Money Makes the Inner Sphere Go Round
When thinking about giant mecha, one’s thoughts might be drawn to the space knights from the Gundam series or the Megazord from Power Rangers. The Mechwarrior series though has always focused on mechs that are a little less fantastical. There’s a greater focus on the gritty reality of giant mecha life: giant lasers need to have heat sinks and man-sized gatling guns often jam after all! Heroes of the Inner Sphere is the DLC expansion for Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries, promising to give a whole new lease of life to the base game. Since our very own Heather Johnson-Yu has already reviewed Mechwarrior 5, here I’ll do my best to give my brief thoughts on the base game before focusing on the Inner Sphere expansion.
The main campaign of the base game starts off rather thrillingly with a mercenary commander and his son walking their mechs through a battleworn city looking for plunder. They are then ambushed and the commander sacrifices himself to let his son escape. Now the player, as the recently orphaned son, must rebuild his father’s battered mercenary company and uncover the mystery of who is responsible for his father’s death. The player gets one mech to control from a first person perspective themselves and can have up to three AI allies to bring along for the ride.
If you’ve any fantasies of simply wading in and blasting seven shades out of your mechanized adversaries, you can soon forget them. Mechwarrior requires some getting used to its more intricate mechanics.
There’s a vast variety of weapons and mechs with their own strengths and weaknesses – all of which can be painstakingly customized in your company’s mechbay. This requires a lot of forethought as each mech chassis has a limited tonnage. Firing each weapon raises the heat of your mech, and if the temperature raises too high then it’ll go into automatic shutdown to stop it from melting itself. This can be very awkward when in close combat with an enemy boss mech to say the very least! To avoid these nightmare scenarios, not only do you need to fire judiciously, but also make sure your mech is equipped with enough heat sinks to absorb the excess energy. Likewise, being careful to monitor the range of all your weapons is key. Getting opponents in that sweet spot where you outrange them but are well equipped to rain down missiles on them is far more effective then charging in (unless you are taking a nippy mech that can get into a boss mech’s blind spot).
Of course, all these intricacies just go towards making the experience more deep and immersive. It made me feel like I was genuinely piloting one of these temperamental metal giants, lumbering over buildings with massive pneumatic legs to the strains of blaring rock music. Lots of fun!
What also gives the proceedings a lot of flavour is that you can fly through the stars, accepting contracts for a number of different factions. Doing missions for a certain group will raise your standing with them, letting you get more negotiation points when going on sojourns for them in the future. These bonuses can range from straight up asking the tight bastards to give you more money, or having them cover the costs of the damages on your mechs when they inevitably take a kicking. Parts of your mech can be easily damaged or even destroyed during combat, necessitating costly replacements and taking time to repair, and with you also needing to pay overhead for your pilots salaries and other expenses, taking on each mission can become quite a tricky cost-benefit calculation!
Heroes of the Inner Sphere gives a great big sandbox to play in for those who are looking for more challenges after working their way through the main campaign. This is, sadly, where it runs into problems. Instead of expanding on the interesting story and worldbuilding in the base game, it’s simply a rota of levels where you blow things up to get stuff to blow more things up. You’re still playing as the orphaned commander, except now you’re trapped in an endless limbo, flying through the stars and earning money to cover the costs of your company with no real grander purpose.
There are new robots on offer, and they’re just as intricately detailed and likely to please mech-fanciers as ever, but the core gameplay isn’t significantly different than before.
New additions include buying an airstrike which lets you rain death from afar on foes. However, it’s not terribly satisfying as it removes the core purity of mech-to-mech combat letting a third party wreak destruction for you. There’s also the ability to overcharge a mech to gain a boost of speed, which can be handy. Collecting achievements allows for stat upgrades, but these are just more stats to add to the levels on your pilots – it doesn’t change much. There are also new hero mechs to strive for. What’s really cool for newcomers to the Mechwarrior franchise though, is that whereas you need to have completed the whole of the base campaign to play in co-op mode, you can play the new career mode in co-op right off the bat! If you’ve got a like-minded friend or two (or three) to go adventuring with, it can mean hours of additional fun romping across the galaxy, which makes up for the lack of new story somewhat, especially as Heroes of the Inner Sphere has new missions to partake in.
When playing Mechwarrior Online, the sort of people you’ll meet are scrupulously polite and subdued. Shockingly, I never heard anyone on voice chat raising their voice, swearing or piping in some sort of meme music over their microphones. It’s clear that Mechwarrior is for those with longer attention spans and cooler heads – probably a more beardy, mature gaming demographic. These games do not deliver immediate excitement but rather drip feed little bits of satisfaction from tweaking a weapons loadout to slightly increase the efficiency of one’s damage output.
Mechwarrior 5 is for the detail-oriented mech fans who are willing to sacrifice immediate excitement and gratification for a more grounded simulation of what it would be like to pilot a massive mechanical monster. The career mode provided with this new expansion might please those who are craving more action from the base game, but there’s no new story to be had or any major gameplay additions to hook in anyone else. For the weighty price tag – Heroes of the Inner Sphere is only worth a purchase for those truly addicted to this more thoughtfully paced mecha-mercenary-em-up.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Sold Out; Developer: Piranha Games; Players: 1-4; Released: March 27th, 2021;
Full Disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Mech Warrior 5: Heroes of the Inner Sphere given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher