MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is an incredibly fun game to play if you like the action elements of mech combat in the BattleTech world. Now I realize that the game has been out for quite a while now, but it was never available on platforms that I personally had access to, having been an Epic Games Store exclusive for a year and later moving to Xbox One before finally landing on Steam, GoG and other PC platforms. And while I detest those PC-exclusive game launches that only go to the Epic Games Store, in this case it might have done the game some good.
Having been patched and fixed up for over a year, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is in much better shape as a launch title for players on Steam. There is even a highly recommended DLC called Heroes of the Inner Sphere which adds a much needed campaign mode to the game. And because Steam so easily supports player-made mods, it’s easy to add in even more player fixes which are already sitting there ready to go in the Steam workshop. They do just about everything from rebalancing the combat to adding color-coding to your mech’s heat gauges. So modify the game as you see fit. I would even classify some of the mods as nearly essential to improving gameplay.
When compared with the Steam launch of my current favorite mech title, Harebrained Scheme’s BATTLETECH, MechWarrior 5 actually scores higher. It took BATTLETECH a long time to find its footing. Yes, I eventually put 800 hours or more into BATTLETECH, but at launch, it was barely a 3 GiN Gem title (out of 5). MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries easily earns 4 GiN Gems out of the gate on Steam, and I suppose we can thank all those who muddled through the early days of the game on other platforms.
The plot of MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries follows what is typical for most games set in the BattleTech world in that you somehow become the leader of a mercenary company, normally though some terrible event where your mentor/father/buddy is killed. Thereafter you must design your company, hire pilots, obtain and refit mechs, track down contracts and of course fight other mechs in intense combat and campaigns. MechWarrior 5 is no different in that respect, and the overall plot is kind of forgettable. BATTLETECH had a much better overall plot, and that is kind of saying something.
The game takes place in the year 3015 and goes to 3049, which is just before the Clan Invasion. So you will mostly be encountering standard mechs fielded by the great houses or the mercenaries that work for them. In addition to the standard gear, there are actually some low-tech weapons that people are fielding because of the backslide in technology following the destruction of the Star League. So you will run into chemical lasers and conventional rifle type guns. Those generally do similar damage to the more standard gear, but have longer reload times, generate more heat or have other flaws. Then again, a high quality piece of gear from that group can be better than a low quality one from the standard loadout, so don’t discount anything without first checking it out. There is also some amazing LosTech in the game, but it’s rare, as it should be.
There are two main parts of the game, managing your mercenary company and fighting. Both are pretty well done. On the management side, you will be hiring pilots and obtaining mechs for your company. At first, you will have lower tiers from both groups.
Pilots advance in skill by actually using weapon types, so if you want a pilot to get better with laser weapons, drop them in a mech that is bristling with them. They wont learn anything about cannons or missiles that way, but will soar in that critical skill. That way you can build a team of specialists ready to jump into whatever mechs are perfect for the mission at hand. The one thing I don’t like about pilots is that their maximum skill level is capped for each kind of skill. So you might get a pilot with a skill of two in missiles and let them grow that skill, but if they are capped at four, then they will never learn more than that. As such, you probably need to fire pilots as your reputation rises to the point where better employees with higher skill caps become available.
With mechs, you will start with mostly light and scout mechs in the main campaign. I had one medium mech for a very long time, a Centurion, and he was kind of the king of my side of the battlefield. It will be a while before you start fielding heavy mechs, much less assault class ones. Thankfully, the game slowly ramps up the difficulty (it’s tied to your current pilot level) and even provides intel on each mission, so you will never walk into a situation you can’t handle unless you really want to risk it. Like in other games, I was able to have my company punch above its weight by equipping the mechs with unique, high-quality weapons or finding a way to max out armor.
In terms of the combat itself, there is a fairly steep learning curve. It takes a while to master moving your torso and direction of travel at the same time. And the game sends waves of enemy units at you as part of the early campaign, probably to help train you. You can also pilot the mech in first person or third person. For me third person view was much better with better line of sight all around, though sitting in the cockpit is pretty cool. You can play with up to three AI team members or invite up to three real players to fight alongside you. The AI is pretty good, though they do tend to jump right in front of your line of fire. There is a mod on steam that turns off friendly fire damage that I would highly recommend.
The combat is smooth and the graphics look really nice when things explode. You will feel powerful when firing off an AC20 cannon into a limping enemy knowing the devastation you are about to unleash. I was disappointed that there is no melee combat in the game, so your mech’s big fists are just for show. Then again, at the speeds that everyone is moving, getting into a fist fight would be tough, so I guess that is better for a turn-based game like BATTLETECH than one with a real-time shooter interface.
Graphics and sounds for MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries are good, and help to contribute to the overall environment where man meets machine. The pilots have unique things they say which is also very nice. The soundtrack for MechWarrior 5 is pretty forgettable, but its not bad. Graphically, the combat parts of the game look great, and the mech models are pretty awesome (yes you can paint them however you want). Some of the ship interiors and the cut scenes like when jumping from system to system look a bit generic, but that is a minor part of the overall graphics presentation.
It has been years since I played a MechWarrior title. I see myself more of a Mech Commander or turn-based mech game type of player. However, after just a few missions in MechWarrior 5, I was hooked. Once you get over the initially steep learning curve, piloting the mechs starts to seem almost like second nature. I was confidently pulling off some dangerous jobs and brining my lance back home safely to talk about it. If you put just a little bit into this game, then MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries has a lot to offer in return.
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries easily earns 4 GiN Gems for being a polished mech shooter set in our beloved BattleTech universe.