As a newcomer to the series, I was very excited to dive in to my beefed up mech and kick some ass. MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is part of the Battle Tech wargaming franchise, which has spawned many different tabletop games, video games, and card games. Besides MechWarrior, the more popular franchises have included MechAssault (remember that beastly Xbox controller you’d seen on store shelves back in 2002?), and BattleTech, the last of which just released last year actually. A return to form of sorts for the series, we haven’t seen a true MechWarrior game since 2002’s MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the excitement to turn into frustration.
Title: MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries
Publisher: Piranha Games
Developer: Piranha Games
Available On: PC
Reviewed On: PC
Release Date: December 10, 2019
Game Provided By Piranha Games for the Purpose of This Review
For those who are unfamiliar to the series or Mech games in general, there is a training mission that will help you understand the maneuverability of the Mech and how the various weapons can work. I highly recommend doing this as it will be very beneficial because it can get a little hectic in the missions. The narrative begins with your father dying in combat against a group of pirates by the name of Black Inferno. A chain of events begin to unfold which ultimately has you inheriting a Mech and the remains of his mercenary group before setting out to uncover the truth about the Black Inferno.
Speaking of the missions, the first few that you do help set up what is to come when you get access to the solar system. They give you a taste of the kind of contracts you will be offered to help various factions around the solar system. Be careful what factions you want to work with, and which ones you choose to cross, because once you have crossed and burned bridges, you can no longer work with those factions. Factions can be important, because some offer deals on weapon parts and Mechs that you will purchase in the future. These can cost quite a bit of money, so any type of deal can be helpful. Also, the better standing you have with these factions the more negotiating power you can have on earning more money, taking more scrapped weapons, and even having them help pay for damages to your Mech.
Filler is the name of the game in MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries. A good chunk of the time, you’ll spend all your hours building up reputation for these factions in order to get access to new story missions. After you complete those, guess what? Back to grinding reputation as it’ll be the only thing you can physically do. It’s a system that often works well in MMORPG’s, but in a MechWarrior game, I was a little taken aback by how boring it all ended up being. It’s a continuous loop of earning reputation, doing the next story of story missions, and then back to earning reputation. Granted, the missions you’ll be doing while earning said reputation are procedurally generated.. but come on. A bit more variety and content available in between main story missions would have done wonders for this game.
Once you get your feet wet in the first few missions, the solar system really opens up. Unfortunately, this is where I began to get lost and frustrated with the game. During one of the missions where I needed to level up my reputation to continue with the campaign (surprise surprise!), I found myself traveling around the solar system, signing contracts and jumping into missions where I felt overwhelmed and underpowered. I felt like I was walking in and fighting Mechs that had the armor and weapons that wouldn’t take long to cripple the little bit of fire power I had. If that wasn’t bad enough, after failing the missions, you go back to home base and have broken down Mechs that need fixed, weapons that are destroyed and are no longer there. So now I am traveling to different parts of the solar system to buy weapons and it just felt like I was constantly bleeding money. I really struggled with this, and even started the campaign over a few times because of it. It really sucked the enjoyment I had built up for this game and killed any momentum I could ever get into. The rest of the campaign began to feel like a chore.
Let’s discuss a positive aspect about MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, because it isn’t all doom and gloom. The environments being fully destructible is incredibly fun to mess around with. Buildings can be blown to pieces, terrain destroyed, and structures can be completely dismantled. Graphically speaking, the game is a major improvement over what we saw in 2002 obviously, but still struggles to be as visually impressive as other major shooters releasing in 2019. However, every Mech in the game looks impressive and you really feel like you’re piloting around this giant death machine.
As mentioned earlier, I am a newcomer to the series, and the first thing I attempted to do was play with a standard Xbox controller on PC. Big mistake. Keyboard and Mouse controls, or better yet, a Flight Stick, are the cream of the crop when it comes to piloting around your Mech. Speaking strictly about Keyboard and Mouse, attacks are mapped to your individual mouse clicks, and additional skills and ability on your number pad. Moving around the world does take a bit to get used to, as these Mechs control like an airplane instead of like a standard shooter. Things like throttle, rotation, temperature and overheating, and missile trajectories all play a factor into movement. Before long, things start clicking and shouldn’t pose too much of a problem, especially for veterans of the franchise.
Combat has its strong moments, but can often be frustrating at the same time. For example, your Mech can only detect the opposition if its directly in front of you. Tracking targets becomes almost impossible due to this mechanic, and in a game such as this, you really want to be able to track where enemy units are moving to so you can best position yourself.
Besides having the difficulty issues and feeling so lost at times during the campaign, I did have some other issues with the game. On a few occasions I would have the game freeze while trying to load into my save file. I would also get an error code after completing some missions, which was unfortunate because it wouldn’t save my progress and acted like I hadn’t even completed the mission.
Another highlight of the game for me was the soundtrack, which always felt like it was on point when it needed to be. Composed by Sean Kolton, the same man responsible for doing the OST for MechWarrior Online, it oftentimes felt like a sweeping cinematic score driven by loud guitar riffs and sampled orchestral pieces. Missions felt as impactful as they could in their repetitive nature because the tracks accompanying them were so good to listen to.
While I cannot compare to previous entries in the MechWarrior series, I have to wonder if this is a giant leap forward for the franchise, or more like a lateral move. It has some fun moments, but these are quick lived and generally get overshadowed by some of the more glaring issues present in MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries. Newcomers to the franchise may have a hard time digesting this as I did, but fans clamoring for more Mech goodness will likely find a lot to enjoy in Piranha Games’ latest outing.