While I’ve never been a particularly hardcore fan of the BattleTech universe as a whole, the MechWarrior and MechCommander games both consumed many hours of my life as a kid. I remember finding MechWarrior 2 in a bargain bin at Office Depot in the late ’90s after my family got our first decent computer, and even though I didn’t really know what I was doing, this purchase was the beginning of an obsession I held throughout the early ’00s. Sadly, the video game industry gradually forgot the world of BattleTech, leaving a gaping hole until Piranha Games released MechWarrior Online back in 2013. Despite loving the franchise as a kid, I never actually got around to playing MWO, mainly because I was holding out hope for a proper single player installment in the series to emerge once again. Finally, after a rather lengthy stay in development hell, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is here, and while it has its fair share of problems, its still an enjoyable resurgence for the franchise.
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries
Developer: Piranha Games
Platforms: Windows PC (Reviewed)
Release Date: December 10th, 2019
MechWarrior 5 is set in the final decade of the Third Succession War. It’s been over 200 years since the fall of the Star League, and the Great Houses of the Inner Sphere continue to fight amongst themselves. You play as a rookie MechWarrior preparing to join your father’s mercenary company in battle. After a brief tutorial that teaches you the basics of ‘Mech piloting, your base is attacked by a mysterious band of mercenaries, and your father ends up sacrificing himself so that you and the rest of the company can escape.
With your father dead, you find yourself inheriting what little remains of his company. Starting with a small support staff, a single ship, a few busted up ‘Mechs, and just enough C-Bills to buy you a ticket to your first contract, its your mission to rebuild the company and track down the mercenaries that killed your father so that you can have your revenge.
After being issued a few beginner contracts by one of your dad’s old contacts to help you get on your feet, MechWarrior 5 drops you head-first into a massive map of the Inner Sphere with the freedom to eventually go wherever you want. You start the game near Davion’s border with Kurita, a lucrative region for battle-hungry mercenaries looking for their next payday.
With the ongoing war between the Federated Suns and the Draconis Combine, as well as the dozens of smaller skirmishes and proxy wars with pirates, rebels, and corrupt local militias, it won’t take long before the C-Bills start rolling in and you’ll be able to afford a fully functional lance of MechWarriors.
If you are looking for an epic and well-written story set in BattleTech‘s dense and labyrinthian universe, however, then you really won’t get it here. There isn’t a whole lot to MechWarrior 5‘s story, and it takes a very long time before it starts to really build steam.
The game’s characters are little more than 3D models that stand around on your ship lifelessly. Occasionally they’ll tell you about your next mission, but you don’t really interact with them outside of that.
Meanwhile, your lance mates are basically just a portrait and stat block that shout some radio chatter in combat. MechWarrior 5 is all about the satisfaction of slowly building up a huge inventory of ‘Mechs as you travel around the Inner Sphere, so don’t expect to be glued to your seat awaiting the next bit of exposition that advances what little story the game has.
The majority of the game will have you going from system to system, following the war zones as the Third Succession War rages on and consumes new regions of the Inner Sphere.
The game’s story missions involve following the trail of Black Inferno, the infamous mercenary company that killed your father and is rampaging their way across space on some unknown mission. To unlock new story missions you’ll often need to grind for a while, increasing your reputation by taking on contracts and expanding your mercenary outfit.
The game has almost a dozen factions in total. All of the Great Houses are represented, alongside a variety of civilian factions, mercenary groups, pirates, and insurgents.
Completing contracts with a faction will raise your standing with them, unlocking access to more lucrative missions, granting you discounts while in their territory, more flexibility when it comes to contract negotiations, and the occasional gift package as a token of gratitude for a job well done.
Once you find a contract, you’ll have a chance to negotiate your pay by spending points. The number of negotiation points you get depends on your overall reputation as a company, and your standing with the faction offering the contract. The three categories you can negotiate are your base pay, salvage claims, and insurance.
Salvage claims will let you pick out more parts from destroyed enemies at the end of a mission. Most parts are one or two claims, while ‘Mechs themselves usually start at six for just a basic light ‘Mech. Insurance will help cover some of the damage your ‘Mechs incur during the operations.
The contracts themselves run the gamut of your usual selection of mission objectives. There’s some where you’ll need to defend a location, some where you need to assassinate a specific person in a ‘Mech, and some where you must destroy a series of objectives.
The most interesting are the Warzones, where you have to destroy a specific number of enemies, but can decide to stick around and fight increasingly tough waves of reinforcements to increase your payout. There is a nice element of risk vs reward in these, as the damages you incur could exceed your bonus, or you could get overwhelmed before you make it back to your dropship and escape.
I must admit that most of the contracts feel pretty generic and similar, simply because there’s so damn many of them. Only the story missions and certain high reward side quests are truly unique. I also wish the game more clearly defined the difficulty of contracts.
What, exactly, does a difficulty of 15 mean? If a mission is difficulty 20, what is it that constitutes the extra 5 points? You eventually learn how to gauge a contract before accepting it, but the current difficulty rating is still fairly esoteric and not especially useful.
While it might be tempting to just focus on building up the stats of a few lance mates and running your favorite ‘Mechs, you’ll need to rotate out a lot unless you plan on becoming intimately familiar with the Wait button. Repairs can take a while to finish, and its possible for your lance mates to get injured or killed in battle.
There’s also multi-mission operations that require you to do several missions in a row. Between travel time and mission duration though, the wait time for repairs isn’t too bad, and like I said you can always just hit a Wait button if you are out of things to do before some of your ‘Mechs are ready for action again.
Luckily, you have plenty of storage for your ‘Mechs. You can have 12 active ‘Mechs at a time that contribute to your monthly maintenance fees, and can put any currently unneeded ‘Mechs in cold storage. These don’t cost any money to maintain, and you can swap them out at will when you decide to change up your roster a bit.
Swapping out equipment is another action that can take time to resolve. ‘Mech customization in the game is fairly straightforward. Each ‘Mech has hardpoints for specific types of equipment, like jump jets or medium sized energy weapons.
Each part has a weight, and each ‘Mech has a tonnage limit. Once you have your primary parts equipped, you can start slotting in stuff like ammo, heat sinks, or increased armor until you reach your tonnage limit. Then you’ll need to create a work order and wait for your mechanics to swap out or replace all the parts.
You’ll often come across rare or higher quality parts, too. Your basic weapon has five tiers of quality, each of which has slightly better stats. There are also different variants of some parts, like an extended range PPC or burst fire autocannon.
As with many things in MechWarrior 5, there is a risk and reward for any part you equip because it can easily be destroyed in battle and lost forever. Trust me, losing that top tier PPC hurts, but losing equipment is all part of being a mercenary MechWarrior.
There’s also a painting system for your ‘Mechs. You can choose from premade patterns and colors, or tweak your primary, secondary, and tertiary colors yourself. There’s not a whole lot to the paint system honestly, but it serves its purpose well enough.
Now that your ‘Mech is all shiny with a fresh coat of paint, its time to cover it in bullet holes and blast marks. The actual combat in MechWarrior 5 will be immediately familiar if you’ve ever played MechWarrior Online.
The game isn’t a full-on sim optimized for flight sticks like the MechWarrior games of the early ’00s. Your targeting reticle is fairly small and precise, you can turn your torso pretty quickly, and sniping off specific parts is a lot easier than it used to be. In fact, coring a ‘Mech or killing the pilot is perhaps a tad too easy because of how precisely you can line up your shots, even in the heat of battle.
At the same time, your ‘Mechs still feel appropriately weighty, with the light ‘Mechs and smaller medium models being the only ones that could be loosely described as “maneuverable.”
The game’s sound assets are also pretty good, with the autocannons and PPCs sounding especially satisfying to shoot. I’m a little torn on the overall lethality of weapons, though.
Light tanks can often take two hits from a Medium Laser, and weapons that are described as devastating in the lore are often just moderately powerful here. As I understand it, this is an ongoing problem with MWO as well, though I have no experience playing that particular game.
As with any MechWarrior game, you’ll need to be more conservative with your shots to avoid overheating. Lasers generate the most heat, followed by missile weapons and traditional ballistic firearms.
Overheating will cause a forced shutdown, leaving you vulnerable and exposed for a few seconds while your ‘Mech reboots. I can’t help but notice that there’s no dedicated alpha strike button in the game though, but firing all your weapons at once manually isn’t especially difficult.
Enemy variety is fairly good overall, with over 50 unique ‘Mechs represented alongside some variants. There’s also quite a few different tanks, missile artillery vehicles, and attack helicopters.
You’ll be fighting primarily vehicles and light and medium ‘Mechs for quite a while before your renown gets high enough to take on contracts that are more likely to involve heavy or assault ‘Mechs.
The game’s difficulty curve in general is fairly decent. It starts out a little on the challenging side, but once you get a full lance and some decent ‘Mechs the difficulty curve becomes more gradual as you expand your company and gain access to more risky contracts.
While your lance certainly helps soak up fire and thin down enemy forces, their AI can be a real mixed bag. It’s not uncommon for someone to lag behind or wander off too far from the group.
Sometimes their complete disregard for where they are going can be a detriment in defense contracts as they mindlessly stomp around on the buildings you are meant to defend. You can issue some basic commands to them, and they are okay enough at following them, but the AI still isn’t particularly amazing.
Luckily, you can mitigate this with co-op. You can invite friends into your games to replace your AI lance mates, but they must use ‘Mechs you have in your hanger bay.
Unfortunately, seeing as how this is a pre-release review, I couldn’t actually test the co-op to see how it well it works. There also doesn’t seem to be a matchmaking system, so you have to invite people on your friends list to play.
While MechWarrior 5 is fairly stable and runs fine on my machine, it does have a decent number of bugs. On multiple occasions I’ve dropped into missions where the audio was missing the whole way through.
I’ve also encountered some inconsistencies in the volume of voice overs from time to time. Finally, there’s been a few instances where I was shot during the pre-mission cutscene where your lance is standing around heroically or disembarking from their dropship.
Maybe its just because I’ve been so starved for a new single player MechWarrior game, but I’ve found myself thoroughly enjoying MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries. It’s story is on the weak side, and many of the contracts are fairly generic, but the core gameplay loop of demolishing enemy forces, getting paid, and buying new ‘Mechs and equipment before moving on to the next warzone had me hooked.
Sadly, the fact that it’s an Epic Games Store exclusive means that there’s probably quite a few people reading this who won’t be playing the game until a year from now, if at all. I honestly don’t blame those people, because I was likely going to be one of them if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m a games critic.
Faults and exclusivity deals aside, MechWarrior 5 is a solid mech combat game that leans more towards the twitch shooter side than the older games in the franchise.
While I would have preferred to see the franchise to return as a nice and proper sim like the old days, MechWarrior 5 still scratches my itch to stomp around the battlefields of the future in a giant robotic war machine.
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries was reviewed on Windows PC using a review copy provided by Piranha Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.