The king of mech combat returns... but won't win many new fans.
PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is billed as the story based alternative to developer Piranha Games’ MechWarrior Online game. Where MechWarrior Online is the free to play PvP alternative, fans of the Battletech universe were excited to see a sequel to the lukewarm release of Mechwarrior 4 from almost 20 years ago. Now that Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries has had about a year’s worth of baking time as an exclusive on the Epic Games Store, MW5 is ready for the bigtime on Steam and Xbox consoles. While the result is encouraging, the appeal to those who aren’t already MechWarrior fans is still a bit questionable.
The Battletech universe is one that has seen quite a few franchises. Early games were real-time tactical games like MechCommander and the more recent turn based release series called BattleTech. The MechWarrior franchise covers the mech simulator experience. At one point, on the original Xbox, an arcade style third person shooter called MechAssault had its time to shine as well. Each of these iterations had their own success, but the true strength of any Battletech franchise is in how well mech customization is implemented. Thankfully, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries takes that strength, builds upon it as a foundation, and takes flight!
Those unfamiliar with the BattleTech universe on consoles are going to compare MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries to the Titanfall series. Core BattleTech heads are going to yammer on about how mechs are bigger than titans and explain why they handle so differently. Core Titanfall heads are going to yammer on about titan AI and maneuverability and other needless comparisons as well. In the end, the games handle and play very differently. As a result, there are going to be plenty of players that do not like MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries due to the slow relative speed of the action. Those that dig BattleTech and its lore will love this new opportunity to suit up and take on the AI. Those that couldn’t ever get into outfitting different mech builds and slogging through missions probably won’t find much here to win them over.
Still, if core mech combat has ever been ‘your bag’, then MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries will be a welcome return. The player’s vanilla character is the son of the leader of a merc group that gets killed in the midst of a training mission. Other mercs ambushed you, killed your father, and now you lead the team in hopes of exacting revenge. Pretty standard stuff.
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries leans heavily into the lore of the Battletech board game. Various galactic factions are battling for dominance over the ‘core worlds’. Each has their own favorite tech and mechs and the player will be zipping from system to system doing missions for each faction. As you play through the game, your mercenary group will gain reputation which improves their standing and visibility with the factions. Better missions mean more money. More money means better mechs. Better mechs mean more butt to kick. As you build your merc crew, you balance money, pilots, and repairs as you pay for it all on your way to sweet revenge. In truth, this story isn’t too different from most other Battletech games so don’t look for anything mind blowing here.
The way mechs handle in MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is quite similar to its PC based online counterpart MWO. Most mechs are slow and lumbering weapons platforms. The left thumbstick moves the legs and the right thumbstick moves the torso and aiming. Newcomers to the franchise will probably have an issue with the controls regardless of the platform due to everything feeling sluggish and slow. On the PC, the controls are fine due to the aiming precision of the mouse/keyboard control scheme. On console, the handling/aiming takes a little getting used to, but the game has slight auto-aim assist that corrects some of the difference in control scheme precision.
As casual players begin to get a hold on the game, they will recognize the different types of mechs (Light, Medium, Heavy, Assault) and how one needs to play them. Light mechs need to go fast and dodge and strike and run. Medium mechs can ‘brawl’ a bit more but they still need to use their speed to gain and hold an advantage. Heavy mechs are brawlers and need to overwhelm an opponent. Assault mechs basically have to pummel smaller mechs and immobilize them to avoid missing shot after shot.
Essentially, it is here that MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries really shines. Once controls are grasped and one gets through 3-4 full missions, the game really settles into a nice groove. Upon getting a full lance of squad mates, you will begin to take on mission after mission of increasingly difficult opponents. Also, as you gain more mechs, you’ll learn what mechs and/or weapons that you are able to do the most damage with the quickest. Then you’ll be able to figure out how to outfit the mechs that you like with the weapons you are skilled with. The process is a familiar one for MechWarrior vets and those players will settle in quickly to a nice groove as they blast their way through the game.
Casuals will have a learning curve that may require a few Youtube tip videos to ‘get gud’, but MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries’ difficulty level is in a pretty good sweet spot. When it comes to the ‘look’ of MechWarrior 5, the package is a little disappointing. While the in combat effects and environments are good, there’s still a dated feeling to the product as a whole. It’s as if they improved the look of MWO but only enough to add more color schemes to the environment and special effects.
This perspective becomes painfully clear when in between missions. The rendering and animations for the characters is stiff and downright ugly. The result really makes you wonder why the hangar and the mission room were even added. Not only that, the UI for managing mech customization, purchases, pilots, and other actions really weren’t optimized for console navigation with controllers. The navigation through options is a bit clunky.
While you do get the glee of seeing combat damage while in missions and in the hangar, the presentation still feels ‘last gen’. While that isn’t bad, there just isn’t a ‘wow factor’ anywhere graphically in the game. Where MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries shines is in the execution of bringing the core of the BattleTech universe to life…mech combat. MW5 manages to pull together the basic foundation of what is necessary for a good BattleTech game:
Of these, the one that saw the most criticism at release on the Epic Games store was the AI for lancemates. With poor AI for pilots on your squad, difficult missions can easily become impossible. The game is structured to have each of your hired pilots improve in various skills that are segmented for various weapon types: Ballistic, Energy, Missiles and piloting skills like Shielding, Heat Management, Evasion. Early versions of the game saw very poor AI which led to a lot of frustration for dedicated players. Oftentimes people would end up relying on friends in online coop to fill out the lance in order to get by difficult or late game missions. Thankfully, the AI in the console version release is at least somewhat improved. Sending orders to lancemates to eliminate a dangerous enemy mech does produce some results. Still, players should always take on the highest threat since pilots can and will get injured or killed if their mech is destroyed.
With MW5 this must-have list is present which automatically makes it a good entry to the franchise even if it isn’t great. To be great, MechWarrior as a franchise needs to find a way to weave in a great story for your character both inside and out of the cockpit. Decisions made about what missions to take only affect standing with the different factions. Of course, a newcomer to the BattleTech universe would have no real affection for ANY of the factions since they don’t know or care about the history of how they formed or who their leaders are. The story doesn’t pull you into that in any significant way. Players don’t really encounter nemesis pilots that escape and hunt you down in later missions. Players don’t make conversation nor do the decision tree selections change the way your character acts, talks, or leads your lance. In short, this game lacks personality.
BattleTech as a universe has a TON of lore and history that isn’t very accessible. Few shows, movies, or media really do the universe justice in a way that welcomes new fans to the fold. As a result, the hardcore will sing BattleTech’s praises to deaf ears. MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries showcases mech combat well, but not much else.
Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries plays out as a mech combat simulator that is two parts skill and two parts strategy. Having the right squad loadout is just as important as weapon accuracy. Success is measured not only in how much you destroy but how much damage you and your lancemates took. Thanks to that formula, various mission types, online coop, and a healthy roster of mechs and mech variants, you have a Mechwarrior game that is a welcome addition to the BattleTech roster.
Now if we could just convince Piranha Games to add a multiplayer PvP mode…
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries Review
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is a welcome addition to the series thanks to its various mission types, online co-op, and a healthy roster of mechs and mech variants.
Great tactical mech combat
Improved squad AI really improves fun factor
Wealth of mech loadout options and upgrades
Lack of online PvP multiplayer
Graphics are a bit disappointing (especially in the hangar/mission room)