It’s been a long time since we’ve seen the release of a new Mechwarrior game. In fact, it’s been a complete 19 years if you exclude Mechwarrior: Online.
That’s right, Mechwarrior 4: Vengeance released all the way back in 2000 with the standalone expansion Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries dropping in 2002. It’s now 2019 and we’re finally getting the 5th installment.
Some of my best memories as a kid are playing the old, blocky, Mechwarrior 4. So, when I heard that 5 was in the works, I knew I had to get it. So far, I’ve found myself enjoying the majority of my time playing it. However, there are some pretty annoying caveats… In fact, most of the game is one big annoying caveat… Except for the combat. The combat is pretty good for the most part.
With that in mind, let’s go over the good first and then we’ll get into what I subjectively consider the bad. But, before we do any of that, let’s quickly go over what Mechwarrior 5 even is.
Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries
Mechwarrior 5 is, at its core, a first/third-person shooter that puts you into the cockpit of a giant, lumbering mech. Not only that, but you’re the commander of your own lance of mercenaries and are responsible for keeping the operation afloat. That means you have to scout out good contracts, hire and fire pilots, keep your mechs in repair, and look for upgrades wherever possible. Balancing your budget is just as much of a key aspect as blowing stuff up is.
Mechwarrior takes place in the same universe as the turn-based strategy from 2018, Battletech. It’s a franchise that’s been around since all the way back in 1984.
Kind of a fun fact, it was originally supposed to be called BattleDroids but was changed due to LucasFilm’s rights to the word “droid”. In my opinion, Battletech is a way cooler name.
The main gameplay loop involves finding jobs, completing jobs, repairing your mechs, maybe buying upgrades/new mechs, maybe hiring a new pilot, then rinsing and repeating. At face value, it sounds tedious, but believe me when I say it’s a ton of fun… If only for the parts where you’re causing complete chaos.
When it comes to piloting a 100-ton walking tank through the center of an 8-story building, there’s nothing better than Mechwarrior 5. Sure, the missions might be a bit repetitive as there’re only 5 types, but they’re (almost) always enjoyable nonetheless.
The variety of biomes, and the huge array of mechs make every mission feel different, even if you’ve played on a similarly laid out map before.
There’s both a primary campaign that you can progress through as well as side quests you can take on for various factions and sub-factions. Personally, I enjoy the side quests as they both pay well and add a bit of flavor to the typical mission grind.
There’s a lot of risk vs. reward at play when taking on contracts as you can permanently lose both your pilots and whatever you have equipped on your mechs. In my opinion, this makes it way more intense when you’re in a heated firefight and taking heavy damage.
In total, there are 51 different mechs in MW5. That doesn’t include variants or hero models. Some mechs can have 4-5 variants and a hero model, where some might have just 1-2. What makes Mechwarrior 5 different from, say, Battletech or Mechwarrior: Online is its strict limitation on builds. Each mech has specific slots that’ll fit certain weapons; for instance, a medium energy weapon slot, or a small ballistic weapon slot. This makes finding the right variants of mech that much more important. At the same time, it really cuts back on customization options.
Controlling your mech can take a few minutes to get the hang of as you need to control the legs and torso separately, but it quickly becomes a lot of fun and feels “authentic” in terms of how a walking tank would theoretically be piloted. That goes for the weapons as well; big and powerful weapons feel impactful and deadly whereas smaller, weaker weapons feel like just that, small and weak.
Speaking of weapons, I can’t help but mention the damage models. Mechs can lose limbs and even entire sections of their body. They can have their armor shredded off so there’s nothing left but structural reinforcements and entire chunks of armor can be melted away with the use of energy weapons.
In-game performance has been good so far on my aging mid-range build. 60fps is not an issue to maintain in 1080p on mostly high settings with some maxed, like textures and draw distance.
In regards to graphics, don’t expect anything revolutionary. With that being said, Mechwarrior 5 looks pretty awesome. The mechs are quite detailed and explosions/impacts are definitely believable. Nothing beats watching a mech go critical right after you’ve cored it… Unless you were trying to get it, but you missed the headshot with your T4 Gauss and cored it instead…
Although I haven’t tried it out yet, co-op multiplayer is an option that seems like an interesting addition to a primarily singleplayer game. When MW5 first released, it was only possible for the “lance leader” to edit mechs in multiplayer. Since then, that’s been patched and now the “lance leader” can allow other players to edit mechs and create work orders.
Above all else, one of the worst parts of Mechwarrior 5 has to be your lance AI. They’re constantly walking in front of you, running off on their own, and just being annoying in general. I don’t know how many times I’ve had the perfect headshot lined up, only to have my teammate’s Orion block the shot with its back as they casually waltz past me.
Equally annoying is the lack of control over your lance’s actions. It’s a pain to have an Archer decked out with 2x LRM20, only to have them walking around an enemy at 300m using just their medium lasers. It seems like regardless of what you have equipped on a mech, they’ll always close to a distance where they can use their shortest-range weapon… And sometimes they’ll stand around doing nothing while they get pummeled by enemy fire until you give an attack command…
One way to solve this would be assigning squad roles, like fire support, tank, brawler, etc… Only, that’s not possible. The only control you have over your lance comes down to 4 commands: attack my target, follow, go there, hold fire/fire at will. At the very least, there should be a way to set priority targets for your individual pilots – I don’t mean assigning them targets on the field, but a way to modify whether they prioritize close enemies, far enemies, mechs, or tanks. Even better would be a way to prioritize which weapons they try to use most.
Another way to solve that would be giving us more commands such as:
- Skirmish – will try to keep enemies at a set range, maybe 500m by default with the option to extend the range
- Brawl – will try to engage at short range – close enough for weapons like SRMs and machine guns
- Search & Destroy – will move to an area and, well, search & destroy
- Evade – will actively work to evade enemy attacks by moving around
Equally annoying is the fact that you can only issue move commands to locations you can directly see. This makes it essentially impossible to coordinate any sort of flanking movements. A remedy would be to make it possible for move commands to be issued via the map.
It’s also kind of annoying that there’s no way to modify the default formation. Your lance is always in a T shape with 3 in the front (bays 1-3) and 1 in the back (bay 4). Even with 100-ton mechs, the spacing is seemingly always the same. This, in my opinion, is definitely something that we need control over.
There’s a storyline in Mechwarrior 5 that accompanies the campaign missions, apparently. Only, it makes almost no sense. At least, what I’ve played makes no sense. Maybe I skipped some crucial dialog or something, but so far it’s been pretty convoluted as to why you’re doing certain things.
In fact, nothing that you do seems to matter, in the slightest. There’s no visible impact anywhere. Your relationship with any given faction only serves as a method to increase/decrease prices in their territory as well as increase/decrease negotiation points before a contract. Beyond that, there’s seemingly nothing gained or lost from having a positive/negative relationship with a faction.
The tutorial missions are full of what I’m calling false promises. For instance, it has you blow up a generator that powered a base’s turrets – a mechanic that would have added way more depth to missions moving forward… Except, they never use that mechanic again, unless it happens in a campaign mission that I haven’t played yet. Similarly, they have you loot some containers in the same mission – something else that’s never seen again. There’s a hidden objective in the same mission – again, another mechanic that’s never used again. Lastly, you’re introduced to the idea of a “repair bay”, only, you’ll never see another repair bay after that mission.
No melee, no collisions. What the..? Who made this decision? I can understand why they wouldn’t have melee/collisions in Mechwarrior: Online… But, in the mostly singleplayer Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries, melee should be absolutely mandatory. There are mechs whose entire role basically revolved around melee combat. Same with collisions, if I’m in a 100-ton mech and I punt a 25-ton mech, it should definitely do a fair bit of damage.
You’d think by the year 3000, almost everything would be equipped with backup cameras… For instance, giant bipedal robots. But no, apparently no such technology exists and thus you can never, ever, look behind you. We even have a “drone” camera (third-person) without the ability to look behind.
Radar is something else that was implemented strangely. In MW5, the only time you get pips on your radar is if something’s directly in your line of sight. It kind of defeats the point of radar considering you can generally see what’s in front of you.
Another extremely annoying oddity is the camera. Rather, the pacing of your mech’s movements when switching between third and first-person. In third-person, your mech’s legs move a lot quicker than in first-person, it’s almost a difference of 2x. There’s no extra ground covered, mechs just have quicker animations in third-person. I don’t know if this is a feature or a bug, but it’s annoying regardless.
Last but not least, enemy spawns and dropships. It’s not uncommon for enemies to spawn a few hundred meters behind your lance and start coring them before you can even react. Similarly, it’s not uncommon for dropships to basically land on top of your lance with a full load of heavy + assault mechs.
Extremely annoying caveats aside, I’ve actually enjoyed the time I’ve put into Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries so far. Sure, there have been some instances where I’ve had to save scrum because I accidentally blew my own teammate’s arm (or head) clean off… Or because I’ve been cored by enemies with ridiculous spawn points… But, it’s been relatively fun nonetheless. At least, the combat has been.
That said, it’d be a lot more fun with additional control over your lance and their movements, melee combat, collisions, and maybe a backup camera, at the very least. Oh, and how about some functioning radar?
Regardless, the core gameplay loop is a ton of fun – especially combat. If you’ve ever played Battletech then you’ll already know what to expect – the major difference being that you’re directly in control of a mech in either first or third person, instead of a top-down turn-based strategy. Otherwise, it’s practically identical.
If I were forced to give Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries a 1-10 rating at this time… It would score a 5/10. Sure, the combat is enjoyable, but practically everything else is a mess.