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MechWarrior 5 DLC rolls back the punishing grind, but the AI is still useless

The game is still best played in multiplayer

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is still a bit of a mess, even with the new Legend of the Kestrel Lancers expansion. The new DLC succeeds in eliminating the early-game grind, mainly by throwing in-game money at the problem. But nothing seems able to stop the overwhelming stupidity of its friendly AI.

Kestrel Lancers kicks off with a series of wargames which, fitting nicely with the overall lore of the BattleTech universe, are actually live-fire field exercises. Damage coverage — cash that you use to repair your Mechs after a battle — is upped to 10 million credits, an order of magnitude more than the compensation meted out in the base game’s early missions. This allowed me to use my arsenal of big stompy robots for some particularly wanton destruction.

A stocked Mech bay, including 12 fully armed and operation Mechs. Image: Piranha Games/Sold Out via Polygon

And what an arsenal it is. The game starts you out with eight Mechs in total, including a Blackjack (a powerful fire support Mech) and a Kintaro (a punishing close-in brawler). That’s double the number available in the base game. The payouts are also ridiculously high in those first few missions. After salvaging a few wrecks off the battlefield, I jumped back to a nearby industrial zone to purchase two more. After my shopping spree I was rocking a full hanger of 12 top-of-the-line Mechs. That included two punishing Hunchback variants (medium-range snipers), a Grasshopper (another great brawler), and a Catapult (a long-range missile boat). It felt like Christmas had come early.

An in-game year later came the invitation came to join up with the Kestrel Lancers, an under-strength military unit marching into the teeth of a galaxy-wide civil war. What followed was a series of epic battles, each one set on a handmade map. The opposition was fierce, and gaining ground required careful shepherding of my brilliant collection of Mechs.

Marshal Jackson Davion welcomes the player to the Kestrel Lancers. Image: Piranha Games/Sold Out via Polygon

And that’s where the game ultimately let me down. The friendly AI is still mind-numbingly dumb. Friendly units wandered into my field of fire. They got hung up on the terrain. They lagged behind as I charged ahead. There’s still no way to issue subtle commands, and the new “Mech switching” feature — which allows you to take direct control of any of the four units in your squad — is tedious at best. That means MechWarrior 5 and all of its accompanying DLC is still an experience best enjoyed in multiplayer.

Nonetheless, Legend of the Kestrel Lancers is a must-buy for fans of this particular title. The new linear quests, the new biomes, and the new Mech variants supercharge the fun. It’s a particularly nice touch that only one person needs the DLC to share it with up to three of their friends in multiplayer. The expansion arrives on Sept. 23 for Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X, the same day that MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries makes its debut on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. No pricing has been announced yet, but expect it to set you back bit more than $19.99, which was the price of its first hefty pack of DLC.

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