Forgotten weapons of MWO - The state of the AC2

One of my friends asked me for some advice about which SHD variants to buy yesterday. I told him to stay away from the 2H, as three ballistic hardpoints didn't make much sense on a medium. Once this variant had its place as an effective 3xAC2 sniper/support, but after the numerous AC2 nerfs, it's just not worth the price anymore.

Then, feeling a bit guilty about saying a variant was bad without having touched it in the last 6 months; I did what I always end up doing and dusted off my 2H with a 3xAC2 build. It was decent but it was also infuriating because of how much of a sad state the AC2 is in. 

I've been thinking a lot about the "forgotten weapons" of MWO a lot in the recent months, so I decided maybe it's time I talked more about these and let off some steam. This is not going to be a long and boring "spreadsheet warrior" type of an article, but more like "This weapon feels wrong and here's why" type. Here we go.

Forgotten weapons? What are they?

Ever since I started MWO, certain weapons systems stayed chronically unviable despite PGI's numerous attempts to revive them. The MG, Flamer, Small Laser, Small Pulse, Medium Pulse Laser and to some degree the AC2, AC10 and the LBX10 struggled to find their niche. Fortunately at least the MG was made pretty viable especially when massed after a streak of buffs and some nerfs. Medium Pulse and Small Pulse Laser have also been recently brought out of "DO NOT WANT" territory after PGI unexpectedly decided to equalize the Pulse Laser heats with regular Lasers in a great move.

Yet, PGI also chose to ignore and even repeatedly nerf some of these underperforming weapons. The Flamer has stayed relatively untouched other than a few crit chance buffs despite a few promises from PGI to "Look into their mechanics". The Small Laser has never been viable at all and it's the second worst weapon you can mount after Flamers. The AC2 was the innocent victim of  the great ballistic purge when PGI nerfed normalized AC2 and 5 cooldowns. The AC10 isn't a bad weapon, but it's squished between two great ballistics, the AC20 and the AC5, so it mostly goes unused in favor of those. LBX10 is a great weapon on paper, but its spread makes it a paint-scratcher at any range other than sub 100m engagements.

After considering it, I decided to handle these weapons in different posts to keep the writing/reading portions decent. Let's start the series with the AC2 by inspecting it in greater detail.

AC2 — The bastard child of ballistics

I remember the times when just a single AC2 was a viable choice for a 'Mech. It had great DPS and suppression power. I even remember an AC2+2xML+3xSRM4 Centurion-A being one of my favorites back then. Its sheer DPS, speed and range was offset by its heat generation and the ridiculous face-time needed to apply damage. It was a true support weapon with serious drawbacks and it has never been truly popular because of this.

When a single weapon is decent, people tend to boat them to reach ridiculous levels of "decency" in MWO and the AC2 was no exception to this. There were some ridiculous Jager builds roaming in the battlefields back in 2013 including 4-6 AC2's macroed to fire in succession. Even though they shook your cockpit a lot and sounded terrifying, what these macros achieved was a perfect demonstration of "Its bark is worse than its bite" because they spread the damage all over your 'Mech. Still the total DPS was terrifying and AC2s were given ghost heat before the game launched, essentially eliminating these boats.

Though, there was an issue of chaining AC2's since their cooldown was 0.5 and the ghost heat triggered if you fired more than two AC2 bullets every 0.5 seconds. So the cooldown was bumped to 0.52 and everybody lived happily after that . . . well, no.

I won't list every nerf here, but I'll just do a "before and after" comparison for you to see.

Optimal Range
Max Range
AC2 Before
AC2 After

As you can see, the most striking difference is the change of ROF and the sheer DPS loss because of it. I agree that previous DPS was maybe too much. But, if you look past spreadsheets and numbers, and consider the heat generation and the face-time needed, then you realize it was actually balanced. It gave low-tonnage ballistic 'Mechs like the Centurion and the Cicada the "cheap" firepower to duke it out with bigger 'Mechs.

The AC2 we have right now is just a ghost of its former self. It lost 28% of its DPS. Now you have to stare at your target 28% longer to apply the same damage and pray that some of those 2 damage bullets land at the same spot. Let me tell you, it's pretty much impossible. The fire rate is also very annoying. It's in a place between "This is long, maybe I should twist after shooting" and "I better stare to put these shots in the same place".

The result is irrelevance in any situation. Its damage is too low to be an effective sniper weapon, while its ROF is too low for it to be a true DPS/suppression weapon. For most people, the AC2 doesn't even exist anymore. Ask yourself, what was the last time you put one of these in your builds?

Why did PGI do this? Why did the AC2 have to suffer? There are some theories about this:
  • AC2's could be used to shake cockpits and blind opponents by macro-fire, so they had to be nerfed. This is one of the most common responses out there.
  • Since C-UAC2 is identical to AC2 (for some reason) except bullet numbers and double-tapping, it had to be nerfed to avoid an overpowered C-UAC2.
  • The introduction of quirks forced PGI's hand to further increase AC2 cooldown to avoid the quirked cooldown dropping below 0.5s, thereby triggering the ghost heat. For example the Grid Iron has a general ballistic cooldown quirk of 25%, bringing the AC2 cooldown to 0.54 seconds. It's barely over the 0.5s ghost heat limit.
The first argument can be refuted by the existence of C-AC2's (and C-AC5's). If you want to perma-blind someone, you just need two of these and you are spewing bullets non-stop. Heck, a Dire with 6xC-AC2 and 4xC-AC5 is a common sight and they truly blind you if you insist on staring at them. The second argument is decent, but I think the real reason lies in the third one. 

It's a legitimate concern for a developer too since the ghost heat mechanic is only programmed to check how many times a weapon has been fired inside a 0.5s period. I'm pretty sure their main concern was curbing the rampant PPC boats at that time and they had put only a little thought into how it was going to affect the AC2 in the future. When they needed to introduce quirks, the AC2 suddenly became problematic. Instead of altering/improving the Ghost Heat mechanism or taking other measures, they chose to go the easy way of reducing the ROF and being done with it. This isn't right.

I also think there's a problem with build varieties with lower tonnage mediums and lights stemming from these "forgotten weapons". The single AC2 should be viable so that we can spice up the build variety for these 'Mechs.

"Ok, something has to be done. But what?"

Obviously there are more than one approaches to this. These are my ideas, but as long as we're increasing the effectiveness of the AC2 then we're on a good track. Before we move on, we need to keep three things in mind:
  • Because of the quirks, we can't buff the ROF anymore.
  • The Ghost Heat has to stay to limit ridiculous/abusive builds.
  • We still need to increase DPS somehow (preferably over 3.5 again) or make the weapon more attractive in another way.
and here are possible solutions:
  • Increase the damage per bullet. It's an easy but ugly solution, and it will piss off BT purists and confuse newcomers (as in "Why is this weapon named AC2 if it's not doing 2 damage?!").
  • Change/rework the ghost heat implementation. For example give each weapon system different GH trigger timers. If they could reduce the trigger to something like 0.4 for the AC2, we could have the old AC2 ROF without changing the current quirks.
  • Keep the current stats, but drastically reduce the AC2 tonnage. Make it more desirable by making it more affordable. Something like 4 tons instead of 6. This would pave the way to true ballistic lights and would actually benefit obscure 'Mechs like CDA-3C, VND-1X, RVN-4X and such. Leave C-UAC2 tonnage as it is (this will probably piss off some people).
These are my ideas from the top of my head. Feel free to add your own ideas. To be honest, I prefer the third one. Not only it's the easiest and least complicated solution, it also benefits lower tonnage and non-laser 'Mechs the most. They really need it.

So, what do we do?

PGI just needs to squeeze this topic into one of their meetings and come up with a plausible solution. We have a great deal of weaponry still waiting to find their place in this game. They're either not aware of it, or either they think they have more important things to work on. Nevertheless, you can make a difference by voicing your opinion on Twitter and in the upcoming Town Hall event with Russ Bullock.
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About Rak

I'm an engineer who likes to write extremely long articles about games that border simulation and mainstream.
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