This sure has been a great year for long-dormant franchises coming back to life, hasn’t it? After about 18 years, we’ve finally been graced with a new MechWarrior. The series was always unique in regards to its movement, combat, and systems, and MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is very much in line with previous games in that capacity.
However, the core fundamentals here are very dated. Plus, the game is held back by some very tedious control and gameplay elements that will sap some people’s interest after a while. MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries still has a lot to offer series fans, despite how much newbies might be scared off, but it’s not enough.
SIM-mer down now
The MechWarrior series dates back to the late ’80s and is set in the Battletech universe. As such, it fits specifically into a certain chunk of that universe’s history without doing anything to disrupt canon. Despite the modern graphics, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is very true to many things that have been with the series since the very first entry.
The setup is fairly simple. You’re the head of a mercenary unit that you name yourself, and you need to grow and strengthen your company. You do this by acquiring additional mechs and equipment, hiring pilots to operate them, and then taking them on missions to make money to fund your business. The game is very much a management sim as well as an action game, which is undoubtedly a very large part of its appeal.
However, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries gets off to a wonky start. If you’ve played a game in the series before, you’ll likely have a good idea of what’s expected of you. But if you haven’t, you’re going to be tossed directly into the deep end without much of a clue as to how you’re meant to accomplish things. It all becomes second nature after a few hours, but figuring things out early on can be quite frustrating at first, as the tutorial doesn’t bother to explain most things.
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries starts with a brief combat tutorial before setting you on a path to complete some mandatory solo missions. The first thing people might notice is that there is no quicksaving or checkpoints during missions. If you die or make a big mistake and want to try again, you’ll need to start the mission over from the beginning. This isn’t as much of a big deal once you get your squad put together, but it doesn’t exactly make a great first impression.
Once you fight your way through those initial missions, you’re given your first squad member who brings his mech with him. MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries handles relationships and payouts in a neat way. Each mission is offered by a specific faction against another one. The more missions you do for that faction, the more they like you. And the more they like you, the more negotiation points you’re given before accepting their contract.
These negotiation points can be used to increase your total payout, grant you more salvage, or offer you insurance for mech damage, which is deducted from your payout at the end of the mission. And just like doing a mission for a faction makes them like you more, the faction you attack will end up liking you less. This reduces the number of negotiation points you have with them, which makes doing missions for them far less rewarding. It’s a good idea to try and stick with one faction above the other, which will open up additional missions where you mount major attacks on factions.
The power of choice
As for the missions themselves, you can operate your mech in first or third-person. Mechs all have a wide variety of different weapon capabilities, armor, and speed. It’s of paramount importance to choose a mech and play style that works for you. There are only a handful of mission types and they’re all pretty basic. Demolition missions task you with simply destroying enemy buildings. Assassination missions are the same, but with enemy mechs. Defense missions have you protecting an ally base while fending off waves of enemies. Warzone missions are defense missions without the base to protect. The various mission types ultimately all start to feel the same though.
The combat is fairly entertaining nonetheless. There are a few types of weapons — ballistic, energy, and missiles. Mechs have a mix between the three with different sizes. The larger the weapon type, the more damage it does and the more heat it uses. If you overheat, your mech shuts down, so you’ll want to keep an eye on that.
It takes a long time before you’re able to start using heavier weapons though. A lot of the mechs in MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries are mostly just really weak, and using the same few weapons for hours on end gets old. Many of the mechs also simply don’t have access to a good range of weaponry, making your choices for big chunks of the game feel very limited.
Laughin’ and blastin’
The fighting itself is damaged by the game’s movement, however. In MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, you don’t move freely. Instead, you activate your mech’s throttle and it walks on its own. If you want to reduce your speed, you have to dial it down. But when trying to maneuver in tight areas or dodge enemy mech attacks, I found it to be kind of a pain to move how I wanted to.
For instance, in a base or city, you have to be careful when maneuvering, as you need to watch your speed and turn very carefully. The mechs all turn, but moving the camera just changes where you’re looking and not your leg position. It’s imperative to keep your position in mind when in first-person. You can get the hang of it, sure, but it never stopped being clunky to me. I hate having to constantly put the camera back to where it started every time I go to aim. I dislike having to press buttons to reorient my legs when they and my mech’s torso become slightly misaligned.
More importantly, I just found having to fight while dealing with the automatic movement to be more of a chore than anything. When fighting an enemy mech, you have to circle each other while turning and aiming to shoot when your weapons are done cooling down. I understand that having the throttle work as it does is simply to have fine control over your speed, but there are other ways. All they had to do was allow your walking speed to be set like a shifting gear system and the mechs could move freely. As it is, it’s counterintuitive.
The damage done
One of the most annoying things in MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is the effect damage has on your mech. You can get certain parts destroyed, which is perfectly logical and fine. But here’s where the lack of being able to save at will comes back into play. Sometimes things are going to just go wrong. An enemy you didn’t have eyes on might take a potshot and blow your arm off, leaving you with half of your defensive capabilities. Making your way through a mission can result in your getting a leg destroyed, greatly reducing your speed.
And to make matters worse, I could never depend on the AI to protect itself. If you have three team members with similar skill levels and identical mechs, one of them might just perform worse. Or you can complete a mission without any of your components being destroyed, only to realize your squadmates all lost multiples. This wouldn’t be a big deal in a less tedious game, but MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries isn’t that kind.
After you get out of a mission, you accept your payment, which will be reduced by how much damage you took. Even though this money seems to be getting deducted to go towards taking care of your mechs, you then have to repair and pay for each one individually back at your base. I simply don’t get why, when one of my squadmates taking too much damage eats up 150,000 of my money, I still have to pay to repair the mech. After each mission, you need to click to repair all four mechs, which takes time and money. You then need to press a button to wait days for the repairs to finish. But if only it were that simple.
When a mech body part gets destroyed, simply clicking repair isn’t enough to get it back into fighting condition. Instead, you have to go into the menu, remove each broken component individually, replace them individually, and then click separate repair icons on each one of the damaged body parts. And, when missions get harder, you’ll possibly have to do this for all four mechs after every mission.
Even worse, shops all have very limited inventory. If your components get destroyed and you don’t have any more, you’ll need to stop what you’re doing and track down a separate location that might have the parts you need. I had multiple mechs using flamethrowers at one point and a lot of them got broken during the span of a few missions. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find more in any marketplace. And that doesn’t even mention that traveling to another point to look for these parts costs time and money. And you don’t have unlimited time here.
This issue completely sapped MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries of a significant amount of its enjoyment for me. There’s just so much waiting and waiting. And it doesn’t stop with repairs. Here’s what you have to do after you beat most missions if you want to get to another one ASAP: You go back to your base, repair your mechs and replace components, pick another location to travel to, and watch the traveling cutscene and accompanying loading screens. Then you select the mission and negotiate your contract and wait while the mission loads. You then frequently start in a hangar and have to wait while your mech slowly rotates towards the opening bay door before you can walk out. And I wasn’t even bothered much by this stuff after the first dozen hours. But much like everything else in the game, it just gets so very old.
So, how does the game look? It’s a mixed bag. I would often walk into an environment, only to be greeted by textureless geometry in the distance. The sense of scale is off as well. I never felt like I was in a giant machine, only that all the trees and buildings were simply very tiny. Many of the weapon effects lack a certain amount of oomph too. The laser, in particular, doesn’t look threatening at all. It looks more like a weak green beam of light. The way mechs fall after you disable them can be quite silly too.
There are also a few human NPCs at your base, but the textures on some of them didn’t load correctly for me and the woman who briefs you looks like she came from a game that came out over a decade ago. The skyboxes in the levels move extremely quickly in a jarring way too.
Mechin’ me crazy
There are things I enjoy about MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries. The combat can be fun. Pulling off missions, raking in cash, and plotting your next moves is satisfying. And salvaging new items and mechs while picking and choosing your allies makes for some solid fun. But the game is all too eager to supplement these things with a ton of tedium. Every time I found myself amused, I knew it was short-lived.
There were times when I simply didn’t want to keep playing, as tracking down parts and getting my limbs blown off while awkwardly circle-strafing around spongy enemies just made the game annoying. Granted, there are easily dozens of hours of content here for enthusiasts who don’t mind the game’s problems. But most everyone else will likely find themselves bored and aggravated by MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries.