Set almost a millennium after humans ventured into the stars; mercenaries have become the backbone of security, private military forces and exploration. When your company is ambushed and your father killed in battle it’s up to you, a young but skilled pilot, to take up the mantle of commander and lead your team to victory in Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries.
Mechwarrior, and the Battletech universe in general, has always held a special place in my heart. Originally experiencing Mechwarrior 2 on PC eons ago (at least it feels like that); then moving into Mechwarrior 3 (and it’s expansion also called Mercenaries). MW3 really brought to life piloting the mech and the exclusive control of legs and torso with a Microsoft Sidewinder 2 joystick. The throttle control and the Z-Axis mapped onto the horizontal rotation capability of what is probably one of Microsoft’s greatest peripherals ever; it gave you that immersion that many games strive for.
Jump forward 20 years to 2021 and we actually go back in time with Mechwarrior 5. The story of a young mercenary commander is set before the clan invasions of Mechwarrior 2 but sets the scene for the introduction of Clan Jade Falcon, Wolf and the subsequent period.
Introducing new players to the nuances of controlling a 100ft tall metallic behemoth; in addition to reacquainting returning players with changes to the control scheme; the first mission sets the story for the main campaign and gets you ready for what’s to come. Targeting, movement, weapon groups and damage mechanics; all of which represent the core mechanics that have been refined over a number of years; are introduced to players before the inevitable “Mufasa” moment and the young commander is left to escape whilst the father dearest holds the line as you do so.
The remaining story plays out as both a revenge mission in addition to moving forward the intricate lore set out by the overall series. MW5 adds further backstory to the Clan Invasion Arc, the mystery of the Star Leagues dissolution and the secrets of some of the more interesting mech models. Much of this is told outside of story missions as MW5 supplements the main story with text based news dispatches and lore articles. Series and Battletech universe fans should be reading these to add more to the game, casual players however won’t miss too much if they don’t bother with them.
Playing on the Xbox Series X or PC (MW5 is Cross-Buy), MW5 takes full advantage of the power on offer with full 4K Ultra High Resolution textures bringing to life the alien frontier worlds from the Inner Sphere. It’s sharp and clean and detailed with some great effects where lasers or cannon fire hit buildings or other mechs leaving some damage detail in a hail of bullets and hot metal sparks. Even with several mechs or enemies on screen at any time, Mechwarrior 5 stays buttery smooth on console and doesn’t drop a step.
As a group of mercenaries, you shouldn’t be surprised that this entry in the series allows access to the main campaign in multiplayer. Players undertake both story missions and standalone warzone missions with a few selectable difficulty levels, locations and enemy variables keeping you playing after the story ends.
Given mercenaries’ work to a contract, Mechwarrior 5 also introduces some base negotiation to story missions allowing your reputation with a faction to impact your contract reward. This comes in the form of negotiation points which can be spent on salvage allocation, basic mission pay or damage insurance. Drop a point in any and reap the benefit of increased pay or more of the salvage share or less to pay out on damage on mission completion. Get a better reputation and increase the number of negotiation points available for an even better outcome.
The story is interesting but the mech customization is what players return for. All mechs have a basic chassis with a weight class. Larger chassis allow for a greater overall weight cap. At this point the number of possible permutations is determined by your inventory as you have the option of fitting armour, weapons of varying type and heat dissipating devices in any available slots. Heat dissipation — why do I care about that ? Give me guns … Well, every shot fired causes heat, if you reach a critical level the mech either shuts down or can – on occasion — explode. So even though you have the space for another large laser, should you equip it? Tactically any weapon in isolation can’t make you explode but group them into a single fire group and watch that heat level skyrocket.
The customization caters for every play style and coupled with the multiplayer aspect or AI controlled players within your team (Lance) you can create a long range glass cannon whilst comrades suit up as damage sponges at close range.
A few awkward control decisions take some of the shine from MW5 but not enough to ruin the experience. The story introduction doesn’t do a great job of informing players of how the timeline and repair functions interact and can lead you into taking missions with a mech that’s in a less than optimal condition. It’s just not explained at the start and you stumble onto the option to forward time to fix or repair vehicles.
On the Xbox version; the engine throttle can’t be set at a static level; so if players let go of the stick you will stop, fairly quickly as well. The throttle issue coupled with a torso rotation mapped to the same left analog stick makes strafing or circling combat very awkward, doesn’t sound massive but constant forward or reverse movement whilst circling an opponent with the torso turned into the circle is a key strategy to outflank enemies.
Mechwarrior 5 isn’t very forgiving. Not only are enemies fairly aggressive; but building impacts or collision damage adds up quickly in the background and you can find yourself early in a mission with decent damage already to legs or arms. This can make the difference between breezing through a battle objective and having to restart with a fresh mech.
Mechwarrior 5 looks great, allows players the customization and gameplay the series is known for and tells a fairly interesting action based story. Control issues force ranged combat since close quarter assaults are made difficult and cumbersome but if you can get past these then Piranha Games have crafted a reasonable addition to the Battletech lore.