Yeah, we're getting the March build thread out of the way, while it's still February in a couple of time zones. Also, I've got an enormous outline for this post, so strap in, because it's going to be a long one.
One of the first traits you'll notice about the Wolfhound chassis is the similarity of each variant. Each one has either five or six energy hardpoints; there's no other type of hardpoint available, and they all have a similar engine cap. As a result, just about every build presented below can be swapped onto another Wolfhound variant. Because of the interchangeability of Wolfhound builds, I have not separated the highlighted builds by variant.
Why might you want to swap variants? While the hardpoints on each variant are similar, the quirks provide a little bit of differentiation. The durability and mobility quirks are similar across the variants, except for the WLF-1A, which is denied any mobility quirks and has lesser armor quirks than the rest of the Wolfhounds. This is to make up for the fact that its laser duration quirk is more useful than the range, heat generation, and cooldown quirks found on the WLF-1, WLF-2, and WLF-1B respectively. The combination of reduced mobility and reduced armor makes the WLF-1A feel a great deal more frail, though, and ten percent beam duration does not make up for that frailty in practice.
Looking at engines, let's start with the WLF-1. Where most of the Wolfhounds have an engine cap of 295, the WLF-1 can run engines rated as high as 315. That allows for a 157kph top speed, just a hair's breadth shy of the Locust's top speed of 165kph. That speed tends to be wasted on me, as someone who tends to pilot heavier mechs.
On the other end of the spectrum, I considered using engines with ratings as low as 210. That would provide the same speed as you get from a Ryoken or Puma, and free up quite a bit of tonnage, compared to a 280- or 300-rated engine. There might be some surprising high-firepower builds to be made with a 210-rated engine, but it felt a bit like cheating, since this was a poll mech, and the one voter expressed a desire to get me out of my comfort zone. (The XL210 remained on the table for quite a while, just in case leveling these mechs became too much of a chore.)
The sweet spot that I found for engines was with a 280 rating. That gives you a 139kph top speed and agility comparable to other nimble light mechs. An XL280 also leaves plenty of tonnage free for weaponry. If I'm really desperate to fit weapons that require more tonnage than I can squeeze out of an XL280 build, I'll step down as far as an XL255, which is about as far as you can go, before the Wolfhound starts to feel like an underweight medium mech.
Now, over the years, I've shifted to advocating for the use of XL engines in everything, but some members of the MWO community feel that standard engines can be useful in the Wolfhound. While I'll grant that it's a nasty surprise when you knock the side off of a Wolfhound and it doesn't die, you do have to give up quite a lot to find the tonnage for the heavier engine. An XL280 is six tons lighter than a standard 280, and an XL210 is four-and-a-half tons lighter than a standard 210. These weight differences tend to mean that in order to gain the durability of a standard engine, without giving up weaponry, you will have to sacrifice heat sinks and probably select an engine with a lower rating than you would otherwise use. Even with the smaller engines that you use in lighter mechs, the weight difference requires you to give up too much in exchange for durability.
Finally, most light mechs have you automatically switching your armor to ferro-fibrous to squeeze out any free tonnage you can from the mech. That's not always ideal on the Wolfhound. Some lighter weapon loads leave sufficient tonnage for seventeen or more heat sinks, but you won't be able to mount them for lack of critical slots. Save yourself some C-bills and craft your builds in the offline mech lab to figure out if you're going to need ferro, before moving your build online.
The Hard Lessons of Piloting Light Mechs
Medium mechs have a combination of firepower, durability, and mobility that lets me get away with making a mistake or two in a match. With its durability quirks, the Wolfhound can tank like a medium mech, but it makes a huge tradeoff of firepower for mobility. That tradeoff made piloting the Wolfhound a pretty alien experience for me. I'm still no light mech expert, but I did learn a couple of lessons that deserve to be shared here:
First, control the range of engagement. In a fast light, nothing should be able to keep up with you, except other fast lights. That means that you should generally be engaging targets at the outside edge of your optimal range, unless your target has a minimum range that you can charge (such as with LRMs) into or a hard maximum range, beyond which they cannot deal any damage (such as with SRMs). Outside of those scenarios, if you've got large pulse lasers that can hit for full damage at 400 meters, then try to stay as close to 400 meters away as possible. If you're using medium pulse lasers that shoot to 240 meters, then try to stay as close to 240 meters away as possible. Getting too close leaves you open to attack from more damaging weapons, and staying too far back cuts into your damage output.
Second, don't let yourself get too focused on finishing a target. A medium (or even a light) with tons of SRMs can get a quick kill against an unsuspecting target, but an energy-based light like the Wolfhound needs time to whittle away at the target's armor. Strike, don't worry about the kill, and fade into the background. If you hang around trying to finish your first target, then you're going to draw attention and get obliterated. Opportunistic plinking away at the enemy will yield the best results for the Wolfhound and other energy-based light mechs.
Since I was going into light mech building rather blind, one of my first builds mimicked a successful Arctic Cheetah build. This was a mistake. While the heat efficiency of the Inner Sphere small pulse laser is incredible, six of them together produce an unimpressive alpha strike, and the range is incredibly limiting. With a range module, small pulse lasers only deal maximum damage out to 121 meters, which is well inside the effective range of SRMs and all manner of heavy autocannon meaning that unless your target and his/her team decide to ignore you, then you will have difficulty getting away after striking with this build.
Medium lasers and small pulse lasers have the same weight, so a one-for-one swap seemed an easy way to trade the pulse lasers' excessive heat efficiency away in favor of longer effective range. Coupling that trade with an aggressive armor shave allowed for an engine upgrade, resulting in this build. With this build, the pendulum swung too far in the other direction though, allowing for more mid-range poking, but spiking too much heat when firing all six lasers at once. Splitting the lasers into two groups of three and three helps avoid shutdowns once you've built up to critical heat levels, but it always felt too easy to time a shot wrong, resulting in a punishing shutdown.
The obvious compromise between the previous two builds was to drag out one of the five-hardpoint Wolfhounds and throw in medium pulse lasers. Despite giving up four heat sinks, the reduced heat output of five medium pulse lasers, was much more manageable, compared to six medium lasers. The range reduction is minimal and almost entirely mitigated by the range quirk on the WLF-1.
In attempting to one-up the five medium pulse lasers, I pulled out one of the six-hardpoint variants again and traded one pulse laser for two medium lasers. While this improves the amount of damage in the alpha strike, the heat inefficiency of the medium lasers combined with the lower number of heat sinks, compared to the six medium laser build, makes the build more difficult to fully utilize in a running fight with another light mech.
I generally do not care for builds that split their firepower across multiple range brackets. That said, I've had some of my most successful Wolfhound matches in a split range build. The general strategy is to play the peak-and-poke game with the medium pulse lasers, until your team and the enemy team become fully engaged in a brawl, at which point you can race in and start drawing (additional) blood with the small pulse lasers in the arm. If you get drawn into a fight with another light mech, then you have the necessary firepower to be a threat and the heat efficiency to sustain a reasonable portion of that firepower, while flirting with the upper end of the heat gauge.
Those builds cover a lot of the close range possibilities for this chassis, but light mechs can excel at being obnoxious mid-to-long-range pokers. Following the theme of taking things to the extreme, I started with three large lasers. The armor shave on this is super-aggressive, and with only twelve heat sinks, this build is the least capable so far of dealing with the heat it generates. The trio of large lasers ultimately feels like too ambitious a weapon loadout for this chassis, demanding every conceivable sacrifice to be mounted. There might be reasonable combinations of two large lasers with some medium lasers that could work, but...
...medium lasers pair better with large pulse lasers than large lasers. Yeah, it's the same old boring laser vomit combination that I and many others have described a thousand times over, but on mechs limited to just energy hardpoints, the combination is still effective. Moreover, this frees up a lot of tonnage, compared to the large laser build, allowing for a return of the XL280 engine and well-armored shield arms on both sides.
A little more in keeping with many of my other builds, I also have a Wolfhound that pairs a large pulse laser with another large pulse laser. Large pulse lasers are tough to beat, dealing more damage-per-unit-heat than any other energy weapon, while having a short enough beam duration to prevent your target from being able to spread damage very effectively. With a range module and the WLF-1's range quirk, the optimal range on the large pulse laser is pushed out to 438 meters, making it a good mid-range poking weapon. This build's weakness is the time it takes to cool, once it reaches its heat threshold, given the scant eleven heat sinks, but the large pulse lasers' heat efficiency ensures that you'll do a lot of damage, before you have to back off to cool down.
Midway through leveling the Wolfhounds, it had become apparent that the WLF-2 was the star of the chassis, and I had mine loaded out with the pulse-brawl build. I hit the Quick Play button, and when the map vote came up, I dropped a 9x multiplier on Forest Colony and alt-tabbed to my browser. I was horrified upon my return to the game to see that the vote had been carried by Domination on Alpine Peaks, which is not a happy place for a short-range build.
The control point for Domination on Alpine was recently moved to a "more balanced" location, which I hadn't had a chance to examine in detail, since that combination of map and mode are so rarely selected. By "more balanced," they apparently meant in the middle of a fortress, located right next to the spawn point for one team's assault lance. As I made my way to the point, I looked at the point and the map in stunned disbelief that this was the advantage conferred upon my team.
Running at nearly 140kph, I was able to get into the control zone quickly and start our team's timer ticking. Seeing nothing initially coming up the road along the J-line, I moved to the corner of the hill at L8/L9 to monitor for contacts on seismic sensor. Still getting no contacts and seeing our heavies and assaults come into position, I moved back to the north-east corner of the hill and spotted a number of hostile heavies and assaults, filing in on the J-line road to try to arrest our timer.
The single-file approach quickly cost the enemy team a Marauder. Two Supernovas began poking over the same ridge that I had been poking over, but even the pair of them coordinating their attacks didn't stop them from getting cored out after cresting the ridge only twice each. I indulged in a bit of hubris in the moment, as the light mech pushing back against a pair of assault mechs, despite knowing it was my team providing most of the firepower.
That moment of hubris was brought to a quick end, when a Highlander IIC in full-brawl configuration crested the ridge and took a shot at me. A quick retreat and lots of torso twisting spared me the worst that the Highlander had to offer, but both of my arms were stripped of armor. Like the Supernovas, the Highlander was stripped of torso armor quite quickly and began a hasty retreat west on the J-line road. I kept poking over the ridge, in the hopes of grabbing the kill shot, but he had pulled too much range for my medium pulse lasers to do much more than scratch at the mech's remaining paint.
I briefly joined a Huntsman on our team, clearing the hill at the K8-L9 corner, but that juicy Highlander was still on my mind. Content that the Huntsman had matters on the hill well in-hand, I jumped off the southern edge of the hill and ran through one side of the control zone to the other to track down that stray Highlander. The scores were already indicating a lopsided victory in the works, so risking my remaining armor or even my mech on killing the Highlander was unlikely to swing the match against my team.
Being so huge and slow, the Highlander was easy to find, hiding behind the ridge just inside the southern edge of J9. I think he was going to use his large pulse lasers to engage in ranged combat, but he didn't have a chance, before my Wolfhound was able to pounce. I was able to run rings around the assault mech, focusing on shooting his front torso sections, since that's where his armor had already been stripped. The Highlander's pilot couldn't track my legs with his UAC, and his SRM launchers appeared to have been destroyed in his previous engagement with the rest of my team. That left the large pulse lasers, which couldn't keep up with the damage output of my medium pulse lasers at that range. The Highlander died with one second left on the Domination timer. Almost made it.
Actually, there was one hostile mech that did survive and is worth mentioning only now, as an afterthought. The whole time I was approaching and fighting the Highlander, I was under fire from a Supernova SNV-A, armed with four LRM20 launchers. In their current state, with or without Artemis, LRM20 launchers (and LRM15s and even unquirked LRM10s) are unusably awful. The amount of damage that those LRMs did to me was so small and so thinly spread about my mech and the surrounding terrain that I was able to completely ignore it for the duration of the fight.
To start with, the WLF-1 and WLF-2 are the standout variants. They've each only got one weapon quirk, but that quirk adds some utility in each case. They also have the stronger armor quirks, and both have reasonable mobility quirks. By contrast, the WLF-1B has a cooldown quirk, which is less useful than a laser duration quirk, and AMS quirks, which are of little use, owing to the general weakness of LRMs. The WLF-1A looks attractive at first, with its laser duration quirk, but it's too much of a squish, due to the reduced armor quirks and total lack of mobility quirks. If I had to pick one to round out a mastery trio, I'd take the WLF-1B, since it can take any of the five-weapon builds and tank damage as well as the WLF-1 and WLF-2.
It's worth noting here that PGI has announced that a Wolfhound hero variant is in the release pipeline, due to come out this summer. The hero variant will have an ECM hardpoint, so unless it's similarly starved of quirks the way the WLF-1A is, the hero variant will be another one of those obviously-superior variants, hidden behind the pay wall. Personally, I'm not sure I'd spend money on a light chassis with only energy hardpoints at this time.
Why wouldn't I spend money on something like the Wolfhound? The environment in MWO has shifted. When the Resistance II pack came out, laser vomit was the dominant configuration on any mech that could fit lots of energy weapons, and the only light mech that could mount a threatening amount of SRMs was the Oxide—a hero mech, made rare on the battlefield by being hidden behind the pay wall. Now, there are lots of light and fast medium mechs that can mount tons of SRMs. The Jenner IIC has an SRM variant available for C-bills, and the Javelin will soon provide another Inner Sphere light with lots of missile hardpoints that will be available for C-bills. The Wolfhound is by no means bad, but energy-based light mechs don't (or won't, if you're a glass-half-full kind of person) keep up.
Finally, I am not an effective light pilot. Even in the amusing anecdote match, where I out-damaged every other player on both teams, I was being carried. Had I not had my full team behind me to draw fire and at least look imposing, the assault mechs that I was pushing around would have crushed me. In the Wolfhound, I couldn't single-handedly deal with much of anything, and if I tried to serve as a distraction, I'd get mowed down, before my team could exploit the advantage. There are effective light pilots, who are able to assassinate scores of mechs, but I am not one of them.
With that, I've hit about 3,100 words, so I can't imagine that I've left anything unsaid about the Wolfhound. Next month, I'll be revisiting a medium mech that I haven't talked about in a while.