MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries (Impressions)

Considering how much I liked MechWarrior 2 and its many versions it may come as a surprise that I didn’t continue to follow the BattleTech franchise through its more recent iterations. However with the arrival of 2019’s MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries (MW5) to Xbox Game Pass it’s as good a time as any to get back into some big bot battles.

Developed by Piranha Games, first impressions are of a game that knows exactly what players want with both campaign and co-op modes. The campaign looks pretty beefy with plenty to keep you occupied. You’re a leader of a mercenary band in the early 32st century who are almost wiped out and have to scrape together resources to rebuild and exact revenge. The story isn’t exactly new or original I suppose but this is the world of BattleTech and declaring war on other factions is what these people do regularly with their morning coffee. One aspect of the campaign that was different (to me) is the management of you ship and mechs; everything costs money and time so when you’re not on the battlefield you’re trying to repair your mechs and make good on your ship repayments. It’s a useful game mechanic for making players be more creative with what they have. For example if you can use a cheaper mech to complete a mission without risking bigger ones, or because you’re waiting for others to be fixed, then the payoff may net you a nice bonus. This management aspect is revealed early on in the game when you are forced to work with a much weaker mech than you began with.

There’s a lot to managing the mechs beyond just waiting for repairs. To begin with we have the customisation side where you can not only paint your mech (an easy achievement BTW) but more importantly outfit them with a A LOT of  weapons. What you have available for loadouts is based in what weapons you own, salvage or buy. Additionally, not all mechs will support the same weapon types and sizes so choices need to be made there too. In battle it’s all about heat management so finding the right mix of ballistic, missile and laser systems is key to long term survival as the last thing you need is to have your mech shutdown due to overheating. This kind of energy/resource management is not unique to MechWarrior – you see it in any shooter or RPG with a cool down and even X-Wing used it – but its impact feels like more brutal here when your walking arsenal suddenly shuts down and becomes an easy target for everyone else on the battlefield.

In play, MW5 handles nicely on a stock Xbox controller and switching out to the third person camera even helps the game give off a MechAssault vibe that brings back some good memories. It does take time to get used to the left stick legs / right stick torso movement scheme (good to learn so you can strafe well) which is more World of Tanks and less Call of Duty but for most part you can get away with using just the sticks for movement and the triggers for the firing groups and you’ll be fine. And if you get into a bind with your mech’s movement there’s a reset button gets your legs and torso lined up again. I think overall it does a really good job of making it work as a console game.

Multiplayer can be a little fiddly to set up as you need to share your unique ID (not gamertag) and create friends lists to organise your game but once there you can play co-op in the campaign or take on challenges via the mission generator which lets you tailor a scenario or just go random and see what happens. This was a fun way to play with friends and a highlight for me. We never knew what were jumping into apart from the mech budget dictating how much we could spend – the more the spend the harder the mission likely was. These missions have a seed value so if you want to revisit one in the future, get a pen and paper handy. Worth noting that the game also lets you hire AI team mates so if you want a full squad to support you when you’re a few friends short it’s a decent alternative.

It’s scary to think that it’s been almost twenty (!) years since the last numbered MechWarrior game. There’s been other games over the years such as Hawken and MechWarrior Online (also from Piranha) but I missed the days of jumping into a campaign and having that right there in front of me from the start made MW5 much easier for me to pick up and play. It’s also fills a MechAssault void that I didn’t even know I had until now, so fingers crossed it helps lead to more of the franchise on Game Pass.

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is out now for PC and Xbox. Played on an Xbox Series X through Game Pass.

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