REVIEW: Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries

Sometimes, games don’t have to be mind-blowing to be enjoyable.

Video games can have severe flaws holding them back, yet I’ve played plenty of games over the last few years that I enjoyed more than the classic, cookie-cutter open-world game that saturates the market. I can think of a few examples of this in recent years. THQ Nordic’s Biomutant was a 2021 release that suffered from over-ambition, poor quest design, and some odd design choices. Combined with a 60 USD price tag, it put a lot of people off. While the game eventually burned me out, it still achieved some things well. I rather enjoyed the exploration and loot mechanics, and the game is a beauty to look at. Nine times out of ten, I would rather play an ambitious game with flaws designed with passion than a AAA open-world game that rarely differs from its competitors.

First Person Mech Combat. It doesn’t get more brutal than this!

Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries is perhaps my favorite example of a game that isn’t amazing, but still addictive and enjoyable to play. It had a long, brutal and arduous development cycle, beginning from a Kickstarter campaign, to a last-minute, controversial release on the Epic Store in 2019 which delayed its planned Steam release by over 18 months. It finally came out on Steam in mid-2021, and after all the issues, I think it’s in a decent place now. It’s a deeply flawed game despite all the improvements it’s had over the last couple of years, but it’s one of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever played. Few games give me the addictive, dopamine rush Mechwarrior 5 does. There’s something about taking a bunch of giant mechs onto a planet and smashing up enemy factions and cities which feels so rewarding. I have over 80 hours in Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries as of writing this piece, and I’m sure that will increase.

Introduction

Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries is the latest of the Mechwarrior series, a set of games and books which carries a loyal and passionate fanbase. The game’s goal is simple: you manage a mercenary company consisting of pilots and mechs, with a large universe to explore and procedural missions to take part in as well as handcrafted questlines. There’s plenty of customization and ways to pimp out your little robot toys for ultimate destruction, and the universe is certainly grimdark. Commissions and contracts don’t care how many people die or what gets blown up, as long as the job is done. It reminds me a lot of Brigador’s universe; another excellent mech game that I’ll review at some point! While there are plenty of games in this franchise, there have been few in the last decade, with only Battletech and Mechwarrior 5 on the horizon.

Flaws

With the introduction out of the way, let’s talk about some problems it has. Mechwarrior 5 has plenty of issues even now. Performance has been a thorn in its side since release, especially on the more recent console versions, and there are plenty of bugs and glitches that emerged for me during campaign and career mode. While none of the bugs I had was game-breaking, it’s something I need to mention. The campaign is a mixed bag overall, with poor story writing, cliched characters, and weak voice acting across the board, though there are some bright spots here and there.

The story and writing won’t be winning any awards. Still beats D&D’s adaptation talents, though.

While there are moments of brilliance in terms of level and mission design, most of the content depends on procedural missions. While this doesn’t take anything away from enjoying the gameplay loop, I would have preferred to see more handcrafted missions, and it can get slightly repetitive at times.

The gameplay has some issues with AI: teammates tend to crap out during missions, which makes for a frustrating experience at times. While this can be helped by assigning weapon groups to them and giving them basic commands, it does make solo playthroughs frustrating at times. Too often I’ve played a mission and ended up with more damage to my mechs as a result of questionable AI pilot decisions. No, Spencer, you shouldn’t have parked your mech right between my Gauss cannon! You would still have both your arms!

Strengths

Fortunately, Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries has full, seamless co-op, and it’s one of the best parts of the game. While I don’t have much experience with the multiplayer mode, I’ve dabbled with some skirmish matches and they have been a delight to play. You can also play campaign and career mode co-op, which feels great to play.

For the problems the game has, it has many things going for it. The gameplay loop is fantastic all around. It’s so simple but incredibly addictive. Fly to a star system to take a contract, and sort bonuses for what you need most. More money, or is it salvage you require? Do the mission, carry out repairs, spend money on upgrades or new mechs, and try out another star system. Rinse and repeat. While the mission design gets repetitive, the meat of the game is the fantastic mech combat, and getting into a rough fight with custom-made mechs is just so satisfying. With so many different mechs and parts available, there’s plenty of room to customize and tinker.

It might not be known for its graphics, but Mechwarrior 5 can be beautiful at times.

If it’s just quick battles you want, there’s an updated and chunky Instant Action mode available. I’ve grown to love this feature because there’s quite a lot you can do with it. Customize any random mission while tweaking difficulty, weather, and biomes, or you could replay any unlocked campaign scenario as well. With the ability to try out any mech and loadout in the game, it is an underrated feature.

There are three major pieces of DLC for the game. There’s Inner Sphere, Legend of the Kestral Lancers which adds a linear, high-quality custom campaign, and more recently Call to Arms, which adds dedicated melee combat to the game. While the campaign mode had elements of sandbox gameplay, the Heroes of the Inner Sphere expansion added a separate, complete career mode, with all the questlines from the base campaign included. While all three are solid additions, I’d argue that Inner Sphere is almost essential to enjoy Mechwarrior 5 to the fullest.

While I’ve had plenty of enjoyment from the vanilla game, one of the biggest strengths comes from the modding community. Yep, Mechwarrior 5 has pretty solid mod support, with a great number available that tweaks mechanics, adds mechs, and even new missions. It’s fairly easy to mod through Steam Workshop or the Nexusmods website, and even Co-op playthroughs can utilize them. Some mods improve the biomes, increase or decrease difficulty and even redesign how the mech bay functions, unlocking complete customization of any mech in the game. I’ve always been a supporter of mods for games because they greatly extend their lifespan, and Mechwarrior is another example of that.

Conclusion

To conclude, Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries might be one of the most flawed games on the market today. It’s been a pretty rough time for a while. I wish the story was better. I wish it was less buggy, and I wish the gameplay was a bit more varied. Despite all of this, I just can’t stop playing it.

Final Score: 3.5/5

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Michael Baker

Michael Baker

Michael Baker has played video games for as long as he can remember. If you asked him how many games he owns, the answer he’ll give you is ‘probably too many.’ Alongside his passion for storytelling and worldbuilding, Michael is an avid history buff and cartographer, bringing his fantasy world and others from the mind onto paper reality. He has also worked on several role-playing games from the Spellforce 3 franchise as a writer, QA tester and narrative designer.