss anything else, there are a few very important things to keep in mind when it comes to MechWarrior Online. For starters, combat in MWO is all about precision, not just firing at a mech in general. Also, your mech is affected by inertia. This means you will not stop on a dime, whether when moving forward, or swinging your torso to aim for a shot. Finally, your mech is made up of two major parts, a top and a bottom, and they both act independently of each other. I'll go into these in further detail as we go along, but try to keep them in your noggin while we chat in the meantime.
Other games in the mech combat genre (such as Hawken) are all about explosive action, swift weapon fire, and speedy mechs.MechWarrior Online is not. In fact, it's the opposite of all of this. It's like the difference between an arcade fighter game (such as the Ace Combat series) and a detailed combat flight simulator (such as Falcon 4.0). They're both fun and entertaining, but one takes far more time and patience to become proficient at than the other. And I do mean proficient. Actually becoming good requires an entirely different level of dedication, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Realizing that MechWarrior Online had a brutal learning curve, the developers did something that was equal parts brilliance and practicality -- they created a system called the Testing Grounds. Within this system, a player can choose any mech they own (there will always be four trial mechs available to every player, and these mechs will be rotated out with other mechs periodically), modify them as they like (assuming they have the in-game cash), and then test them in any map scenario against unmoving bots. Unmoving?! Yes - unmoving. Believe it or not, for this style of game, that's actually a good thing. Let me explain why.
Remember when I told you that everything in the game is affected by inertia? When you're running along a hill side, torso turning, lining up on your target, those movements aren't as smooth and precise as you would like them to be. Nor are they what you're used to experiencing when playing FPS games like Call of Duty. This alone is enough reason to use unmoving bots for new players. There was something else I mentioned earlier as well, though -- your torso and legs move independently of each other. Getting use to a movement system where your body is facing one direction, but your mech is moving in another takes time and practice.
Combine this with an aiming system that takes inertia into account and you can see why MechWarrior’s Testing Grounds require easy targets. Before we forget, though, there was one last piece of information I asked you to keep in mind -- precision. This means you're in a big honking mech that doesn't like to stop when you release the aiming reticle or movement button, has separate controls for the torso and legs, all while trying to hit a target the size of a deck of cards at 50 yards. Uh... yeah... I'd want my target to stand the hell still while I tried to figure that all out, too.
It's not entirely true that you have to be completely precise, especially depending on the weapon systems your mech has in its load-out. When you come face to face with a 100-ton Atlas, though, you're going to not only want to know what its weakest armor panels are, you're also going to want to use precision fire in order to take it out as quickly as possible. Covered from head to toe in armor thicker than your wrist, the Atlas is not an easy mech to turn to scrap before it beats the hell out of you. This leaves you with only two options if you want to survive with most of your mech in tact after such an encounter. You can either be precise and burn through its weak spots in 3-5 shots, or you can expend a lot of firepower to take it down. FYI, if you go with option B, keep in mind that your mech heats up very quickly, depending on how fast you're firing your weapons and how many.
This is yet another thing the Testing Grounds do a fantastic job at letting you play around with and get used to – your firing rate and the corresponding heat gain, not to mention different weapon ranges. It takes time to dissipate the heat from the firing of your weapons, so it’s important to separate them between multiple controls. For example, if you fire two LRM-15 (Long Range Missile – 15 load) missile batteries at the same time, you’re going to see a significant increase in your heat gain. Yet if you stagger them by firing only one at a time, alternating between the two with less than a 3 second delay between shots, you can keep firing that way until you run out of ammo if you feel like it – all without gaining more than 5-10% total heat, depending on the map you’re in (mechs retain heat longer in hot maps and lose heat faster in arctic maps).
While you certainly don’t have to ever step foot in the Testing Grounds, I strongly suggest taking advantage of this system provided by the development team. It’s an incredible opportunity to learn the capabilities of your mech without the fear of repercussions from your teammates during a heated match. Rather than listening to them scream at you for firing all your weapons in two salvos, thus shutting down your mech due to overheating, you’ll be able to figure out the optimal firing/heat dissipation rate of your chosen mech. The same goes for your mech’s movement, rotation speed, and the limitations of each. The chance to play with all of these systems unfettered by teammate pressure is priceless. I’d suggest you take advantage of the opportunity.