MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is a return to form for the MechWarrior series. The last time we saw the franchise focus on single-player and co-op was way back in 2002 with MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries, 18 years ago. Mech sims are only released once in a blue moon, and I hoped that MechWarrior 5 would be the evolution the genre needs to please long-time fans and attract a new audience.
Oddly enough, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, while being a completely serviceable and entertaining mech sim, feels like a step back from MechWarrior 4 in many ways. That’s not to say it’s not fun. Fans of the franchise will enjoy stomping around and wrecking havok across the Inner Sphere. However, there are some questionable design choices that prevent MechWarrior 5 from being the quintessential mech sim.
Review PC Specs
|CPU:||AMD Ryzen 7 3800X|
|Motherboard:||ASUS ROG Strix X570-E Gaming ATX Motherboard|
|RAM:||32GB G.Skill Trident Z Neo Series DDR4 3600MHz|
|GPU:||NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition|
|Install Drive:||Sabrent 1TB Rocket PCIe 4.0 M.2 SSD|
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries Review | Into the fire
The games starts with your pa dying in combat against the Black Inferno pirates, leaving you in charge of the remnants of his mercenary group. Apparently your dear old dad wasn’t too successful as a mercenary, because all you start out with is a busted Centurion (a decent 50 ton medium mech) and a Javelin (a fairly poo-poo light mech).
Your first order of business is to escape the star system, which the Black Inferno has blockaded. Your dad held a secret that the Black Inferno are willing to kill for, so you need to dip out before they take you out too.
The story missions, for the most part, deal with finding out who the Black Inferno are, what they want, and why they want it. The campaign takes you across the Inner Sphere, but for the most part you’ll be completing procedually generated random missions that don’t actually contain any story.
Much of MechWarrior 5 consists of you building your reputation to unlock the next set of story missions. This means there’s a lot of “filler” that puts the plot on the back burner.
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries Review | Prettier than ever
Obviously, MechWarrior 5 is a graphical upgrade from MechWarrior 4. Each mech looks stupendous, and I loved looking up at them in my dropship and seeing just how huge these bipedal machines are.
Destructability is a big part of the spectacle here. Buildings are almost fully destructable, and I always got a kick at showering a base with missiles and seeing them collapse. Many missions require you to destroy structures, so you get plenty of opportunity to stomp them down without going out of your way.
Unfortunately, RTX and DLSS won’t be included with the game at launch. This only affects some players, but as an RTX 2080 Ti owner, I was really looking forward to some raytracting goodness here.
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries Review | Loop-the-loop
You hear the term “gameplay loop” a lot, but MechWarrior 5 is one of the few games in which there is a very, very obvious loop. Your main goal most of the time is to fill your reputation meter to gain a level which will give you access to the next set of plot missions. You raise your reputation by performing procedually generated missions, after which you repair and rearm. After your mechs are back in fighting shape, you deploy again and repeat.
The big issue with MechWarrior 5 is that there just aren’t enough mission variations to keep it from feeling like a grind. You’ve got:
- Assassination: Destroy a certain enemy unit.
- Defense: Defend a target from enemies until you’ve killed a certain number of units.
- Demolition: Destroy a certain percentage of structures in an area.
- Raid: Blow a target up and dip out.
- Warzone: Fight waves of enemies until you kill a certain number.
You’ll play these five types of mission over and over as you grind cash to upgrade to better mechs and reputation to proceed through the plot. The only big difference between each instance of a mission type is the environment (sometimes you get lava planets, sometimes snow, sometimes Earth-like), and the difficulty (affects amount and type of enemy units present).
Of course, doing the same thing over and over doesn’t make a game bad. Tons of games are repetitive and have been since the dawn of video gaming. However, the frustrating combat makes it feel like a real slog.
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries Review | Running blind
The basics of piloting a mech in MechWarrior 5 work just like they did in MechWarrior 4. Instead of controlling like an FPS, mechs are driven more like an airplane. That means you have to worry about a throttle, firing arcs, overheating, torso rotation, and the like. Each mech feels vastly different from the next, and it’s a ton of fun finding which one is right for you.
However, the game makes some simple tasks incredibly frustrating for seemingly no reason. For some reason, your mech can only detect enemy units within your line of sight. This means that you never have a clear view of the battlefield and it’s almost impossible to prioritize or track targets. If your mech isn’t pointed directly at an enemy, they’ll usually just disappear off your minimap and won’t show up as a target until you’re looking straight at them again.
Because of the way sensors are implemented, it’s way too easy to get overwhelmed by enemy units. Especially on higher difficulty missions, you’ll have enemy mechs, choppers, and fighting vehicles swarming all around you and you’ll maybe see a fourth of them on radar at any given time, even if they’re at point blank range.
If you manage to lock onto an enemy, good luck hitting it. Your mech has a crosshair that’s almost completely worthless. For munitions-based weapons (autocannons, missiles, machine guns) you have to lead your target to score a hit. However, you don’t get any sort of assistance in the form of a lead indicator on your HUD. This means you’ve got to line up every single shot by gut alone.
In some games, leading the shot by your eye and gut alone is just part of the gameplay. However, it’s 3015 in MechWarrior 5 and I’m firing multiple weapon systems from a 50+ ton mech, not shooting at Nazis with an M1 Garand. This issue is compounded by another that I’ll get into later, but it makes the game almost unbearable. It’s somewhat abated by lock-on capable missiles, but those weapons are handicapped by the terrible radar system that keeps you from using them unless and enemy is in your line of sight.
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries Review | Lack of power
You’ll grind many an hour in MechWarrior 5 to gain the cash to buy new mechs for you and your lance. Getting to move into a more powerful machine is the game’s biggest hook besides the plot. This is unfortunate because you never actually feel powerful, no matter what mech you use.
The mechs is this game must be made out of paper mache because my machines needed an overhaul after almost every mission. Even when you finally made it to heavy assault mechs like the 100 ton Atlas, you’ll often find yourself in tatters even after missions below your current recommended difficulty.
Part of this issue is the aforementioned issues with the horrendous radar and targeting. Because of these problems, your long-range weaponry is largely useless unless you encounter the enemy under perfect circumstances. Instead, most fights, especially against mechs, turn into short-range slogs with multiple foes pummeling you.
Ironically, mechs are also much too resilient. It’s only your weapon systems and limbs that are affected most of the time. So, you’ll often find yourself in a position where your main weaponry has been blown off, and you’re rendered combat ineffective even though your mech is still mobile.
To take down a mech, you have to destroy both legs, the torso, or the cockpit. This goes for you or the enemy. The problem is, the cockpit and the torso of mechs are so heavily armored and your targeting is so bad that it’s not even worth trying to consistently hit an area. The game devolves into you just desperately shooting at an enemy’s legs until they go down.
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries Review | Too hot
The poor targeting and sensors mean you’ll miss a lot of shots. This is annoying enough, but heat management in MechWarrior 5 is ridiculous. No matter what sort of gun you use, you generate heat. Energy weapons generate more heat than missiles or autocannons, but everything has an impact.
Heat management has been part of the MechWarrior (and the tabletop BattleTech franchise it’s derived from) forever. The problem here is that heat buildup occurs so quickly you’ll often only get a few shots off before your mech is threatening to shut down on you.
Given that the game might throw 4-5 mechs at your lance at once, plus helicopters, tanks, turrets, missile trucks, etc., you’ll often have to take a beating as you wait for your heat meter to tick down low enough so you can fire. It also renders mechs that have primarily laser armament almost useless.
You can mitigate the issue with heat somewhat by adding heat sinks to your mech. However, because each mech has a strict weight limit, you have to sacrifice weaponry or armor to install more heat sinks. So, you might be able to dissipate heat better, but it might not matter because with weaker armor your weapons will probably get blown off before they get much of a chance to generate heat.
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries Review | A balancing act
This game is a great example of how a small series of design decisions can break gameplay. Each of the complaints above is fairly small on its own, but when all of them combine, they cripple a game that has a firm foundation at its core.
MechWarrior 5 has the potential to be a really great mech sim. In fact, for the most part, it would probably just take a small rebalancing to solve some issues. Most of the time when I have these kinds of complaints about a game, it’s because it’s fundamentally broken in some way. That’s not the case here, though.
I’m scoring the game as a 3/5 in its launch state, but with very little work it could easily become a 4/5 game. However, as it is upon the writing of this review, it’s a very frustrating game that needs a balancing pass badly.
If you are a MechWarrior fanatic, MechWarrior 5 will probably give you hours of enjoyment. If not, I’d wait until some of the problems above are addressed before making a purchase.
MechWarrior 5 was reviewed via a PC code provided by PR.