The MechWarrior franchise has a long pedigree of mech simulators. The recent BattleTech game (reviewed here) has proved that interest in the setting remains, and the MechWarrior Online multiplayer game demonstrated that piloting a mech never becomes boring. However, it has been over fifteen years since the last single-player focussed game, MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries, was first released.
Enter MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, set during the final decade of the Third Succession War of the Inner Sphere, where the player takes on the role of a young MechWarrior pilot taking control of their father’s decimated mercenary unit as they attempt to learn why they were attacked.
The technical nature of the game necessitates a high-performance PC, and this is no different, as it requires a solid-state drive (SSD) just to play the game. That is on top of the minimum requirements of at least an Intel Core i3-7100/AMD Ryzen 3 1200 CPU, a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770/AMD Radeon R9 280X graphics card, 8GB of RAM and 55GB free space.
The game can be played using a gamepad or a keyboard and mouse. Whilst the keyboard and mouse offer greater control over the individual commands, the gamepad is easier play with when attempting multiple commands. For example; turning, increasing speed and target locking are much easier to accomplish simultaneously through the gamepad (when using a keyboard, it feels like Twister for fingers).
From the outset, what MechWarrior 5 does incredibly well is conveying the epic scale of mechs, giving them a sense of weight and momentum. Accelerating takes time due to inertia from their mass, and aiming weapons in the vertical axis (such as aircraft) is limited due to a mech being able to only pivot so far.
MechWarrior 5 is, more than anything else, a mech simulator and not a first-person shooter (FPS). It is a game that rewards the strategic use of weapons and advanced tactics. Playing as an FPS, by charging into danger with guns blazing, frequently results in the player’s mech being destroyed. Instead, it is incumbent upon the player to lure enemy forces into danger.
One of the core precepts of the MechWarrior universe is that mechs are kings of the battlefield, due to their size and incredible firepower. MechWarrior 5 is no different, as the firepower carried by mechs can devastate any vehicles they encounter and it is only other mechs that have a chance against them.
Another of the core elements is that everything comes with a cost. Firing weapons together or too often can lead to the mech overheating, and potentially shutting down. This can be mitigated by environmental factors, such as operating in glacial regions, as well as switching between high-heat generating weaponry (such as lasers) and low-heat generation weapons, like missiles. However, these latter weapons expend ammunition, which need to be replenished.
Damage also needs to be repaired in MechWarrior 5. Should a mech have some minor damage to the armour, then it will take a few days to be restored. But, should the mech suffer critical damage, such as legs or arms being shot off, then it will be out of commission for several weeks. This is one of the key points on the game, as precision firing can allow players to hamstring mechs by destroying a mech’s legs. Even worse, if the cockpit is destroyed, then the mech is instantly destroyed.
Like all MechWarrior games, MechWarrior 5 allows for mech customisation. This enables players to change the weapon and equipment loadout of their mechs to suit their playstyle. However, such changes take time to be completed, which can vary from a few days for a weapon to be changed, to a couple of weeks for a complete refit.
Such refits naturally take place between missions. During this time, players can choose their next mission and – for the first time in any MechWarrior game – explore their dropship. This latter part seems unnecessary, but it reinforces the sense of immersion within the game’s setting. Players can genuinely feel like they are running their own mercenary company and piloting their own BattleMechs.
The MechWarrior universe has always thrived on its rich background; a series of political factions vying for dominance within space. This has been well utilised in the recent mech-based strategy game BattleTech (reviewed here), but unfortunately less so in this game.
What is frustrating is that the premise is fantastic, but it’s execution is bland and passionless. None of the characters seem adversely affected by what has happened. In attempting for MechWarrior 5 to remain grounded and realistic – as BattleTech is intended – it seems to have neglected the epic aspect and emotional resonance of the setting.
Unfortunately, one of the core issues of the MechWarrior series as whole remains; in that enemy mechs attempt to run behind the player’s mech to shoot it in the back where the armour is weakest. This consequently devolves into a series of skirmishes, where mechs endlessly circle trying to shoot each other. Charging into close-quarter combat is unfortunately not a solution, as melee attacks are unavailable, and all that happens is that both mechs politely stop and attempt to shuffle past each other.
That said, what MechWarrior 5 does well is the mech piloting. The game offers a fantastic experience of what it could be like to pilot one of these colossal titans. Each type of mech feels unique, and has been redesigned for the modern age. These redesigns may disappoint purists, but it maintains the grounded approach of the setting.
Overall, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is a great game, but one that comes with glaring flaws. Whilst these flaws do not in any way affect the core gameplay, they do feel like a missed opportunity to elevate what is an already great game into a truly fantastic one.