"Panther 9Rs are solid all-around 'Mechs, if a bit on the slow side. They make up for it with Jump Jets, considerable armor, and a hefty punch from their trademark PPC. They've even been used in physical slugging matches to good effect." - Yang Virtanen
The Panther PNT-9R is a Light-class 'Mech in Battletech.
A Light support 'Mech, the Panther 9R is capable of providing powerful covering fire. The 9R usually covers fast-moving Light 'Mechs as they engage the enemy, but it is equally at home using its Jump Jets to flank.
A bit of an oddity among 'light mechs, the Panther strikes a middle ground between the fast and maneuverable scouts and harassers that the class is known for and the agonizingly slow but punchy Urbanmech. The PNT-9R (the only variant available in the stock game) moves as fast as a Vindicator or Blackjack (the slower medium 'mechs) while still packing an amazing 21.5 free tons, matching the Urbanmech. This makes it one of the few light 'mechs that can viably carry heavy weaponry. Unfortunately, its hardpoints are a bit limited: the four energy hardpoints are all on the right arm and are joined by only one missile hardpoint in the CT. Its available tonnage still lets it pull some build variety out of this, but be aware that there's no Panther build out there that won't become outclassed by one heavier 'mech or another by the mid-game. At that point, the only thing the Panther will have left going for it is its high initiative.
- The base loadout of the Panther tries to have it both ways range-wise by mounting both a PPC (very long range weapon) and an SRM4 (a short-range weapon). These do a respectable amount of stability damage even if raw damage is middling, and there is a narrow band of ranges where both these weapons will hit their maximum effectiveness, but the slow Panther will have trouble staying there. Therefore, it's best to swap one of these weapons for something that compliments the other.
- If long-range sniping is your thing, you've got a few options:
- 1. Swap the SRM4 for an LRM5. They weigh the same, it's quick and easy to do, and the LRM5 is effective over almost the entirety of the PPC's effective range. If you do this, consider dropping a ton or two of armor (you shouldn't take a lot of fire at extreme range) to mount more heatsinks and keep the PPC firing constantly even in hot environments.
- 2. If you don't care about stability damage, drop the missiles and PPC entirely for two LLs. These offer a passable 80 near-pinpoint damage at long range don't generate much more heat than the PPC did. Again, dropping some armor for heatsinks allows you to keep the lasers firing for longer.
- 3. A 1xLL + 1xLRM5 build runs cool even without exchanging armor for heatsinks, but doesn't have as much of a punch as either of the other options. Sacrificing a ton of armor will let you upgrade to an LRM10 to recoup some reliable stability damage if the PPC was just to hot/inconsistent for you.
- 4. You can eschew large energy weapons altogether and just drop the biggest LRM launcher you've got into the CT. This is where the Panther's single missile hardpoint really hurts; you can't save a ton or two by going for multiple LRM5s; if you want more LRMs, you have to use the heavier, bigger launcher. This means you can't split fire either. Still, you can mount an LRM15 with two tons of ammo and a ML as a backup weapon without sacrificing any armor. Sacrificing armor can get you enough tonnage for an LRM20 and several tons of ammo. Ammo dependency can be a problem in long missions for all of these builds, but at least they shouldn't run hot.
- If you prefer to focus on the "light brawler" part of the Panther's stock role and fight at close range, hardpoints pretty much limit you to a combination of MLs and SRMs. You'll also want to invest another ton or two into armor unless you're confident that you can consistently hit and run with close cover. Up to four MLs can be mounted, but beware the heat that such a battery will generate, while SRMs cap out at a single SRM6. This will likely take some experimentation to figure out exactly what combo you're comfortable with; hot with a hard up-front punch (up to a 148 dmg alpha strike is possible) or cooler with less alpha potential. While this build can be quite effective if you salvage a Panther in the early game, it will quickly be outmoded by heavier 'mechs, including some of your starting ones. Still, it's an option.
- If heat keeps you from consistently bringing your firepower to bear, note that the Panther has exceptionally high Melee damage for a light 'Mech. Catching the enemy might prove difficult, but if you can, 50 pinpoint damage and 45 stability damage is nothing to scoff at for most light and medium 'mechs, especially early ones.
- The Panther's low speed makes it difficult to rely on evasion to stay alive as most other light 'mechs do; at best you'll generate three chevrons from standard movement if the terrain is with you. Extensive use of JJs can compensate for this, but be aware that you won't be firing your energy weapons for long if you're bunny-hopping around the map all game. For long-range Panthers, range itself and occasional use of forests, dust storms, and/or destroyed buildings are your primary defensive tools. For short-range Panthers, a mix of JJs, any cover you can find, bigger buddies for the enemy to shoot at, and occasional use of Vigilant or even Bullwark will keep you in the game for at least a few turns against most early-game enemies.