MechWarrior was the first notable gaming franchise to let players pilot a giant robot capable of wreaking all sorts of havoc. An off-shoot of the popular Battletech universe, Mechwarrior has a surprisingly long, twisty history of IP rights being traded back and forth between companies. This has resulted in long delays between entries as well as an MMO set in the series’ universe: MechWarrior Online.
While MechWarrior Online has turned into a well-received game due to continual support after a rocky launch, fans of the series have yearned for another strong single-player showing for more nearly two decades now. Revealed back in 2016, developer Piranha Games (who also developed MechWarrior Online) have promised that Mechwarrior 5 will be just that : a return to fiery, mech-driven glory. However, the world has changed since Mechwarrior stomped its footprint into gaming’s landscape back in the 90s. With the likes of Titanfall, Steel Battalion, Hawken, Armored Core, Into The Breach, and numerous other mecha-inspired games, the seminal series finds itself with a new challenge: having to stand out amongst the crowd. Luckily, the demo we got to play at this year’s Mech_Con demonstrates that Piranha Games has something noteworthy on the horizon with Mechwarrior 5.
Here are five reasons to be excited about MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries.
The Story Is Promising
A problem you run into with games that have a rich lore like Battletech and Warhammer is that they can often be unkind to new players unfamiliar with that history. Luckily, MechWarrior 5 is a game that casual players can jump into without any familiarity with the universe thanks to a simple setup: you’re a young pilot who’s been orphaned by one of the factions in MechWarrior’s universe. Your job is to build a band of mercenaries to make your living in the war-torn setting of backwater planets and get revenge. The story is direct, with a lot of potential to dive into the cost of war, trauma, technology’s horrific effect on warfare. Or, y’know, it could just be a well-written direct revenge yarn. Either way, the easing into the universe will doubtlessly be appreciated by newcomers.
The Combat Is Challenging And Fun
If you haven’t played MechWarrior before, you might look at a screenshot of the game and understandably mistake it for a Titanfall-like experience. However, MechWarrior’s brand of action has always been more tactical, with a focus on exaggerated realism. Your mechs are not swift and nimble. Instead these machines operate more like tanks, hulking and slow, with each footstep echoing throughout the cockpit and brushes of your mech against buildings capable of leveling entire structures. It’s all meant to help you immerse yourself in the fantasy of piloting a massive war machine and it does a fine job accomplishing that.
Combat itself strikes a balance between standard first-person shooter action and simulator warfare. You’ll often be fighting in open spaces, like countrysides or cities, having to switch between the various weapons in your loadout. During our demo, I had access to lasers, miniguns, a powerful cannon that was essentially the mech’s sniper rifle, and a barrage of missiles. Learning the ins and outs of your weaponry is important because you have a heating meter that can cause your mech to briefly shutdown if you use too many high temperature weapons at once, leaving you vulnerable to attacks. This means you have to master a sort rhythmic battle, with High Temp (laser) following Low Temp (minigun) while also figuring out where to aim on your opponent’s mech.
Do you want to take your foe out immediately? Go for the cockpit or the legs. Is their laser doing too much damage to you? Focus fire on their arm to blow it off. Keep in mind there a repercussions for dismembering your opponents, with the salvage of your enemy mech being worth far less on the market if you take to destroying the valuable weapons and limbs on them.
The moment-by-moment combat is exciting and every decision you make not only affects how the battle unfolds but the metagame as well, which is satisfying in a different way.
There’s A Lot Of XCOM’s Influence Here
MechWarrior 5 is basically two games in one. When you’re not taking up arms for settlers on remote planets, fulfilling contracts to get paid, you’ll be raising your own band of mercenaries and manipulating the market to your outfit’s advantage, recruiting mercenaries and buying mechs with the salvage you sell after battles. You’re not alone in MechWarrior 5, with three other mechs able to join you on missions for you to issue simple commands to (like Attack Enemy). The pilots for these mechs have an RPG-lite system attached to them. The more they fight, the more experienced they become in battle, with experimenting with certain weapons making them more efficient with those weapons. You’ll need to diversify your stable of pilots to help you have a loadout for every occasion. For example, you wouldn’t want pilot that has no experience with laser weapons, load their mech with lasers, on a lava-based world because they would overheat their mech all the time.
Like XCOM, pilots can also die. Permanently. You’ll have an endless supply of fodder soldiers to restart from the ground up when you lose people, so it’s not the end of the world, but it’s still devastating to lose a character you’ve put so much time into. While Piranha Games currently has no modifier conditions that stick with the soldiers for a substantial amount of time (like PTSD affecting performance), the developer has said that such a system could be a possibility for the final release.
Riding Into Hell With A Buddy
If you want to play with a squad that’s a little less predictable than the serviceable A.I., you can play every mission with up to three friends. We played a round of co-op and it was a blast, with a team of player-controlled mechs absolutely destroying the enemy forces much faster one player plus three A.I. partners. Be warned: if your friend dies in a game, the pilot they’re controlling is gone for good from your stable.
That’s A Lot Of Mech
Piranha Games is striving to make MechWarrior 5 a big game filled with things to do. Though the developer admits the time is flexible, depending on what side contracts the player pursues as well as their skill level, “40-50 hours” was bandied about in our Q&A sessions for a complete playthrough. Considering that you can play through the game with a band of buddies, this could give MechWarrior 5 the same sort of appeal that Borderlands 2 and Ghost Recon: Wildlands have: beefy multiplayer experiences capable of pulling in both casual and hardcore gamers who are looking for a title to play with their friends regularly. With tons of missions to take on and mechs to collect through the market (and battle), there’s also just a lot of fodder here for completionists too.
We’ll have more on MechWarrior 5 later today as Mech_Con continues to rage on in Vancouver.