When Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries released as an Epic Games Store exclusive at the end of 2019, there were a lot of fans who were anticipating a Steam release left with a bitter taste in their mouths. Developer Piranha Games decided to go for that Epic Games Store money, despite its early campaign that had customers purchasing on a pledge-like tier system with one of the promises being a Steam key. Well, if you were one of those very early fans who decided to wait for the Steam release, it’s finally upon us. If you were hoping for some quality of life changes and improvements from the original release, you’re in luck—though Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries still might not be the game you were hoping for.
Despite the fact that I really liked Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries on release the majority of players had issues with it, specifically its learning curve, and tendency for enemy units to pop in unexpectedly (among other complaints). If these complaints concerned you, I have to report that a lot of the balancing PGI was promising for Mechwarrior 5’s Steam release seems to have fixed a lot of the “enemy spawning behind you” problems. But Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries has seen a lot of other improvements as well beyond these balance changes—from the UI, to maps and different mission types. As a Mechwarrior Online veteran, despite the change in engine, I originally felt right at home in Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries, and I’m delighted to be getting all of these improvements.
Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries is a first and third person action game where you pilot tens of tons of battlemech (or mech) against opposing forces—which vary based on who is giving the better payout. Not only are you a mech pilot, you also take the role as the head of a mercenary company. While Mechwarrior 5 has you take over your father’s outfit, Nik’s Cavaliers, Heroes of the Inner Sphere DLC does something the base game should do by default: allow you to make your own mercenary company from the ground up. Even without the DLC, Mechwarrior 5 touts a whole list of improvements from the base game, but it doesn’t address all of the issues I’ve had with it.
When I first got into Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries on Steam, I immediately noticed some graphical differences and UI improvements. When I got into the gameplay loop of exploring jumping from system to system looking for contracts, and running missions, the improvements became apparent. I think the very first mission I performed had new weather effects, which affect visibility, and there are extreme conditions that can have an effect on sensors. The AI now use jump jets in combat—which is great, and makes a huge change in the way I outfit the mechs my AI are going to use. Of course, whether the AI uses them effectively is up to some debate. There are also salvage crates you can find that’ll give you a few extra C-Bills. Guns, especially laser weapons, sound beefier now with the updated audio. Sadly, the original metal soundtrack hasn’t been reworked, and still sounds more at home in a Saturday morning cartoon from the 90’s, and not a modern video game. Of course, there’s something metal about stomping around in giant robots, so I might be the one off-base here. There are a handful of other improvements, too, from different base configurations on planets to the ability to apply paint schemes and colors to multiple mechs at once. It’s almost a brand new experience—but it still isn’t perfect.
Despite promises of rebalancing, the difficulty in Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries still feels a little off. I haven’t been ambushed by enemies spawning directly behind me—which is a vast improvement—but the difficulty level does seem a little higher than I expected with the rebalance. It doesn’t help that your AI companions are almost worthless in the early game, when only (mostly) inept pilots are available for hire. Supposedly, your dropship will now both put you in better starting positions, and pick you up in more convenient locations—but this hasn’t really been my experience. In fact, lately I’ve often found myself navigating my squad of mechs around kilometers of ridgeline just to get to my extractions—something I didn’t have to do nearly as often back when I originally played, but this could be chalked up to really bad luck on my part.
With the release of Heroes of the Inner Sphere I was hoping for an extra hearty chunk of gameplay, but this $20 DLC feels like it should have been a free update. Instead of heading Nik’s Cavalier’s mercenary outfit, you make your own from scratch. It’s basically Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries without most of the overarching narrative. There are seven new Hero Lostech mechs to find, meaning there are essentially seven new mech models, with some of those models have a number of variants—or mechs with different weapon loadout configurations. There is also new technology to find, like gear that will further trick out your favorite mechs, like the overdrive module that can give you speed at the potential cost of internal system damage.
Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries simultaneously feels like a brand new game, while still having some of the same glaring original issues still present. At this point, I’ve played so much Mechwarrior 5 I could write a multi-volume treatise on it. It’s still the best example of stompy mech action I’ve played, and is almost exactly what I wanted in a single player Mechwarrior game while queueing in Mechwarrior Online lobbies way back when. I wish I could declare Heroes of the Inner Sphere as the DLC that Mechwarrior 5 needed, but I feel like it would have served as a much more enticing incentive to us cynical veterans if it was offered as a free DLC. Despite this, it does offer up an alternative mode of gameplay, and the extra biome (extra solar Moon) and new mechs that might be worth the price tag. I know if I didn’t get a complimentary review copy, I’d be putting my money down for it.
Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries launches on Steam tomorrow, alongside Heroes of the Inner Sphere DLC.
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