Targeting a PS5 release at some point this year, MechWarrior 5: Clans has a clear goal in mind: to expand its audience beyond the hardcore fans of this long-running series. Indeed, MechWarrior has always been a fairly demanding franchise — which has largely stuck to PC — but Clans is built to be the most accessible entry to date (and the best-looking entry, thanks to Unreal Engine 5).

For a lot of games, 'accessibility' often means a watering down of systems and mechanics, and at times, those games end up losing what made them interesting in the first place. Fortunately, it sounds like Clans is sticking with the incredibly in-depth MechWarrior blueprint for the most part — it's just lowering the barrier to entry.

And to be totally honest, that's probably a good thing. If you've tried a MechWarrior title before — like previous PS5 instalment MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries — then you'll know how brutal the learning curve can be. This is a property where experienced players will actively tell newcomers to go and look up beginner's guides online, because the games are just that dense.

MechWarrior 5 Clans PS5

So, what does Clans do differently? Well, for starters, this instalment's banking on a linear, story-driven campaign. Instead of playing as a faceless mech pilot who receives orders through reams of text, Clans features full-on cinematic cutscenes, bookending missions and introducing you to what seems to be a colourful cast of characters.

The story itself revolves around five pilots from the Smoke Jaguar clan, who are tasked with assisting their allies in an invasion attempt. Admittedly, we're not particularly savvy when it comes to BattleTech — the parent franchise that spawned MechWarrior — but developer Piranha Games assures us that this is a standalone narrative. The aim, then, is to welcome new players into the fold with what will hopefully be an enticing wartime plot.

During the preview event that we attended, we were shown a prerendered cutscene in which the aforementioned pilots received a stern speech from a veteran commander. It was clear that a lot of effort had been poured into such a cinematic, with realistic facial capture playing a key role in making the characters seem... well, human. It appears to be a genuine step forward to the series in terms of presentation.

MechWarrior 5 Clans PS5

What's more, this kind of structure could help ground each excursion. The previous game, Mercenaries, relied on procedural objectives and non-linear progression — and that's great once you're able to wrap your head around things — but reading through entire mission dossiers and checking a lore-based glossary is a lot different to having the stakes spelled out for you through cutscenes and dialogue.

It's a similar approach once you're actually taking part in a mission. You and your fellow squad members will chat over comms, as characters react to the current situation. In fact, we got to see a rather lengthy mission for the purposes of this preview, as the team marched across a desert planet. Comms chatter meant that characters could provide some welcome exposition as they moved between objectives.

But of course, mech-on-mech combat is still at the core of MechWarrior, and there was a lot of it to go around during this mission. With skirmishes taking place across such a large environment, it's important to utilise the game's tactical view when you're not busy blasting enemies. There's still a strategic angle to Clans as you can give direct commands to your AI squad mates, swiftly repositioning them via a radial menu if needed.

MechWarrior 5 Clans PS5

At this point, it's also worth mentioning that you can have other players drop into the roles of your allies. We didn't get to see co-op play in action, but we can imagine just how satisfying it would be to pull off tactical victories with friends by your side.

Battles are frantic affairs once you're in the thick of it. The type of mech that you're piloting will determine your available weaponry, and although this was an early-game mission where the mechs were quite basic, it was easy to see how things will escalate. Swapping between first and third-person viewpoints, we saw the squad take down several waves of opposing pilots, before tracking their main targets.

What stood out to us was the mission's pacing. Slower segments of traversal were soon torn away by explosive skirmishes, and the whole thing ended with a bombastic bid for survival as the team was beset by yet more foes in an ambush scenario. Thanks to the title's linear campaign, Piranha Games is able to handcraft each mission to maximum effect — and the one that we saw certainly helped sell the studio's vision.

MechWarrior 5 Clans PS5

We came away from this preview wanting to see more of MechWarrior 5: Clans, and that's always a good sign. If Piranha Games can tie an engaging story to the series' already engaging gameplay — complete with purpose-built missions — then this could end up being a perfect starting point for a lot of potential players.

Are you a MechWarrior fan? Are you interested in Clans? Get your squad together in the comments section below.