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After three decades, new MechWarrior game goes back to the roots

30 years since they last appeared, the Clans return to MechWarrior 5, in a gorgeous new co-op game shared live with PCGamesN at GDC.

MechWarrior 5 Clans Steam co op game: A soldier standing to attention in Steam co op game MechWarrior 5 Clans

MechWarrior 5 Mercenaries is a sprawling, large-scale robot shooter beloved by acolytes of the classic PC series. But developer Piranha wants to try something different. Beginning all the way back in 1989, MechWarrior has expanded into a huge variety of games and movies, all beginning with the original pen-and-paper classic. Amidst all this high-tech lore, one group has been missing. Last seen in 1995’s MechWarrior 2, the iconic Clans – one of the many factions embroiled in the seemingly endless galactic war – have since been AWOL. Shared exclusively with PCGamesN at GDC, a new MechWarrior game, with a dedicated campaign focus, is finally bringing the Clans back to the forefront, and serves a superb entry point for anyone so far unfamiliar with the robotic squad shooter.

MechWarrior 5 Clans is a single-player and co-op game focused on a solitary unit, or ‘Star,’ embroiled in an interplanetary battle across dozens of handcrafted maps. Compared to Mercenaries’ expansive PvP, Clans is a purely PvE co-op experience that you can easily play solo or with four friends, should you prefer. The objective is to create a tightly-built, story-driven campaign that foregrounds the hitherto forgotten Clans, specifically the Smoke Jaguars. As a team of fresh cadets fighting on the Inner Sphere, this is MechWarrior as its most focused and narrative.

Combat is just as weighty and satisfying as ever – the titular mechs feel heavy, physical, and extremely formidable, as you wade across the landscape and duke it out with robotic opponents. New customization and upgrade options make building and personalizing your mech more in-depth than before, and if you’re playing by yourself, the intuitive Battlegrid system, which shifts the action to a simplified, bird’s-eye view, so you can easily locate and command your AI comrades, is a stroke of genius.

Nevertheless, Piranha also wants to bring new players into the MechWarrior fold. Designed as an introduction to the robot game’s extensive lore, there are different control schemes and adjustable modifiers that can streamline movement and fighting.

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“I think MechWarrior is more a sensation of weight and size than the faster, skating style of mechs that you see in perhaps some of the Japanese games,” Piranha’s CEO and campaign director on MechWarrior 5 Clans Russ Bullock tells PCGamesN, live at GDC in San Francisco. “Having said that, over the last ten years we’ve made significant strides in making MechWarrior more accessible. For the first time ever in Clans, it’s as easily controlled with a controller as with a mouse and keyboard. That, in conjunction with the great narration, storytelling, and human characters mean this could be the most broad-reaching MechWarrior game we’ve ever made.”

Since the arrival of the first MechWarrior, priorities in game-making have shifted significantly. 20 or 30 years ago, you might not have expected much in terms of drama, story, and characterization. In the wake of big narrative hits like The Last of Us and God of War however, not to mention the extensive fictional universes created via Cyberpunk 2077, Fallout, and the various works of Rockstar, things have changed, and Piranha is eager to make MechWarrior feel new.

MechWarrior 5 Clans Steam co-op game interview: Robots fighting in Steam co-op game MechWarrior 5 Clans

“The lore is so deep in this universe, but you wouldn’t know it to play some of the recent games,” Bullocks says. “Every time we make a new MechWarrior, it feels like we’re trying to plug whatever is the biggest gap in the series. At one time, it was like ‘hey, there are no good multiplayer games here,’ so we made multiplayer. Another one is like having true freedom of movement, and that became Mercenaries.

“But with this one, we wanted to really expose the player to this deep, rich universe, and if we do that, it might excite many new players to come to MechWarrior who have never played it before. We want to show people that this universe is really deep. You look at modern games and people are just really interested in deep story and narration, and that will be one of the things that draws in new players.”

It’s tough to balance. On one side, you have the long-term MechWarrior faithful, enthusiastic to see the return of the Clans, but likely devoted to the classic sim-style mechanics and controls, and wanting more depth from the series’ always-intricate backstory.

On the other side, Piranha has the opportunity to draw new players to MechWarrior thanks to a scaled-down, focused, campaign-based game that prevents the big fictional world from feeling too intimidating. This is why you can choose between the heavier duty, traditional controls and a more accessible, third-person shooter playstyle. Likewise, the developer is mindful that the story of MechWarrior 5 Clans appeals to all.

MechWarrior 5 Clans Steam co-op game: A robot scanning material in Steam co-op game MechWarrior 5 Clans

“This is still a MechWarrior game through and through,” Bullock says. “Bringing people this story, it’s a 40-year dream for long-term fans. They’ve never seen these events actually visualized, and heard characters discussing these canon, lore events. It’s for long-term fans more than anyone. But it’s also perfect for newcomers as well.”

We’re still waiting on a full release date, but MechWarrior 5 Clans is scheduled to launch before the end of 2024. You can already find and wishlist the game on Steam right here.

Alternatively, try the best story games ever made, or maybe take a look through all the best upcoming PC games on their way to you in the near future.