Mechwarrior 5: Clans First-Look Preview — All Systems Nominal

I remember watching Piranha Games President and CEO Russ Bullock excitedly showcasing MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries on the stage at MechCon, giving our first “REACTOR ONLINE” to the roar of the crowd. He ran us through all of the ways we’d be able to build out our lance, play with our friends, and experience a whole new single player adventure for the first time in decades. What was the immediate question? “When are the Clans coming?” After six expansions telling the story of the Heroes of the Inner Sphere, Kestrel Lancers, Rise of Rasalhague, Call to Arms, Solaris Showdown, and The Dragon’s Gambit, I’m happy to say — the Clans are here.

We recently got a hands-off first look at MechWarrior 5: Clans, and once again presented by an excited Russ Bullock. Coming this year, this stand-alone expansion to MechWarrior 5 has so many new features and advancements that it easily could have been titled MechWarrior 6. If you’ve followed the expansive space opera then you know that Clan Smoke Jaguar waged war across the Periphery, laying waste to a number of smaller worlds that ultimately turned into a full-scale invasion of the Inner Sphere. You are a member of this clan at the start of Operation Revival – their rise to power that would ultimately establish their ferocity as legend.

One of the central pillars of Smoke Jaguar’s life is that they fully believe that they embody their namesake, breeding in and genetically engineering traits of the jaguar into their clones. You’ve recently graduated from the brutal training program on Huntress, the Smoke Jaguar homeworld and have been assigned to a “Star” – a five-mech lance that will participate in what would become an all-out war with other Clans and even the Great Houses. Their rise to power was punctuated by bleeding edge mechs, the rise of Protomechs (cheaper assault suits between mechs and Elementals), and brutality. A short intro cutscene gave us our first look at this, showcasing the new cinematic approach that Pirana is bringing to this title, thanks to a shift to Unreal Engine 5.

The improvements moving from Unreal Engine 4 to Unreal Engine 5 were immediately apparent. Character portraits are now motion captured, highly detailed, and immersive. Thanks to Nanite (the Unreal Engine’s virtualized geometry system), environments are more heavily detailed than ever, and as Russ casually mentioned, “destructible” – we’ll have to see what that means. Mech detail has been raised as well, showcasing more particle effects, lighting (hello Lumen), damage, cleaner animations, and better explosions.

Our demo kicked off as our Star of five touched down and rendezvoused to investigate a trio of dropships that had landed deep in the desert. Approaching, our scans of the dropships revealed that they seem to be heavily shielded, but are also completely cold. Getting closer, we hit it with secondary and tertiary scans, but that only reveals that there isn’t a single reactor signature inside. Radioing in to Sarah Weaver, a saKhan for Clan Smoke Jaguar (Read: second in command for the Clan), she orders Layla, our Sultan Assault Transport pilot (if my aircraft identification is correct), to drop off some Elementals to crack the hull on the dropships while we head on to investigate where the mechs that were once inside are now.

Russ hits a button and we get our first look at the brand new Battle Grid system. This top-down satellite view allows you to select and command your Starmates, telling them to attack, defend, drop airstrikes, and more. It’s very RTS-like and a vast improvement, providing a view of the terrain, objectives, orders for your Starmates, and real-time locations. Popping back to third person view, we send out a scanning pulse of the entire area. A blue grid blankets the terrain as well as nearby structures, leading us further into the desert.

After a short while, our Star is targeted by a Harasser missile platform, lobbing LRMs from a distance. Pirate forces have obviously deployed here, but the meager land vehicles were no match for our Shadowcat’s Gauss rifle. Heading into a nearby refinery we find a pathetic lone Locust, soon joined by a Flea and a Spider. This is the opposite of a threat against a Shadowcat, Arctic Cheetah, Mist Lynx, Kit Fox, and Viper (again, if my Mech identifications during the demo are correct), but could indicate a possible forward Lance. With our foes dispatched, we head back towards the dropship, reporting our lack of significant findings back to Jaguar Actual. There’s more going on here than a simple pirate incursion.

Approaching the dropships, Jaguar team advises that the dropships have been stripped to the hull – even their reactors. Nobody’s home. Before we can contemplate the possible reasons, we see a massive explosion in the distance, spraying sand and debris everywhere. Our Elemental pilots and other support troops are certainly dead, and our comms crackles to life as the perpetrator reveals himself.

Captain Helmar Valasek, a Pirate king and ruler of Satander’s World is one of the most notorious antagonists of the 31st century. His trap sprung, he gloated that we’ll arrive just in time to watch our friends cook alive in their mech chassis. Opening the newly-improved radial menu, we engage our MASC to remove the safety restraints on our engines and leg stabilizers. Roaring to life, we double our speed to close the distance, but it’s too late – fire and smoke engulf the hot zone, and we have a more immediate concern – mechs and support units have begun to arrive.

A Jenner, Locust, VTOL Warrior H-7Bs, a Hunchback, Shadowhawk, Cicada, Spider, Panther, and a Centurion have us outnumbered and outgunned, but they didn’t count on our righteous fury. Using the Battle Grid, we issued commands to our Star, ripping apart the smaller mechs in short order to reduce the number of active weapons on the battlefield. This left us in flank position to take down the larger mechs with ruthless precision. Valasek had promised to face us one-on-one in the field, but being the pirate scum that he is, he didn’t even bother to show up. His time will come.

As the short demo faded to black we rejoined Russ to talk about some of the other improvements to MechWarrior 5: Clans. If it wasn’t immediately obvious, this game is being built as a completely bespoke single-player experience. That means that every mission is fully crafted as part of a larger campaign (“It’s definitely not short” – Russ), complete with full voice overs, motion capture, cutscenes, and storyline to follow.

Beyond the awesome new Battle Grid, we also saw a much cleaner control scheme, rebuilt to allow purists to play the game with mouse and keyboard as they always have, or with a HOTAS setup, or even with a controller. This is important as the game will simultaneously ship on Xbox Series X and S, PlayStation 5, and PC, with full cross-compatibility for cooperative campaign multiplayer.

It’s been three decades since we’ve ravaged the Inner Sphere as Clan Smoke Jaguar, and seeing it bright to life with this new engine and hand-crafted storyline, I couldn’t be more excited to hear “REACTOR ONLINE. SENSORS ONLINE. WEAPONS ONLINE. ALL SYSTEMS NOMINAL” once more. We won’t have to wait long – MechWarrior 5: Clans stomps our way sometime in 2024!

Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief | [email protected]

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming.

Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter.

Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 28 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes), and an Axolotl named Dagon!

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