MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Piranha Games
Release Date: Dec. 10, 2019

About Tony "OUberLord" Mitera

I've been entrenched in the world of game reviews for almost a decade, and I've been playing them for even longer. I'm primarily a PC gamer, though I own and play pretty much all modern platforms. When I'm not shooting up the place in the online arena, I can be found working in the IT field, which has just as many computers but far less shooting. Usually.


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PC Review - 'MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries'

by Tony "OUberLord" Mitera on Jan. 8, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

In MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries you will adopt the role of a rookie MechWarrior pilot thrust into combat as the Third Succession War continues to fracture the Inner Sphere.

It has been over 19 years since the last mainline MechWarrior game was released. Although other games like the stellar BattleTech and the MechAssault series have tried to fill the void, only Piranha Games' previous MechWarrior Online put the player back in the cockpit, and even then, that game was a multiplayer-centric affair. MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries finally returns the series' focus to a campaign mode, in which you run your own mercenary company while striving to avenge an attack that killed your father.

MechWarrior 5 doesn't make a fantastic first impression. The game has been in one form of development limbo or another for around a decade, and much of the title wears this fatigue on its sleeve. The graphics haven't improved much since the pre-alpha trailers from three years ago, which means there are many parts that look dated. Weapon effects and the mechs' battle damage look quite good, but the lighting and terrain aren't as impressive as they should be for a game released in 2019.

There's other goofiness . While the earlier trailers of the game exhibited more audio for your Leopard ship when traveling between systems and more ambient sounds, the released game is a lot less interactive and has a lot less personality. Other areas where the game has regressed is with the in-mission HUD; in previous trailers, the HUD was fancier, but the new one is white text and graphs with very little style.

It's as though MechWarrior 5 hits you with all of its flaws up front. When I played the first 30 minutes of the game, I was dismayed at these flaws, which were joined by an overly stereotypical guitar-heavy soundtrack. However, the game improves as it progresses. For all of the other areas that the title falters, it absolutely excels at the combat.

It takes a second to get used to piloting a mech, and each mech has slightly different handling characteristics. You independently control the orientation of your mech's legs, torso, and arms; the latter two are controlled with the mouse, and the former is managed with your keyboard. You can set the speed so you don't have to hold down a key, but you can also choose to have the mech slow down if the key is released. Your torso can't spin all the way around, so you must be mindful of the direction you're facing as well as the direction that your legs are facing.

Get a handle on that, and the game opens up for you. It's up to you to use whatever weapon system you feel is suitable for the target, and that's made easier by the helpful weapon display that shows your range and color codes the whole bar if it will be fully effective. With experience, you become a towering walking tank, firing lasers at a distant foe and smoothly transitioning into firing an AC shell into something a bit closer before locking onto a distant helicopter and firing a volley of long-range missiles.

When you target an enemy, it shows their status in the upper right. Smaller foes, such as tanks and some aircraft, have one big icon that turns red as it takes damage. For enemy mechs, you can see individual body parts. You can't see what equipment is in the part, but you can observe weapons fire coming from different parts and target those areas to try to cripple them. This also means that people who are aware of how stock mechs are built will know what to target to quickly disable an enemy.

Each mech part is protected by armor, and after the armor is gone, the underlying structure takes damage. At that point, any damage has the chance to hinder or destroy any components or weapons contained within. This is important to keep in mind when targeting enemy mechs and when considering how to protect your own mech. Got some missiles incoming, and your left torso is heavily damaged? Pivot your torso to the left so that your right arm and right torso soak up most of that damage.

Firing your weapons generates heat, and overheating shuts down your mech for a few seconds, which makes you completely defenseless. Combat becomes a balancing act of steering your mech to an optimal position to engage the enemy while also targeting enemy mechs and keeping your heat in check. There are few things more satisfying in the game than landing a laser shot at full tilt on an enemy at range and watching half of their torso explode in a shower of sparks and shards of metal.

Every mission allows you to negotiate how much you get paid, what salvage rights you have, and how much of your damage cost is covered. You also gain rep with the faction that granted the mission, which lets you negotiate for more rewards from them in the future. You also lose rep with whomever the enemy was, which isn't a concern when they're pirates, but it can matter if it's House Liao, and you've been wanting to build rep with them. You can choose which contracts you take, so you can simply avoid missions that are detrimental to your rep.

You must repair your mechs between missions, and you can also refit them with better equipment. Each mech type has a weight limit and a set of hardpoints that can fit certain types and sizes of weapons. A mech might come stock with an LRM15 missile launcher in a hardpoint, but you can replace it with a lighter LRM10 to save weight at the expense of a little firepower. You can also replace weapons with new ones of a higher tier, which provides greater damage, fire rate, and range at the same weight.

It is good that the gameplay loop of taking missions, duking it out, and tweaking your mechs back at the hangar is compelling because the campaign storyline is practically nonexistent. In theory, you are trying to gain strength in your mercenary company to exact revenge on the Black Inferno company that killed your father. In practice, you only do a mission that references them, which is one out of every dozen or so missions. It's an incredibly slow-burning plot that has a little intrigue but ultimately takes a back seat to the fun of running your mercenary outfit and chasing down and acquiring bigger mechs and more powerful guns.

There is no adversarial multiplayer in MechWarrior 5, but there is a good co-op implementation. Up to four players can play at the same time, but only the host controls the mercenary company operations, such as repairing mechs or picking which system to jump to. It would be nice to grant co-op partners the ability to tweak mech loadouts or give them something else to do between missions because otherwise, you roam around the ship and wait for the next sortie.

Co-op addresses a big issue with the AI, as mechs don't always play to their strengths when controlled by the AI. Playing with human players allows for greater flexibility in builds; for example, you can make a mech that is a lightly armored but powerful missile carrier, and that player can keep away from the fight to stay safe. It's also just a lot of fun playing the game in co-op, as you can coordinate taking down targets. The game has built-in controls for the AI, but it's limited to basic commands like "attack this," "follow me," and "go here."

The biggest issue with MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is that it hits you with all of its shortcomings at once. Keep playing, though, and the game establishes itself as a fun title that's worthy of the MechWarrior moniker. Play it with friends, and it becomes even more entertaining. Dated aspects of its presentation aside, the combat remains fun mission after mission, and it continues to test you as you become more powerful. Start blowing apart enemy mechs with a small array of PPC cannons and make a few big pay days, and you'll appreciate the game for what it is.

Score: 7.2/10

Reviewed on: Intel i7 4790k, 32 GB RAM, NVidia GTX 2070 Super

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