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Hands On: MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries - Legend of the Kestrel Lancers DLC

21 Sep 2021

More content is good, yeah? It’s even better when you’re a fan of a franchise that hasn’t seen much action until a couple of years ago. Suffice it to say, we can add the BattleTech fanbase to an apparently lengthy list of folks getting the games that they’ve been wanting for years and being at least relatively happy with the results. We covered the original release on Epic Games Store when it initially dropped, but since then Piranha Games has been busy with porting the game to numerous platforms. Though the porting strategy here seems to entail launching DLC alongside each console version.

When it arrived on current and prior gen Xbox consoles, the first DLC pack titled Heroes of the Inner Sphere dropped alongside with it. Now that the PS4 and PS5 will also be getting in on the action with their own port, history will repeat itself with it and Legend of the Kestrel Lancers launching alongside the release of the base game. While many other well known franchises get a seemingly constant stream of additional content to keep the player base engaged, fans going from waiting forever for even a new entry to getting two DLC packs in one year has to be something worth getting excited about.

Developed and published by Piranha Games, Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries and the first pack Heroes of the Inner Sphere are currently available on PC (Steam/Epic Store/GOG) and Xbox One/Xbox Series X | S. Legend of the Kestrel Lancers will release on all aforementioned platforms and on PS4/PS5 on September 23rd. The Steam version of the game was played for this hands on.

Get Stompy

Those who purchased the base game and have not yet pulled the trigger on Inner Sphere and Kestrel Lancers aren’t going to be totally left out in the cold. Upon launch of the latter content, there are a couple of quality of life enhancements that may make the game a little more accessible to casual players and a welcome addition for those who may still be wet behind the ears in the realm of hulking stomping war machines. Namely the addition of on the fly ‘Mech switching and melee combat for ‘Mechs that actually have fists to use.

In a way, ‘Mech switching almost feels like the multi-ton version of switching weapons on the fly in a more traditional third person shooter. It’s simplifying it a bit, I’ll admit as much. But being able to set up an array of four ‘Mechs of varying weight classes is honestly quite nice to have in the middle of various missions. Happen to be in the thick of it in a hulking heavy mech and you need a little mobility? Swap to a light ‘Mech and zip out of danger.

Getting your shit wrecked, run out of ammo, or simply just want to position yourself better in battle? Swap on out. It’s the kind of quality of life addition that helps add a little variety to your gameplay in the middle of a mission. Another wrinkle to think about with this mechanic is the ‘Mech spread you have to suss out before deployment. Nothing new for players of the base game, but still worth noting in relation to switching in general.

Melee combat in video games may seem like old hat nowadays, but I guarantee that being able to reach out and punch another mech is about as satisfying as one may think it is. Obviously, you can’t get up close and personal with the proper mech to do so. But still, it’s good to have. Mind you, the range on most of these mechs are limited at best. Despite that, it’s no slouch in terms of raw power. Actually landing a punch on a mech in the midst of firing off volley after volley of missiles and laser fire feels satisfying, at least. I guess you could say it hits different.

It wouldn’t surprise me that some of the purists in the BattleTech community may take some issue with the inclusion of these two mechanics, but I don’t really mind it and they do have their uses. Maybe you don’t want to waste all your ammo and would rather punch a mech in the face. Maybe you’re getting tired of going slower than molasses because you picked a heavy mech for its firepower. While it is a bit of a shift in focus from prior games, this addition doesn’t feel like a drastic change in core gameplay. It fits in there, and that’s alright by me.

Making it Work to Get Paid

When Heroes of the Inner Sphere dropped, it came with a Career mode that allowed you to take on missions at your leisure. It’s a nice inclusion, as you’re seemingly not restricted to a linear mission progression if you’re not feeling up for that sort of thing. Basically just bum around the star system at your leisure taking on mercenary jobs as you prefer to do them. With the Kestrel Lancers content, though, there is linear story content that’s included here.

While you stomp your way through these 14 missions, you’ll be stomping your way through quite a few new environments. One of which will be what Piranha calls the “Mega City.” It definitely lives up to the name, but given that most of the environments here give the ‘Mechs plenty of room to move around it’s a nice addition regardless. There are other environments here that’ll help even out the amount of content here like your typical jungle and desert areas. They’re by no means a weak addition, but it’s nice to see that this was placed in here for variety’s sake.

That said, the gameplay loop from the base game obviously applies here too. If for some reason you just wanted to go straight into this content without consideration for the main story or the missions featured in Inner Sphere, you’re more than welcome to just hop into career mode and just go for this content here. In a sense, plotting your course, keeping your ‘Mechs repaired after each mission (with a decent amount of customization options), making sure the bills are paid on time, and generally making your way through the universe’s Fourth Succession Wars will definitely feel like a comforting presence to some BattleTech fans.

Gameplay-wise, the control scheme might seem clunky to some at first (especially when doing things with appropriate mechs like calling in airstrikes and the like), but you’ll find yourself adapting well enough. I’m usually not one to divulge major plot details, but I think it’s safe to say that those who crave this type of gameplay should be alright with the story content that goes along with this DLC. Combine that with the gameplay tweaks that do make some concessions for some more casual players, and you have content that is generally full-featured.

The presentation side of things is still what you can now expect from a now-modern MechWarrior game. Along the way raytracing was included for PC gamers that own capable GPUs that feature them (though I’m sure RTX 3000 cards will be your best bet, if you can get one). However, those who sport the latest 6000 series AMD Radeon cards can take advantage of some FidelityFX Adaptive Sharpening. Generally speaking, though, the game looks fine enough when you’re out in the numerous environments. Nothing here screams low effort, but you can tell that the devs are feeling comfortable with what they’re working with at this point.

Admittedly, my build may not be the typical experience for a lot of gamers. But even modern-ish hardware should be able to play this with decent framerates on the right settings. You’re obviously not going to be on the bleeding edge, but you should be able to get by regardless. Audio presentation is about on par with prior impressions. Nothing fancy, decent voice acting, and the music is usually appropriate for the right environment.

Get In, Use Lasers, Leave

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there’s a bit of a renaissance going on with Inner Sphere and Kestrel Lancers, but I will say that the devs have made no bones with how much regard they have for the material they’re working with here. Sure, that material involves huge-ass robots that can now punch each other. But they seem to be in tune with what the fans want here and this latest content should prove as much to them.

That said, those curious about the game can (and probably should) take a peek at the base game on Game Pass (PC/Xbox) to get a feel for what they’re going to be getting into to see if it’s the right type of game for them to decide if they want to pull the trigger on the additional content. Longtime fans? You’ll probably be happy with what comes with this latest drop, and I hope that there will be some more mech punching shenanigans coming down the pike. Stay frosty, mercs.

Review code provided by Piranha Games for PC. Screenshots taken by writer. Featured image courtesy of Piranha Games.