In the Mechwarrior universe there are some pivotal moments that changed history for the entire Inner Sphere. If you aren’t a lore junkie, when House Davion’s Prince Hanse Davion and House Steiner’s Archon Melissa Steiner joined in marriage, Hanse offered Melissa the entire Capellan Federation as a wedding gift. Naturally, this didn’t go over well with the House of Scions or the Prefectorate, sparking the 4th Succession War (though, in reality the invasion had technically started the day prior). None of that matters to you much, though — you are a mercenary with the Kestrel Lancers, so you go where you are paid to go.
There are two missions called “Operation Galahad” that kick off this expansion. The Kestral Lancers have been contracted to this joint wargame between Steiner and Davion, acting as the opposition for the scripted scenario. Once the joint operation ends, your performance will be recognized as exemplary, affording you an opportunity to join the ASF proper for an extended contract. These tend to be lucrative, though you are essentially a conscript for that time. To ensure your success, you’ll be given a full year to build up your lance to roughly a dozen well-maintained Battlemechs and soldiers to pilot them to be able to sustain several missions in a row without leaving the field. I’ll give you this bit of advice, Commander — overprepare and you will probably still struggle. War is hell, and it’s worse for the unprepared.
Mechanically, the Piranha Games team has been listening intently since launch to what fans enjoyed the most about the original game, as well as the Heroes of the Inner Sphere expansion. To that end, the lull before the start of the war proper drops in seven new quest lines, most of them aligned to a specific House’s interests. These multi-part missions are entirely optional, but they are also absolutely massive missions. If you enjoyed “Stop the Launch” from the main campaign, you’ll love these missions. I can think of the culmination of one particular mission that I tackled with three assault mechs and still barely limped out, having faced more mechs than I can readily count. It was an absolutely brutal battle where cover was the only way to survive, taking me over 40 minutes of white-knuckle concentration to complete. I loved every second of it.
Once you join the war proper, you can’t leave the campaign until it’s complete. The 14 missions are chained together, giving only infrequent short breathers to refit and repair to duct tape your battlemechs back together. During the main game’s campaign I never fielded damaged mechs, but in this expansion it’s far closer to the source material — neither your mech, nor the meat that pilots it is ever at 100%.
There are three central pillars for Legend of Kestrel Lancers, not the least of which is the new story-driven campaign. The team is also upgrading a significant amount of the main game with a free patch that’ll hit at the same time, as well as tying it in with the PlayStation 4 and 5 version launch. That version contains both expansions, so you can jump into the deep end right out of the gate with those platforms. Cross-play will also be enabled, so you are welcome to join a Lance for some cooperative multiplayer while you are at it. The other main part of this expansion is a significant upgrade to the procedural level generation system.
The free update to the game brings two of the most fan-requested features — mech switching, and melee. Mech switching lets you bounce to any other AI-driven mech at will, piloting it in a pinch. This is useful when you want to tackle a specific objective, but you aren’t happy with how the AI is accomplishing that on your behalf. It’s also useful when they’ve gotten in over their heads and you want to re-route them to back them out of danger. The AI still swings between tactical genius and blissful idiot at times (for example, one instance had my assault mech stomping through a factory we were supposed to defend, destroying everything in their path) — Mechwarrior 5 is best played with friends.
Melee is way more fun than I thought it would be. Fighting at close range, and then punching a PPC off of somebody’s torso is immensely gratifying. Similarly, punching a tank that’s been plinking away at your armor the entire fight is equally satisfying. Melee is handled as just another weapons group, though obviously the range is effectively zero. Mechs with more fist-like hands will be more effective at punching, where an Urbanmech for instance won’t be punching anything because it’s a trash can with stubbly little tube arms. By that same example, however, a Jagermech is in a similar position, but it’s not universal. An Annihilator doesn’t have traditional hands per se, but is able to unleash all 100 tons of power in its gun-fist, whereas a King Crab can’t poke anything with its meaty AC/10 claws. It’d be nice if you could punch with any weapon, but at a risk of additional damage, but that’s what mods are for I suppose. I was very happy to see that enemy mechs can and do frequently punch back — your rock-em-sock-em robot fantasies await.
There are four new mission types nestled into the already-existing procedural generation system. These new missions are also procedurally generated, but they represent a lot of learning over the years since launch as they are easily the best out of the list. Guard Duty is what it sounds like, asking you to hold a structure or defend orbital cannons, as an example. Battlefield is the mission type I described above, representing what happens when all pretense of objectives fall apart — it’s all-out bloody war. These battles are wars of attrition, tasking not only your tactics in the mech, but your brain as well. Knowing where weapons are commonly placed and how to disable each type of mech quickly are your keys to survival. Scorched Earth is what it sounds like, asking the Lance to crush a specific portion of a city, razing it to the ground until there is nothing left but rubble. The final type is Objective Raid which gives you specific objectives, as the name suggests. All of these can have variants within them, such as collecting objects, searching for treasure on the map, salvaging something, or just pouring napalm on everything. It helps shake things up and keeps the game fresh over the course of the extended campaign.
A new biome also joins the fray — the MegaCity. There are cities already in the game, but MegaCities are packed with wall-to-wall skyscrapers that make you feel claustrophobic. Cover and concealment becomes very important in this new biome as there are enemies in all directions. Being able to duck down an alley and keeping your back against the structure’s solid core might keep you alive. The AI is pretty sharp about this space as well, popping up on top of buildings to rain hellfire down on your head, or using a Raven to jam incoming missiles. You can bust down some of these buildings to help remind them that 50 tons of falling mech is bound to take some damage on impact.
Adding to the fun is a brand new jungle map, jammed full of trees. Trees play havoc on every weapon you have, deflecting lasers and missiles alike. The AI knows how to make use of this biome as well, staying out of the line of fire until they’ve closed distance and neutralized your LRMs. Tourmaline is the final new biome, testing your heat sinks in the depths of a blistering desert. Preparation and weapon choice becomes important as just about any laser you bring to the party is going to have you overheating and shutting down.
With these new biomes also comes a retooled generation system which now breaks the sections into a number of urban tiles, meaning you’ll never see the same exact level twice. Honestly, by the time the shooting starts, the city gets mangled so badly that it’s hard to know how much of it was the same or not.
One of the things I really like about what Piranha has done to ensure the playerbase doesn’t get split is the way they’ve handled these expansions. Only the host player needs to own the expansion for everyone to play it. As long as you are teaming up with somebody who owns Legend of the Kestrel Lancers, you’ll get to play everything it has to offer.
If you are just here for the giant stompy robots, you’ll be happy to hear that 23 additional variants to pre-existing mechs come with this expansion, as well as giving us the Quickdraw QKD-5A, Hunchback HBK-4K, Shadow Hawk SHD-2H, and Jenner JR7-D. I’m certain there are more than that, but given the way the game slowly reveals mechs to the game, it’s possible I’m still just uncovering fresh mechs for my bay.
This is the first Mechwarrior game that has appeared on PlayStation since the MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat in 1995, so I thought I’d take the game for a spin and see how it performs. Right out of the gate, the game comes with both expansions, meaning you’ll get the whole package on day 1. Firing a Heavy Rifle with the DualSense has some decent kick to it, and punching another mech in the face is as tactile as it is fun, though I wish it pushed past simple vibration. I’d have liked to have seen more punch from the DualSense, but that’s something that can be patched in.
In terms of performance, the PlayStation 5 keeps up as well as it did on the Xbox Series X. Running at 4K, the game seems to hold down 60fps most of the time, with some momentary wobbles to 50fps at fairly inexplicable times. Thankfully, 60fps is the norm more often than not.
The game also supports cooperative play on Sony’s console, so you’ll be able to team up with three other people from PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S thanks to cross-play.
Just like the previous expansion, Legend of the Kestrel Lancers can be played off a brand new save, or folded cleanly into your existing campaign. The timeline on when it starts is fixed in canon, but you’ve got plenty of time to more than finish the main story and build up however many Steiner Lances you wish well before then.
What makes Legends of the Kestrel Lancers awesome is that it makes you feel more like you are part of a war instead of a series of individual skirmishes. During nearly every one of the campaign missions you’ll be joined by members of familiar factions from Mechwarrior lore, tackling some of the most notable parts of the war, like Operation RAT. You’ll also need your allies as these missions can be incredibly difficult without their support. It’s cool to feel like you are a part of something bigger.
My only complaint with Legend of the Kestrel Lancers is that occasionally it feels like the odds are stacked against the team so much that it starts to feel like successes are based on luck. In some missions you’ll face enough opponents to warrant fielding four full lances, and you’ll be expected to do it with a drop weight maximum of just over 300 tons. A little bit of tuning might be necessary, or I might just need to knock the rust off my Hatamoto-Chi. Either way, it’s frustrating to restart after 40 minutes of break-neck combat only to do it all over again. Thankfully those difficulty spikes aren’t persistent, with the bulk of the campaign being well-paced.
Mechwarrior 5: Legend of the Kestrel Lancers
With several new biomes, a fresh tileset system, more than two dozen mechs, and 14 story missions to set the stage for the 4th Succession War, Mechwarrior 5: Legend of the Kestrel Lancers lets us finally take our massive machines to war. The Mechwarrior universe is all about political intrigue and war on a galactic scale, and the Legend of the Kestrel Lancers pack absolutely nails it.