There's a blizzard raging outside. You're ensconced in the cockpit of the King Crab, a heavy-class fighter mech that has been meticulously designed to resemble its namesake. Squat and lower to the ground than some of its earlier predecessors, your mech's autocannons whir quietly as you nudge it into first gear.
You can barely make out your squadmate's Spider in the distance, tottering in its own strange way just shy of a settlement where civilians are waiting with baited breath. There's a crackle of static, and a warning that enemy forces are close by blares. Immediately, as if compelled by a higher power than self-preservation and common sense, the Spider lumbers right into the nearest structure and does its best impression of splitting it in two.
Your UI lights up, and you're told that the settlement's health is decreasing because it's been damaged yet again. You might fancy that the person warning you of incoming bogeys is actually mildly worried that your mission might be a bust. However, none of that compares to the pressing concern of your AI mate, currently blazing a deadly path through your surroundings to see who can apparently fail the mission fastest. This is MechWarrior 5's taste of squad-based gameplay if you're a pilot flying the solo flag, and it's certainly a unique experience.
MechWarrior 5 is an Epic Games Store exclusive, joining a host of other recent titles that have chosen to pick that particular storefront to hawk their wares. However, at this stage, it's uncertain if a wider release would have softened the impact on landing for fans of MechWarrior as a franchise.
For the uninitiated, it's a series with a long and storied history from Piranha Games, and though it's historically revolved around the way that things go boom in the night when you're riding around in giant mechs with the boys, there are the occasional single-player forays that appear once in a blue moon to pad things out. The latest MechWarrior installment is one such limited-run foray, and the fact that it isn't Pirahna's standard formula is clear.
You're a mercenary, happy to jump into a robot that steers with slightly more finesse than a Boston Dynamics dog in the tutorial. You've got a great rapport with the father figure in your life, and everyone at the army base generally sounds like they either hate something, are hungry, or like repeating catchphrases back at you. Those things, however, aren't dealbreakers.
MechWarrior as a franchise has never been about putting a particularly masterful touch on a single-player narrative, so it wouldn't be out of the ordinary for veterans to be happy to dismiss the skeleton of your protagonist's motivations as fancy excuses for war. After all, this is a game about going to war in a mech. Really, the reasons why have every right to be extraneous, but it does mean that for those hoping for this to be an entry into a series that has previously escaped them won't be able to rely on a traditional single-player experience to do so.
Story failings aside, the core of the franchise remains, as always, about mechs. It doesn't matter if you're playing heavy mechs armed with impressive firepower who plod along like deadly turrets, or light-class mechs specializing in darting around the battlefield with their steps marked only by fading laserbeams and singed enemies. Your experience in combat is going to be a rousing one, even if you're not digging as deeply into the nuts and bolts of tweaking every single inch of your loadout as you're allowed to by the game.
Your dream mech is only limited by weight, essentially. Your capacity will determine the amount of firepower that you can take on the battlefield, with heavier mechs getting more of it (suited to their slow movement speed) and lighter mechs getting less of it. It's not rocket science, but it doesn't quite have to be. If you want your tech to look like the lovechild of Sonic the Hedgehog and the Iron Giant, then that's something you can do. Color scheme and all. This ability to pull your mech straight from the pages of your mind is a heady one, and MechWarrior 5 uses this to its full advantage when you're allowed to go buckwild in a group.
True to form for the series, playing with a whole bunch of people also in their dream mechs is where the MechWarrior 5 experience feels the smoothest. Sure, you can sub in a couple of AI members if your team is looking a little lop-sided, but our experience was that they were inefficient at best and sabotaging at worst. Balancing how everything shakes out for a solo pilot is going to take some time, and until the AI can stay well enough away from mission objectives without catching on fire, it's best to arm up with real people.
Once you do so, however, the experience of actually winging your way over desert sands or crashing through buildings in hot pursuit of airborne and land-based threats is exhilarating. Whether you're viewing everything from the driver's seat or from over the shoulder, the action in multiplayer is frenetic and pretty non-stop even if you're wanting to cruise by on less crowded maps and aiming to turn every stray enemy into canon fodder.
The environments that are the stage for your conflicts are pretty enough, if standard, but that's about where the buck stops with the graphic effects for your mechs as well in terms of damage taken and dealt. Your mech can have its various parts set on fire, and its condition changes visibly based on damage taken to certain areas, but all the heavy customization can't quite take away from the visibly similar effects for most types of damage, especially if you've buckled yourself in for a long session with the lads.
If you've always wanted to be a Gundam pilot growing up, then MechWarrior 5 is going to scratch some sort of itch in the primordial ooze of your brain, but it's the little details that are just that tiny bit askew which unfortunately detract from the experience that it's trying to provide. It's easy to sink hours into the multiplayer part of the game if you're not engaging too seriously with the singleplayer campaign's relative monotony and difficulty curve issues, but franchise veterans will find that not much has changed from experiences of the past and new players unused to its idiosyncracies might not find enough to stick around for in 2019.