MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries Review – Inconsistent but the Best Mech-Fighting PC Game mini-review

Inconsistent might be a good one-word description of the single player return of the mech fighting game series with MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries (MW5).  This editor received a game key from Pirhana Games’ PR after the launch, and we spent a week attempting to play through the campaign.  Developing skill in successfully piloting a huge mech against hordes of armored enemies is the game’s most appealing feature and a lot of fun since the campaign itself is rather flat and almost tedious, and the narrative is awful.

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is a BattleTech mech simulation fighting game developed by Piranha Games and released on December 10, 2019. It is the first single player MechWarrior game since MechWarrior 4 in 2002 and it is available as an Epic Games Store exclusive for $49.99

As a reviewer, I felt just one week was not enough time to spend with MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, and it will take another week of play to feel totally comfortable with it.  Being able to move in one direction while shooting in another takes a lot of practice, and it left us wishing that we had a HOTAS instead of a keyboard and a mouse.  MW5 is also a game that absolutely should have been developed for VR. It’s a very deep strategy game, and it vaguely reminds me of another fighting game, For Honor – deceptively simple on the surface – but it requires finesse, practice, and perfect timing to be really successful at it.

The MechWarrior franchise has existed for 30 years, and MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries true to its roots is not a fast-paced shooter like Titanfall, but rather a much slower strategic shooter that gives a player a real feeling of piloting a giant mech with up to three friends in co-op and absolutely wreaking havok using guns, lasers, and rockets while great guitar rifts accompany the sounds of battle, weapons, and destruction.  The physics of battle and movement are excellent adding to its realistic feel, and combat is thrilling, to say the least.

Fitting into the BattleTech MechWarrior universe, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is set in 3015 during the last decade of the Third Succession War and it spans several decades across a huge interplanetary map.  You play as a rookie mercenary MechWarrior, Captain Mason, who is tasked with rebuilding a nearly destroyed mercenary unit after your father dies in battle. You are able to accept contracts from the available factions, and you will strengthen alliances and make enemies.  Forging alliances means you get discounts for rebuilding your mechs, and strangely, making enemies doesn’t count against you when you perform missions for them.  You are a mercenary and this kind of behavior is evidently expected.

As a player, you feel as though you are running a real mercenary business, and the game forces you to make budgeting choices when you lose equipment in battle that cannot be easily replaced, especially when you are strapped for cash which is very often in the beginning.  You may have to choose between buying new mechs or equipping better weapons on older ones.  Sometimes you may even have to leave a war zone for a friendly territory because repairs are at a premium cost there.

The MW5 tutorial is weak and doesn’t do a lot of explaining other than the basics of how to move and fire weapons.  It doesn’t spell out much and there is no hand-holding, but the game expects the player to figure it out for himself.   The campaign is basically, attack, demolish, defend, or assassinate someone.  As you build relationships with various factions, you will be given side quests that eventually become rather repetitive.  After you play through a few of the introductory missions, a star map becomes available showing where you can travel and how they affect your abilities.  However, you will need to manage your resources, time, and money to travel to recruit more pilots and to buy more mechs.

Although the MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries main campaign is vast, the story itself is a cookie cutter tale of loss and revenge that leaves the player cold and without any feeling for the civilian destruction caused in collateral damage, and lack of feeling for any comrades.  The main characters are totally forgettable, and it appears that the few talented voice actors really struggle with their awful lines.

It is almost like the devs left the MW5 characters and story devoid of personality and any life on purpose just so the player can focus on the business of fighting and the deployment of effective mech warriors.  For this reason, I left the campaign behind early on and concentrated on the instant action which was far more gratifying as a single player.  Coordinating mech builds with up to three friends in coop would probably be a much better experience for playing the main campaign.

Customization is absolutely endless and you can equip your mech as you choose and paint it for a completely unique mech look.

Gameplay

Although it is not a straightforward sim, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries requires a tactical player.  If you are just looking for a rapid-paced first person reflex shooter, you will be sorely disappointed and unsuccessful in battle.  There are nuances to movement in battle where you may look in one direction while moving in another, and to be able to coordinate your torso with your legs takes some extra practice.  You can also shift instantly from first to third person view which is ideal for the battlefield’s changing situations.

Mechs are steered with WASD keys, while the mouse controls the torso and the guns. You will need to press the F or C keys to realign your legs with your torso, or your torso with your legs.  Beyond the mouse, number keys fire additional weapons.  Weapons can be grouped together and used in multiple groups and fired in synch or in sequence, or even chain-fired by holding down the corresponding key.

Your mech weaponry is great but it doesn’t feel overpowered since you have to become good at moving and shooting simultaneously at multiple targets.  Stopping to take out a target means you are a sitting duck for the enemy AI which is very good at hitting you from a long distance while you must be in range for your own weapons to be effective.  And you cannot just continually fire as your weapons will overheat leaving you vulnerable and unable to shoot or even move at all, so you must keep an eye on your heat gauge at all times.

There is a lot of strategy involved in taking out armored enemies and especially other mechs.  You can destroy legs, arms, or take out the pilot. If you destroy it completely, you will not only not have any parts to harvest, but the enemy mech may explode damaging your own mech.  Taking damage to your mech means that some weapons may cease to function; you may lose armor shielding, weapons, an arm, or even worse your legs.  Ammo stored in your Mech’s body may explode when taking a direct hit, and a lost arm will permanently lose the weapon installed in it.

There is also a jump-jet function available to smaller mechs with very limited fuel, and you must take care to fire the jets just before landing or you will damage your mech’s legs.  Although you can run over and crush tanks, there is no mele action against other mechs which is a real shame.

As you initially progress through the MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries campaign, you will have very limited choices but as you go on, more options will open up and the game gets a lot better and more fun.  Your choice of which mech to employ is mostly determined by the tonnage required to get the job done.  Smaller mechs are very fast and nimble, but they have less weapon options and much less armor than the heaver and slower mechs.  It’s all a balance in building the perfect mech for the job at hand.  There are 18 pages of mechs to choose from, all with varying types of abilities – from light mechs that can run circles around tanks, to slow lumbering beasts with tons of armor and heavy weapons that overheat easily.

For the job above which was demolishing a base, heavy mechs were required.  Coop is available, either with other players or with AI mech pilots.  In this particular case, my Stalker mech and the three AI-piloted mechs were vastly outnumbered and I spent my time taking damage and demolishing the base while my allies engaged and held off the enemies.  You can randomize your encounters or select specific scenarios with varying difficulties, and in this case ran – or rather limped quickly – for the drop ship when the deed was done.

The Graphics

The MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries mechs are beautifully designed and the damage they take looks absolutely realistic.  The laser weapons shoot of bolts of energy, and when they connect, glowing lines are traced on the armor.  A mech whose leg is damaged will limp, and a direct shot to a player’s mech will cause the screen and HUD to shake violently.

Almost everything can be destroyed except for the larger buildings, and it is a lot of fun to just wreak destruction on the enemy’s settlements – at first.  Unfortunately, it gets a repetitive and mundane.  The Unreal Engine 4 is a good choice for this game, and although the textures sometimes lack, it is not an impediment to enjoying the action.  Frost forms along the edges of your windscreen, and once you get off the ice planet, the scenery is gorgeous and more varied.

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is planned for a ray tracing makeover, but it hasn’t happened yet.  We will be interested to see what RTX effects bring to GeForce cards and if they add to the battle or are just used as eye candy for the interior areas.  MW5 is also mod friendly, so perhaps there will be improvements the community will make.

Performance and Bugs

This editor played MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries in DX11 using a RX 5700 XT Anniversary Edition at 1440P and a RX 5500 XT at 1080P, a Core i7 8700K at 4.8GHz, and 16GB of T-Force XTREEM DDR4 at 3866MHz.  The framerates were smooth for both cards at maximum, or near maximum settings for the 5500 XT.  The only time there were significant slowdowns happened during massive explosions, and we hope the game will become more optimized by patches.  There was a 104MB patch that dropped this afternoon, on December 17.

There are many settings from low all the way up to Maximum that have differing performance impact.  There is a lot of terrain pop-in which can be minimized somewhat by maxing out the view distances.  The distant scenery often looks poor by modern game standards, and at low and medium presets the textures and shadows are very distracting.  If at all possible, set the view distance, anti-aliasing, and textures to maximum and also allow sharpening.  You can play with shadows, post processing, and effects set lower with less visual degradation.

As a tip, you might consider setting the gameplay option to enable throttle decay at least when beginning to play MW5.  Otherwise you will have to brake your mech consciously or it will continue on in the direction it is going even if you take your finger off of the forward key.

The Enemy AI is a bit too perfect at time, and enemy NPCs have an irritating habit of just spawning with no warning in front of or behind you instead of arriving by drop ship or beyond the horizon or a building as is usual.  Instead of a sim, MW5 tends to then take on an arcade feel which is out of character for it.  And it appears the devs’ idea of a difficulty increase is just more and more enemies.

As a player progresses, he gains the ability to fight alongside AI mech allies which work well to take the heat off of the player.  The friendly AI is fair but it does what it wants to do even though it may damage a settlement you are tasked with protecting, and friendly fire is always a concern.  It is unfortunate that the devs did not include commands to help control and direct the friendly AI.

We encountered no crashes during hours of game play, however, we did get stuck in the environment a couple of times when using our jump-jets to navigate to an area where we were evidently not allowed, and we had to restart the mission.  Speaking of that, if your mech is destroyed, you must restart the mission.  There is a lot of trial and error determining the best mech loadout, and there is no saving during a mission.  Sometimes it is smart to save just before accepting a contract so you can alter it or change out your mech’s weaponry without having to cover too much ground all over again.

Audio

The MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries soundtrack and music are excellent with great fighting music using dazzling guitar solos and heavy synthetic cyberpunk music that fits perfectly.  The destruction and weapons fire sounds are spectacular and believable – contrasted with the awful and repetitive voice acting of the other pilots.  Piloting your giant mech alongside three others with trees crashing and rocks crunching realistically is an audio delight.

Replayability

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries offers a huge single player campaign across a gigantic universe with procedurally generated scenarios and the instant action never ends – plus there is co-op play with friends or with AI allies.  It’s very doubtful that a player will run out of things to do or new mechs to build and try as the modders will inevitably post their mods expanding the game.  As it is, there are 18 pages of mechs to experiment and have fun with.

The Verdict: Overall MW5 is fun and challenging

We wish that we had more time to play MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries and to get better at it before posting our review.  It’s a good game that isn’t quite a mech sim, but it’s close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades.  However at times, the game gets an out of character arcade feel, and the main campaign story is just bland at best.  MW5 is inconsistent with a player’s reaction varying from sheer joy to boredom, sometimes within the same hour.  The gameplay is addictive and we wish that it was polished more before launch.

If we have to give MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries a score, we will give it 7.5/10 at this point.  Frankly, we want to play longer and get better at it.  And we hope that Piranha games will listen to their fans and give MW5 a VR makeover.  It would be incredible in virtual reality playing with a controller in each hand.

The only other mech fighting game in VR that we really like is Archangel: Hellfire that has a decent story, but it lacks the customization or the fighting depth of MW5.  We’ll revisit MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries again when ray tracing is added to the game.

We’re back to VR tonight with a tank game, Winter Fury: The Longest Road that is coming out of early access tomorrow and we will review it for BTR’s readers this week.  Afterward, we’ll follow up by examining AMD’s claim that the RX 5500 XT is “VR Premium Ready” using the Vive Pro, comparing it with the GTX 1660 and the RX 590.

Happy Gaming!

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries

$49.99
7.5

Fighting

9.5/10

Graphics

7.5/10

Customization Options

8.5/10

Voice acting

6.5/10

Main Campaign Story

5.5/10

Pros

  • Fighting & movement (gameplay)
  • Mech customization
  • Graphics
  • Audio
  • Fun Factor

Cons

  • Bland story
  • Awful character development
  • No VR
  • Weak tutorial with no explanations
  • Repetitive