MechWarrior 5 Hands-on Impressions: What You've Been Waiting For

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is coming sometime in 2019 and if you're a MechWarrior Online player or a fan of this game's predecessors from Microsoft in the '90s, you're in for a treat.

We visited Piranha Games HQ in Vancouver, British Columbia, or first return trip since MechWarrior Online launched on Steam in late 2015. And this time, the focus is on the return of single-player MechWarrior stories. We had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Piranha CEO Russ Bullock (look for that interview tonight) about the development of MW5 and we got to play the game, both in single-player, and in these real-life mech-esque pods to test the game out in 4K, in full four-player co-op with Russ as our lance leader.

If you love MechWarrior, what's coming is that at its absolute best.

For a game not releasing until sometime in 2019, the pre-alpha build was very polished. It takes the learnings and massive lineup of mechs already crafted by Piranha for MechWarrior Online (which runs on CryEngine 3) and moves over a selection to MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries (which runs on Unreal Engine 4). Just to put the mech library into perspective, where older mercenaries titles had 12-15 chassis, MechWarrior 5 has over 50 with multiple variants, meaning there are 250-300 mechs scattered around the Inner Sphere in the upcoming title.

MechWarrior 5 Has Many Times More Mechs Than Previous Mercenary Games

The goal, according to Russ Bullock, is to make MechWarrior 5 the largest and most free-form MechWarrior experience ever. It's up to you to grow and evolve your mercenary unit and fellow pilots, each with their own skill proficiencies that can be leveled up just like in older BattleTech games. And, these characters who you assign to your lance can die as well, permanently. Even if you have real-life friends playing them with you in four player co-op. Yes, all of MechWarrior 5's missions, story or procedurally generated contracts, can be played co-operatively but it's the host who chooses who plays who and in what mechs, and only the host that reaps the benefits.

There's a 50-60 hour main game in MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, that takes pilots on a 34-year career from the year 3015 to 3049 and time becomes a bit of a scarce resource, just like the game's main currency, C-Bills. But it's designed to be replayable. Players can choose which contracts to take at any time, with story missions popping up in between. The story is crafted through a partnership between Piranha Games and Catalyst Games, the board game makers - and they all knew from the beginning the main pitch for the game, that being a mercenaries take where players have ultimate freedom.

At the end of any given mission, players have earned salvage from downed enemies. This includes weapons and equipment that can be kept and used on mechs, or sold for more C-Bills. That means how much you damage enemy mechs, and how, matters. If you can land that challenging headshot, you will have saved most of the components for salvage from that mech. But if you tore the apart with missiles and ballistics, maybe there's not too much left.

And for longer missions where ammo runs out, and where a lot of damage is taken, there are field repair bays that can be used mid-mission. It's one of many new dynamic elements not seen in MechWarrior Online, alongside destructible buildings (literally every building can be damaged or completely razed), non-mech vehicles, mod support, and first-person pilot gameplay.

You're Not A Mech, You're A Person in MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries

At the beginning of the demo, and a big part of the game, is being on foot. You're in a briefing room to start and can walk up to the mechs - something that'll make players appreciate just how massive these machines are. In co-op, you can see fellow pilots there as well and after sorting out the mission and loadouts, players go up to their mech. The same goes for the end of missions, when players can see their battle-damaged behemoths. Repairing mechs after a mission, not only takes C-Bills from your account but it can also takes weeks of in-game time. That means if you're on another mission soon, you can risk taking a partly damaged battlemech into action, or swap out from your inventory.

Although the more mechs you have in storage, the more upkeep cost you'll need to play. The game therefore encourages progression through trading up towards battle mechs, and playing mechs of different weights and classes. And thanks to MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries not having to worry about the intricacies of balancing mechs and weapons for PvP like in MechWarrior Online, Piranha can "tune the game for fun."

And fun we had. The mission we played begins with us going to our mechs in the hanger, and landing on a beautiful green farming planet via dropship and hopping out. We immediately run up to a farm under attack by various tanks and a few smaller mechs, and immediately can appreciate the return to combined arms combat. It's not just mech-versus-mech anymore, there are all sorts of other units. In the next stage of the mission we approach a port city by the water, where the lighting and destruction effects are really showcased. Here there are several aerial enemy units, which give new purpose to LRM rockets and other ranged weaponry. Our mission is to take them out, and destroy satellites and their defensive turrets.

Helicopters, Tanks, and Other Vehicles Join The Action Alongside Battlemechs

Of course, things get hairy when an enemy and his lance show up via their own dropship. The player character and family have a personal history with this character that we won't get into here, but the enemy leader pilots a massive and intimidating King Crab mech, and the battle ensues. For this defensive battle, there are allied hover tanks, and already the stakes and larger scale of MechWarrior 5 are felt.

After doing what we do best, we're loaded back into the hangar and can see - again, on foot - how much damage we took across our four varied mechs. I played a Thunderbolt, a large and slow Stalker, and for my final play through, I tired the faster and jumpjet-equipped Griffin where I could fly and land on buildings to shoot down and callout enemies. At the end of the battle, there's a nice panning shot which highlights the destruction we've caused across this small city. And it feels authentically MechWarrior.

While it wasn't in the demo, players can of course customize and tweak every but of weapon, gear, and armor on their mechs. They can also customize the colors, so you can really make your mercenary outfit unique. You'll see plenty of familiar patterns from MechWarrior Online and new ones too.

The ultimate goal of MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries to grow your merc outfit and reach elite status by the end of your career, but we have a feeling this is just the beginning. MW5 is the restart of a long lost series that's been gone for far too long.

Next: Stay Tuned For More MechWarrior 5 Updates!

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries releases on PC sometime in 2019.

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