|Platforms||PC (reviewed), Xbox One Xbox X/S|
|Release Date||December 10, 2019 (EGS), May 26, 2021 (Steam)|
PPC, Gauss Rifle, Arrow IV, laser, machine gun, Auto Cannon, Inferno, LRM, Thunder Mine—to this day, I fondly recall the mezzo-soprano tone of the female AI in the weapon selection screen of Battletech (1994; AKA MechMarrior 3050) on the Sega Genesis. That game was my first exposure to the universe, before I experienced arguably the most popular MechWarrior game to date, MechWarrior 2 (1995). Though Virtua Racing (1994) was the first game that I can recall that utilized polygons, MechWarrior 2 was the first video game whose system requirements barred me from enjoying what it had to offer. I had to wait until 1996 when my dad purchased an ATI All-In-Wonder video card/TV adapter hybrid to bask in what was then a cutting-edge mech battle simulator.
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries originally launched on the Epic Games Store at the end of 2019. It would come to the PC version of Xbox Game Pass in May of 2020, with Xbox X/S and Steam versions a year later. Because MechWarrior 5 is the first single-player MechWarrior game in nearly twenty years, expectations were astronomical. This is especially true as the Steam port of MechWarrior 5 accompanies the highly-anticipated DLC, Heroes of the Inner Sphere.
MechWarrior 5 features gratuitous metallic exoskeletal violence. Pilots can disarm mechs literally, but they cannot “de-leg” them, one of my favorite things to do in MechWarrior 2. In this game, a mech that has lost functionality of a leg will limp around rather than remain a stationary target for easy pickings. Yo Piranha Games, what is up with that change?
One faction, House Kurita, problematically reflects WWII-era imperialist Japan, while MechWarrior 5 is set in 3015. Unlike the Empire of the Rising Sun in Red Alert 3, House Kurita are is not parody. This feels very 1980’s stereotypical and othering to me.
Full disclosure: even though MechWarrior occupies a fond place in my heart, it was not until I prepared myself to write this review that I discovered that MechWarrior is based upon the BattleTech tabletop universe. My audience has read that correctly—all these years, I did not know that a game like 2018’s BATTLETECH is based upon a universe on the scale of Star Wars or Magic the Gathering. Veterans might have clicked the “X” icon by now, but newcomers should know that this game is as good as any other to begin their (Star) Trek into the franchise.
After all, players will spend a great deal of time looking at a star map of what is called the Inner Sphere, and select destinations for travel. After paying a transport fee, in-game days lapse as players travel from one system to another while seeking out contracts (missions). Recall that this game is MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries; therefore, it must uphold its thematic premise.
Contracts include “destruction” and “raid,” requiring raiding a location to raze structures; “assassination” designates a specific pilot for glorious mech combat; “defense” entails guarding an area against raiders, ensuring that key structures do not fall below a damage threshold; “warzone” involves a skirmish that resembles survival modes in most games, where here, players can choose to leave after meeting a minimum number of eliminations. Finally, “beachead” is a new contract mode available courtesy of the recently-released DLC, Heroes of the Inner Sphere. “Warzone” is a misnomer because enemies come in waves, and players can see them coming; beachhead missions are legitimate multi-stage warzones, thrusting players into hostile territory where opponents are already in position to protect key objectives while artillery bombard player advancement.
My favorite contracts involve the raids because they can be as easy as launching LRMs (long-range missiles) and simply walking through buildings because that is more efficient than waiting for weapons to cool down between shots. I also like the assassination missions because they allow for hit-and-run tactics where I can refuse to engage non-critical enemy mechs, minimizing the damage that I take. Managing damage is a core mechanic in MechWarrior 5, because warzone and especially beachhead contracts are expensive.
Wait, what do I mean by taking contracts being expensive? Is it not the point of the game to take on contracts for profit? Indeed, the gameplay conventions operating within MechWarrior 5 compel me to view the macromanagement phase of the game as a proxy for a digital tabletop for managing overhead. Travel requires a fee. Supporting a roster of mech pilots demands a stipend. Acquiring mechs creates invoices. Repairing mechs generate bills. Owning mechs accrues upkeep. Repairing mechs fetch invoices. At first, credits will seem easy to come by, but as missions increase in difficulty and number, players will need to make a series of executive decisions in order to stay in the black.
As a mercenary outfit, players will have to build their reputations among the factions within the Inner Circle. Naturally, this means completing contracts. The higher the player’s individual reputation and the more contracts completed for a faction, the more reputation points that will be available to allocate between the perks for contract completion. Players can choose between raw credits, salvage shares, insurance to cover mech damages, and/or airstrike support. I have never chosen airstrikes, preferring credits and salvage shares. Insurance, like in real life, feels like a wasted expense when not needed, and a regrettable omission when it is. Deciding if one will accrue enough damage to warrant insurance or allocating those rep points elsewhere such as in credits is stressful.
All of this financial management is frustrating. Worse, I rarely seem to have enough salvage points in order to scavenge a mech core to add to my collection. Salvaging defeated enemy mechs is supposed to be the cost-efficient way of building an army, but I have had to purchase them outright, a far more expensive method. To make things worse, players will encounter higher level mechs as enemies in combat before being able to purchase them.
All of that macro business aside, what I have played in actual battlefield combat is pretty fun. The Centurion is the mech players pilot in the tutorial, and it is pound-for-pound one of the best mechs that I have access to. With a firepower rating of 35, the next closest mech is the Crab, with 28. It has average armor, though, and it is best to attack while strafing to the right so that enemies are unlikely to blow off its arm that carries the Auto Cannon 10. Raining down LRMs could be more satisfying if they were more damaging, but I would prefer having to spam them over sustaining direct damage from close-range enemy fire. Running the Centurion every mission, however, does get old. The Dragon showed promise, but small lasers are hardly worth the mouse click, and I prefer the range and lock-on ability of the LRM. The Crab’s large lasers tend to overheat the mech except in cold biomes. The Dervish is loaded with all kinds of short-range missiles, but the Centurion’s Auto Cannon is thus far unmatched.
I appreciate the game’s attention to detail such as in the screenshot above. However, I noticed a lot of texture pop-in when approaching terrain and structures. Most of the time, this kind of geometry exists only so that mechs can flatten it. Mechs themselves look great in the hangar; I appreciate the tremendous contrast between light and heavy mechs; thus far, I have been unfortunately unable to acquire an assault mech for comparison.
I say “thus far” because I have yet to finish MechWarrior 5 as the sum-total of its elements that I have outlined above have made it tedious to do so. The campaign is merely a linear series of missions designed to ensure that players are given minimal exposure to the different mission types, all of which take place on cleverly disguised, yet randomly generated maps. The story is a cliché revenge plot that takes players on a chase all around the Inner Sphere, made worse with below-average voice acting outside of the support character Ryana Campbell. Overall, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is a fun game to be played in spurts; one can only look at the loading screen so many times while looking for a cheap place to repair mechs, or searching for a contract that will not make more enemies than friends.
Review copy generously provided by One PR Studio.
The Bottom Line
MechWarrior 5 is certainly a blast from the past, but I wish it was more.