Beams are more about flexibility. Beam Weapons consume your Energy to Boost them, a considerable powerup that makes them hit harder than other Weapons by default. But you can forego the Energy spend and just use a version that is slightly weaker than average but has less drawbacks. When your Energy is being drained or paying Energy costs does you Damage, not Boosting your Weapons can be a good idea. Furthermore, some Beam Weapons gain the Slow ability when Boosted, while others become Overheating or gain some other form of recoil that harms the user. Thus, it's often a good idea to have some alternative ways to spend Energy (Active Defenses, Restorations, Supports) so you can still use the resource when you're not Boosting your Weapons. Beams are the easiest specialization to combine with others (except Beast, I guess, since there's no default Beam weapon), and they essentially play much like other specialists but doing more Damage at the expense of having just a handful of available Weapons to pick from.
That last thing is important because, until BCZ, having a total of 10 Beam Weapons meant that two specialization Upgrades limited your options to pretty much just one possible build for each such archetype. Let's take a look at the Core Beam Weapons:
I'm a fan of the vanilla Beam Saber and Beam Rifle. Two Energy for one Advantage without any special abilities is a pretty bad deal, I admit, but it becomes one Energy for one Advantage with Experimental Reactor and suddenly you have a pair of Beam Weapons that you almost always can afford to Boost for a tiny bit of extra Damage without any downsides. This is a very strong build at low Power Levels that gives you a powerful pair of fallback Weapons at high Power Levels, when you can opt to use other Beams as your primary ways to do Damage instead.
See above. I think these two work best when combined that way and are rather lackluster the rest of the time. Unlike other Beam Weapons, these don't have any other special abilities, so they lack the flexibility and power found in the rest of their subtype.
This is our first innately Crippling Weapon. The flavor of a huge beam tomahawk or scythe that is somehow more precise and unlikely to hurt allies in Duels is... Not something I'm a fan of, but I do like the part where it lets you choose which limbs to Maim and how it debuffs the Enemy when hit. In fact, this was originally just called "the Headtaker" and its only ability was to let you choose which Areas it Maimed. Turns out, that's just a really weak version of the Suppression ability, so the Weapon got Crippling + Slow for some more power and and tactical value. The flavor is questionable, but it's a really good Weapon so I don't mind much. Beam + Crippling makes for very good Damage with a considerable debuff, and it makes you want to alternate it with other Beams while the Slow ability is in effect, keeping people from doing one-trick pony builds... And having them do two-trick pony builds instead. Look, I never said it was a perfect solution. The options for a partner weapon were more limited in core, but Burnout Edge in BCZ is a very, very good secondary Weapon with similar control potential.
This little gun here has a lot of range and hits quite hard, for a lower Energy cost than that of self-buffing yourself with Assisted Targeting for your Sniper Rifle. It has a drawback, however, in itsminimum Range of 5 Zones. The lower investment required and the drawback mean that it isn't a primary weapon, but rather an utility gun for Beam specialists or generalists looking for a long range option with a very manageable drawback. Sniper Models with Experimental Reactor used to have this as their only Long Range non-Technique but that's no longer the case since the addition of Point Singularity Projector, Bits and Lux Cannon to the game. Those have more considerable downsides (They're ALL Slow when Boosted) so Powered Rifle is still a solid, if less impactful, pick. Yay for options!
Extending Blade is probably the best ranged option for Duelist Models in the Core armory and the only viable Weapon with a Range higher than 1 if they're also a Beam Specialist. Maximum Range 10, no ifs or buts, is very good when all your other options require a sizable Systems investment and you'd rather spend those points in Speed or Energy instead. It doesn't have any drawbacks (it will pretty much never gain the Dueling bonus, but that's kind of a given with ranged Melee options) so there's not a lot to say. There's more ranged options for material Melee Weapons users now, but there's still not any real competition for it when it comes to its Melee Beam brothers and sisters, so it's just as good now for them as it was back then.
Charge Cannon is... An okay Blast option. The Blast area is the same as that of most other Blasts but the Boost is a little too expensive for what is essentially Rail Bazooka without the Long Range ability and one more Advantage. I consider this a rather underpowered gun and I believe it ended up this way because I was worried about the raw power of Experimental Reactor + Artillery Frame... But, thinking about it, this could have been a Blast (3) at least, just to make it more attractive compared to other options. With that said, it still has a niche, as it is an AoE Weapon for the Beam specialists who don't want to spend MP on Systems and want a bit more range than that of Magneburst.
Against Units that can't fly, Incinerator is like a Technique with TRIPLE the Tension bonus instead of double. Not only that, but it provides a good AoE attack for Melee specialists who have a bit of trouble in that area. So it overheats, fine. That's a small price to pay for all it does against Enemies without Extreme Terrain protection and, unlike many other Overheating Weapons, you don't need to buff up your Tension to make it hit hard. See, Extreme Terrain uses the victim's Tension instead of yours, because they're the ones rolling the Test against the Terrain even though you created the Terrain in the first place. While this does mean that you can't power up Incinerator's secondary effect with Tension bonuses, it makes the Overheat kickback hurt less and has the benefit of being a very decent counter against Limit Engine users. While it is currently described as a flamethrower, the first version of the Incinerator was actually inspired by the chest beams of the Mazinger series that melted down the monsters of the week.
This is one of my favorite Weapons on a conceptual level: Two strong attacks for the price of one! It's solid, but it is not an actual Blast (or Burst or Line) so it doesn't get the benefits of bypassing single-target defenses. On the other hand, it lacks the downsides often seen in such guns and all it does is Overheat when you Boost it. Speaking of the Overheating part, the Double Blaster is Wing Gundam Zero's Twin Buster Rifle. You can tell it is the Wing Zero Custom version from Endless Waltz because the mech melts down and collapses after firing all of three times. I guess Heero is one of those people who take the highest number even when it is odd.
This has three Advantages to its attack when Boosted and in a Duel, plus double Tension bonus. It doesn't have any particularly interesting abilities or factoids about it (other than being an obvious Shining Finger reference) but it does good Damage and sometimes that's all you really need. It is not as exploitable as the Burst and Line Techniques, because it only hits a single target, but it also doesn't hurt as badly when it fails. I think this could have afforded to only be a Technique when Boosted, losing the Tension penalty the rest of the time, because the other Techs are just more unique and lend themselves more to optimization. At the very least, that would have made Radiant Fist slightly more interesting.
What do you get when you combine Line and long range with double Tension bonus plus the Beam ability plus potentially Aiming bonuses? You get a recipe for wrecking face. It's not hard to catch three Enemies with it, and if they don't have countermeasures against burst Damage (which most Grunts don't), then they're going to take a very big hit. You can make the glassiest of all glass cannons taking this then casting bunch of Offensive Powers as your entire battle plan and there's a good chance that it'd be worth it even if you explode immediately afterwards from the counterattacks. This gun is one of the big reasons that things like Internal Fortification and Take Cover! exist. They're very, very hard counters, but without them the game would be in a worse place.
And that's Beams. The Core Melee armory has some duds in it and Shooting has one or two picks that are very niche, and I would say Beams are better designed than both of those. There's no real duds, the worst of the bunch is easily Charge Cannon and it has a niche. There isn't any one of them not worth taking, though there's a few that could certainly be better, at least they do solid Damage to compensate for it.
That's probably the main thing I've learned from Beams as a designer: If something hits hard enough, it is easier to forgive it for being subpar in other regards. The other thing I've learned is that attack buffs outside of those from the Weapon itself should affect just only one target, otherwise you end with a Reactor Overdrive scenario where you need very hard counters that borderline cripple the ability just to keep it in check.
As I mentioned when I discussed the Beam mechanic itself, these took a lot of work and were being tweaked until the last days of development, so I'm glad they're flavorful and fun to use on top of (mostly) being very powerful. It would have been a bummer if they ended up being all underpowered.
...But I could be wrong! What do you think? What are your favorite dealers of rainbow death and oversized immaterial implements of destruction? Yes, this is the last poll for a while, I'm not going to have fifty polls running at the same time.
Next: Now that we're done with PCs, we move on to NPCs! I've been looking forward to this section of the book. It's one of my favorites and probably the one subject I've most learned from.