BattleTech 'Mech Building Guide

By Ian Boudreau 29 Nov 2018 0

If you’ve spent any significant time with Harebrained Schemes BattleTech since it launched in April, you’ve undoubtedly gotten a sense that as much of the game takes place in the MechLab as on the field. There are interesting tactical decisions to be made, certainly, and BattleTech packs a lot of detail into its combat encounters. But building your lance the right way, and picking the missions best suited to your lance, is just as important - if not more so - than proper positioning and timing in a fight.

This Mech Building guide should be considered just that: a guide. There aren’t any real hard and fast rules when creating your lance because everything in BattleTech is situational. We’ll go over a few general principles to bear in mind, but it’s important to remember that these can always be superseded in certain circumstances. After a few general guiding principles, we’ll look into specific Mech roles and how to fill out your lance.

Now that Flashpoint is out, there's plenty of MechWarrior battles to pursue and contracts to complete after you've finished the campaign. The expansion also adds the Hatchetman, Crab, and Cyclops 'Mechs to the mix, and they each land in roles outlined below. I'll continue to update this guide as I learn more about BattleTech, but these rules should still hold with the latest edition and rebalance patch.

argo

Principle 1: Bigger is better

Particularly in the early stages of the base campaign, you’re generally going to want to field the heaviest BattleMechs you have available. There are certainly roles for lighter, faster ‘Mechs, like the Jenner and Firestarter, but when you’ve only got a few key MechWarriors available, you can’t afford the risk of putting them in something that can’t be armored as heavily as possible.

Bigger ‘Mechs usually mean more hardpoints for weapons, and that means you can afford to equip them as generalists for early missions. Being able to be flexible early on is important, and fielding ‘Mechs with a wide range of weapons will help out a lot in the beginning missions. ‘Mechs tend to get substantially more survivable as you move up in tonnage, and that’s also crucial in the early game when money is tight.

Principle 2: Specialize - to a point

Once the financial restraints are loosened up a bit in the campaign, you’ll have more freedom to kit out your ‘Mechs for specific roles. Each BattleMech chassis has a stock role that your engineer, Yang Virtanen, describes in notes you can find in the info panel. That includes a default weapons loadout template you can follow, which is a very helpful starting point for most ‘Mech builds.

However, you’re free to ignore as much of Yang’s advice as you wish and moving away from his preference for medium lasers can allow you to customize a ‘Mech for a much more specialist role. In most cases, think of these loadouts as existing solely for a particular type of mission: a fast, long-range sniper built on a Jenner chassis, for instance, can be incredibly helpful in assassination missions, but its low drop-in tonnage will make it nearly useless in base assaults and straight-up battles.

yang

Your heaviest ‘Mechs are best when you give them a decent spread between ballistic, missile, and energy weapons. It doesn’t hurt to have a close-range support machine gun or laser in the mix, either. But be aware of the mission type you’re heading into, and the environment. If you’re heading into a hot biome, you’ll want to either swap energy weapons out for ballistic or missile weapons or add heat sinks. Conversely, if you’ve got a mission in tundra, you can drop some heat sinks and add all the PPCs you can carry medium lasers and AC/10s you can carry because PPCs have been basically rendered useless by recent balance patches.

Principle 3: Pick missions that fit your lance

You’ve almost always got a choice of three missions to take on in BattleTech, and these are randomly selected from a series of types, as I mentioned above. They’ll all involve ‘Mech combat in some way, but what you’re up against and how each battle develops is heavily dependent on the kind of mission you deploy on. Some mission types have strict fail conditions, and the mission will end abruptly if you hit one of those - let an assassination target make it to his dust-off zone, and that’s the mission scrubbed, with no chance to recoup your losses with salvage or bonus destruction.

With a squad of heavy, generalist ‘Mechs, you’ll be well-equipped to take on battles and base destruction missions. You’ll want to make sure you have faster ‘Mechs with sniper loadouts readied before you go on assassinations or convoy interceptions, though.

work order

Don’t be afraid to wait a few days on a contract while Yang’s crew refits your lance, either. Unless you’re facing imminent bankruptcy, it’s far more important to field a properly-equipped team than it is to field a lance right away. The consequences for taking the wrong equipment into the field can be costly - ‘Mech repairs cost you time and money, and MechWarriors can’t help you out from sick bay.

Your arsenal: Built on salvage, rounded out at the store

Depending on how you negotiate your contracts, you’ll usually be pulling in some salvage after a mission. Pay attention to what’s available on the salvage screen! Your contract will dictate how many pieces you can call “dibs” on, and it’s worth going through the full list. Often, you’ll want to snap up BattleMech salvage - even when it’s not a chassis you want, they’re incredibly valuable to sell once you have a complete set. But you’ll also want to be on the lookout for rare, powerful weapons and gear. You’ll also want to be aware of equipment and ammo racks you’ve lost in combat, and salvage can be a chance to replace these without spending a dime.

With Flashpoint, some of how salvage and payouts work is going to change. Harebrained is altering the way reputation works, and the multi-mission Flashpoints will offer bonus rewards beyond what you negotiate for when accepting the contracts. According to a recent developer diary, the team is taking steps to have the loot you gain from these missions and in stores make sense with the location you find them, so finding and buying specialized parts is going to become a lot less randomized in the near future.

For now, though, here’s a very rough wish list of spare parts you should try to have lying around at all times.

Weapons:

  • 4x AC/2
  • 4x AC/5
  • 2x AC/10
  • 2x AC/20
  • 6x M Laser
  • 4x PPC
  • 6x LRM5
  • 4x LRM10
  • 4x LRM15
  • 4x LRM20
  • 4x SRM 4
  • 4x SRM 6
  • 4x S Laser
  • 4x MG

Parts:

  • Heat sinks: Always be on the lookout for these, in particular for upgraded, more efficient modules. Thermal exchangers will cut your overall heat generated by a percentage, and they’re worth their weight in gold in any energy-heavy build. Basically, always have some spares around and do not forget to include heat sinking in a new ‘Mech build if you’re carrying energy weapons Conversely, don’t add superfluous heat sinks – you’ll wind up with a ‘Mech that’s either under-gunned or under-armored.
  • Cockpits: A BattleMech’s cockpit is its most sensitive area - a lucky shot can take out a pilot and take both out of action in an instant. That means you’ll want to have cockpit upgrades installed whenever possible, especially for senior staff. Keep an eye out for these. Cockpit upgrades can grant wound resistance, or in the case of rangefinders, add to your view distance.
  • Jump jets: Essential for outfitting a new scout or other fast-mover in your team. These lighter ‘Mechs can get into trouble quick and odds are you’ll have to replace them more often than you’d like. Jump jets give scouts and assault builds the ability to flank and duck back into cover on a moment’s notice, so always have extras handy if possible.

battletech build guide lasers 2

Weapons, or, how to communicate with angry robots

Let’s talk for a bit about the types of weapons you have available in BattleTech, and the trade-offs for each one. There are three main categories of weapons (plus support weapons, which I consider a special class), and each has its own set of pros and cons. Some are better for specific missions, some require you to carry ammunition, and some of them provide an extra bit of control over the battle space. Each individual weapon type in BattleTech can also be found in varying degrees of rarity, and as the rarity of a weapon increases, so does its lethality and value in combat.

Energy weapons

Energy weapons include all lasers and PPCs. They’re deceptively easy to use, and can be devastating at the proper ranges. You don’t have to carry any additional ammo for them, but the big limitation on them is heat buildup.

Yang likes putting Medium Lasers on just about every ‘Mech chassis, and unless you’re running a specialty build, treating the M Laser as the default is a good idea. I’ve found (and it seems that the community agrees) that the Large Laser is usually not worth it – it’s got a much better optimum range than the Medium, but the heat management issues it brings with it usually make it a poor choice.

Particle Projector Cannons (PPCs) sit at the top of the energy weapon pack – unlike lasers, PPCs are able to destabilize their targets, even adding a -1 to hit debuff when they hit. Naturally, the trade-off here is massive heat accumulation, so the PPC has to be used carefully.

Editor's note: Ignore whatever you heard before about the PPC. It's been nerfed into oblivion. Use M Lasers instead; or better yet, autocannon 10s.

Ballistic weapons

Ballistic weapons, as the name suggests, are your conventional, direct-fire guns – autocannons and gauss rifles. They generate relatively little heat compared to energy weapons, but you have to carry ammunition for them – and not only can you run out of ammo, but your ammo pods can be destroyed in combat, causing critical damage to your ‘Mechs. That’s why it’s important to never, ever mount ammo pods on the central hardpoints of your ‘Mechs – that’s where the cockpit is, and an ammo explosion is almost guaranteed to kill your MechWarrior if it’s mounted with the cockpit.

While medium and large lasers get increasingly accurate with each shot, ballistic weapons become less accurate when they’re fired multiple turns in a row: this is to simulate the recoil caused by firing conventional munitions.

With autocannons, you trade range for power: the AC/2 has the longest range in the game, but its damage is pretty light. The AC/20, on the other hand, is only effective up to about 270 meters, but has the highest damage output of any weapon in BattleTech.

Missile weapons

Missiles are particularly handy (and, conversely, annoying when they’re being fired at you) because of their ability to fire without line of sight. If you’ve got a spotter with the Tactics skill, you can launch LRMs from behind hills at targets who can’t strike back, which makes long-range missiles essential for the fire support role described below. Missiles do a lot of stability damage (more than anything else in the game) so they’re your go-to if you’re looking for a knockdown.

A crucial thing to remember about missiles is how the percentage chance to hit changes – the probability is calculated for each individual projectile, so you usually have a better chance at some missiles hitting. The easiest way to think about this is that a 35% “chance to hit” with missiles roughly translates to “you’ll probably do about 35% of your maximum damage.”

The number after LRM or SRM indicates how many missiles are fired at once from the pod, so for instance an LRM20 fires a volley of twenty missiles at once. Naturally, this also means it’s going to plow through your ammo quickly, so plan accordingly.

Support weapons

BattleTech uses the term "support weapons" for three specific weapons that primarily work in conjunction with melee attacks: the machine gun, the flamer, and the small laser. Each has its own characteristics, but generally they're of limited use. However, for Brawlers and Juggernauts (see below), these can add even more devastation to a punch, and that can make all the difference - particularly later in the game. Machine guns will do bonus damage against exposed structures, and flamers will limit the performance of an enemy 'Mech by overheating it. The small laser simply adds another dose of damage, and it doesn't build up much heat. 

battletech build guide lasers

BattleMech roles, and how to build them

Here’s the meat of this guide: the blueprints for your ideal BattleMech lance. Unfortunately, because of the way BattleTech works, there is no ideal guide for ‘Mech building. It simply can’t be done. BattleTech is a game based on improvisation and adaptation, and between finances, biome type, mission variety and equipment availability, you’ll rarely - if ever - be fielding the ideal mix of ‘Mechs.

What you can do, however, is equip the ‘Mechs you have to fill useful roles on a team. As I noted at the top, there aren’t hard and fast rules about doing this, and even holding guide in hand, you’ll have to adapt these designs in order to fit your situation at any given time.

Another thing to keep in mind is that these roles overlap in many cases. As I said above, all else being equal, bigger is usually better - so you may want to consider using a heavier assault ‘Mech as your artillery spotter instead of a lighter, more fragile chassis in many cases. It’ll depend entirely on what you have available and your own playstyle.

One more beginner tip: Use the 'Strip Armor' button when you start putting your build together. Once you’ve got everything you want positioned on the chassis, use the 'Max Armor' button replace the plating up to the maximum tonnage allowed on the frame. You can fiddle with the distribution a bit, which is often a good idea because by default it will assign armor as evenly as it can.

centurion refit menu

Scout/Spotter
Suggested chassis: Commando, Spider, Locust, Jenner, Panther

The big - and possibly sole - advantage of light (20-35 ton) BattleMechs is their initiative of 4, which means they’ll go first in the turn order. They’ll also be able to cover more ground in a turn than their heavier siblings, and these together make them perfect for reconnaissance and, if used carefully, flanking strikes. Their fragility is offset by their high speed, so remember that if you aren’t moving, you’re giving up your best defense, which is evasion bonuses. Use these BattleMechs to spot enemies for your indirect fire platforms and look for opportunities to take out vehicles. You can put heavier ‘Mechs like the Cicada into this role, but you’ll lose that extra point of initiative if you go with anything beefier than a Panther.

For equipment, rangefinders are great for scouts, as they’ll give them an extra bit of vision that you can use to direct fire from your long-range artillery. Consider outfitting jump jets (and heat sinks), but they’re not strictly necessary. Weapons-wise, stick to basics - a long-range autocannon or a pair of M Lasers will be plenty. Remember, you’re not going to be going head to head with these ‘Mechs.

Striker/Skirmisher
Suggested chassis: Blackjack, Centurion, Enforcer, Wolverine, Quickdraw

Particularly for missions where you’ll need to intercept or assassinate moving targets, you’re going to want fast-attack ‘Mechs that are outfitted with some knockdown power. The striker is that platform, and when you’re customizing a chassis for this role, think high speed and high DPS. A good example here is the 1R variant of the Vindicator - the stock configuration carries a medium laser, LRM-5, and PPC, along with jump jets to quickly change positions. Ideally, you’ll want these BattleMechs to be on the quicker side and having enough firepower to be effective in the role means they have to cut back on armor.

blackjack striker

You have your choice of weapons with strikers, but the idea is that you’ll want them at medium range for most fights. Grouped medium lasers and autocannons are good choices for strikers, who you can think of as your cavalry.

A note on harasser ‘Mechs: You’ll see the AI use this role frequently, but I’ve honestly had very little use for it. Firestarters you’ll encounter in the wild are, naturally enough, often equipped with flamers and they’ll close with your lance quickly to try to overheat your ‘Mechs. It’s annoying, but not difficult to deal with if you’re watching your flanks. I generally sell Firestarter and Cicada chassis I’ve picked up, but they’re decent options if your playstyle is more adapted to harass tactics.

Brawler
Suggested chassis: Vindicator, Hunchback, Kintaro, Cataphract, Orion, Stalker, Hatchetman, Crab

Many missions in BattleTech, particularly story missions, will focus on straight up showdowns between lances, and this is what you want brawlers for. While other roles will try to move around the periphery of the fighting, brawlers are the ‘Mechs that you’ll want dead center, as your gunslingers. Pick chassis that have enough hardpoints to mount a lethal number of weapons and go big wherever you can: big racks of SRMs, PPCs, AC20s and medium or short-range lasers all work well on brawlers.

brawling

Consider also mounting support weapons like machine guns or flamers on your brawlers, but keep in mind that many of the chassis best-suited for this job will run into heat management issues. Install heat sinks on these bad boys if you’re using a lot of energy weapons or heading into badlands or lunar biomes.

Fire Support/Sniper
Suggested chassis: Griffin, Trebuchet, JagerMech, Awesome, Catapult, Zeus, Banshee, Cyclops

As the name suggests, these ‘Mechs will be outfitted with your longest-range weapons and often relying on your scouts or skirmishers to provide vision on their targets. Larger, assault-class ‘Mechs like the Awesome and Zeus can easily be used as direct-fire snipers due to their respectable armor capabilities, build the lighter platforms around as many LRM racks as you can mount.

For your snipers, use autocannons, large lasers, and/or PPCs if the environment isn’t too hostile. Ideally, these ‘Mechs won’t be coming under a lot of direct enemy fire, so as long as you can keep them where they belong, you should be able to cut back on armor in favor of weapons and heat sinking.

Heavy assault/enormous invincible death machine
Suggested chassis: Battlemaster, Atlas, King Crab

Yang uses the term 'juggernaut' and it’s an apt one for this role - these are your biggest and baddest BattleMechs and they’re generally capable of mounting a ridiculous amount of weaponry as well as tons of armor. Once you have one, it’ll be the centerpiece of your lance, so build the rest of your team around what you plan on doing with this ‘Mech. Their main downsides are their rarity, price, and maintenance costs - on the field, they can handle just about any loadout you want.

ppc warming up

Save your rare, powerful salvaged weapons to outfit these beasts. Multiple PPCs, autocannons, and laser banks all work well. However, if you’re short on parts, save your long-range weapons for other ‘Mechs - these giants are best for ploughing directly toward the enemy, and short to medium-range weapons are all you’ll need as long as you have some lighter ‘Mechs on hand to handle enemy snipers, turrets, and artillery, which will focus their fires on these juggernauts.

That should be enough to get you started on ‘Mech building. As I said above, BattleTech is as much about improvisation as tactics, and so building your lance isn’t ever going to be about following a blueprint. Just remember the old Mechwarrior saying: “Aim for the cockpit, kid - kill the meat, save the metal.”

Do you have any mech build tips to help you win the day? Let us know in the comments!

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