Review: MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is the ‘Mech Game We Were Waiting For

Screenshot: MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries It’s been a long time since we had a decent game that was all about stompy robots. I’m not talking about Titanfall-style fighting robots, but the massive, multistoried behemoths from BattleTech. It’s been almost twenty years since the previous MechWarrior game, and for a game that was so long in the making, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries has a lot to live up to. Developer Piranha Games isn’t new at making ‘mech games. Since its release in 2013, they have been the ones behind MechWarrior Online, a free-to-play title that lets players fight each other with ‘mechs earned-in game, or paid for with real-world cash in a model reminiscent of World of Tanks. Needless to say, despite feeling like they had the ‘mech combat down, there are those like myself who longed for the day where we could fight with our friends across the Inner Sphere in a full-fledged single player campaign. That day is finally here. Screenshot: MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries First of all, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is a single package with a single price for admission (if you ignore the deluxe version).  If you’re coming from MechWarrior Online, and love the gameplay but not the pricing model, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries might be more of what you’re looking for. Don’t expect a first-person shooter. While there are on-foot, first person moments, they are mostly saved for between missions. MechWarrior 5 is all about piloting ‘mechs—and it is one of the most mechanically satisfying and fun giant robot games I’ve ever played. Screenshot: MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries MechWarrior 5 is almost a simulator in mechanics and detail. Battlemechs require a bit of a learning curve to learn to drive effectively. Each part of a ‘mech has different amount of armor, weak spots, etc. It’s closer to World of Tanks than Titanfall.  Like a tank, a ‘mech’s upper torso and lower legs move independently of each other. (There is even a bit of independent movement from the arms to the rest of the torso for some ‘mechs.) Learning to master a ‘mech’s movements while managing the vast array of weapons some of these ‘mechs can field takes some getting used to. Combat in MechWarrior 5 is visceral, and brutal. It really gives you the feeling of piloting a large, mostly impenetrable robot while trying to destroy other similar robots. Each ‘mech consists of several components: cockpit, side torsos, center torso, and legs. Each part has its own health and armor, front and back. If your armor is exposed, damage can readily get into your internal components—and that’s when you have to worry about your ‘mech being disabled, or your fusion reactor exploding after going critical. Screenshot: MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries There is a great amount of strategy involved in being an ace ‘mech pilot. Twisting your torso to put your most armored sections in the way of damage, and using terrain to your advantage is the way to succeed—especially when you’re staring down overwhelming forces. You won’t just be fighting other ‘mechs—even though there are dozens of varieties to find—but also aircraft, and tanks. And while most of these smaller vehicles are easily defeated (even just by walking on them) they have some powerful weapons of their own. Screenshot: MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries Since the main thing you’ll be doing gameplay-wise is piloting a ‘mech, it’s a pleasure to say that playing as a stompy robot has never been as fun before. The action is visceral, and it really makes you feel like you’re inside a giant robot, shrugging off shots that would level an office building. And with destructible buildings, you really CAN level an office building. In another vast improvement from MechWarrior Online, MechWarrior 5 has destructible buildings and walls. You can feel even more formidable as you walk straight through some building, and break down enemy walls instead of having to find a way around them. There’s no better way to emphasize sheer destructive size than to casually stroll through a building. Screenshot: MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries There is a story in MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, but it’s little more than a vehicle to get into the action. Taking place in the Inner Sphere in the 31st century—you play as the son of a leader of a mercenary band as he seek revenge for his father’s death. To do this, you’ll be piloting ‘mechs, and hiring others mercs to fight alongside you as you take down the outfit that wronged you while uncovering an unexpected conspiracy. It’s not groundbreaking, but it gets the job done. Screenshot: MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries In MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries your dropship is your home: it’s where you’ll plan missions, work on your ‘mechs loadouts and maintenance, and it will even drop you directly into battle. As I’ve mentioned a lot recently, I love when games give you a home base to come back to, and MechWarrior 5’s is not only functional, it’s a treat. Between sessions you can see the battle damage your ‘mechs have taken, and walk around and gaze at the scale of them. Screenshot: MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries Everything you do in-game takes time—with time being an important factor in almost every decision you make. Whether you’re considering travel time, or how much time it will take to fix damaged mech, time is always ticking. Every 90 days you have to pay your pilots and your upkeep costs. Every bit of damage taken during a mission, either by you or your lance mates, will have to be fixed after the battle. And every new weapon will have to be installed, while damaged ones will have to be removed. ‘Mechs come mostly come pre-built, but you can tweak the weaponry at will-depending on what type of hard points available. Screenshot: MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries Weaponry is divided into three categories: missiles, energy weapons, and ballistic weapons. Missiles come in long and short range variety. There are all sorts of energy weapons—from beam weapons that look like they’d be at home in Star Trek, to large energy blasting PPCs. Ballistic weapons are some of the most visceral weapons to use, from the armor-stripping machine guns to the massive-damage AC/20 and its variants. While I wish I could say that everything is great in MechWarrior 5, it’s not without its issues. There is some awkward voice acting, and underwhelming human character models (never the ‘mechs, they’re all gorgeous) which makes all of the production value in MechWarrior 5 seem a little lower overall.  These things I can overlook, but there are some user interface issues I can’t get past. Screenshot: MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries While the UI is functional, there are a lot of quality of life issues I’d love to see addressed. I really appreciate how easy it is to edit load-outs on the ‘mechs, but buying and selling ‘mechs can be a real pain in the ass. You are only given twelve active ‘mech bays, with all other ‘mechs placed in “cold storage.” That’s not a problem, except you can’t sell ‘mechs directly from cold storage, and you can’t sell them unless you have an open slot free. This forced me to keep a slot open occasionally to just be able to sell the ‘mechs I was being rewarded or managed to salvage from the battlefield. Another issue with the UI is the inability to set weapon groups until you're actually dropped, and in the middle of a mission. I long for the day that I can set my weapon's fire groups, and even test them out, without the threat of live fire. Screenshot: MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries You have control over what rewards missions give you by negotiating terms of your mercenary contracts. It’s possible to accept a contract without negotiation—but it’s at a significant loss to the player. This is something I didn’t realize during my first couple of hours. I wish they gave you a warning if you are going to accept a contract without negotiating it, because once you have it, you can’t go back on it without risking reputation loss.  The higher your reputation with a faction, the more negotiation points you have, and the more potential salvage you can take. Salvage determines what weaponry and even ‘mechs you can take after a battle. Each ‘mech requires a significant amount of salvage points to keep, but salvage isn’t guaranteed. You can always take a cut in pay to get battlefield rewards, or even use some of your clout to get your client to foot some of the repair bill. Screenshot: MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries was made with care: there is a ton of attention to detail for those who are diehard BattleTech fans. The game starts in 3015, for instance, but supports play all the way to the year 3049. That means certain ‘mechs and other items won’t unlock until their appropriate, in-lore year. There are over 50 mechs, and all of the mechs in the game have an updated look from their past counterparts. Screenshot: MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries Each of the non-campaign side missions in MechWarrior 5 are randomized – you will play a handful of different scenarios in a handful of different map types. Anyone coming over from MechWarrior Online might actually be disappointed in the lack of variety when it comes to places to wage your ‘mech war, though. Expect to stomp through deserts, forests, snowy areas and more--there is a decent amount of variety—it’s just lacking some of the more exotic locations you can find in MechWarrior Online. There is a lot of space to explore in the Inner Sphere, and you can be potentially rewarded for doing so. As time progresses, and as you explore through space, you can find rare ‘mech variants, “Hero” variants (often with some of the best components available) and rare weapons. With enough time and care, you can kit out your ‘mechs to be unstoppable. Screenshot: MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries The sheer amount of ‘mechs in MechWarrior 5 is notable, too. There are over 50 different types of ‘mechs, not including the variants of those models. Each one has a unique look and feel as well as its own cockpit for extra immersion. A final big plus with MechWarrior 5 is that you can play it co-op with your friends. While there is multiplayer in MechWarrior 5, don't expect a PvP mode (that's presumably saved for the still operating MechWarrior Online). But you can play with your friends through the entire campaign--they can drop as any number of your three lance mates. I did not get a chance to play co-op for this review, but it's something I'm looking forward to come release. Screenshot: MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is exactly the game I’ve wanted since I first got my hands on MechWarrior Online. It’s mechanically deep, and satisfying with a massive amount of replayability. It does have some UI quality of life issues I’d like to see addressed, and some of the laser weaponry could do with a visual upgrade. But with ongoing support from Piranha Games, MechWarrior 5 has the potential to be a game for the ages, and something I could play for twenty more years—if it takes that long for the next MechWarrior game. MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is available today on Windows via the Epic Game Store If you like the video game, tabletop, or other technology content that Third Coast Review has to offer, consider donating to our Patreon. We are the only publication in Chicago that regularly reviews video games, and we cover lots of local Chicago-based events and more. 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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, and video game historian. He is also a small streamer, occasional podcast guest, and writer.