Black Knight preview and missed opportunities

I expressed my concerns about the Black Knight back in May, when the Resistance 2 pack was announced. Here's the relevant bit:
"Surprise, surprise! The Black Knight is yet another pure energy boat in this pack. The energy hardpoint amount changes between 8 and 9 and according to the artwork they are belly-mounted just like the Grasshopper. It's a very annoying place to have hardpoints as you're forced to present yourself fully to your opponents in order shoot them. Now, the Grasshopper can get around this problem by using its JJs to shoot over obstacles or generally put itself in favorable places to shoot from. The Black Knight won't have that luxury and just like the Orion it has to seek favorable face-to-face engagements, which don't happen very often.
Aside from exposure, things are looking rather good . . . "
Unfortunately, almost 5 months later with the Black Knight release right around the corner, things are rather not looking good.

For those who've been under a rock for the last few months, the Black Knight is an IS 75 tonner heavy 'Mech. It's a pure energy boat and doesn't come with jump jets. From the looks of it, it's designed to be a sort of laser brawler; something that is designed to endure lots of punishment while lashing out huge laser alphas. The price for this is that it comes with low-mounted hardpoints. Except for its head energy hardpoint, every other hardpoint is at the belly level.

Here's what we know so far:

Geometry and scaling

It's quite a handsome 'Mech
There aren't many geometry faults with it. It's narrow with a compact torso and shield arms. Its limbs are not chubby and won't be a weakness. The only worrying aspect is the protruding center line and the impact of it depends on the hitbox distribution. The huge head could be weak point just like the Atlas depending on that. Though overall looks like it will be as tanky as a brick.

Just looking at this comparison tells me all I need to know. The Black Knight is smaller, narrower and occupies less volume than an Orion in every way. In comparison the poor Orion is simply chubby. From the looks of it, the Black Knight will beat Orion in the hitbox department as well.

Now this comparison is more interesting because the Black Knight will be competing against the Grasshopper, not the Orion. Interestingly, the Black Knight beats the Grasshopper in terms of size and scaling as well. Even though the Black Knight has a larger hip area, the Grasshopper's upper torso is significantly larger and represents a bigger bullseye due to bigger surface area. From the sides the Black Knight is a bit fatter, but side profiles are much less important than frontal profiles. Another interesting point is that looks like the grasshopper has higher arm placement, which helps it block incoming fire to the upper torso better.

Hardpoints and quirks

On the paper, this thing is a beast. It comes with a minimum of 8 energy hardpoints distributed evenly between components. This means that it'll have sufficient weapon redundancy while also being capable of hard hitting side-peeking builds.

How about their placement?

Every single hardpoint except the head one is low-mounted. Worse, the arm hardpoints are underslung which will add another degree of annoyance. Which means that this thing is truly meant to be a laser brawler with limited side-peeking qualities and not a hillhumper. The Black Knight will have a lot of trouble returning fire and will have to rely on ambushing opponents, heat efficiency, its tankiness and superior mobility (by mounting a huge STD or an XL). If only it had 2-3 shoulder weapons, it'd instantly make this 'Mech very attractive and put it in a "multirole" category. Perhaps PGI recognized these weaknesses and quirked it accordingly?

Luckily, as of yesterday, we also know the quirks:

  • +8 Structure LT/RT, LL/RL
  • +6 Structure LA/RA
  • +7.5% Torso Yaw Rate
  • +10% Energy Range
  • +10% ML Range
  • +12.5% Energy Cooldown
  • +10% AMS Range
  • +8 Structure LT/RT, LL/RL
  • +6 Structure LA/RA
  • +10% Torso Yaw Rate
  • +12.5 Energy Range
  • -10% Energy Heat
  • -10% ERPPC Heat
  • +8 Structure LT/RT, LL/RL
  • +6 Structure LA/RA
  • +10% Torso Yaw Rate
  • +10% Energy Cooldown
  • +10% PPC Cooldown
  • +12.5% PPC Velocity
  • +8 Structure LT/RT, LL/RL
  • +6 Structure LA/RA
  • +10% Torso Yaw Rate
  • +5% Energy Range
  • -12.5% Laser Duration

As a laser brawler with good scaling, the first things I'd look for in the quirks are first energy heat reduction and then mobility quirks. The quirk to look for here is "energy heat" and it only shows up on the BL-6B-KNT. The others get very mild general boosts to energy and an insignificant amount of structure but that's it. I'm not looking for a huge 15% reduction all over the board, but at least even -5% would have helped making these things more viable. Especially the PPC and ERPPC quirks made me very curious, isn't this supposed to be a brawler? Because let me tell you, no one who's in their right mind will put PPCs on this thing other than "just for fun" (which will probably diminish after the first match). Not unless the heat reductions are significant enough to offset the massive loss of heat efficiency and DPS.

Another problem is the lack of distinction between variants. As stock, the variants are extremely similar. Yes, they differ with one or two hardpoints there, but it's mostly exactly identical. This is a great place for the quirks to come into play to make each of these a special tool for certain occasions.

If only they specialized individual variants a bit better. They could have focused one on LPLs, the other on MPLs, the other on MLs, the others with andsome PPC quirks and so on. As it is, BL-6B-KNT will be the "go to" variant while the others will be elited and promptly forgotten/sold simply because it will be able to lash out more damage.


Here are the relevant bits;

Max Engine Rating: 360
Torso Movement:
  • 110 degrees to each side.
  • 20 degrees up and down.
Arm Movement:
  • 20 degrees to each side.
  • 25 degrees up and down.
The engine rating is the same as the Orion. However, the Orion is not an XL friendly 'Mech, so they're usually seen with small STD engines which makes them clumsier and unwieldy to use. From the looks of it, the Black Knight will be much more XL friendly so they'll be much more mobile. 360 limit is also another advantage over the GHRs (except the 5J) as most of them are capped at 340. This also means the XL Black Knights will be able to mount an extra DHS in the engine.

BL-7-KNT-L needs an extra mention here as it will be able to mount an XL385. Which means it'll have 28 tons to work with mounting that engine, which should make it ridiculously mobile (+90 KPH) and responsive. With some luck it'll be a fun MPL skirmisher.

110° torso twist is nothing short of amazing. It handily beats the 90° twist of the Grasshopper and will be able to track targets better at closer ranges, again emphasizing its brawliness. Arm movement is standard for its tonnage range, except the up and down part which is 5 degrees less than the Orion and the Grasshopper.

Overall, the mobility looks good. Despite a lack of jumpjets. Though a lot of the advantages will come down to the behaviour of its hitboxes and XL viability.

Black Knight vs Grasshopper

This is the question everybody's asking. When we have the Grasshopper which already comes with a similar hardpoint layout (all energy) but with some nice extras like high mounted hardpoints and jump jets, what's the point in a Black Knight? As it is:

Black Knight advantages:
  • More or the same number of hardpoints than the GHR, better firepower.
  • Potentially able to mount more DHS.
  • Better torso twist.
  • Excellent scaling, much tankier.
Grasshopper advantages:
  • Jump jets, better mobility.
  • Energy heat reduction quirks all over the board, cooler.
  • Higher mounted hardpoints (depending on the variant).
In my opinion, the Grasshopper is a better multirole 'Mech. It's able to position and reposition rapidly and it has the quirks to sustain DPS. The jump jets allow you to confuse and annoy opponents and help tank more. Depending on the configuration it can work as a side-peeker or a hillhumper, so it has no problems trading shots.

The Black Knight on the other hand, will be more specialized. Especially at being an undying brick. At 75 tons it has a massive amount of free tonnage and lacking jump jets, it'll have even more tonnage to dedicate to a beefier engine and more DHS. Though lacking the weapon quirks and good hardpoint placement, it won't be able to trade as well as a Grasshopper and keep its DPS up throughout the match. In a 1v1 face to face brawl, I have no doubt a Black Knight will be a great 'Mech to be in, but it'll be very vulnerable to long range fire.

Missed Opportunities

No doubt being a 75 energy boat, the Black Knight will still see some use. Much more than an Orion which is notoriously ineffective and hard to use. Still, it's not the 75 tonner we're looking for. It won't be able to compete with Clan laser vomits just like the Grasshopper and its lackluster hardpoint placement and mild quirks will keep it from being attractive to the masses. The lack of variety and flavor between variants is another concern.

I call this a "missed opportunity", because the 70-75 IS tonnage range is lacking a competitive 'Mech. The Cataphract is simply a trainwreck and is barely something more than a walking barn door that is easily dealt with. The Grasshopper is right at the edge of being viable, but it's hurt by its CT heavy hitboxes and lack of energy range quirks to compete with Clans. The Orion is what it is; a smaller Atlas. A tanky, unresponsive brawler whose only unique quality is being tanky. However brawling is hard, situational and mostly painful, so the Orion mostly goes ignored.

The Black Knight had the potential to be a great alternative. Especially because it's an energy boat with lots of hardpoints. Yes, we knew it was going to have low hardpoints but those can be offset by attractive quirks that make it quite the facemelter. Unfortunately, if a miracle doesn't happen and I'm completely wrong speaking without experience (and I won't have any until January 19th), the Black Knight will be quite an underwhelming addition to the high-end IS heavies.

With the Black Knight being what it is, our next hope is the Marauder which seems to be an IS version of the Ebon Jaguar. I have quite the gut feeling that it'll be what we're looking for (the hardpoints are looking so good). So I guess there's still hope. Here's to the hope that the Marauder and the Warhammer will be the 70-75 tonners we've been waiting for.
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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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