I hate to say this now, but I've never been a fan of the Thunderbolt. When they were released as part of the Phoenix package, I noticed an alarmingly low amount of TDRs roaming on the battlefield. Instead, people seemed to flock to the oh-so-refreshing Shadowhawk and the Battlemaster instead. Was it bad or were the SHD and BLR just too good compared to it? Being ever curious, when the TDR was released for C-Bills I immediately bought the whole family and got to work on them.
You expect a happy "I made it work unlike everyone else!" ending worthy of a Rak article, but TDR is one of the few exceptions where I simply and utterly failed at. Its hardpoints were a mess; most of the mixed hardpoint variants were borderline unusable due anemic firepower and hardpoint placement. Worse, it was sentenced to STD engine builds 5SS could be made to work, but it was simply too hot to be a reliable laser boat. The only redeeming quality of this 'Mech seemed to be its surprising tankiness — but tankiness without damage output is definitely not a fun experience in MWO. People want to kick ass in their 'Mechs, not be punched repeatedly instead. It must have been a sentiment shared by the community because TDRs were rare as a unicorn back then. My suspicions were reconfirmed when PGI gave away a new variant (the 9S) for free. After giving it a second change and painstakingly mastering it, I sold it in disgust.
Then, like a miracle, came the quirks and made the TDR one of the best IS heavy 'Mechs. It became a mainstay of IS CW decks. However bad memories were still fresh, and I still hated it.
Enter Top Dog
I mostly ignored the Top Dog until recently. It barely had any notable quirks (as is traditional with the latest releases) and the worst of all, it was a Thunderbolt. I already had the 5SS anyway if I ever got my TDR urge back again.
Then last week, PGI started this awesome hero 'Mech sale while giving away 1000MCs in a challenge. I suddenly had enough MC for a lot of hero 'Mechs and curiously enough, as I inspected the store page, the Top Dog stood out from rest immediately.
"Wait a second, this actually looks pretty good!"
Now, I have to clarify something else before we move on. Hero 'Mechs in this game are mostly enthusiast 'Mechs. Most of them are flat-out inferior to their standard cousins. They only offer something mostly insignificant that the standard variants can't. Therefore, people buy heroes only if they like the standard chassis already and mostly as a collector's item. If you really want good money-maker 'Mechs, packs are the way to go.
That being said, there are a few heroes that break the mediocrity rule. The Misery for example, is the community's unanimous answer to "What hero I should buy?" questions. It offers the energy boating capabilities of the other Stalkers with a ballistic hardpoint, so you can do very effective weapon combos. Firebrand marries a ballistic chassis with an energy boat. The Protector is actually a "best of" mix of other Orions. As I inspected the Top Dog, the Protector was the exact thing that came to my mind.
Before I delve into details, let's talk about the camo. In my opinion it's one of the best looking heroes out there. The meld of purple and red colors is aesthetically very pleasing. On top of that, the Top Dog has a lot of battle scars just like the Misery.
On the paper and without quirks, the Top Dog is a beastly laser boat. It inherits the best characteristics of the laser Thunderbolts (high mounts, tanky chassis) and simply adds more. Let's take a look:
For the price of gaining two more hardpoints over the 5SS (and in better locations), the Top Dog only suffers from a reduced torso twist angle. Considering this is a pretty mobile chassis, a 10° loss doesn't really hurt it that much. Fortunately it also doesn't have a reduced engine cap and otherwise it's equal to the other TDRs in every way.
It's really weird to say but without considering quirks, the Top Dog is without a doubt the best Thunderbolt variant. It doesn't waste any hardpoints on pointless missile or arm ballistic hardpoints and on top of that, has 9 energy hardpoints on a 65 ton chassis which offers a ridiculous amount of potential firepower.
However with this many hardpoints, the quirks do become important. With 9 lasers even a -5% energy heat generation adds up to significant amounts quickly. Let's take a look:
|Current Top Dog quirks (subject to change very soon)|
The role PGI wanted to give this variant becomes immediately clear: a responsive and tanky laser boat. It sadly doesn't get any energy heat reduction quirks, but it gets a total of 20% health boost to every component which is very welcome on an already tanky chassis. The only weapon quirk it gets is a 5% energy range quirk. Funnily enough it gets +9 degrees of torso twist range quirk, offsetting its base disadvantage. It also gets all kinds of mobility quirks. Acceleration, deceleration, torso twist rate and turn rate all make this 'Mech feel much more responsive than the other TDRs.
In my eyes, these traits immediately made the Top Dog a responsive laser brawler. A 'Mech that isn't afraid to close the range to the enemy and outlast its opponents with superior survivability. 9 unquirked hardpoints suggest a combination of big and small lasers to be used and of course, all with a STD engine.
How is it?
Simply put, I love it. I'd have never thought a relatively unquirked TDR could do well, but the Top Dog does it.
Firstly, it handles beautifully even with a STD engine. Even dropping as low as to STD280, I haven't noticed any sluggishness. The torso twist is very responsive and allows you to track targets and take snapshots easily. It also makes spreading damage easier. Overall, the mobility is great for a STD engine heavy 'Mech.
Then, 9 energy hardpoints. 9. Energy. Hardpoints. That is a lot, even for a heavy. Despite the numerious energy hardpoints and no heat reduction quirks, I found that you can still pull of a reasonable heat efficient build with a STD engine while using most of the hardpoints. After experimenting with it, I realized that filling the top two energy hardpoints with big guns gives the best results. You can then fill the rest of the hardpoints with low-heat weapons such as SPL and MLs (we don't speak of SLs here). In my case, just like the other TDRs, the arm hardpoint went unused most of the time. The torso hardpoints are divided equally between torsos, so you'll always have some bite before your TDR gives up. It's a perfect match for a STD engine.
As I mentioned, the Top Dog plays very brawly. I found it to be a perfect match for my playstyle in that regard. In a Top Dog I'm not afraid to get into the thick of the things and do the dirty work. You can outlast pretty much any 'Mech other than assaults with good positioning and twisting. Just like the Zeus, I found out that the tankiness aspect makes up for the lack of weapon quirks. Since you live longer than the average heavy, you also have more time to dish out more damage. This means if the match is close and it lasts a long while, the Top Dog has everything going for it to tip the scale in your team's favor.
However, heat is always an issue even if you build with heat efficiency in mind. If you're not careful and patient, you'll keep overheating at the worst times possible. Therefore, sometimes it's better to take damage/disengage if you can while cooling off.
Top Dog vs 5SS?
So, is it worth to buy a Top Dog if you have a 5SS already? The 5SS has 7 hardpoints and a whopping -15% energy heat reduction along with +15% range (+30% for MPLs). Again, without quirks the 5SS is immediately inferior but it's not the same with the quirks factored in. I'll just list pros and cons of the Top Dog over the 5SS and let you decide:
- Tankier (better survivability quirks, even after the upcoming rebalance)
- More mobile (better acceleration/deceleration, twist speed/range, turn rate)
- Best alpha and DPS potential
- Better hardpoint placement (higher, minimal arm hardpoints)
- 30% C-Bill bonus and a sick camo.
- Harder to disarm (only one arm hardpoint)
- Barely any weapon quirks, especially no heat reduction quirk. 5SS offers more performance per energy hardpoint. This is probably worth as much as the pros above.
Before we end this review, let me show you the builds I came up with during the review process.
This is the one that I initially used. You get to use 8 hardpoints and have a pretty good alpha, but the caveat is that you need to close in with the enemy to use its full potential. 2xLPL still offer a good bite and since they're high mounted you can hillhump to rack up some easy damage. However when a brawl happens, those 6xSPLs absolutely wreck everything when combined with the LPLs. The whole combo is surprisingly heat efficient too. Replace LPLs with PPCs for a very weird experience (it works!).
This is a classic laser vomit, but your cooling efficiency is somewhat better and you have a bigger bite at range. Strangely this also uses the STD280. Strangely it seems to be the sweet spot engine for the Top Dog.
Now, if you want to play the ranged game, this is your thing. 2xLLs reach out to almost 500 meters (optimal) and you have 6xML to back it up. What I did was I used the right side lasers (2xLL+2xML) my main group, and used the left side 4xML group when I really needed to punch. This ensures you keep the heat under control.
This is where we crank it up to 11. 9xMPL is not a joke. The alpha damage might be laughable compared to Clan laser vomits, but you have to remember these are IS-MPLs. That's 54 damage delivered in 0.6 seconds. It's an incredible punch even the Clans can't dream of. XL enemies die almost instantly to this. It takes a mere 7 seconds to flat-out core a Dire Wolf. The key is holding the alpha steady on the target.
Funnily enough, PGI is introducing ghost heat for IS-MPLs with the next rebalance. So you have only two days from the day this article published to abuse the hell out of it while you still can. I just wish PGI left the GH limit alone for the MPLs. There are a handful IS 'Mechs that can take advantage of it and most of them sorely need it (aside from the BJ-1X).
Top Dog is one of the best heroes and it'll be even better with the upcoming rebalance. The rebalance makes it the tankiest TDR of them all while giving it a massive range boost. For the full price of 4875 MC (about 20$) it's a bit pricey, but if it ever goes on sale (like right now) you should definitely pick it up if you fancy a solid C-Bill printer with an awesome camo.