Out now on the Epic Games store, Mechwarrior 5 brings back a beloved franchise – has it stood the test of time, or did it get all rusty in the process? We check out Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries.
For a while there, I didn’t even realize how long it had been since Mechwarrior 4 was released. It’s been just over 19 years, so with Shenmue III it’s a bit of a franchise revival season. But unlike Shenmue, Mechwarrior never really left the picture, and that’s because doing battle with giant robots is a bit of a pop culture thing. There’s regularly a movie that features them, and of course we’ve had Paradox’ Battletech game that provides a strategy experience not too unlike that of the tabletop original.
While still rooted in the lore of the tabletop game, Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries is an action game that focuses on giant mechs stomping and shooting the hell out of everything and everyone. When I say “rooted in the tabletop game” I mean it’s definitely not mindless, but it sure as hell is a lot more frantic and loud than the Battletech game and doesn’t give you the time to think that Harebrained’s turn-based title does.
There’s a fair bit of lore that is probably lost on those not familiar with the previous games or the tabletop original, but Mechwarrior 5’s story does build on its foundations. It takes place in a distant future where war is a fact of life, and nations, governments and outlaws are constantly at odds with each other. Conflict often plays out with mechs, which are piloted by Mechwarriors – one of these being the game’s protagonist Mason. Over the course of the story you build up your merc-for-hire company and gain notoriety and reputation while doing so.
This plays into the “business” side of things, because when you complete jobs for a government they’ll start holding you in higher esteem. This potentially means more jobs in the future, more negotiating power and better access to equipment. You can even try for better terms before you take on a job if your reputation is good, making for a complex system of gameplay mechanics that elevates the game above what you’d expect when looking at the explosive combat sequences.
There’s a range of different Mechs to choose from and pilot, and many of these will be familiar if you’ve played Battletech as well. The same goes for the ability to customize your units, so even when you decide to stick with a certain mech for most of the game you can still tweak your experience quite a bit. You can equip different weapons, but you can also upgrade your loadout to allow for better heat management (something very familiar to Battletech fans). It never gets complex to the point where it should scare off action-oriented gamers, but it’s nice to see this kind of depth in an action game.
As you progress through the campaign, you’ll play through several different mission types – sometimes tasked with protection, but often with the destruction of a specific target. What’s also interesting is that while you start out solo, you will soon be joined by other Mechwarriors that join you on your missions, adding teamwork into the mix. These can be AI-controlled for a strictly single player experience, or through online play with other players.
Audiovisually, Mechwarrior 5 packs a punch despite never quite launching the franchise into “next gen” territory. Some scenes look great, but it’s the most destructible of scenes (the urban areas) that lack a bit of detail. The audio and narrative delivery could have been better as well, but luckily the gameplay itself is rock solid – something I was pleasantly surprised by when gazing at the last minute patches that came in surrounding the release. Besides the campaign there is also an instant action/skirmish mode, and Mechwarrior 5 is looking like it’ll be a platform to build on rather than just a story campaign with some nice Battletech elements to enhance the mech experience. It’s a game that grows on you and gets better as you gain access to more mechs and customization options, giving me the sense that Mechwarrior is here to stay.