Like many large things in life, Dead End mission 1 starts things off small. Your initial dropweight is 19 tons and you can only bring infantry units (i.e. battle armor) on this one. You have 5 Mercenary pilots at your disposal, who all have beyond uber gunnery and piloting skills, and an exceptionally robust selection of specialties. Don't get too attached to them. You won't be seeing them for a while after this mission.
The *logical* configuration here is to bring 2 elementals (5 tons each) and 3 Gnomes (3 tons each) in order to max the drop weight using all available pilots. This is what I did, but it's not what I recommend in retrospect. Speed is of the essence to prevent your troops from dying of thirst in the desert, so the best way to go would be to bring a force of 5 Gnomes, due to their superior speed. They also have good short and medium range weapons, making them the most versatile of the infantry battle armor options.
As far as the mission objectives, they are pretty straight forward. I suggest pausing the game initially and scanning the map thoroughly to decide how you want to divide and conquer the map. Keep your team together, and make sure that when you find a water source, all of your units are close by before capturing it. Due to the way the hills are formed, you often do not have a direct path to an area, so don't be surprised if your team chooses an unexpected route.
You need to move fast as soon as the mission begins, as your thirst level will start increasing immediately. You will receive instructions as to how desperate the thirst level is, and while these are important, they can become rather nerve wracking. Just stay focused, get to each objective, and take out enemies quickly so that you can replenish your life giving water reserves. I chose to first complete my objectives in the north east of the map, followed by the southwest and finally the southeast.
This is a well done and very creative mission. It highlights that MechCommander 2 isn't necessarily *just* a mech game. My only caution is that you need to bring a healthy dose of patience with you on this one. The map is very hilly, and those infantry are just god-awful slow scaling an incline -- and the fact that your troops are in desperate need of water only adds additional challenge to the whole being patient thing.
Once you have completed all objectives, the mission will end in victory. I hope you enjoyed the relative quiet in this mission. It's about to be shattered in mission 2.