The MechWarrior franchise has been given another breath of life thanks to the success of MechWarrior Online. Piranha Games has now taken their years of experience with the online-only title to revive the main line of singleplayer games. MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is set before MechWarrior Online, during the Third Succession War. Players take the helm of a newly reformed mercenary outfit looking to re-establish their presence while taking revenge on the mysterious Black Inferno mercenary group.
The writing is very dull. The story is told through cutscenes, conversations between members of the crew and the player on the ship, and text briefings before and after missions. The dialogue is dry and wooden. At times, it sounds a little awkward as the dialogue style does not match the character very well. The characters themselves tend to be shallow and predictable, making it hard to care about them at all. The plot itself is a standard affair that never manages to do it well enough to compensate for its predictable nature.
Combat is one of MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries’ strengths. Up to four pilots and their mechs will wade into battle against a variety of mechs, armoured vehicles, and turrets. One of the joys of MechWarrior is the vast possible combinations of weapons, equipment, and mechs. Players can easily find a role that works with their playstyle and can fill out the rest of the team with complementary pieces. Once in a match, the combat is intense thanks to the location-based destruction system that rewards skill and accuracy.
The mech UI and the AI are two major sore spots during combat. The UI is not well thought out. Weapon cooldown and heat are two of the most important pieces of information in battle. Heat in shunted to a small bar on the lower left of the screen. Cooldowns are located in an even more difficult to read area in the bottom right, crammed into a full table of weapons. These may be nods to the old MechWarrior layouts, but there is plenty of wasted space in the bottom and top middle of the screen that would help players keep their eyes focused on their targets. The enemy AI is basic. Enemies will generally take the shortest path to the player and engage. The friendly AI is usually passable but is not very smart. They don’t move with much tactical skill, but they will do their best to keep up with players and follow commands as closely as possible. Unfortunately, the AI really struggles with base defense missions as they will plough through the very buildings they have been tasked to protect.
While mechs may look humanoid in appearance, the game handles more like a light simulation than a mechanical version of a first- or third-person shooter. The experience is more like maneuvering in a tank. The legs of the mech is independent of the torso and uses a throttle system. For those new to the franchise, the game does a decent job of getting new players into the action as quickly as possible. The tutorial is very thorough and teaches the basics well. Learning the intricacies of mech and team optimization is a longer process, especially if players plan on mastering the detailed mech customization menus.
The mission design is one of MechWarrior 5’s biggest struggles. For starters, the difficulty curve is inconsistent. The first couple of introduction missions that caps off the tutorials are one of the hardest in the game, partially due to their length, the number of enemies hurled at the player, and the fact the player must engage alone. Once players have a full squad, missions put up a mild challenge at most. Next, there is only a limited pool of mission objectives in the game. Missions quickly fall into a rhythm of doing the same mission repeatedly against different mechs in different environments. This feeds the grind-heavy nature of MechWarrior 5 as players need to play these missions to gain enough reputation so the actual campaign missions are unlocked. While it fits within the whole idea of being a mercenary company, the lack of difficulty can make these missions feel like filler content designed to take up time.
The controls are generally solid. As a simulation title on the lighter end of the spectrum, the game can still be keybind heavy; however, almost all the keys feel like they have an actual purpose. For controller users, a few of the lesser used keys will need to be offloaded on a keyboard. The ship controls cannot be changed in game at the moment, but the ability is being added in a future patch. In the mean time, I was able to manually make the changes in the config files.
The loading screens is an endless source of frustration. While modern SSDs can minimize the issue, the number of unnecessary load screens is still frustrating. The game needs to load into missions, load out of missions into the 3D ship, then load again every time the ship hops to a new planet. If you want to play co-op, you’ll have to load back out into the main menu and load back into co-op. The ship sections feel unnecessary as players rarely interact with the crew. For the most part, players simply hop out of the mission and go straight into the menus. Going to a new planet needs a loading screen for some unknown reason, which really discourages players from making extra stops to go shopping for parts and mechs. Everything seems like unnecessary eye candy and could easily be replaced with a 2D menu that offers an option to hop into the 3D ship when story conversations are available.
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries look a bit dated stylistically. The camera angles and direction look like older games from the early 2000s that were trying to emulate the 90s action movie style. The graphics are generally sharp, though the environment can look a little blocky at times. The game does a good job with building destruction. It’s a blast to watch a mech plough right through a building with reckless abandon.
The audio experience is decent. The sound effects are good and immerse the player into the experience of piloting a massive mech. The soundtrack is forgettable. The rock heavy tracks tend to sound very similar and quickly blend together into a blur. The voice acting is passable. All the major characters are voiced by average actors who won’t wow the player but won’t offend the ears either. The voice actors for the random pilots are weaker and a few do have some cringe worth moments.
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is far from a perfect game. While the combat is enjoyable, the game struggles with load screens, repetitive missions, poor UI design, and a dull story. It is hard to tell if the game is simply capitalizing on the success of MechWarrior Online, experimenting to see if the public is receptive to a singleplayer MechWarrior game, or if the developers simply didn’t have the resources to pull off a game of this scale. MechWarrior 5 is a great option for fans of mech games looking for a more simulation-like approach to the genre, but those with only a passing interest will probably want to wait for a discount before hopping in.