Alpha Strike, Fire Power, and DPS Explained

What is Alpha Strike, Fire Power, and Damage Per Second?

This guide will explain the important difference between fire power and damage per second. There are a lot of misconceptions about these terms. Many people consider only one of many values or give them no thought at all. The truth, in my humble opinion, is that different weapons excel at different jobs. Somehow, all these three terms refer to the damage of a Mech. On the other hand, their importance is often distorted by players, and they are mixed up frequently. The following short explanations will shed some light on the confusion.

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Alpha Strike

An Alpha Strike in Mechwarrior Online is the act of firing all your weapons at the same time. Since the matches in MWO favoured (and in part still favours) bursty builds, this term became very popular. If all weapons on a Mech are very similar, it makes sense to fire them in one huge Alpha Strike. Those builds play very boringly, but can be insanely effective. Popular examples include the Splat-Cat (Catapult stuffed with SRMs) or PPC boats.

Fire Power

This term is one of the stats shown in the in-game mechlab. The number is the theoretical maximum damage dealt by an Alpha Strike with his Mech. Theoretical, because there are several things you have to consider when analyzing this value: If the Mech was weapons with different effective ranges, you won’t be able to fire all of them at the same time. If the chassis has weapons with very different aiming mechanisms, then you probably won’t hit all your weapons on the same target in the same salvo (for example, Lasers need you to stay on target; a Gauss Rifle requires the pilot to lead but hit only one bullet). In addition, the fire power value does not take into consideration how heat efficient a build is or how much ammo is available for all weapons.
Fire Power alone does not make for a very good indicator of how good a build really is. However, if most weapons (or all of the most powerful ones) have similar ranges, than fire power can be an indicator of how bursty a build is. For random PUG games, it is nice to have at least some burst potential. Numbers will change with patches, but at the moment the following rough outline can help with judging these numbers:

  • 0-30  No relevant burst potential. Probably a lighter Mech with a very sane armament.
  • 30-50  Some burst potential. Many builds, which are not centered around powerful Alpha Strikes, will probably be in this range.
  • 50-60  Above the average firepower. Usually found on Heavy and Assault Mechs. A well placed hit will cause serious problems.
  • 60+  Insane burst potential. Splat-Cats, Assault SRM+AC/20 brawlers and outdated PPC boats fall into this category. One direct hit and you are toast!

Fire Power Explained

Damage Per Second (DPS) and Sustained DPS

Most people think that they understand what damage per second is and what exactly it means. In my experience as a gamer, this is only partially true. Damager per second refers to the mean damage dealt in a given time interval.
Example: Portable Lame Cannon, 10 meters range, deals 10 damage, and requires 5 seconds to reload, its DPS would be 2 (10 divided by 5). Let’s say there is a Globally Deployable Annihilator Lazor Of Pwning which deals 1,000,000 damage to any target within 9000 miles, but requires 139 hours to recharge after firing, the laser’s DPS would also be roughly 2.
Any sane person would agree, that these weapons would perform very differently, although their Damage Per Second is equal. The Lazor’s Fire Power certainly is higher, but if you would have to kill 12 targets with 300-500 hit points *cough*, the Portable Lame Cannon would always be the better choice. If you miss a shot, you wouldn’t have to wait 139 hours to get another shot off. Assuming 12 targets with 400 hit points, the Portable Lame Cannon would require 40 minutes to kill them all. The big Lazor would require two months!
On the other hand (big Alpha Strike meta!), when faced with a single heavily armored enemy, the Lazer would always outperform the Cannon. Example: one enemy, 500 hit points *coughatlascough*. Lame Cannon: ~4 minutes. Big Lazor: instant kill with its first shot. No convinced yet? How about that: If the big 500 hit point enemy is able to retaliate and kill you within a couple of seconds, you would certainly end the fight as fast as possible and get the Lazer!

In Mechwarrior, all weapons firing causes heat. The “heat to damage dealt ratio” is not the same for all weapons. In fact, those values vary quite a lot from weapon to weapon. Thus, it is also a good idea to see how long your Mech can keep this DPS up. Fortunately, all builds on mwo-builds.net has embedded Smurfy-links which show the “Sustained DPS”. This value indicates the possible damage output, averaged out over an infinite amount of time, e.g. how much DPS can your Mech actually dish out (without overheating, while firing as many weapons as possible)?

The Sustained DPS is a good indicator of how well your build will deal with extended engagements and drawn-out fights. Often times, the fight is not over after the first couple of volleys, but will drag on for minutes. Heat efficiency will play an increasing role the longer the combat endures. Patches will always change the numbers, but here are some rough outlines for what good Sustained DPS values are:

  • below 3  This build is not heat efficient at all. It can not effectively engage in drawn-out fights.
  • around 3-4  Reasonable heat efficiency, but still very hot running. Can be dangerous, if left alone for too long.
  • around 4-5  Now it really gets ugly. These Mechs will dish out considerable damage over the course of extended battles. Use hit&run tactics against them and pray they are not good pilots.
  • 5 and beyond  You are in trouble. Mechs with a Sustained DPS of 5 or even higher have excellent longevity. Even on very hot maps, they will be able to brawl, chase, and fight for long time periods without breaking a sweat, while everybody else is cooking in their cockpits.

What Damage Values Are Important When Building My Own Mech?

Obviously, if you equip only very little weapons and a crap ton of heat sinks, your Sustained DPS will go way above 5. However, you will lack fire power (burst potential) and your regular DPS will be very low (for short fights). Since burst potential and regular DPS are also very important, it is not wise to optimize a build for Sustained DPS. Try to find a nice balance and aim for roughly 4 (or 5 if that is possible with reasonable measures).

Never optimize for fire power and alpha strikes alone. A balance is always necessary, even if you are trying to revive your Splat-Cat. On the other hand, neglecting fire power may cause your build to require a lot of skill to control. A build which completely lacks burst potential will also feel very unsatisfying, as killing blows will become more scarce and quick face-to-face engagements will rarely end in your favour. When comparing different weapon load-out versions of your builds, also compare the difference in fire power. Be wary though, as the fire power includes all weapons. If you are building an SRM heavy setup, but have several Medium Lasers for support on board, you should remove the lasers until you are satisfied with your SRM setup. One example, why this is useful is, because if the lasers are for emergencies only, they will not add to your heat in regular combat situations. However, the mechlab will also factor in the lasers when calculating heat efficiency and Sustained DPS. Maybe, your mechlab’s values will suggest that your build is too hot when in fact you could easily keep your SRMs that way or even replace heat sinks with more ammo.

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2 comments to Alpha Strike, Fire Power, and DPS Explained

  • What is the Best PPC/Gauss Sniper Build?  says:

    [...] Alpha Strike, Fire Power, and DPS [...]

  • WarHound  says:

    High burst builds are generally favored over sustained damage builds because you expose your mech less.More or less the same as those old popping builds with jetpacks.

    Take a light armed with 2PPCs,speed and jetpacks and a heavy armed with 6x AC2′s heavy armor but a slow engine.While the heavy has a high DPS,he doesn’t have a high alpha and the light will win without a doubt because the heavy will not have the light in his sights long enough to do enough damage while the light only has to be in sight for a split second to do its full damage.