An Ode To Light ‘Mechs: Why BattleTech Needs More Light ‘Mech Love

BattleTech HBS Raven

So here’s an interesting tidbit I just found out about in MechWarrior Online. In a recent video from No Guts No Galaxy, Sean Lang discussed how PGI is working on “multiple MechWarrior projects,” one of which is the Dragon’s Gambit for MechWarrior 5 and another is mostly likely MechWarrior 6. In that same video, Lang also discussed some new Legendary ‘Mechs coming to MechWarrior Online, noting that they were both assault ‘Mechs. Most interestingly, he noted that light ‘Mechs apparently suffer from poor sales, with light ‘Mech packs selling far below medium, heavy, and assault ‘Mechs.

You could argue that light ‘Mechs simply have less battle impact in a competitive game like MechWarrior Online so players are far less likely to spend money on them. You could also argue that light ‘Mechs are far more difficult to pilot, what with their extreme speed and poor armor making them prone to running into walls or blowing up when they get hit by 18 PPCs. Or you could argue that the average BattleTech fan prefers to stomp around in a big hulking heap of metal rather than something relatively nimble.

Any of these hypotheses could be correct, or perhaps it’s a combination of two or even all three. And being unable to let any good hypothesis writhe on the vine, I set out to determine which is it through a number of polls on various BattleTech Discord servers.

BattleTech HBS Locust

I asked a very simple question: “What is your favorite class of ‘Mech?” My hope was to discover if MechWarrior Online’s distaste for light ‘Mechs was something that was felt across all BattleTech communities, or if there was something specifically going on in MWO. The results were surprising, to say the least.

We’ll start in the Star League Discord server–a diverse place with loads of Pride flags and references to Canopian cat people. My kinda place. Anyway, my impromptu survey initially started with very interesting results, with medium-class ‘Mechs just edging out heavies. And rather than lights, it’s assault-class ‘Mechs that are the least popular, with light ‘Mechs comfortably in third place.

Next, we head to the Focht Hyperpulse server, which is also a diverse place but there are fewer Canopians and more Canadians. Once again, we get a very interesting result. This time, heavy ‘Mechs come out well ahead, followed by mediums and then lights. Assaults are once again in last place as the least preferred ‘Mech class. 

Finally, I did another poll in the Sarna Discord server, perhaps the best place on the web outside of Sarna itself. I thought here we’d get a much more representative cross-section of BattleTech fans, but even here I was surprised by the results. Heavies are once again in the lead, but medium ‘Mechs managed just to squeak out ahead of assaults. Lights, finally, are dead last by a margin of two to one.

From my brief and very unscientific research, we see that heavy ‘Mechs are most likely the most popular class by a fair margin. It’s actually neck and neck between light ‘Mechs and assault ‘Mechs for who comes in dead last. 

Commando versus Locust

I’m as surprised as anyone. I would have expected assaults to be top of the heap as everyone seems to love their Awesomes and Atlases, but they’re actually as maligned as Locusts and Stingers. Meanwhile, mediums and heavies are far and away the most popular classes, which is slightly curious. You’d have expected to see more medium ‘Mechs being sold in MechWarrior Online, and a campaign with drop limits centered around heavies in MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, but instead you have lots of assault ‘Mechs being sold in MWO and an end-game in MW5 that basically requires the Steiner Scout Squad.

Perhaps there’s a bit of a disconnect between the data of these polls and what people really spend their money on. Perhaps people want assaults in PGI’s games because those games are designed around assaults being the most effective ‘Mechs. And perhaps with this data, they might decide to refocus things to favor mediums and heavies in MechWarrior 6. We can only hope.

But one thing is clear: light ‘Mechs are certainly the most maligned class. They’re tied for the least popular class in BattleTech, they’re not purchased in abundance in MechWarrior Online, and they’re mostly beginner Mechs or used for niche roles in MechWarrior 5. 

And that sucks, because I think light ‘Mechs are the best.

Think about it. For the price of one Atlas, you can have a demi-company of Locusts. You could even stack them two in a ‘Mech bay thanks to their narrow profiles, allowing you to stuff twice as many inside a DropShip. They rely on speed and stealth for protection, meaning you’re either a write-off or pristine, with very few repairs needed after a successful mission. Light ‘Mechs can still bring plenty of firepower to the table, as anyone who’s ever faced a lance of Panthers can attest. Plus, they’re cute! who hasn’t looked at a Locust or a Kit Fox and thought this thing looks freakin’ adorable?

I can hear your argument even now. “But Sean, there’s no great BattleTech heroes that ever piloted light ‘Mechs,” you complain erroneously. For indeed, there are loads of great light ‘Mech pilots!

Phelan Kell (Ward)Phelan Kell BattleTech Legends

The son of Morgan Kell and Salome Ward, that man who would eventually become the Khan of Clan Wolf-in-Exile spent the vast bulk of his career piloting a Wolfhound he named “Grinner.” That Wolfhound would get a Clan-spec upgrade after his capture by Clan Wolf, which would later be dubbed the Wolfhound IIC. At various points throughout his career, Phelan would also pilot a Kit Fox, a Mercury, and a Solitaire

Katie Ferraro 

Fox Patrol‘s founding member, Ferraro found a long-abandoned Kit Fox on her home planet of Jerangle. Once a Kell Hounds ‘Mech, it had been left abandoned in the jungle for decades. Ferraro would repair the Kit Fox, which she dubbed “Kagekitsune,” and used it to drive off a pirate gang to save her hometown. She’d eventually go on to found Fox Patrol where she pilots Kagekitsune to this day.

Aletha Kabrinski ERA Report 3052Aletha Kabrinski

The former Khan of Clan Ghost Bear spent most of her career in a custom Fire Moth armed with an ER large laser and a trio of ER small lasers. With little armor protecting her from enemy fire, Aletha relied exclusively on the Fire Moth‘s ludicrous speed to outmaneuver foes.

Daniel AllardDaniel Allard The Kell Hounds

The brother of Justin Allard and renowned commander in the Kell Hounds mercenary unit, Allard piloted a Valkyrie until a battle with the Genyosha on Styx. Afterward, he was given a new Wolfhound which he piloted until his death. 

Zane Nova Cat

MechWarrior Zane proved to be an instrumental figure during Clan Nova Cat‘s Abjuration in the 3060s. His visions provided guidance and warning to the Nova Cats, allowing them to survive during a tumultuous time in the Clan’s history. Zane started his career in a Jenner IIC 2 but later transferred to a Pack Hunter provided by Clan Wolf-in-Exile.

Minobu Tetsuhara

Liaison officer to Wolf’s Dragoons during the mercenary unit’s contract with House Kurita, Tetsuhara’s family Panther was called “Katana Kat.” After the ‘Mech was transferred to Testuhara’s brother, he’d pilot a DRG-1N Dragon

Robert Grey Sword and the DragonRobert Grey

A MechWarrior in The Fox’s Teeth of the Seventh Crucis Lancers, Grey served in the Third and Fourth Succession Wars, the Ronin War, the War of 3039, the Clan Invasion, the FedCom Civil War, and the Jihad. Grey piloted a Stinger, then a Hornet, and finally an ALM-8D Fireball.

As you can see, there are plenty of great and noble figures who can get the most out of their light ‘Mechs, and you can too! Just trade in your Atlas for a bevy of Commandos. You’ll be glad you did.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy. 

stay syrupy

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About Sean

Hooked on BattleTech at an early age, Sean honestly can't remember whether it was the cartoon, the serial novels or the short-lived TCG that did him in. Whatever it was, his passion for giant shooty robots never died, so now he writes about the latest and greatest in 'Mech related news.

47 thoughts on “An Ode To Light ‘Mechs: Why BattleTech Needs More Light ‘Mech Love

  1. Acierocolotl

    Confessions of a light pilot in MWO.

    I’ve driven light mechs almost exclusively in MWO. They’re my first choice and my last choice. I love the speed, the ability to use agility to outmaneuver opponents, and viewed my role as sort of a hockey pest or headhunter. Ignore me to your peril.

    I usually ran behind the other team, got scouting information in, and then tried my best to disupt whatever-it-was the enemy was up to. I mean just shooting convenient targets in the butt and running away. The running away part is often key, as you don’t want to stay there long if the opponent is on to you and knows how to fight light mechs.

    The problem starts with the fact that MWO is a shooter. In tabletop, your shots are scattered all about and hit random parts of your target. In MWO, your shots go where you aim. If you do an alpha strike, your shots are going to all go exactly for your aimpoint.

    Granted, part of the tactics of a good light pilot is not getting in front of your opponent in the first place. All the same, one or two bad moves in a light and you’re toast. If you’re playing solo, you can just pull out of the mission and go launch another one, but if you’re in a team, you’re waiting for the round to finish.

    Other mechs are pogoing up and down over hills, or playing peek-a-boo around corners, and that’s great for them, but a playstyle that’s dull in a light mech and impractical. You have to hope you don’t get noticed, and because all the cool, long-ranged guns are heavier than your mech, you’re fitting one of the lighter ones only if you’re lucky. So a light mech doesn’t meaningfully contribute in your usual poke-a-thon. Your one key advantage, speed, doesn’t really help either.

    So, pretty much by design, MWO is stacked against the light mech. With a short lifespan to begin with, the tipping point for me was when they made light mechs even easier to hit by making them bigger. There’s also a top speed imposed on light mechs that’s quite easy to hi, and for me, 170 km/hr isn’t that fast.

    Modding in MW5 let me build a Locust 6M, and that’s scratched my speed itch far better than MWO could. I miss the teamwork aspects, I enjoyed slapping NARC beacons on Atlas butts and watching them melt under the spring monsoon of 200+ LRM tubes, but I can get my fixes elsewhere.

    I don’t have any easy solutions to make light mechs more attractive. Players are way more accurate and effective in MWO than even the best pilots in tabletop.

    That said, if there’s an MWO2, or a PvP mode in MW6, I’m there, because I’m a fool. And maybe I’ll join an outfit that doesn’t take things *too* seriously, and I might even scout on occasion instead of just being a hockey pest. Maybe.

    1. Flashfreeze

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s still damage that reaps the most rewards and gets the most recognition in a game like MWO, and clearly the rewards of being the underdog don’t outweigh the fact you’re still the underdog. Lights can do damage, sure, but they’ll never be quite as good at it as their bigger brethren, and the tactical value of speed, scouting, and flanking is diminished if the map or gameplay does not support it.

  2. Joseph

    Yeah, Light Mechs really do get the short end of the stick in MWO. And while there are several answers to that, I think the reason they underperform both in sales and in play is basically because of natural selection.

    In my experience, MWO rewards players for three things: Winning, kills, and damage. Over time, players have tried to find builds that have a greater chance of getting you more damage and kills, usually be trying to put as much damage downrange as possible before the target can fire back. This creates a selective pressure for players to use builds that have more firepower, more armor, or both. Over time, this makes light mechs harder and harder to play, as there is a hard cap to how much firepower and armor they can equip.

    This creates a trend of players buying more heavier mechs instead of light ones, causing the developers to take note and trying to choose mechs to sell to their wider audience. To keep these mechs relevant (IE to get people to buy them) they create or select mechs like the Stone Rhino or Fafnir, which only creates more of that selective pressure. So while there are people (like me) who are still willing to play lights, it’s a very dangerous world out there, where one wrong move means flirting with death.

    I think in Mechwarrior and other Battletech videogames the shafting of lights is more of a progression thing than anything else. You usually start the game with lights and/or mediums, and gradually build up the funds to get heavies and assaults. To compensate, the game usually gives your foes heavies and assaults as well to continue to give you a challenge, meaning light mechs gradually are phased out. I feel this is tolerable, as it’s hard to feel like you’ve grown stronger if your facing down a mech three to five times your tonnage. But at the same time I also think that a good level designer could put together a fun mission where your forced to play a light mech in the late game and have it still be fun.

    I’m not too surprised to see mediums and heavies as the most popular classes though, that’s where all your good workhorses are.

    1. Dwagonzahn

      The progression-by-tonnage thing is absolutely a major contributor to light mechs being seen as outdated and/or pointless after a point. Two major reasons why:
      1) Escalation of difficulty being based on attrition; harder battles mainly involve fighting bigger and/or more numerous enemies.
      2) Time/Objective oriented missions being rare if not outright despised. Few people want to be outgunned in the game about walking tanks doing battle, they want to be pulling the trigger on staggering amounts of firepower. Who wants to do scouting when you can just fight?

      Ironically, this is why it’s typically the early game that’s the hardest part of any MechWarrior OR Battletech video game because when you’re confined to using “bad, light mechs”, then your options are inherently more limited than just throwing more concentrated firepower at a problem to make it go away.

      Compounding this is the disconnect between the common desires of a war-narrative (which media at large, including video games, models quite well) and the realities of a strategic scale conflict. The cartoon got one thing absolutely right: “Information is Ammunition.” Scouting is how you get reliable information from a warzone, and I don’t need to try terribly hard to find examples from real world history that shows how an information advantage can completely change the outcome of a given conflict (at any level).

      However, consider how often in a game’s narrative where your principle characters get intel from scouting efforts that occurred off-camera or behind the scenes. In so many war stories across media, it’s much easier to hand-wave a scouting report as intel than to actually go out and get that intel yourself because the act of actually getting that intel and/or acting on it is a contest few know how to make it interesting and fewer still even try.

      Light Mechs are supposed to be better than vehicles at navigating difficult terrain and much better armored per capita so that they’re more survivable. Those are two highly desired attributes for a skirmisher and scout going completely ignored by default.

  3. Samuel Crosbie

    It’s not a light, but I love the Scarecrow. But…I cut my teeth in a panther, and later on an original Wolfhound. Even took out an Archer at one point. Mind you, this is tabletop. I don’t play the online stuff sadly. But I love lights. Followed by assaults tied with heavies. Mediums…kinda bore me, honestly.

  4. Thomas Gebhardt

    You mentioned one advantage of light mechs: You can get 6.5 Urbanmechs UM-R60 for the price of one Atlas AS7-D. In a situation where the Atlas can not use his superior mobility to avoid the fight, 6 Urbies can most likely kill the Atlas for the loss of 3 or 4 Urbies.

    But you need 6 drop slots. Usually in most games, the number of units you can have on the field is limited for a number of reasons.

    1. theguillotine

      I’d rather have an Atlas’s cost in any other light mech. Urbanmechs look like trash cans for a reason.

      1. Thomas Gebhardt

        True, but I used Tex’s measuring stick. An Urbanmech is ugly as sin but a very cost-efficient mech.

        1. Will

          They’re only cost effiecient if you aren’t using them as mechs. They’re great turrets, but actual turrets are 1/10th the price. Vehicles are similarly better in a defensive situation. There’s really never a good reason to have Urbies.

  5. Shivalah

    So “recently” MWO had a 1 on 1 light queue. It was a blast bringing out my AC20 Raven and just DOMINATING the game.

  6. MoleMan

    Aciero… Makes an interesting point, would a mechanic where the pinpoint accuracy of weapons is reduced against light targets, perhaps as a function of speed? Applying an increasing random spread the faster the target moves? Would need significant balancing but is an interesting thought. Another idea would be adding a damage evaded reward alongside winning, kills, and damage, perhaps a larger hitbox surrounding each mech that records near misses.

  7. Ouranos

    So the problem in gaming with light mechs is your limitations are generally not financial ones, or strategic ones. They’re tactical and logistical. Sure you can deploy 10-15 lights against an Atlas. And because of gameplay mechanics possibly (probably?) win. But in lore, nah they should be swatted like flies. In MW5, you can’t deploy more than 4 units. The game likes to throw entire DIVISIONS at you in later stages (as you noted in another article about the drops being overly full.) And there’s no scouting missions or deep recon or stealth missions like back in the older games. Honestly that IS a huge missed opportunity, especially since they bothered to put in mech shutdown and passive sensors and the like when they have no purpose in the game.

    From a lore standpoint, I think militaries fielding lots and lots of lights makes the most sense. Cost effective, still intimidating to infantry and light tanks, great scouts usually. Just fulfill a lot of basic roles, and mediums are KING for logistics as they are still fast, can mount some firepower and armor, and are pure terror on anything that isn’t also a mech. Heavy and assault mechs are for breaking fortifications, sieging planets, they’re, strategically speaking, your big hammer you drop to establish a foothold or break an entrenched enemy. Mediums and lights are for everything else. But none of this really translates well into gameplay where things need to be relatively fair, or an attempt at fairness, rather than how an army would actually do things.

    I have an appreciation for medium and light and what they do. But playing a video game or even TT? They just don’t “scale” well against stronger things with more stats.

    1. Robunos20

      If you go right back to the ‘Mad Max’ era, when the TT game first came out, it was established that Heavy and Assault ‘mechs were rare beasts indeed, rarely available, and sometimes too valuable, to deploy in combat, hence most of the fighting would be done by lights and mediums. Once things changed to ‘any ‘mech you want can be produced’, heavies became much more common . . .

  8. Craig

    In the original Mechwarrior game, my entrance into the BT universe, I was able to exploit a couple bugs against superior forces.
    1) I would use a single locust, maybe with a medium as backup, on a defense mission to run around to the back of the Battlemasters and Marauders to machine-gun their legs off. Good salvage.
    2) Shadow Hawk could almost reverse as fast as the heavies moving forward. This combined with ultra-slow LRMs and ACs meant you could pummel them on their way in and take the legs out of at least two. Or head shots but there was enough side-side movement to miss sometimes.

    Always liked on the tabletop, how your flankers / light mechs can wreak havoc on the rear armor of just about anything. A Jenner at the back of a Rifleman is absolute murder.

    I found an art class scrapbook from 30 years ago and it turns out all I did was design mechs, mostly IS star-league recovered level. I made a 35 ton Valkyrie replacement, though with XL, endo steel, and ferro-fibrous it was a tight fit (i think it needed to drop hand and lower arm actuators).

    I still like to design mechs for fun but I use BV / C-bills as a limiting factor. How much efficiency can I use in designing realistic forces for a penny-pinching warlord? Love the “Watchman” but it needs double heat sinks.

    Three omnimech designs with standard engines fill out my whole mech forces:
    Flanker/ recon: 30 ton 7-11-7 -> max armor and 3.5 tons weapons, 5 tons with endo steel
    Workhorse: 40 ton 5-8-5 -> max armor, 12 tons weapons, 14 with endo steel (keep JJ in pod space if you want to use rotary ac5 w/ 4 tons ammo and case)
    Heavy: 60 ton 5-8 -> 12 tons armor, 20 tons with endo steel

    Using light autocannons and CASE, the 40 tonner will fill in admirably for Shadow Hawks, Griffins, Wolverines. You can make a budget Grasshopper with one LL, 5 ML, and exactly the heat sinks to jump and fire all every turn (28 dissipation).

    Lots of medium lasers and double heat sinks are super-effective, I find against even advanced tech – which is still brought down to earth by heat / damage relationship (heavy lasers for example).

    I don’t go heavier as you can outfit the 60 tonner with a Thunderbolt weapons suite and I need my mobility to be MINIMUM clan heavy 5-8. The Dragon and Quickdraw are flawed designs due to armor compromise but they’re on the right track. When used properly they’re more dangerous than they appear.

    Whenever I try assaults they go down from crits, head hits etc. too often. I still remember using a Devastator in the 1990s and getting creamed by a lance of stinger / wasps mix, one would get behind pretty much always. To say nothing of battle-armor / elementals!

    The heavier designs may work in the video games where everything is a close-up brawl – but when forces circle each other and use wide swaths of territory to outflank, movement is absolute king.

    And light mechs mean movement.

  9. GoStu

    In any real-time game where aiming is under the Player’s control, the Light Mech Survival Strategy of piling on evasion bonuses gets iffy. Needing to lead a target goes out the window when lasers exist and are the workhorse weapons of many mechs. Point, shoot, melt the locust and get on with your day. Even if you can run full circles around an Atlas, actually nibbling it down takes a while and you’re vulnerable to anyone else picking you off. Or just coming across something in the middle of the weight classes that can turn quick enough and melt you.

    On the flip side, Assault mechs start to get tedious. In MW5 they don’t make the maps any smaller just because you cut your top speed to under 50 kph. You feel like you *need* that tonnage to survive the relentless push of everything, but the amount of time spent either just trundling to the objective or trundling to the objective and swatting inconsequential enemies is a chore. Even on the defensive, hauling your 100T of mech to chase down that stupid Cicada that got stuck in the city is a walk.

    The middle two weight classes are where the fun is.

    There was an article (on Sarna I think?) that discussed how MW5 shamelessly pads its missions with filler enemies; there’s hardly a moment where you’re safe from a wave of Warriors (or worse, Igors) showing up overhead, or some autocannon armed tank spawning in and flinging shells at you until you make it stop. Take that stuff away and suddenly Light mechs aren’t at risk of getting pecked to death from endless fire.

    Some mission types that demand speed would also be appropriate.

  10. Dakkath

    I love playing the light mech of the lance in MW5 co-op. Got an overhauled raven that’s perfect for being a speedy harasser. And of course, firestarters loaded up with machine guns and flamers just make a mockery of demolition and raid missions. That being said, there’s still a distinct dropoff in effectiveness if there’s not enough cover to scoot around. Walls are your friend.

  11. Skigress

    I’m gonna start this off by asking if anyone else thinks Testuhara looks like Connor McGregor?

    Anywho, I haven’t played MWO for a few years now, it’s sad that it’s still got the poptarting tactics that were prevalent in the old game’s multiplayer. I remember how I joined my unit in MWO (Devils Due) after having a broken match making moment where our entire team dropped in lights, most of us were in the newly released Jenner IIC. Meanwhile, the entire enemy team was at least 75 tonnes or more. One of my future comrades quipped, “Well, this is gonna be fun, ready to get crushed?” I was one of the few who had a mic that wasn’t with them, and they were running a trio while I happened to be in their lance. We proceeded to win that match by running like madmen, I think we had five units left alive at the end. There was an atlas we kept very confused because I would hop over him and then zip around him while his own teammates did a number on him. Basically it turned into: I zigzag up to them along with my lance, one of us would hop over them and spin to nail them in the back on the other side, the other three would shoot around to either of their sides, without slowing change targets, let the targets hit the enemy while we charged another one, rinse, repeat.

    We spent the entire afternoon running a light lance, often ending up very dead, but with plenty of awesome moments and gleeful moments of panic as suddenly there were four of us nipping at their ankles while they shot each other. Hell I even repeated this when the Linebacker released, it seemed like no one was ready for the mediums to have a heavy mixed in. Sometimes simply throwing yourself into the enemy formation under the saddle could shoot the opponent’s plans into crap. I can’t remember the map with the saddle’s name it’s the one with the river inlet and the port with the mountain ridge between the city start and port start. There’s this little pass that goes between the mountains and to a spot that can go either on top of or below the platform there.

    In the end I guess I love ‘mechs in all classes.

  12. Steel Shanks

    Tell Me ye don’t play MWO, without saying ye don’t play MWO lol…

    Mediums are My favorite, and go to. Next would be Heavies. But Man, ye can rule the Battlefield in a Javelin 11-F, or Flea 20, or even those damned Clanner crap Piranhas… Light Mechs are the number one most bitched about Mechs in MWO. I’ve seen Urbies, Cougars, Firestarters, pull 900+ Damage, with multiple kills a match. My own go to’s for lights is Urbies or Firestarter, and I’ve pulled 700+ damage in both of them. Lights are the least popular sure, I get that, You need constant battlefield awareness, or You could get Alpha’d immediately, and scrapped. But they are far from useless in MWO.

  13. Spazz866745

    I remember you saying something a while back about not playing too much cbt, and thats fair but it kinda shows, in classic one of the strongest metas is just spamming spiders, they cost Jack dittily on the bv scale, they’re hard to hit,do decent damage and you can just kick the crap outa everyone who opposes you, you force enough piloting skill rolls with kicks that eventually someone will fall and then u just pummel them some more with lasers. On the classic table light mechs are really good, probably why they did better than you’d think on the polls.

  14. Cupra

    Light Mechs, heavy Engines and ACs are just pretty badly balanced.
    I tend to use house rules with TMM always being max, Melee damage by reactor rating and AC damage +2. This works surprisingly well.

    That said, i love my underdog mechs. Jagerlove <3

  15. WestRider

    I know in HBSTech, the big problem is that (barring mods) you’re hard capped at 4 Units. From what I’ve heard, MWO has similar limits, which end up biasing the game towards heavier Mechs, because even if they’re good ton-for-ton, there’s only so much you can do with 140 tons up against 320+.

    In a situation where balance is just by something like BV, and you can take as many cheap Mechs/Units as you can afford, tho, Ravannion was right. There’s that fluff bit about how an Atlas is supposed to be able to fight off an entire battalion of Stingers, but when I actually fought out a variation of it in MegaMek a couple of times, just a company of Stingers was enough to reliably trash the Atlas, often taking only a couple of losses in the process. But most BattleTech play doesn’t let you take that many Mechs, regardless of weight/cost.

    It also really helps the Lights when there are mission objectives that don’t rely on damaging things. One of my favourite things in HBSTech is running high level Recovery missions using just a Spider with minimal armament, extra armour (just in case), and a Hit Defense Gyro. Just race in, dodge around, pick up the objective, and race back out, while a bunch of Heavies and Assaults trip over themselves trying to catch you. But most BattleTech play lacks missions like that.

    Limitations like these just chip away too badly at the advantages Light Mechs need to leverage to be worthwhile. It’s really a matter of mission design and game engine limits more than anything in the inherent nature of Light Mechs themselves.

  16. Frabby

    I think it isn’t the light ‘Mechs per se that are a problem; rather, different rulesets and game setups seem to be the problem.

    Classic boardgame BattleTech is a tactical game that (usually) takes place in a phone booth of a battlefield where fast units cannot use their biggest strength, namely to dictate if or where to engage.
    We did a game on 5×5 (!) mapsheets once, and – unsurprisingly – found that slow, heavy ‘Mechs never are where you need them and won’t get there before the battle is over. A lance of Locusts, on the other hand, could race to wherever they were needed and tip the scales.
    It only gets more pronounced when you have a campaign game with a strategic map. The example I always bring up here is my player merc group from the 1990s who bargained a Stalker as payment for defending a mining complex. Guess what, a Stalker can only defend one site at a time and doesn’t get to chose engagement distance. The light attackers literally ran circles around the sluggish defenders on the strategic map.

    As for MWO, I simply don’t get it. Granted, I like my dual gauss MAD-4L a lot. But my son is absolute murder in a Piranha. He typically reaps 2-3 kills per game, and has had games with 5 kills, Conversely, he rarely ends a drop with less than one kill. After watching him for a time, I got myself a Piranha too and lo and behold, 4 kills on my first drop. Lights are more difficult to play than stand-and-deliver assaults, but they are absolutely competitive.

    @Skigress, that Minobu Tetsuhara image is… dunno. The guy’s image became iconic as the cover of arguably the best and most famous BattleTech novel ever, and then someone decides to replace that with a totally different looking picture for Legends? I was lost for words when I saw that.

    1. JMcMillen

      I agree with the mention that tabletop Battletech is all too frequently played with a map that is way too small. Even published scenario books would try to cram two full companies onto a pair of mapboards where there’s really no room to maneuver.

      I remember playing where we had access to a ping pong table and could do a 3×3 grid of mapsheets for a company vs company battle and that was plenty of room for the forces to spread out and lead to multiple mini-battles in different parts of the table, along with a few running gun battles between faster mechs that went all over the place.

      What really killed light mechs in Battletech were ever lower gunnery skills and the addition of pulse lasers and targeting computers. Look in the early scenario books where the best gunnery skills were usually a 3 and no advanced tech to make shots easier. Fast mechs at medium to long range took more luck than skill to hit back then.

  17. Corrigan

    Like some other people have been saying, the problem with light Mechs is mostly ruleset/game design/mission design based. In the video games, there’s no real incentive to use light mechs once you get other classes of mech, because you need the extra tonnage to survive and carry better weapons payloads, PLUS you’re typically using a lance vs another lance or a company+ of enemy mechs. Sometimes the game will impose a tonnage limit on a mission, which can incentivize use of a light, but that doesn’t really make lights fun to play, especially when there aren’t in-game skills to provide bonuses for using a light.

    That said, I do think a lot of why lights aren’t particularly appealing is due to the way the line devs approach the construction rules and weapon balancing. Unlike other mecha games like Brigador (which honestly seems like a post-Clan Invasion BattleTech alternate universe), BattleTech cares a bit too much about “realism”, which means basically everything has downsides and there’s not a lot of unique and overtly cool parts choices.

    Lights get it the worst in terms of the downsides of endo-steel crit count, weapon weight, weapon crit slot count, ESPECIALLY when the games have limited weapons selection due to their era. That’s not to say you can’t get good builds, but it’s harder to have a super cool, fun build when you’re part selection limited.

    I think HBS tried to work on this with the introduction of COILs, which reward using lights due to the evasion pip to damage conversion, but they really crippled those with the horrific heat generation and high weight. If you’re stuck with 2-3 weapons in a game where it’s super easy to lose weapons to damage, it’s just as bad as your unit not being able to tank hits.

  18. bladewind

    The fundmental issue about MWO is twofold.
    First the game is not balanced by C-bills or BV.

    While this made sense from a lore/TT stand point, it would be nearly impossible in a real time setup.

    Second scouting was nerfed for lights due to game progression and changes. Post 3050 mediums and heavies with XL engines are fast enough to poke around and spot. And not only that they can take a hit and dish it back. Which is critical as MWO greatly rewards kills and critical hits with a lot more c-bills than just spotting.

    For the average player, light mechs don’t do enough damage consistently for a good payday. You are already playing high risk but no high pay.

    I was an avid scouter in a light mech but eventually I just go medium or heavy. I mean even meds and heavies can carry e-war and still pack a devastating loadout. Nope for lights

  19. KingHark

    Former decorated and competitive MWO player here, I never comment but I do read these articles…

    Few comments about Light mechs in MWO, and in the general BT context –

    Firstly, understand that MWO’s playerbase at this point is very small, and those who are inclined to spend money on the game, are mostly players who lean towards the competitive side of the game rather than the casual side. This implies that when new mechs release, they want big pay2win mechs, the more tonnage the better, because they perceive bigger mechs as more capable of tipping the scales in a match from a meta standpoint than smaller mechs.

    Secondly, because of the last point in the previous paragraph, light mechs simply require a larger repertoire of skills to achieve success in the game, as you briefly alluded to in passing in your article. It is not simply an aim-check to play a light mech well, there is a lot of piloting, situational awareness, map and gameflow experience, and a prerequisite of mistake-free play to achieve consistent success with light mechs in that game.

    Thirdly, in another point you mentioned in passing, players of this ‘sim’ style of mecha combat, do generally prefer larger mechs to stomp around in rather than delicate ballet dancer mechs. Again, this ties into the notion that if someone is going to shell out any money for content in MWO, they generally prefer getting the most bang for their buck.

    Fourth, a fellow knowledgable and decorated MWO pilot I know recently told me that the Legend mechs are straight up designed to catch whales and sweaty players who perceive any edge as worth buying into. Just general meta & power creep incentives, they do wash down from the top of the hill to the masses, that’s how meta works. If players think big stuff is good, they’ll buy it. However, from same conversation, I gathered that the Stone Rhino is not ubiquitous, which to me says it’s perceived by the general populace as not as strong in current meta as say, the Kodiak was when it released in its meta and matches were filled with them, piloted by both sweatlords and noobcakes.

    In the general BattleTech sense, I think the perception that Lights are not the “end-all, be-all” of meta solutions, is somewhat realistic. For example if I play the HBS BattleTech game like I’m once again binging these days, it’s difficult to find justifications to bring a Light mech into missions in which even remote diceroll %s, with a single mistake, can cost the life of a pilot that’s been grinded for triple-digit hours, or lose a rare piece of equipment or weapon just from one shot. Whenever true risk-vs-reward mechanics show up in the various game forms of this IP, the simple cost analysis of putting the best stuff and best pilots you have into 25 ton mechs doesn’t have the same sense of security as putting those things into, ideally, an assault mech that can likely make more mistakes and not be brutally punished for them.

    TLDR – In the context of MWO, most players suffer from a skill issue regarding light play, and if they don’t suffer from a skill issue, then they logically jump for something that is perceived to have a stronger, consistent grip on meta. In the bigger BT IP context, again, players perceive that there is a greater incentive to push tonnage higher in most situations outside of an “early” or starting situation in which cost analysis says it would be prudent to bring heartier and thus “safer” mechs for bigger fights.

    PS – K9 UrbanMech, Arctic Cheetah, SRM Jenner, LL Raven, Piranha, and a few others have all had heydays in MWO competitive meta.

  20. Ultra-Laser

    My best memories in MWO with lights was back when I still played community warfare, two lights and the rest of my tonnage left all the tonnage I could want for my Stalkers and Atlases for the last two slots. Lights that limit themselves to scouting and LRM lock duty are setting themselves up for frustration and disappointment. CW was about as seriously as I ever played the game, so in my mind piloting lights is what demands you be actually good enough to contribute enough damage to the first wave that your bigger drops have the advantage they need to last for long enough to leverage their bulk.

  21. Avery Ray Colter

    I am pretty much only doing MWOMERCS ATM. I try to embrace the utility of each class. In Quickplay I’ve pretty much given up on far-out scouting or NARCing, as the PSR/Tier system is so heavily weighted to damage. You get some points for kills/KMDD, scouting, UAV detection etc, but damage is the main event as far as I can see, which means in skirmish, unless a really coordinated strike pack is shaping up, stick in the geometric center of the big mechs and look for opportunities to quickly jump on opfor engaged by a big comrade. In some other game modalities there is some multitasking for lights, as your likelihood of getting enough productive engagement to get green arrows depends on the game not ending too soon, so grab pods and base defense in incursion and assault, hold the zone in dom, cap judiciously in conquest. In faction with deck tonnage limit but no class restrictions, especially in siege, I think there is a definite inclination toward the medium/heavy borderline for the combination of strength and speed. In comp, being conquest, light piloting is a delicate art of when to switch from capping to attack then back to capping.

    Assault is always a bit of a gamble especially in QP where lighter and faster mechs can leave the assaults, especially snipers and LRM-throwers, vulnerable to short-range strikes. This is why I often decline to totally boat the big weapons on assaults and pack some short-range defensive weaponry, just so one or two light harassers might find a not so easy feast.

    I will say that light mechs are the ones which have most of the XL engines I’ve bought, as this buys a major speed boost, heat sinkage, and weapon and ammo capacity. On the premise that legs and CT are going to be the main hitboxes of choice for assailants, a better DPS and hit-and-run capability seems like a good bet pretty much all of the time for most lights. Oh, and those new X-pulsers are mad wicked on the IS lights as well, both on those with cooldown and duration quirks which turn them into little strobe-strikers, and also as part of XPL/MG combinations.

  22. Lux

    Been playing since the early days – TT, MW2/3/4ish, MC/MC2, HBS BT, etc. No other game in the BattleTech franchise turned me off faster than MWO/MW5, and that’s someone with 3,000+ hours on HBS BattleTech. Nothing about it feels like the devs want anything beyond access to my credit card on an ongoing basis.

    Back in MW2-3/MC1-2 it was easily possible to run and win with Lights. Heck, swarms of Lights were one of the best ways to dominate MC after you started hitting Vibromines. In MW, the Targeting Computers and Large Lasers made it fun to outrun and snipe the legs out from under even the biggest ‘Mechs. It didn’t matter how big you were if you got your knees blown out.

    Then the four ‘Mech bottleneck…but apparently they failed to balance the missions beyond ‘more baddies/change the armour’ and ‘mission of attrition’. That means players are going to look for the most efficient ways to fill those four slots…and gamers are nothing if not good at math.

    The math means most of us are likely to end up in the ‘heavy Mediums to fast Heavies’ range for our choices, with possibly a real heavyweight as an LRM boat/etc. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone when the numbers of a pay2win game reflect this. Even in the lore the ‘Standard Lance’ is “one Light, one Medium, two Heavy Mechs”, and I would expect the game balance to reflect that…unless by ‘reflect that’ the devs now mean ‘sacrifice your Light ‘Mech and MechJock so the others can live’.

    That means Lights and Mediums should sell about as well, and combined they should equal Heavies, with Assaults trailing because they’re slow and specialised.

    These days I’m mostly playing BattleTech Extended – Commander’s Edition (HBS BattleTech modded), and the upgraded game is *amazing*. This is what I hoped for from the original HBS game (which is a bit more ‘arcadey’, even if a lot of fun and a great addition to the series). Seriously, running six to eight ‘Mechs and combining chassis models lets me dig into that 55t-65t sweet spot, but with 18 Bays and eight drop slots, I also have room for Panthers and Firestarters, as well as a couple of Assaults. I can keep a lance worth of Lights in my Bays and not feel like I’m wasting slots, even if some of the missions that force you to use Lights are a bit…forced.

    Out of 18 bays I currently have two empty, four Lights, six Mediums, four Heavies, two Assaults. Kinda-sorta looking like a ‘Standard Lance’ (although strictly speaking I prefer a fast Medium, two heavy Mediums, and a fast Heavy). With six to eight drop slots the speed of a Firestarter makes sense for a lot more missions than if I only have four (and I’m looking at P-Hawks or Griffins/Wolverines for my speed). When the drop weights are limited to Lights, I’m glad I have those Panthers and Firestarters in the Bays.

    Unfortunately, when I’m facing multiple lances of Heavies and Assaults, any of the base game limits of four ‘Mechs penalises me for not maxing out those slots…and Lights simply can’t take the punishment.

    So either the devs need to rebalance the games so taking Lights isn’t a voluntary limitation within your four ‘Mechs, or they need to expand the unit size so we can be proper ‘Company Commanders’, rather than glorified Lance Commanders, and we can use those Lights the way they were meant to be used. Whether they bring back more narrative missions that reward the strengths of Lights, or they change the mechanics to make the strengths of Lights actually useful, or even just introduce a ‘points system’ for missions (BV would be a start), they aren’t going to sell more of something players get punished for using.

    Any of those might make me want to play it, but until then… *shrug*

    Back to playing BTX-CE with eight ‘Mechs.

  23. sequoia

    Thr reason light mechs get maligned is that as time goes on in the settinf thry just start to become bad. Weight-and-heat saving technologies end up meaning that in all but the fastest light mechs they’d be better served mechanically as mediums, which get more free tonnage to work with at the same speeds once light and XL engines are commonplace. And as pulse lasers, targeting computers, and even just improving gunnery skills become more commonplace defense modifiers from movement become less and less reliable as a way to stay alice relative to more armor points.

    Ultimately light mechs suffer the same problem in virtually all versions of the game: once you’ve mitigated the randomness involced in hittijg them in the first place (manually aiming shots in the shooters and just driving down TNs for gunnery in tabletop) they stop being able to exist on a battlefield in orser to contribute.

  24. zoozle

    What may be a cool idea is if there was a game mode that called upon players (in MWO probably) to have a small stable of mechs that they’re looking to put up and put into lance vs. lance battles. For each round, weights are allocated at random. So I could enter say a Jenner, a Hunchback, a Thunderbolt, and a Stalker (maybe have some kind of weight restrictions so you can’t necessarily JUST bring the heaviest of each weight class). Round one I roll Medium and go into the round with my Hunchback. Maybe you could enter two or three Mechs per weight class so you have some level of choice and chance for team coordination when you drop (but you’re not spending 20 minutes picking from the 40 mechs you have). It’s been a LONG time since I’ve actually been able to play MWO but I remember Faction Play having drop options kinda like this?

    I think that might be cool as it asks players to really think about what role they’d play, how their Mechs will fit in, and how they would potentially work together with a cobbled-together lance. There could be variance in the drop weight for a match so maybe it works out that the game will be one heavy, two mediums, and a light per team each round. Perhaps one of each weight class? Some kind of asymmetrical game mode where two assaults and two lights fight two mediums and two heavies?

    At the very least, this is a way you could make game modes and playlists that allow for light mechs to work within their role and bring some variety to Mechwarrior’s multiplayer. I all of a sudden reeeeally want to get back into MWO. XD

    PS: where’s the Valkyrie and Flashman, MWO? I want the Valkyrie and Flashman!

  25. Marco

    Frankly, IMO assault mechs being supposedly more maligned is a case of contrarianism – people simply did not pick the most popular option because of it being the most popular option, wanting to prop up their second favourite instead.

    It’s like with Poland’s song for Football European Cup 2012 where some people voted as a joke while other voted hoping a joking folk-style song won’t be dead llast which, to everrybody’s amusement made the song seen mostly as a joke not only win, but win by a great margin.

    Ultimately people like alpha strikes of apocalyptic amounts of ordnance and that’s okay… even if liking Locusts makes me often finish the game the moment I peek out of the corner.

  26. Talwar

    I must say I love lights in MWO.. I can regularly do more damage with anm adder or cougar then with a heavy just becasue i soak up less damage by keeping moving. Some fire disapline and concentrating on weak rear armour and your there

  27. CF

    I don’t know about MWO — never played it. (Too old and slow for RT gaming. .:) ) However, in the tabletop world: Yes, the Light ‘Mech as a class is Obsolete — there is nothing a Light can do which cannot be done better, and cheaper, by a VTOL. (In fact, I have an entire file of “Light ‘Mechs converted to VTOLs” from testing this.)
    The big problem: Armor doesn’t grow back, and Lights just can’t carry enough armor to survive, esp. not on a battlefield with Gauss Rifles, UAC/20s, and such. For Light units in general, the best “armor” is a +6 TH modifier; and I can get that on a VTOL at a “walk”, where a Light ‘Mech needs Jump Jets and a Partial Wing to get there. Far cheaper to get a VTOL.
    Some things I experimented with way-back-when, borrowed from _Renegade Legion_ and other games:
    — Units had to move in order of Weight Class: Assault; Heavy; Medium; Light. If one had an Assault, and the other side didn’t, then even if one won Initiative, that Assault would be selecting movement before anything else (representing its relative lack of mobility).
    — Targeting mods based on unit size: IIRC, it was: Assault -1; Heavy 0; Medium +1; Light +2. Bigger unit, easier to hit.

  28. Arcane Azmadi

    The problem with light mechs in Mechwarrior games (rather than tabletop Battletech or the in-universe setting) is the severe and unrealistic restrictions on logistics and deployment. Yeah, in-setting you can buy a demi-company of Locusts for the cost of a single Atlas, but in a game of MWO your team is made up of 3 lances for a total of 12 players, no more, no less. So you’re not choosing between a demi-company of Locusts and a single Atlas, you’re chooing between ONE Locust or ONE Atlas. The comparison just doesn’t hold up, especially when the Locust needs to dance around the Atlas for 3 minutes wearing it down to have a hope of killing it, while if the pilot screw up even once the Atlas can cripple them with a single blast.

    It’s even worse in the single-player games where you usually get only ONE lance (or two at most) to deploy and have to face extreme odds of up to 5-1. In those kinds of missions, you take 4 Assaults because anything else simply isn’t going to go the distance against what the computer is going to throw at you- you and your AI-controlled companions WILL take hits, so you need to last as long as possible, especially since, unlike in real Battletech battles, casualities are simply not an option if the casualty is you (if you go down, the mission fails instantly). If you absolutely MUST go faster to meet mission requirements, you drop down to Heavies, but that’s where you STOP. If you were able to equip your company with multiple lances of mechs then Lights might have a place, but none of the action-based games allow that. Hell, even the turn-based Battletech 2018 cuts you off at a single lance, although it attempts to make Lights and Mediums more attractive through its initiative system (although in my experience that’s still not enough, at least for single-player).

    The only way they’d be able to get Light mechs played in games like MWO is to expand deployment parameters so your team can literally get 2 Light mech players for each Heavy on the opposing team. Otherwise Light mech players are just a liability in a game where, while capturing objectives is sometimes important, battles ultimately just come down to a firefight, and they showed up with a peashooter and a plastic raincoat while everyone else came with a bazooka and plate mail.

  29. Shepherd

    From a singleplayer/non PVP perspective, lights have a higher skill requirement than slower units – you get punished hard for being out of position, you need to make piloting decisions quicker because you’re moving quicker (urbie and panther notwithstanding), and gunnery is more complicated (again because of your own high rate of speed).

    Many of these games put you in a light first, to boot. So when you’re least good at the game, you get put in the hardest class of ‘mech to pull off well. This leads to many players having more success when they get into a slower medium (and on and on) and making the decision that lights are just no good.

    I agree with what many are saying about the progression of single player experiences basically requiring the firepower and armor of heavies and assaults, which naturally pushes you into those classes.

    Maybe it’s a bug, maybe it’s a feature. There’s something to be said for a game that has a season for each type of mech in the roster.

    Maybe what us players are craving is a less linear progression, and mission types that both reward you for taking the “right” class of ‘mech without making it impossible to play out in the “wrong” class of ‘mech. Or, that meaningfully allow for a blend of the weight classes (and no, “there’s random pickups behind some of those buildings 500 meters away” doesn’t truly cut it, though I see the attempt and appreciate it, as very few other MW games have had even a token reason to bring lighter equipment along once heavier stuff is available. People love dumping on PGI, but I see some honest attempts going on. It’s worth it to note that.

  30. Malchus

    Can’t speak for the multiplayer, but with single player games like…all the Mechwarrior games and the HBS Battletech, the game caps your mechs. You can get more bang for your buck by bringing more tonnage, especially on longer missions where you need endurance, and you have no way to bring more than the standard number of mechs, so you have to bring the big guns. Some of my favorite mechs are light or light-ish, like the Jenner, Wolfhound, Phoenix Hawk, and Commando, and when playing on the tabletop, I will take those over assaults any day, assuming the BV evens out. I also don’t think the solution is drop tonnage restrictions. That leads less to “Maybe I should keep a variety of weight classes” and more to “I own these mechs. I’m paying for the repairs. Why the hell does the client care if I bring more hardware than is strictly necessary?”

    Give me a Battletech game where I can bring a full Overlord to a battle, and I’m far more likely to pack it with lights and try on some tougher missions than bum rush to an assault lance.

    1. Malchus

      Been thinking about drop tonnage restrictions. While this doesn’t really fit with lore, I think you can have drop tonnage restrictions provided you not ALSO have a maximum number of mechs. This puts the sizes at a more comparative advantage, as you can take a Jenner, Panther, and Spider with the same space as a single Atlas.

  31. Cato Zilks

    TT rules definitely are biased against lights as 20 tonner doing 4/6 gets the same tmm as a Kodiak doing 4/6. You do not need a deep understanding of combat or game mechanics to see how this boils things down to questions of armor. Real life: a motorcycle going 30mph is harder to hit than an M1 Abrams going 30mph, battletech: take the tank.

    On the video game side, the issue is very complicated. All told, I think lights are in a good spot in MWO. I think some above mentioned posts touch on it, but MWO represents a lot of pinpoint firepower or an even larger amount of splat power. Either is bad for a light. As you can easily get wrecked in an instant. But, because we can upgrade engines and apply speed tweak, you can avoid most fire. IMO, the top to bottom best mech in MWO is and has been the Cicada. Good speed, good shape, good hardpoints. Clan onni lights suffer in MWO, but I have also wiped the floor with 12 man teams running LRM cutefoxes, so I don’t think they are that bad off.

    Things are different in MW5 and HBS BT. Both do all they can to limit the speed of small things. I think there is an idea that it is not fun to have everyone miss all the time… and I can see some truth to that. But, if you limit the chances to cause misses, you just force a big mech meta. MW5 also suffers from having AI that cannot handle high speeds as and map design and spawning distances that also lead to shorter ranged battles where heavies and assaults rule. One other issue in both singleplayer games I don’t think the quantities thrown against you in either game are the problem, but in both games the enemies get progressively more accurate. This is the core issue as it means you are going to be taking some hits. I don’t care if you are jump skipping at 190kph, those scorpion tank crews are going to hit you (and higher ranked enemy crews get damage bonuses just like you). This again, forces armor to be more important.

    Now, I will note, this is all in keeping with TT as noted, they also have rules in place to hamper units abilities to truly use speed as armor.

  32. Frosted_Moontips

    I only just started piloting lights in MWO and my god I’ve been missing out, so much fun X33

  33. Bogatyr

    Light mechs don’t come into their own in most games, be it the table top, MWO, or Battletech. Scouting, recon, and raiding are of minimal value when your map is maybe 4 square kilometers in size and the most common fight is a stand up kill’em all brawl. On top of this there are just too many ways in modern Battletech to lower your to-hit modifiers. Pulse lasers, TC’s, LBX autocannons, and the like make it much easier to errode those TMM’s that they depend on to live. After all, as the saying goes, Light mechs have to get lucky every time, the heavies shooting at them have to get lucky once.

  34. Guy Farting

    I could see a system where upkeep and turnaround on repairs matter rewarding light mech play. Say in a MW6 campaign you’ve got two weeks to run as many small missions as possible during your contract, and you’re choosing between one big push with heavies and assaults, maybe two if you don’t take much damage, or running a quick hit and run every one or two days. While we’re at it, let smaller missions grant advantages in an end of campaign showdown. Problems solved???

    Not sure how to balance them better for pvp though; I loved running a Jenner in the first couple years of the game, but lost interest when the game started to feel like tedious trench warfare with nothing for lights to do but pop up and die.


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