Game Review: MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries (2019) Review

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is a vehicular action shooter and simulation game developed by Piranha Games. It is available on PC, Xbox One/X, and PlayStation 4/5.

Setting/Story

The game takes place in a futuristic sci-fi setting in the year 3015. Mankind has spread throughout the cosmos and colonized entire star systems in a region of space known as the Inner Sphere. The Inner Sphere is a turbulent place with many different factions of humanity at war vying for control.

You are the commander of your own mercenary company scouring the warzones for profit, it is up to you to choose which factions you want to align with or you can remain independent working for the highest bidder. The main choice of weapon in this battle-ridden galaxy is the BattleMech, a hulking bipedal machine capable of dishing out massive amounts of destruction.

The main focus of the story is a revenge quest against another mercenary company known as the Black Inferno, who ambush you at the beginning. This storyline is almost immediately forgotten as you jump into the game’s main loop of managing your mercenary company buying and upgrading ‘mechs, taking on contracts to increase your reputation, and then buying and upgrading stronger ‘mechs as more difficult contracts are offered. The campaign missions you unlock as your reputation increases don’t really differ from the randomly generated contract missions you take on.

Gameplay

With 50+ types of ‘mechs, a decent selection of weapons and AI pilots for hire, MechWarrior 5 has tons of customization options to play around with. The gameplay of MechWarrior 5 is split into two broad categories: Simulation and Combat. For the most part these two work well together and give the game a lot of depth in terms of variation of playstyle and progression as you unlock new ‘mechs and weapons but unfortunately the game can drag in some parts and become super repetitive if you mismanage the simulation aspects and become stuck in a loop of upkeep costs and little progress.

Simulation

The simulation aspect of the game has you managing your MechWarrior Mercenary Company. Through this company you take on contracts to acquire funds which can be used to purchase new ‘mechs, weapons, AI ‘mech pilots, upgrades, and are also used for repairing your ‘mechs, travelling between star systems, and paying your pilots’ salaries.

Contracts are the main aspect of the campaign mode. The various factions offer contracts which you can take on to earn money and increase your reputation. Completing a contract for a certain faction will increase your standing with that faction, allowing greater rewards from further contracts offered by them as well as discounts at any of their markets. Each contract is targeted at another faction meaning completing it will decrease your standing with the targeted faction. A decreased standing will mean higher market prices and less potential rewards from contracts from that faction.

Also available when you take on a contract are influence points which you can use to bargain on certain aspects of the contract. For example you can use influence points to increase your potential payout for contract completion, better salvage shares for partially destroyed ‘mechs or weapons recovered from the battlefield, and a type of battle damage insurance covering a certain amount of cost paid to you for damages received during the contract. A higher standing with a faction means more influence points available on their contracts. This system is a quirky game mechanic which adds a little bit of depth to the game.

A good portion of the campaign will be spent on ‘mech management. You’ll be repairing battle damage, refitting loadouts and weapons, and scouring markets for new ‘mechs and ‘mech pilots. Repairing and refitting your ‘mechs cost time and money which means a certain amount of planning is required before accepting a contract as you can’t immediately repair ‘mechs and swap out weapons. Each ‘mech has a max tonnage (weight) value which you can distribute between armour, weapons, ammo, jump jets, and various other components.

Outside of warzones you will find markets where you can buy new ‘mechs and weapons, you can also hire new AI pilots that can be brought along on contract missions with you where they will pilot one of your available ‘mechs. Depending on the standing you have with certain factions, prices in these markets can be higher or lower.

Different AI pilots have a different set of proficiencies such as damage done with energy weapons or their effectiveness at evading enemy fire, these pilots also gain experience as contracts are completed with them and level up these respective skills to a certain point. Your AI pilots have a chance of dying if one of your ‘mechs is destroyed on the battlefield so having a reserve of skilled pilots at the ready is a wise investment as you take on more difficult missions. As an alternative to AI pilots you can also play the game with up to 3 other co-op friends taking their place.

Combat

The core combat of MechWarrior offers a mix of tactical and shooting elements. Different tiers of ‘mechs (light, med, heavy, assault) provide different playstyles and all ‘mechs have a defined structure in which you can damage components such as arms, legs, head, and core. Damage to these components can affect the combat effectiveness of a ‘mech e.g. destroying a leg will slow it down considerably, destroying an arm will also destroy any weapons attached to that arm.

Destroying both legs, the core, all weapons on the ‘mech, or its head means instant death. These aspects provide a sense of weight to the combat as you can approach it tactically, if you’re up against a fast-moving ‘mech you can focus fire on its legs to restrict its mobility, or if an enemy ‘mech has an arm cannon you could blow it up preventing them from using it further. This is also true for your own ‘mech and can lead to intense situations where you lose an arm or leg and have to fight for survival. In addition to enemy ‘mechs there’s also AI tanks, turrets, and aircraft you’ll face. In large numbers these can dish out a considerable amount of damage and it’s quite fun to blast them away.

The weapons available for combat include cannons, lasers, short and long range missile launchers, and more. These come in different sizes and tiers dictating stats such as damage, fire rate, and range. Ballistic weapons like cannons and missile launchers require ammo which must be equipped to your ‘mech, while lasers have infinite ammo but build up your ‘mechs heat gauge (all weapons and movement contribute to the heat gauge), too much heat will cause your ‘mech to power down until it cools off. Missile launchers come in a few varieties, unguided, guided (lock on), short-range, long-range (can’t be fired at short-range), and stream (missiles launch one-by-one instead of all at once). The various weaponry are fun to mix-and-match and provide a decent level of customization to your ‘mech.

The contracts that you take on (which are really just different game modes) come in a handful of varieties such as:

Warzone – A horde-mode scenario where you take on waves of respawning enemies.

Defense – Warzone with the added headache of having to defend a base or structure from enemies.

Demolition – A mode where you are tasked with destroying a garrisoned enemy base.

Raid – Similar to demolition but where you destroy a handful of enemy structures at a few locations on the map.

Assassination – A game mode where you have to hunt down and destroy enemy ‘mechs.

These game modes don’t differ from each other that much and can get really repetitive a few hours into your playthrough, the game mostly relies on the ‘mech progression to overcome this but the first 8 hours or so of gameplay is incredibly slow-paced and repetitive.

Throughout the campaign you’ll spend a lot of time on each of these aspects of gameplay but there is also a quickplay mode where you can play matches without having to worry about the managerial tasks of your mercenary company.

Criticisms

The incredibly slow start to the campaign and lack of additional game modes/scenarios will drive most players away early. In this early period you are stuck with a low-tier ‘mech with not much of an option to upgrade or acquire new ‘mechs. It was 3 or 4 hours in before I obtained another low-tier ‘mech and overall I found the initial pacing and progression to be quite tedious. This improves after 7ish hours but if the idea of just unlocking new ‘mechs and weapons to do the exact same mission types doesn’t appeal to you this game won’t provide much longevity.

There is an annoying cutscene that plays every time you travel between star systems, luckily there is a mod on the Steam Workshop and Nexus to remove this but it should be removed by default or at least skippable.

The difficulty on contracts is indicated by an arbitrary number which doesn’t really describe what challenges you face during the mission, there is an overview screen buried in a menu on the starmap when you select a particular star system that indicates possible enemy ‘mechs you will face, but it’s way too cumbersome and time-consuming to use especially when you’re frequently jumping between systems.

Your AI teammates often walk in front of you as you’re shooting at enemies (friendly fire is on) and they often wander off on their own despite commands given. I also never noticed much difference between pilots of different skill levels and proficiencies.

The simulation and managerial aspect of the game can be annoying at times as you constantly have to keep track of ‘mech loadouts and damage and often have to travel outside the mission’s system to repair without an egregious cost penalty. Weapons that are destroyed cannot be repaired, adding an additional headache of having to buy and keep track of multiple weapons of the same type so they can be replaced. The game would benefit with a way for the player to customize these managerial aspects such as removing the time cost for swapping out weapons if they wanted.

Conclusion

MechWarrior 5 is a decent game; I had my fair share of fun and frustration throughout the campaign but ultimately enjoyed it. The core combat and ‘mech battles are fun, the graphics are awesome, and it provides hours of ‘mech customization and progression. The slow start and daunting managerial aspect of the game will no doubt turn away many players, but those who stick around and learn the mechanics at play will find a mostly rewarding experience as you advance through reputation tiers unlocking new ‘mechs and weapons. The campaign is also playable in online co-op meaning you and a few friends can battle throughout the stars. I’d recommend the game for fans of the action genre who enjoy a little bit more than just shooting at things (although the game has that as well) and fans of the ‘mech genre in general.

Verdict:

Rating: 6 out of 10.

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