You begin the game as the son of a respected leader of a powerful mercenary mech company. Dad gets killed, you get your toys taken away, and have to start afresh with a handful of low-tier mechs and limited funds, building up the reputation and strength of your new company.
It’s a thin plot conveyed through perfunctory dialogue, but it’s also quite easy to ignore. You want to play with some shiny new mechs. The story wants to you to get those shiny new mechs, so you avenge a guy you knew for about 15 minutes. Sure. I’ll bite.
Your main hub is the chunky freighter which houses your mechs and pilots, and from which you can access a starmap, letting you know where to go for missions and marketplaces. Travel, repairs, and refits all take time, which is mainly significant because you’ll have to pay out monthly salary and upkeep fees.
Missions reward reputation, salvaged equipment, credits, and standing with the hiring faction. Earn enough reputation, and you’ll unlock a new story mission. Finish this, and you’ll get access to some more freeform planet-hopping.
It’s a loop that would be much more compelling if there was much to differentiate the story missions from the optional procedural ones. That said, it does give you plenty of opportunities to experiment with new mechs and loadouts. In single-player, you can select up to three other pilots to accompany you. Although battle commands are limited to some light positioning and targeting commands, the AI seems to do a decent job of helping you with objectives without getting themselves too shot-up in the process.
Expensive damage is unavoidable, though, and how you feel about it is going to depend on how much you enjoy the ritual of refitting and repairing your clumsy, stompy sons between missions. Repairs aren’t too much trouble, but it can be frustrating to take a detour to the nearest neutral star system to replace specific lost weapons. Spreadsheets are, undoubtedly, part of the fun of the MechWarrior experience, but battles are often more intuitive than tactical, more scrappy than strategic, so spending too much time perfecting loadouts often feels superfluous.
If you do want to avoid all this though, there’s always the option to jump straight into a custom map, with every mech, every weapon, and pilot available immediately. It’s both a blessing and a curse. With the power curve and story removed, they’re both revealed to be lacking to begin with.
There’s fun in the campaign’s quest to slowly build up your company, getting the feel for each new tier of mechs along the way, sure. But not so much that, when I inevitably return to MechWarrior 5, I’d ever choose the campaign over the custom quick battles.
I mean this just as much as a compliment towards the battle’s strengths as a criticism of the campaign’s often underwhelming framing, though. That weight I mentioned before is present in almost every action: every burst, laser, and rocket feels significant.
Mech armour sears and crumbles. Comm commands crackle over emptied shell-casings, and in case things weren’t metal enough already, it’s all scored by the glorious death march of frenetic fretboard noodling. Aside from the enemy mechs themselves, you’ll often be hounded by some extremely brave tanks. You can, of course, walk straight over them, as you can walk straight through cities, the wanton destruction around you no more than a minor inconvenience.
I’m left thinking about the years of planning and work, sweat and tears, and sandwich breaks that went into building every wall and structure, and how easily you crush it underfoot like a burly mechanised beach bully kicking a sandcastle in a nerd’s face.
If tactical isn’t the right word, then there’s undoubtedly a thoughtfulness here. Mechs can overheat if you push them too hard. Alongside weapon recharges that are long enough to require that you factor them into your approach, this means that clashes have a deliberate, measured rhythm to them that complements the heft and friction of manoeuvring.
If it’s simulation, strategy, and story that defines this universe for you, you’ll still want to go with Harebrained Schemes’ BattleTech. Everything here feels a bit too close to the main event’s periphery to satisfy the urge to ever truly inhabit a role in this world. It is though – strategic lightness and some occasionally thin-feeling environmental visuals aside – still one hell of a main event.
Despite some visual inconsistencies, eviscerating a stray limb with a well-placed laser is always every bit the satisfying spectacle it should be. A constant sense of feedback and reactive damage keeps the stakes of each fight amplified, from enemy mech damage to flaming trees and crumbling buildings.
Even repetitive mission structure, uneven visuals, and thin simulation elements can’t dampen how exciting it still is to go toe-to-toe with the heaviest metal on the market.
Genre: Shooter / Strategy
Developer: Piranha Games
Publisher: Piranha Games
Release: Out now