Revisiting the Highlander

This was the last thing you wanted to see just a year ago. Right now? It's a cookie.
(image courtesy of Koniving/Lordred)
If I had to describe what happened to the Highlander, I would make a simple analogy with a very successful rock star that ruined his life and career after becoming a drug addict. Once upon a time, the Highlander sat at the absolute top of the food chain in MWO. When HGN was released, poptarting was already getting popular with the CTF-3D and it wasn't something new. Though it'd be safe to say that HGN took that poptart concept to the extreme. CTF isn't a particularly tanky 'Mech and it does require some sacrifices to fit the essential poptart ingredients. On the contrary the HGN is extremely tanky, it could jump high and also comfortably mount the weaponry and equipment required to be a nightmare for the other team. The JJs were so good that its inherent sluggishes on the ground (due to low engine cap) was neutered by them. As Paul Inouye said on a recent podcast, these things were great at "punching holes through 'Mechs" and people did their best to abuse the hell out of that aspect.

Just like the rock star, the HGN's reign had a late, but tragic ending. After about 1 year of being mostly ignored by PGI, things got worse for them when the Clan pack release neared. It's not clear whether they finally decided to listen to the hundreds of QQ threads on the forums or they just didn't want Clan 'Mechs to be obliterated right out of the gate by the poptarting VTR/HGN masses; but PGI nerfed both of these 'Mechs and JJs in a rapid fashion. I won't go into details, but the result was that these two 'Mechs could not poptart like they used to before. The poptart craze finally took its toll on the HGN. Victor kind of got away because Class II JJs still offer decent mobility and the VTR is also an excellent XL skirmisher chassis, but the HGN was heavily hit.

Ever since, the HGN is mostly forgotten and has consequently become one of the rarest battlemechs on the battlefield. It's absurd that I see more Pretty Babies compared to the Highlanders. I personally do not blame the community. Without its JJ assisted beast-mode, this 'Mech is rather underwhelming. With poptarting out of the picture, brawling with the Highlander presents itself as the second best choice. The combination of very favorable hardpoints (a good mix of B, M and E hardpoints), excellent hitboxes and jump jets makes this an impressive brawler builds on paper. In reality, I tried really hard to make the HGN work as a brawler over the past couple of months, but I kept being disappointed. I can list several reasons as to why:
  • The engine cap. At 325 for C-Bill versions and 330 for the Heavy Metal, this is a really low engine cap for a 90 tonner. The Highlander therefore is condemned to be sluggish in every way. The inability to go for 360+ engines also limits its ability to be XL-viable (unlike the Banshee), as being both slow and having an XL engine is something that is best avoided in MWO.
  • The heat. The HGN is a notoriously hot running 'Mech. Most of the brawler/support builds can only bring anywhere between 12-16xDHS. The thing is if you're using JJs in combat (it's a HGN, why not?) cooling off becomes really problematic because the JJ heat effectively prevents you from cooling off and depending on the JJ number and the map, actually adds heat! (Dropping in Mordor with the HGN is a death sentence).
  • Class I jump jets. It was a necessary nerf to curb poptarts, but it also killed the brawler HGN. The initial impulse is so little that the first 2 seconds of jump jetting is spent hovering (even with 5 JJs). In combat, this means you're a very easy target to shoot as your 'Mech slowly ascends. Outside combat, it means you lose a lot of time trying to get around. Most of the time it makes more sense to just walk around the obstacles instead of jumping over them.
  • Sluggishness. The combination of a low engine cap and nerfed Class I JJs inevitably makes this chassis very sluggish. If you have a HGN lying around, try taking it to a brawl next time. Watch Victors and even Atlases go circles around you. Notice how hard it is to aim torso weapons and how you're always left behind just like the Dire Wolf. In some group queue matches it's impossible to keep up with the front line.
  • Hardpoint distribution. The HGN has low-mounted hardpoints. With the exception of the Heavy Metal, the E+B hardpoints occupy the right side of the chassis while the M hardpoints occupy the left side. Missiles are divided between LT/LA with the numbers changing between chassises. You ideally want to utilize all of the B and M hardpoints to maximize damage. This means in order to utilize your firepower, you have to present your 'Mech fully. This usually means more damage taken than given and combined with the previous point, it's usually a bad idea.
In order to do well with the HGN as a brawler in its current form, you must have impeccable positioning, a mountain of brawling experience and pray that the battle is not over until you get there.

Revisiting the Highlanders

Red are the components you have to protect and green are the expandable ones. Your CT is obviously important, but I'd rather tank with the CT than risk losing the weapons. The tanking potential is enormous and oh boy this thing does tank like a boss.
Yesterday I had this sudden urge to play with my Highlanders again. I was really determined to find a niche for this thing even in its current gimped form. However this time, instead of trying to make this a brawler like the Atlas and try to make into something it wasn't, I tried to be pragmatic. I tried to capitalize on what made the HGNs great during the poptart meta aside from the JJs; the ability to have a shield side, the synergy between E+B weapons (and convergence) and its ridiculous tanking ability. I also tried each and every HGN, including the Heavy Metal. In the end, I had some pretty interesting results and conclusions. Here's my report on the variants:

Heavy Metal

HM is an interesting take on the HGN formula. It shuffles the hardpoints a bit by removing E hardpoints from RT and placing them on LA while keeping the missiles in LT and ballistics in RA. In a way, it becomes a Victor 9K with an additional B hardpoint. Unfortunately, this also means your main firepower sources are now on the LA/RA instead of RA/RT. This immediately creates problems with firepower utilization as you have to expose yourself fully to use both LA/RA at the same time. Unfortunately the HGN is also a wide 'Mech, so this issue quickly becomes frustration.

HM has general energy/ballistic/missiles cooldown quirks in the 10% area, which is nothing special. Gauss+3xLPL/LL is one of the first builds I tried, which proved to be underwhelming because of the reasons above. The situations where you can use both weapons without being torn to pieces is very rare. You simply can't trade well at medium/long range. Then I tried to make it a conventional brawler with 2xAC5+2xASRM6+3xML build, but then again the sluggishness made it a pain to play with.

In my opinion, the HM is currently the worst HGN overall. Its hardpoint distribution is not favorable and its 5xJJ+330 engine limit is hard to take advantage of.


The HGN that can mount an AC20/Dual UAC5. Because of this, the 733C is a tier higher than the other HGNs, so it gets very mild ballistic quirks. Nothing special.

I modified the old 2xUAC5+2xPPC meta build by swapping the PPC for LPLs, a STD300 engine and a single JJ for going over that occasional pebble. The results were quite satisfying and this 'Mech proved to be a deadly corner peeker with a completely disposable left side. The heat is pretty much non-existent with 15 DHS, but at 59.4 KPH this thing is really slow and unresponsive. UAC5 jams also hurt a lot, as 2xLPL doesn't isn't a particularly hard-hitting weapon in situations where you need constant firepower (when the enemy pushes, fight or die situations).


The one with three torso energy hardpoints and very mild ballistic/energy cooldown quirks in 7.5% range. Obviously the first thing I tried was to make a Gauss+3xLPL 'Mech and it actually did well with this setup. Afterwards I exchanged the Gauss for an UAC5 for better responsiveness and (potentially) more DPS, and it actually did better.


The missile one. I didn't play much with this one as it's the HGN that you either SRM brawl with or mutilate with LRMs. I quickly slapped in 4xSRM6+Gauss and went brawling. The single round I played turned out to be an epic game where I tanked down to 4% while getting 4 kills and 960 damage. This is when the tanking capabilities of the HGN "clicked" with me again.

The tanking was real. Too bad I already had Liquid Metal.


Bingo. This is the HGN where I realized I had a "winner" in my hands. Unlike the other HGNs, the P gets a 10% energy heat reduction quirk. It also gets a 20% PPC speed increase and a 10% laser duration reduction. Looking at the quirks, I quickly made a 2xLPL(arm)+2xPPC build with the 325 engine and 20DHS. Very impressive numbers for a HGN.

The results are very satisfying. The LPL+PPC combo hits hard for 42 damage without ghost heat and the heat is really easy to manage. It quickly became my favorite and I had truly awesome matches in both group and solo queue in all kinds of situations. Just like the 733C, this thing is a side-peeker with a completely disposable shield side.

I'm still getting used to the aiming aspect of the PPCs (it's been a while since I played with PPC builds!), but I think the 733P with this build is right up there with the BNC-3M/3E/BLR-3S/KGC in terms of effectiveness. I also tried swapping 2xPPC for another two 2xLPL but I felt the increase in damage potential didn't justify the loss of long range effectiveness.


The HGN can only hover, but when it became the poptart King, that wasn't the only thing going for it. The synergy of the RA/RT hardpoints and the ability to have a shield side still makes it a viable side-peeker. A single JJ also provides enough thrust to overcome most obstacles other assaults have to go around. If you're nostalgic about your HGN, I encourage you let go of your prejudice and to check them out again (especially the P).

I'd also like to touch upon the question of "Why would I pick this over a Misery?". The Misery can indeed do similar builds and can have a similar shield side. Though the difference is in the form of these 'Mechs. The HGN arms tend to block a lot of damage, while the Stalker tends to tank with its torso only. So you gain an additional 90 (60 armor+30 structure) potential damage buffer over the Misery. Also the Misery/Stalker has a limited torso twist while the HGN enjoys a full 90° twist with actuated arms. Lastly, the HGN has a semi-broken jumping animation that helps with survivability. The Misery wins in peeking/hillhumping department because of its hardpoint placement and it can trade better.

HGN's next quirk pass — A new hope

It was revealed that HGN is one of those 'Mechs getting a quirk pass in the March 17th patch. As their quirks were already altered one time already, I'm expecting this to be the last chance to make HGN's better in the foreseeable future. I think the HGN has a lot of potential to be the assault brawler on the IS side, with viable secondary support roles like the ones I presented above. In order to achieve that, PGI just needs to realize that this chassis is seriously underpowered. I wouldn't put any HGN higher than Tier 4 in PGI's quirk list in their current form.

Well, what does the HGN need then? I have some suggestions:
  • The HGN runs hot. They need heat dissipation/reduction quirks. This can be done individually for weapons or just by a flat heat dissipation quirk (like the Awesome's old quirk). I recommend a general 15% more heat dissipation quirk for them. On a 12xDHS HGN, this would make the heat dissipation equal to 14.5xDHS and on a 20xDHS build it would be equal to 23.6xDHS. It's not much, but it definitely will allow it to stay cooler. I liked the P purely because it can actually run cooler than the others.
  • The HGN is sluggish. I think an engine cap increase is out of the question. Therefore I'd give the HGN a torso twist rate bonus to compensate. Maybe something in the order of 10% like the old 733C quirk. A minor acceleration/deceleration bonus and a turning radius quirk (a la the Summoner) can be considered to make it a more responsive.
  • I'm positive that the next patch will bring more interesting quirks and JJ quirks will probably be one of them. I know PGI is probably hesitant in accidentally reviving the HGN poptart beast (it's still there waiting for its chance) but something has to be done. What I'd love to see is an initial impulse bonus. Let the HGN boost off the ground faster with each JJ. This would also encourage pilots to bring more JJs and justify their tonnage. The ridiculous recharge time can stay to keep poptarting in check. A JJ heat reduction quirk would also be in order to help keep it cool.
  • More focused individual quirks. 733C should be the ballistic brute with quirks to reflect that (Let's say 15% ballistic cooldown). 733 should be an SRM boomer (20% SRM cooldown), 732 should focus on long range (Gauss cooldown+energy cooldown+energy range quirks), 733P should retain its current quirks as an energy brute. The Heavy Metal should be considered Tier 5 and get quirks accordingly. Increase its general quirks to 15% range or give it the Zeus/Grasshopper treatment with additional armor to emphasize its brawly layout.

In closing

With some tinkering the HGN can indeed be made useful. Its tankiness coupled with its ability to bring heavy weaponry gives it a niche in the Assault category no matter how horrible their JJs are. Still, the HGN definitely feels underwhelming and characterless compared to the beasts such as the BNC, AS, KGC, BLR (laser vomits) and even VTR.

I keep amazing myself with how much I can write about stompy 'Mechs each time. This post was especially long because of my love for the HGN and its sad situation. I hope this post can raise some awareness for the HGNs.

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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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