A new singleplayer-only MechWarrior . That's a long ways off, but I sat down with Piranha Games president Russ Bullock to talk about their plans for bringing MechWarrior back to its roots and what shape that will take. Bullock is quick to stress that, outside from the live demo that prefaced the announcement, MechWarrior 5 is still very early in development and that many of its features are still being pieced together. "One thing we've learned over is just to be cautious with expectations with our playerbase," he says. "We want to make sure we're really certain about things before they go out."
need to know
Release date 2018
Developer Piranha Games
Publisher Piranha Games
Engine Unreal 4
Key details SP-only; minimum 24 mechs in combat; level generation; no microtransactions
While the nitty-gritty details will have to wait until MechWarrior 5 is further along in development, what we do know is that Piranha Games is working to evoke the unfettered sense of scale and freedom of the first MechWarrior game released in 1989. Players will take charge of a struggling mercenary outfit in the Inner Sphere, the massive region of space surrounding Earth. While there will be a loose story and some pivotal story moments during the campaign, MechWarrior 5 is first and foremost a sandbox-esque game where players have the freedom to choose where to go, which houses to fight for, and how to equip their soldiers.
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is completely standalone and won't have any microtransactions, Bullock tells me. Instead, the game will be a "you pay full price, you get the game, you're done" kind of deal. Developed in Unreal 4, MechWarrior 5 is being made by a separate team than the one working on MechWarrior Online at Piranha, which has been publicly available since late 2012. It will be self-published, and there is no plan to utilize a platform like Steam's Early Access to release the game in an unfinished state. "I can't really see anyway that will work for this game," Bullock says.
A mercenary's life for me
It's been over 15 years since the last singleplayer MechWarrior game was released, so you can't be blamed if you've never had a chance to dive into the incredibly deep BattleTech universe. The MechWarrior series is a strategic FPS where players pilot a single mech into combat while giving orders to supporting squads called 'lances.' Mechs aren't just disposable robots however, they are cherished and valued relics of the noble houses that pass them down from generation to generation.
Set during the Third Succession War of 3015, MechWarrior 5 takes place much earlier in the timeline than what some fans may be used to. During the live demo, a character remarked that the Shadowhawk Bullock piloted was more than 500 years old, highlighting that, at this point in the timeline, mechs are relatively rare. But MechWarrior 5 won't stay stuck in 3015 either. The campaign will take place over the course of 34 years.
"We want to go from 3015 right up to the clan invasion of 3049," Bullock tells me. "What this allows us to do is to have players experience being a startup, floundering mercenary business. You can think of it like you're brand new and green and you have this half-working mech and just enough resources to take on your first mission. But by the endgame, the timeline has moved along up to near the clan invasion and you have maybe an entire company of elite mercenaries and BattleMechs and you're taking the hardest missions the houses can throw at you."
The first-person combat will build off of the foundation established in MechWarrior Online. "We don't want to reinvent the wheel in certain areas," says Bullock. "If there's one thing that almost everybody would agree on in our community is that one of the strongest elements of MechWarrior Online is the mech combat. It's tight, it's exciting."
Obviously the big difference is that players won't be battling against human opponents. Bullock wasn't able to confirm the exact scope of combat missions, but did say that he has "minimum desired goals" of 12 versus 12, company-on-company combat—the same size offered in MechWarrior Online. Until they start building the AI that'll pilot those mechs, there's no guarantee that MechWarrior 5 will hit that target, however. With the countless planets of the Inner Sphere to fight on, MechWarrior 5 will use "seeded" levels which will generate terrain dynamically based on a variety of factors. Mechs won't be the only thing melting under your alpha strikes, either. Combat missions will feature ground and flying vehicles and potentially infantry.
It's not clear how the timeline will advance as players take on missions, but Bullock confirms it will have a profound impact on what weapons and mechs are available. With the story looking to conclude just as the clan invasion of 3049 is heating up, he suggests that players shouldn't expect to access the powerful OmniMechs used by the clans, which are more modular than their Inner Sphere counterparts.
What players will have access to is a large swathe of the Inner Sphere to travel through and fight for. While later singleplayer MechWarrior games seemed to narrow in focus, MechWarrior 5 looks to blow the series wide open by pairing its nuanced, strategic combat with an equally complex management simulator. "Our goal is to create a very in-depth manager experience," Bullock says. "It's sort of like taking—and this might be overdoing it—Football Manager wrapped over top of MechWarrior 1. [MechWarrior 5] is about managing a business, you're trying to keep it afloat and save money so that you can not only do your repairs but also get ahead of your repairs and go to the market and say, 'okay cool now I can afford to get a shiny new 50-tonne medium mech.'"
"The thing I really want to drive home here is that I don't run into too many people that played MechWarrior 1 in 1989, but everyone played MechWarrior 2 in 1995. But since Mechwarrior 2 onward, there was not nearly as much of the freedom and replayability that we want to go for. There should be very little in the form of like, 'I have three missions to choose from and that's it.' I think you should be able to choose which great house you play for whenever you want as long as you can afford, as a business, to move your unit around the Inner Sphere. I think 95 percent of MechWarrior players will never have had this much freedom when it comes to where and who they fight for."
Part of that freedom will be a little different than what most MechWarrior Online players are used to. In MechWarrior Online, mechs are customized using the 'Mechlab,' which allows you to build a mech with any kind of weapon loadout so long as it follows some loose principles. One of the bigger criticisms with the Mechlab is that it ruins the flavor of each individual mech by making them all feel the same within their weight class.
Bullock explains that, while no final decision has been made, MechWarrior 5 is looking to focus more on a "variant-based free market system" that guides how mechs are outfitted. What this means is that, instead of open-ended customization, mechs will have a handful of variants for each chassis that they will conform to. This should make mechs feel more unique to one another while reinforcing the roles that they fill on the battlefield.
While Bullock wasn't able to go too deep into detail, he did suggest that along with mech customization, players could expect to also have a degree of control over the mercenaries they hire, what they pilot, and how their lances are formed. "Not since MechWarrior 1 has a game made you think about all the c-bills [the currency of the BattleTech universe] coming in the door. We don't want it to just be like, I hit my repair-all button and now I don't worry about any economy in this game. The point is that we want someone to really manage that minutiae."
Speaking of economy, Bullock said that MechWarrior 5 will feature a "dynamic" in-game economy that will change based on the timeline and where the player is currently located. "A lot of factors will play into what's on the market," he says.
As an example, Bullock suggests that if a player were to travel to the more destitute Outer Periphery, they might not have access to the top of the line gear found at the center of the Inner Sphere. Salvaging will also play an important role. In combat, players will need to think carefully about how they engage enemy mechs. If they're smart, they could headshot the mech, killing the pilot but preserving the chassis for their own use. The system is more comprehensive than that, allowing players to shoot weapons off of enemy mechs to later recover and repurpose.
With the new BattleTech turn-based strategy game due in 2017, there hasn't been a better time to get up to speed with this 30-year-old universe. While MechWarrior 5 will undoubtedly appeal to an audience who never had a chance to play these games growing up, Bullock is serious about making sure MechWarrior 5 is first and foremost for the fans. "Being a smaller independent developer, we know who our customers are and we're making this for them," he says. "We've always felt like MechWarrior Online was, at most, half of the MechWarrior market. There's a huge portion out there that's just waiting for a singleplayer experience."