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GDC 2024: MechWarrior 5: Clans Aims To Tell A More Focused, Cinematic Clan Invasion Story

Joseph Bradford Posted:
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MechWarrior 5: Clans, the latest stand-alone entry of the MechWarrior 5 series due out this year, aims to bring more of the extensive Battletech universe to players everywhere by shaking up the formula that has worked so far with MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries. In fact, Clans aims to do something that hasn’t really been done in 29 years of MechWarrior games: put players right into the role of pilots in one of the many Clans that comprise the universe.

The last MechWarrior game to do this was MechWarrior 2 in 1995. I remember sitting in my living room as a kid, watching my dad play MechWarrior 2, and even at times getting to sit on his lap and jump into my own Dire Wolf mech and run around the landscape, unsure of what I was doing but having a blast the whole way. 

While MechWarrior 2 gave you the choice of piloting for Clan Jade Falcon or Clan Wolf, MechWarrior 5: Clans aims to tell a more focused story, centering on a squad of Smoke Jaguar pilots. Personally, I would have loved a choice, to see the drama of the Inner Sphere play out from multiple angles, but it’s understandable only to see Smoke Jaguar’s side - development isn’t cheap. DLC perhaps? 

Those other clans will make appearances, I was told by the developers in a hand-off demo during the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco last month, so those Jade Falcon or Wolf fans won’t see their favorite clans fall by the wayside - but its story is solidly told from Smoke Jaguar’s perspective.

MechWarrior 5: Clans

What makes MechWarrior 5: Clans different from previous MechWarrior games that Piranha Games have developed going all the way back to 2011’s MechWarrior Online is that Clans features more linear storytelling and missions, compared to Mercenaries’ more sandbox-style approach. 

MechWarrior 5: Clans follows a Squad (called a Star) of pilots fresh out of training in the Smoke Jaguar clan. This Star will effectively be your viewpoint throughout the entirety of MechWarrior 5: Clans’ runtime, following the story as it unfolds in front of their eyes. Through this more intimate, focused story, the team at Piranha Games is attempting to pull the veil back on the giant, deep Space Opera of Battletech and the broader world of the Inner Sphere and deliver a “deep, narrative cinematic experience.”

It helps that Clans is powered by Unreal Engine 5, utilizing the latest tech such as Nanite, Lumen, and even Meta Human to power the game's visuals. As a result, in motion, character models look incredible and incredibly expressive, while the Mechs themselves are a sight to behold. 

While MechWarrior 5: Clans is playable single-player, and you can bounce between your Starmates to see the story play out from different angles, it also supports up to five-player co-op, putting you and your friends in the role of the different Star pilots. Progression, though, is locked to the host, so there’s that hurdle if you’re looking to complete the story together. 

A cinematic played out, showing the Star being drilled by a battle-hardened Mech pilot drill instructor - it was pretty standard military drill fare, if I’m honest. The five Starmates, led by Jayden, who Pirahna tells me is the de facto “main character,” are sent out to determine whether they deserve the honor of flying for Smoke Jaguar. 

The mission our demo jumped into was an early mission after the tutorials, seeing our Star investigate mysterious drop ships that have landed on a nearby planet. Dropping into action, I was immediately transported back to my old MechWarrior 2 and even Earthsiege days in the 90s, the detailed cockpit of the Shadow Cat mech our demoist was piloting dominating my view. 

The planet itself was dusty and windswept, the dirt rising off the surface of the sand dunes around our Mech. The horizon was dominated by rock formations that reminded me a little bit of nearby Utah’s Arches National Park. It felt both alien and familiar, Unreal Engine 5’s tech putting in the work to make everything, from the glint of the sun off the surface of the sand to the scarred paint on the exterior of the battle mech, look both incredibly realistic and weathered. While this planet was showcased in our demo, Piranha states that the full campaign will span multiple planets with varied biomes, each “handcrafted” to provide an immersive experience in every pixel. 

MechWarrior 5: Clans

Thoughtout the mission, narrative would break up the monotony, with transmissions from Starmates to high command, and even the enemy breaking the silence. MechWarrior 5: Clans' presentation really fits the bill of trying to tell a more focused, narrative story - and it's one that I'm definitely interested in experiencing for myself when I'm finally able to give it a go.

While you control your main mech, you can also issue orders to the rest of your squad mates, even using an overhead tactical map called the Battlegrid to move them around like a MechWarrior 5: Clans RTS game. It makes coordinating and setting up attacks or defensive positions much easier, which is necessary in Clans’ more strategic and tactically demanding engagements. 

Combat also looks distinctly MechWarrior. Balancing multiple weapon slots, from projectile rounds from cannons to iconic laser beams that had me feeling eight years old again as I watched them tear into the enemy mechs on screen, this didn’t have the arcadey look that many Mech games, including prior Piranha games, have. Instead, enemy Mechs were engaged tactically, with lasers lancing outward to soften them up while the armor-piercing rounds from the Gauss cannon finished them off.

MechWarrior 5: Clans

One battle saw multiple mechs engaging on the ground while VTOL ships hovered overhead, dealing damage from above. While you can issue commands using the Battlegrid system, you can also issue them from a radial menu while in combat. This was shown off in the heat of the moment, our Piranha developer demoing the game, queuing up attack orders to his Starmates while he fought off his own Shadow Hawk Mech enemies. 

The radial menus also help with controller support, as MechWarrior 5: Clans is slated to launch on both Xbox and PlayStation later this year. From the Clan Invasion story - again, something the MechWarrior franchise has neglected for almost three decades now - to accessible controller support, Piranha Games is poised to create a good entry point for those who might now have known where to start in the franchise. 

While this is far from a reboot of BattleTech - that lore runs so deep it gives even Warhammer a run for its money - it’s a nice pivot from the less accessible MechWarrior Online or even MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries. It feels like the developers are trying to return the franchise to its roots a bit, when MechWarrior was one of the most played PC franchises out there by capturing some of that MechWarrior 2 magic. 

And personally, I can’t wait to dive in for myself later this year.


Joseph Bradford

Joseph has been writing or podcasting about games in some form since about 2012. Having written for multiple major outlets such as IGN, Playboy, and more, Joseph started writing for MMORPG in 2015. When he's not writing or talking about games, you can typically find him hanging out with his 10-year old or playing Magic: The Gathering with his family. Also, don't get him started on why Balrogs *don't* have wings. You can find him on Twitter @LotrLore