It’s been a long time since we last saw a proper MechWarrior game. We’ve seen almost nothing from the series since 2002’s MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries, save the multiplayer-only MechWarrior Online. MWO is still actively in development by Piranha Games, who also lend their talents to MechWarrior 5. Exclusively focused on single-player gameplay, MW5 is Piranha’s first new effort since their work on the multiplayer for the now-infamous Duke Nukem Forever. Does MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries recapture the spirit of the classic PC shooters, or does it collapse into a scrap heap?
As Commander Mason, you take command of your own mercenary company after a devastating attack by a rogue outfit leaves your father dead and equipment destroyed. Swearing revenge on the Black Inferno outfit is no easy feat, as you find your company whisked away across Inner Sphere space in search of the means and money to take down your mortal enemy. While the story may sound engaging, it’s anything but. A drip-feed of campaign missions, with one mission every two or three hours means characterization is threadbare, and plot hooks almost nonexistent. There’s something about a wider conspiracy concerning the Black Inferno, but with so little exposition, it’s hard to care.
Missiles, Lasers and Ballistics, Oh My!
Outside of story missions, you’ll find your company jumping across Inner Sphere space, hunting contracts and the almighty C-Bill. After picking a mission, you’ll select your ‘Mechs and pilots, up to four of each in a “lance,” and drop in. Piloting can either be in first or third-person, though first-person is definitely easier because you can see where your weapons are physically located. Much of the time spent in MechWarrior 5 is in the cockpit of your ‘Mech, which is a delight to control. Light ‘Mechs turn and zip around the battlefield with agility, whereas 70-ton Heavy ‘Mechs lumber and turn with all the grace of a pregnant Beluga whale.
Outfitting ‘Mechs is almost as fun as piloting your giant stompy robots. If you’ve played MechWarrior Online, then you’ll have no challenge with the MechLab here. For everyone else, every ‘Mech can be customized by armor distribution, as well as what weapons to carry in different slots. You’ll have to worry about weapon placement, as well as heat generated by weapons, armament range, and the outfit of your lance. It can be intimidating to new players, and MechWarrior 5 could sorely use a test range outside of the “Instant Action” quick-play mode if just to see how a loadout works.
Still, after dropping into a world, you’re set loose on your objective. More shooter than RPG, you’ll quickly be outnumbered, and the sheer chaos of combat is something to behold. MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is not an easy game by any means, but if you can. You’ve got to watch your local radar, enemy ‘Mech armor displays, dodge missiles, all while still pumping out damage. There’s a definite learning curve in MechWarrior 5, one that’s satisfying to overcome.
The Daily Grind
For as good as controlling ‘Mechs and customizing them is, the missions you take them on are unbelievably boring and repetitive. There are a whopping five different mission types, which can really be condensed into just two categories: destroy buildings or kill enemies. No escort missions, territory control, electronic warfare, just wanton destruction. Cathartic at first, the five different missions quickly wore out their welcome across the already thin campaign.
Of course, this wouldn’t be an issue if there were a variety of maps and environments to drop into. Naturally, MechWarrior 5 is lacking here too. There are just nine biomes to pick from, three of which are just variations on one another. The maps also feel “gamey,” in that there’s a desert planet, a forest planet, an ice planet, and so on. There’s nothing truly “alien” about any of the planets you visit, and when coupled with the fact that all the facilities you visit look nearly identical, means it’s hard to draw anything memorable from MechWarrior 5.
Both of the already frustrating content problems are exacerbated by the simply staggering amount of grinding required. Prices on ‘Mechs seem copied over straight from MechWarrior Online, with medium ‘Mechs running you four to six million C-Bills, and heavy ‘Mechs sporting a hefty seven to nine million C-Bill price tag. Weapons are similarly expensive, especially as higher-tier equipment is available. Gauss cannons start at one million C-Bills, with high-end missile launchers toting a similar price tag.
This too wouldn’t be an issue if every other area of MechWarrior 5 wasn’t designed to suck you dry. Every jump you make to a new system costs 50,000 C-Bills, increasing in a linear fashion. Every point of damage you take has to be repaired, and if you want to repair where contracts are found, be prepared to add at least 50% to your repair bill, if not more. You’ve got quarterly salaries and ‘Mech upkeep to pay on top of your repair bills, plus rare ‘Mechs and equipment to hunt down. Even at higher tier missions, it never feels like you’re able to make much headway on the financial front. When you’re earning multiple millions of C-Bills in missions, but half of that is already sunk towards repairing ‘Mechs and replacing destroyed equipment, frustration sets in quickly.
As if the money grind wasn’t already insulting enough, you’re also grinding out “reputation,” or experience. The higher your reputation level, the better contracts you can accept, as well as higher payouts you can negotiate. Much like C-Bills, reputation is awarded at a glacial pace in randomly generated missions, though quests give you much more experience. Quests can, however, take anywhere from a half-hour to an hour to complete for just a fifth of the experience bar. They also might as well be randomly generated, for how meaningless they feel in the grand scheme of things.
The end result is a monotonous experience that’s hard to derive any real enjoyment from. Though unintended, Piranha’s take on running your own mercenary company captured the menial nature of a stereotypical 9-to-5 office job. Managing monthly expenses, paying salaries, scrounging for money whenever possible; as an MBA business management sim, MechWarrior 5 succeeds in the worst way possible.
There’s a number of quality-of-life issues to be found in MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries too. There’s a dire need for either a timeline of events or even an in-game lore book. It’s hard to keep which historical events and characters are happening as you’re stumbling across space. Similarly, expanding on the lore behind weapons, as well as the larger history of the game universe would do well to bolster the shamefully thin plot. BattleTech, the series to which MechWarrior belongs, has been around since the mid-1980s, and there should be plenty of writing to make use of. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
If MechWarrior 5 lacks maps and missions, what does it come with? Technical issues, for one. Mission load times bounced anywhere from one and a half minutes to two full minutes, not counting the already lengthy startup load. MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries also hard crashed four separate times and froze a few more, though thankfully auto-saving is frequent. Irritatingly, FPS nosedived any time the zoom was set to maximum, which made sniping with high-damage cannons nearly impossible.
Not to kick MechWarrior 5 while it’s down, but even the soundtrack is subpar. It’s hard to recall any of the tracks, many of which are bog-standard rock songs with distorted, throaty guitar. To call it “generic” is an insult to off-brand aspirin. It’s hard to say what music would work well as you’re stomping around one desert or another, but what’s there now simply doesn’t work.
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries Review | Final Thoughts
I desperately wanted to like MechWarrior 5. After all, who doesn’t love giant robots duking it out with tanks, armored gunships, and dueling other giant robots. For a brief moment, when the shallowness of MechWarrior 5 had yet to be fully revealed, when I was enamored with simply stomping around, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries was at its best. Sadly, as I explored how little content was available, MechWarrior 5 showed that it wasn’t just bad, it was disappointing.
TechRaptor reviewed MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries on PC via the Epic Games Store with a code provided by the developer.