By now, you’ve probably heard about Microsoft’s intent to purchase Activision Blizzard, the massive publisher slash developer which produced the first MechWarrior games. This will bring the entire MechWarrior IP back under a single roof for the first time, and it’s gotten some of our hopes up for the possibility of a re-release or even a full-blown remake of MechWarrior 2. Combined with some of the other momentous news beats I’ve heard, I think it’s time we take a critical look at the future of MechWarrior.
And that future should first start with the present, which is MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries. As you know, MechWarrior 5 developer Piranha Games (PGI) was purchased by Swedish games publisher EG7 in late 2020. Since then, MechWarrior 5 has been released on Steam, Xbox, and PlayStation and received two expansions in Heroes of the Inner Sphere and Legend of the Kestrel Lancers.
All told, it’s been a pretty good run for MechWarrior 5, but it’s starting to sound like that run is coming to an end. In its most recent financial report (as noted by No Guts No Galaxy‘s Sean Lang), production on MechWarrior 5 is ramping down.
“Although the community reception [of PlayStation MW5 launch] was very positive, the overall sales on PlayStation had low impact, resulting in an operating loss for the quarter,” wrote EG7. “Piranha has largely finished its development on MechWarrior 5 with limited residual effort for future maintenance. In Q4 2021, as the team further ramps down on MechWarrior 5, the plan is to fully utilize Piranha’s talented team to staff various key projects for the group such as the Lord of the Rings Online update.”
It seems pretty clear that MechWarrior 5 is staring at the end. However, all hope is not yet lost. Lang mentions in his video that he’d at least heard of a third expansion that was in development at PGI and it seemed relatively close to being released. While production might be winding down, that doesn’t mean it’s completely ceased, and this unnamed expansion might yet see the light of day.
After that though is a big question mark. PGI still has the MechWarrior license from Microsoft until 2025, and it seems like a giant waste for a company that has spent almost a decade working on MechWarrior to suddenly drop the IP and just become a support studio for Lord of the Rings.
At the same time, we know PGI has been hiring and there are still a few positions available on the company’s career page. It’s possible that part of PGI will be supporting LotR Online while another part continues to support the MechWarrior license. That’ll mean continued updates for MechWarrior Online and maybe--just maybe--work will begin on MechWarrior 6.
One could argue that some tentative work has already begun on MechWarrior 6. As The Art of BattleTech recently reminded me, the Warden Pack for MechWarrior Online included several new cosmetics, including Elemental armored suits. Those Elemental battle armor models would be awfully handy in a future MechWarrior game about the Clans, not to mention MechWarrior Online’s vast library of Clan ‘Mechs.
If there is a MechWarrior 6 coming--and this is entirely unfounded speculation, so don’t go saying this is some sort of revelation--my hope is that it features a somewhat more curated campaign. Randomized missions are all well and good and I think MechWarrior 5 has great procedurally generated maps, but what I really remember from the first two Mercenaries games was how even side missions felt like their own memorable stories.
PGI has a lot of experience with MechWarrior and it’d be foolish to throw away the MechWarrior license without using it at least one more time before 2025.
But What About MechWarrior Remakes?
Okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, the deal between Microsoft and Activision isn’t a sure thing. The FTC has already announced plans to review the merger and FTC chair Lina Khan has expressed growing concern about consolidation in big tech. That deal is by no means a guarantee.
But let’s assume that the FTC doesn’t block the deal. We’ll likely see the acquisition finalize around next summer. Then, Microsoft will own every MechWarrior game produced except for PGI’s games (MechWarrior 5 and MechWarrior Online). This significantly simplifies the legal complications that are inherent in the BattleTech franchise and opens the possibility for those older MechWarrior titles to be released or even entirely remade.
In January’s news report I might have made it seem like Activision was the big barrier to getting MechWarrior 2 released on something like GOG, but it’s come to my attention that’s probably not accurate.
Activision has actually been historically more inclined to release their back catalog on services like GOG, whereas Microsoft has been reluctant to do the same because of GOG’s anti-DRM policies. That’s why you’ll see games like Dark Reign, Interstate 76, and Diablo on GOG, but you won’t find many (or any) Microsoft games.
So why didn’t Activision release MechWarrior 2 on GOG? It’s certainly not for a lack of demand, what with MechWarrior being the second most requested franchise for the platform. I asked Trevor Longino, former head of PR and marketing at GOG, what kept the two apart. “While I was definitely an internal champion for [bringing MechWarrior to GOG], the legal problems were insurmountable,” he told me over Twitter.
Those legal problems were likely licensing issues. Activision owned the game, sure, but Microsoft owned the MechWarrior license, and getting MechWarrior 2 rereleased would have meant royalty payments to Microsoft. That could have all been hashed out by lawyers, but in the end, the market potential for a MechWarrior 2 rerelease was probably too small for either side to bother paying lawyers to duke it out in a boardroom.
But with Microsoft owning Activision, there’d be no need for lawyers to get involved. They’d own the license and the games--all they’d have to do is update it to work on modern hardware.
“There are still a lot of legal hurdles remaining,” Trevor added, “but I admit if I were at GOG these days I’d be agitating for us to bring it up to our legal contacts there.”
Here’s where we run into the second major issue with a MechWarrior remaster. Yes, Microsoft is an immensely powerful company that certainly has the resources to update its back catalog (just look at Halo and the Master Chief Collection for proof of that), but it comes down to whether or not MechWarrior would be profitable enough to bother. There’s also a technical element involved where some games are cheaper and easier to update than others. For example, MechAssault still hasn’t been updated to work on Game Pass reportedly due to some issues with getting the game engine to work on a modern Xbox.
If there were a third-party developer that specialized in updating old games and was willing to assume the financial risks of doing so, then maybe we’d see those old MechWarrior games return. There are a few game studios out there that specialize in this sort of thing, but one of them stands out in my mind, and that’s Nightdive Studios.
In case you’ve never heard of them, Nightdive has made a name for bringing old but not-quote-forgotten games back from the dead. Games like System Shock, Doom 64, Turok, Powerslave, Darklands, Metal Fatigue, and Strife. Thanks to Nightdive’s proprietary tech, they’ve figured out a way to bring back these old games in a way that’s profitable.
“We’d love to see the classic catalog make a return,” Nightdive CEO Stephen Kick told me after I reached out on Twitter. “It’s long overdue.”
Unintended consequences. The MechWarrior video game IP is now fully consolidated under MS and Topps. So @NightdiveStudio @pripyatbeast what's it gonna take for you to negotiate porting these for a modern release https://t.co/DqFis3XZTa
— orcrist (@orcrist86) January 18, 2022
But will Nightdive me the ones to do it? Kick wasn’t able to make any promises just yet. “All I can say is that with the acquisition the chances of anything happening are greatly improved.”
Still, the possibility is there. For the first time, the biggest barriers to bringing those old MechWarrior games back from the dead are gone. All it took was $70 billion and the biggest merger in video game history, but nobody said BattleTech was a cheap franchise.
Remember to keep your fingers crossed, folks. We could be heading into one of the more exciting times to be a MechWarrior fan.
And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.
I loved System Shock, Interstate 76, and Daggerfall almost as much as I loved all three of the MechWarrior 2 games; and now, thanks to this article, I know where to get two of them!
I would love nothing more than if all of the MW2s got an official rerelease. I’ve tried so many times to get them working on more modern machines, but haven’t been successful since the days of Windows ME. I truly hope this happens. I want my wife to get trained by Deadeye Unther!
Great reporting. I’ve been looking for an update on this since it broke on Twitter more than a month ago.
Frankly, I don’t see that the Activision/Blizzard buyout is going to make much of a difference for Mechwarrior.
If Microsoft were interested in making Mechwarrior games, they would have done it already instead of handing it off to two barely competent developers; one of whom made a hash out of the whole thing to the point they had to beg the community for help to salvage it after almost a decade of mismanagement, and the other who turned out a buggy, boring, barely functional mess.
If it weren’t for modders whose dedication to the Battletech franchise borders on spiritual zealotry, both PGI’s MW5 and HBS’s Battletech would be dead by now.
Re-releasing any of those Activision Mechwarrior titles is probably the last thing that Microsoft suits are considering.
the HBS mechwarrior was solid, you may have disliked it but for what it was it was great
“For what it was,” is exactly the point.
I’ve played enough HBS titles by now to know that they don’t know how to make a functional computer game. Every one of the games they’ve made has been plagued by poor design choices and major bugs that were never fixed. As an example, the memory leak problem in BT persists to this day and has never been fully patched out. There are reviews on Steam, written within the last three months by people that have sunk dozens to hundreds of hours into the game, that still talk about extremely long loading times, lag, and lockups after playing too many missions in a row. The last update? March 2020.
Just like with the Shadowrun series, HBS took a somewhat popular niche IP and bit off more than they could chew. They “support” a game until they figure they’ve squeezed the most out of it that they can, then they abandon the game in a half-broken state for the devoted community to try and piece together.
HBS have good concepts and can make beautiful imagery and music, but they seem to possess little talent to implement that vision into something playable.
Like it or not, that is the reality of HBS and what they’ve done with Battletech.
I LUST for a good remaster of MW3 that works on modern machines.
I’ve been playing MW3 recently, was worried I wouldnt be able to get it to run but even though it took a while I got it to run perfectly.
Its an amazing game, I love all the attention to detail they put into it, like the commander commenting your good choice of taking a subtle back road to the objective, or being able to prone mechs by shooting their legs, the true to BT mechlab, and then theres the terrain deformation too.
MW4 was a great game, MW5… is a game, but MW3 is amazing.
Lord knows I’d rather play a modern update of any of the Mechwarrior 1 through 4 or a new Mechcommander title then the dumpster fires of Mechwarrior 5 or MWO.
MW5’s only has two redeeming features, first is that it looks nice and second is the sandbox nature of it means you can keep playing without a sense of crossing a finish line.
Wouldn’t bet on Microsoft doing anything with the IP. Too niche, not enough profit to be made not for their tastes.
I’ve got a lot of mixed feelings on this news. I liked Mech5 just fine, and MWO is an okay game. I just ultimately really dislike Parana as a company due to their abusive DLC practices and their willingness to embrace Epic exclusive. ESPECIALLY after Epic talked PGs to go exclusive after collecting crowded funding money.
As much as I’m torn on my feelings with Parana I’m even more conflicted when it comes the idea of M$ and Activision… I have played every single Mechwarrior PC game that has been made. From Mechwarrior 1 to 5, both Mechcommander games, and even the classic Crescent Hawks Inception and Revenge games. And I love them all…. the problem is… is that I absolutely LLOOAATTHH the Microsoft corporations! I loath it for a lot of reasons that I won’t bother listing here, but I say that I loath it to possible to an unhealthy degree. That’s how much I hate them. :p And even beyond M$ the Activision corporation is also one of those game corporations that embraces all kinds of really terrible anti-consumer practices. You know, heavy handed DRM and micro-transactions, ‘live services.’ And that’s not even to mention that I prefer to by most of my games from GOG. And M$ has very few titles on that platform.
I still am going to try to look on the bright side of things, but ultimately I’m having a lot of trepidation about this news. I worry that we’re going to have a bad time of things no matter what happens.
I just dread new BattleTech games all going down the path of MechAssault
Compare MW5 to MW3… they did go down that path, just not all the way.
Youre over selling MW5 really hard. I wouldnt be embarrassed to call it revisionism.
For one, the game has not sold well at all, even aside from poor sales on Playstation, the entire deal with Epic was a scam that let PGI make out with millions they would have never otherwise made.
They over inflated their sales estimates to Epic, and if anyone doesnt know what that means, it means that the pre sale deal Epic done with PGI to secure exclusivity for a year was never going to be paid back to Epic, which is what happens as people buy the game on Epics store, so knowing a lot of people would wait to buy it on Steam PGI effectively double dipped along with securing extra money from Epic.
Now lets talk about what PGI think of their own game shall we? PGI promised that the money from the Epic deal would go back into the game, does anyone not remember this? But instead the game was atrocious right up until more than a year had past and the first DLC had to be bought to fix some of the core issues that still remained, and even then it takes numerous mods to make the game entertaining.
Then after that and they were bought out by EG7 what did they say? They promised again that the money they received from that deal, which was substantial, would be reinvested into both MW5 and MWO, now MWO saw the huge addition of one whole qualified level designer to redo some of their most horrendous maps that people had been complaining about for years, what a huge investment that was, and what did MW5 get… another paid DLC that adds 1 unique biome and 2 ported from MWO, a short mini campaign, and variants of existing mechs and some paint jobs, two things you can get for free through mods.
Also, you want to praise MW5s procedural generation? Are you serious? You can see where it cuts away the terrain to place a town down, it even shows the square tiles on the map where the edges of the procedural terrain are… its horrible, and the spawn system is even more horrible because of it, unless you like constantly going from one side of a defence objective to the other because thats just how the spawn system works.
MW5 with mods is a pretty game that can scratch your MW itch well, but its not a good game, and PGI have never supported it, so any impression of either being otherwise is simply based on anything but reality.
It wouldnt surprise me if they throw out some more half baked DLC for MW5, but I dont even expect them to port over any mechs, or they would have already.
As far as a MW6 goes, keep dreaming, with how badly MW5 has done, and MWO which has flat lined and will never grow again, they will never be able to pitch MW6 to EG7, which they likely have to do to considering EG7 are shifting PGI to work on LotR:O. EG7 obviously in control now and not happy.
Not going to hold my breath for remakes of old MW games. I know I’d definitely buy them, but if MS thought the IP was worth anything they wouldnt have shifted it to PGI and HBS, and looking at the poor sales there, especially with MW5… what studio from MS is going to be put in charge of such a niche IP?
If a 3rd party wants to remaster them for MS, thats about all we can expect, but that wouldnt be happening any time soon.
For as little as my ideas matter, Ive already written out what feels like a superb direction a potential Mechwarrior 6 could take, from characters and environments to gameplay and story.
Nobody is ever going to DO anything with it because I’m not a game dev and companies would never take an idea from a nobody, but I like to entertain the idea. Maybe Ill write a Battletech novel with it. It wont be canon, I reckon, but itll be fun.
Try talking with the Shrapnel group, as far as I know they’re canon. They have an open call in the books for new stories. Start small and if it’s good and they like the direction maybe it’ll go somewhere.
Sad, but everything has ending. I doubt we’ll see something with passion done with focus on the game was from PGI & HBS. It has it’s low points in their history, but at least it lasted.
Forget Mechwarrior remakes I want Mech Assault and Mech Assault 2 overhauls for current console systems, preferably the Switch! And some new Mech Assault titles wouldn’t hurt either.
There are a dozen similar games to trash MA.
It’s not BattleTech.
Lots of hate for MW5 here. I’ve played MW2 in the day, and MW4 much later, and I love MW5. I’m damned sad that it’s winding down. I think it’s pretty, the maps are usually engaging and interesting, the voice acting is alright (10 times better than what MW4 had to offer), and there’s nuance to the game as well even with a somewhat watered-down ‘Mech lab.
IMO, calling it a “failure” or a “dumpster fire” feels rather disingenuous.
All that being said, I’m looking forward to what the future may bring for the franchise in video-game form with the news about the (probable) merger.
MW4: Vengeance’s voice acting is good. MW5’s voice acting is bad. MW4: Mercenaries’s voice acting is atrocious. One has to draw the distinction between MW4: Vengeance and MW4: Mercenaries.
Anyway, I hope the old games get remade rather than new ones get made. The old games in the past were good, while newly-made games are demonstrably worse. Whatever it is that goes into the modern design process, it consistently fails to make better MechWarrior games than what we had 20 years ago. So leave it behind and just make the old games work smoothly on modern machines, I say.
Truth be told, as much as I would like to jump back into the cockpit of one of those blocky, under-polygonned beasts again, with news of MekTek getting back on its feet , I would be just as happy to see them come out with revamped maps and mission play that copied those old MW2, GB, and Merc missions. Hell, if they could do that with MW3 and PM too, I would be ecstatic.
I really like the MW4 engine and graphics, but I also like not having to be online every time I want to play a game. Just me and my well preserved XP machine slagging inferior ‘Mechs and stomping Spheroids.