The last game in the Mechwarrior series came out in 2000. That means that a significant number of gamers out there have probably never heard of it and certainly never experienced the awesome feeling of being in a mech, destroying everything in sight, and squaring off against other Mechwarriors. With Mechwarrior 5 Mercenaries, Piranha Games looks to rekindle the memories of those of us who are old enough to have been there for the first four installments. Along the way, this fifth iteration also attempts to expand the feature set to include more of an open-world feel, a first for the series.
Welcome Back, Commander
The narrative story in Mechwarrior 5 Mercenaries isn’t going to blow anyone away, nor does it have to. It has a passable enough premise that begins with a tragic loss that sets you on your way towards vengeance and a desire to rebuild the mercenary company you work for. Suddenly thrust into a decision-making role, you make your way through a multitude of tutorial missions that show you around your battle mechs and the game’s comprehensive set of features.
The story itself doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, but it does enough at tying loose ends together. Once you’ve made it a bit further along, you get to choose what to do next as you try to grow your mercenary company. This is where Mechwarrior 5 comes into its own. No longer are you a single pilot going up against higher numbers of enemies, but you start getting a taste of the simulation and management portion of Piranha’s work.
Part of running a successful mercenary company is assembling a crew of talented and capable pilots to fight alongside you. Crew members demand a steady income, and the constant repairs of your mech don’t come free, either. This means that as much as you’ll be asked to pilot a giant battle mech and fight against a multitude of opposing forces, you’ll also have to do a bit of accounting, balancing your budget and scheduling repairs of your inventory. I enjoyed this part of Mechwarrior 5 as it gave me a welcome bit of variety from the pure combat that occurs on the battlefield.
For those out there that are only looking for the action, Mechwarrior 5 also offers a variety of modes, including multi-player action, that should satisfy. I love myself some co-op action, and having the ability to call upon your friends to be your wingmen in decked out battle mech killing machines is a load of fun.
When in Doubt, Blow it up
Let’s face it; combat is an essential aspect of the Mechwarrior series. You’re not getting into these giant battle mechs for the lovely view from the top, but for the multitude of weaponry that can be configured on each machine. As you earn currency and experience, as well as gain access to a greater variety of mech variants, you’ll want to spend a significant amount of time configuring your mechs. Not only do you have to take into account ammo usage, but also heat impacts and power requirements. There’s nothing worse than being engaged in a heated battle with a smaller, more agile mech, only to run out of ammo and being left to fight with lasers that continually roast you from the inside out. Trust me; I’ve been there.
A well-configured mech, however, can do a significant amount of damage to anything that stands in your way. The combat in Mechwarrior 5 is satisfying, especially when you’re going up against other mechs. It’s satisfying, but also stressful, as tactics and strategy come into play. You will not be able to run-n-gun y our way through any but the earliest encounters, a lesson that is taught quite quickly. I often found it frustrating how much damage my mech was taking, even from seemingly lowly enemies. A sign that perhaps I wasn’t applying my battle mech’s capabilities as aptly as I should. This led to significant damage that repeatedly put a dent in my digital wallet.
Mechwarrior 5 Mercenaries does not take it easy on newcomers. While the first few missions do ease you into the game’s mechanics, there is no mercy granted for those who come unprepared. As a result, you’ll become intimately familiar with the repair bays, in particular, the amount of money and time it takes to polish up your mech. On more than one occasion, I have limped back to the extraction point on one leg, and it’s not my proudest moment. Once you get to build up your mercenary company’s roster and get access to more mechs, however, things get a little bit more easy-going. You’ll also have a little more control over the type of missions you choose to take on, as the world is open to you as you build your reputation.
Am I a Real Mech?
Mechwarrior 5 Mercenaries supports a variety of input devices, though I feel that it’s designed for either a mouse and keyboard or a full-blown HOTAS setup. While it’s possible to play with a game controller, you’ll be missing out on a variety of more advanced controls. It is, after all, more of a simulation game than a shooter. I spent most of my time commandeering my mech using my mouse and keyboard and found the movement and combat to be tactile and responsive without ever getting frustrated.
I did spend a little bit of time inside my mech’s cockpit in the first-person view while using my Saitek X52 HOTAS. It certainly offers a far more immersive experience, though I did find myself struggling at times with mech coordination and was generally less aware of where the enemy was. I’m sure this is at least partially my inadequacy, and purists will no doubt enjoy being inside the cockpit at all times.
Graphically, Mechwarrior 5 is undoubtedly the most beautiful of the series, but that’s not a difficult task considering nearly two decades have passed since its predecessor. All the crucial areas of graphics effects look polished, such as energy beams, rockets, and explosions. You get what you expect from a massive and well-armed battle machine. I did, however, find the audio to be somewhat lacking across the board. A large part of conveying the scale and immersion of what I wanted from being inside these giant mechs was lost a little bit by sound effects that fall flat. I won’t give Mechwarrior 5 too much of a hard time about the reasonably weak voice acting throughout, because, frankly, that’s not what anyone is here for.
A Solid Return to the Series
Overall, Mechwarrior 5 Mercenaries does the series proud. Long-time fans will find joy in the nostalgia of finally being able to get into the cockpit and start firing lasers and missile again, all while enjoying all the beauty and performance that current-generation gaming systems can offer. If you’ve been intrigued by Mechwarrior, I think you’ll be well-served to give it a try. Just be prepared to face a fairly steep learning curve at the start of the game. For those of you that are like me and get a kick out of the simulation and management genres, you’ll also enjoy being more than just a mech jockey with big guns.