MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries Has Arrived – Here’s What You Can Expect

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries has arrived! I’ve actually been playing it for a week now and I have some thoughts. It’s a solid return to classic MechWarrior gameplay and one that I think most of us here at Sarna will be happy with. I haven’t finished the campaign as I’m in no rush to run through all the story missions, but I’ve certainly played enough to get a general impression of the game.  

Before I begin, I have a confession to make. I was honestly not all that excited about MechWarrior 5 when it was announced some time ago. MechWarrior Online had left a very bad taste in my mouth after years of being a loyal fan. There were many reasons why I came to hate MechWarrior Online, but I’ll boil it down to the fact that it was just a bad deal. It asked for way more of my time and money than it gave back in terms of enjoyment, and no amount of me being a BattleTech fan was enough to even the scales.

I quit MechWarrior Online about 2 years ago and haven’t looked back–even after PGI started practically giving away ‘Mechs in sales. So when I heard they were making MechWarrior 5, I had pretty low expectations. When I went to Mech_Con 2018 and got to play a very early pre-alpha build, I still wasn’t very excited. 

Flash forward to December of 2019 and I have to say, I am pleasantly surprised.

It’s not bad. In fact, MechWarrior 5 is actually pretty good. I haven’t experienced any of the technical glitches that always marred my MechWarrior Online experience, and the overall gameplay is a delightful return to simple, solitary, giant stompy robot action.

A Return To Form

Cataphract

For those of you who haven’t played a MechWarrior game since MechWarrior 4, this game is exactly what you’ve wanted for 15 years. Perhaps moreso; MechWarrior 5 improves on the Mercenaries model that began in MechWarrior 2: Mercs with procedurally generated maps and enemies, available co-op play, and a whole freakin’ Inner Sphere to explore. That’s right–it’s all there. Every major House and most of its planets, just a JumpShip hop away. That’s pretty incredible all on its own.

The core gameplay of performing missions in ‘Mechs is pretty much the same as you remember from MechWarrior 4, only everything is improved. Graphics quality is good, although hardly on the bleeding edge of possibility with modern hardware. I don’t begrudge PGI this–they’re still an indie studio with a small team, and with that attitude in mind, what they accomplished in MW5 is even more noteworthy.

What you’ll really find to be vastly improved over previous games are the destruction effects. For the first time, you can take your 50-ton Centurion and walk that fucker straight through a building. It’s just how you always imagined it after reading all those novels. 

Building On Success

Victor

If you’ve played (or are still playing) Hairbrained’s BATTLETECH, you’ll find MechWarrior 5’s ‘MechLab has a lot in common. It’s the same general layout that bears resemblance to the classic paper schematics, but with fixed hardpoints. It also has a different view mode that drastically simplifies customization by just showing the weapons systems. That’s a great option for new or younger players that might not have the BattleTech background and just want to tip their toes into ‘Mech customization without feeling too overwhelmed. 

You can’t mess with the engine, but I think that just improves the authenticity of the overall experience. It means that you can’t turn a Panther into a Jenner and vice versa. It means that each design will always feel unique and there will always be a reason to want a Shadow Hawk over a Centurion if you value speed. Also, overhauling a ‘Mech’s engine was always supposed to be an incredibly complicated (and costly) procedure that put it out of reach of your average merc company.

Much like in BATTLETECH, MechWarrior 5 uses a similar tiered equipment system with four pips being the best and zero pips being the worst. This is also represented in the weapon’s stats, which you’ll be able to view in both the ‘MechLab and the open market. You’ll find the usual assortment of weapons from the year 3015, but you’ll also occasionally see some Lostech stuff like ER PPCs, Pulse Lasers, and Gauss Rifles.

Catapult K2

I’m of a mixed opinion here. On the one hand, that ER PPC was EXTREMELY expensive–prohibitively so at the point in the game where I saw it on the market, so this does a good job of making it clear this stuff is supposed to be extremely rare. On the other hand, the lore makes Lostech out to be something of legend and myth at this point in BattleTech’s history and not something you just see on the open market with a huge sticker price. 

Overall, I think MechWarrior 5 walks a fine line between appealing to BattleTech lore buffs and appealing to MechWarrior fans that might not care too much about why their Marauder has a pair of ER PPC’s long before the Clan Invasion.

One thing I really like is the new variants of Autocannons and LRMs. You can get burst-fire or single-shot Autocannons, depending on whether you want to feel like you’re firing a machine gun or a tank cannon. You can also get regular LRMs or stream-fire LRMs, depending on whether you want all your missiles to come out at once or to be sent out a bit staggered. There are advantages and disadvantages to both and it allows a little bit more customization than MechWarrior games have otherwise allowed. It’s a nice touch.

That’s Great, But What About The ‘Mechs?

Mechs

My early-release version of MechWarrior has a fairly limited number of ‘Mechs to purchase in the early part of the campaign, but I’ve been told that will change by the time MechWarrior 5 releases. From what I’ve seen, the ‘Mechs you fight are generally appropriate to whoever it is you’re fighting: Davion units will send in Javelins and the occasional Commando, while Kurita units send in Panthers and Jenners. Mercs will have Locusts and UrbanMechs, and everyone gets a ton of J. Edgar hovertanks and SRM Carriers.

And while we’re on the topic of units, here’s the full list of ‘Mechs in MechWarrior 5. Because I know that’s all anyone really wanted to know anyhow. Note that there are multiple variants for each ‘Mech, so consider this list expanded to be roughly three times as large when you include all the lesser-known models.

A few notable designs: the Nightstar was supposed to be extremely rare even during the old Star League era, so finding it on a list of ‘Mechs in 3015 is a surprise. Ditto the Raven, which didn’t even exist until 3024, as well as the Wolfhound, which didn’t exist until 3028. I suspect players won’t see these designs much during the campaign. I certainly haven’t.

Everything else looks pretty standard fare, but with the extremely welcome addition of Unseen designs. Welcome back, you beautiful bastards.

Light On Story, Unless You Look For It

King Crab

In terms of plot, the game itself tells a relatively simple story: mysterious bandits kill your dad, you take over his mercenary company to build it into a fighting force that can track down those bandits and exact revenge. If you want more than that, Randall N. Bills has written up a prelude novella that really fleshes out the characters and their motivations. For those of you that look for that sort of thing in your single-player games, I highly recommend reading them. Otherwise you’ll find the characters in the game act a little… stiff. And I don’t say that just because they don’t really move during the first-person ‘MechBay scenes.

Okay, that’s not true. I say that because the folks living in your Leopard-class dropship literally don’t move the entire time you play the game. It’s a small thing, but my gosh, it would go a long way to making those first-person dropship scenes feel a little more like you’re in a real space ship and not just some room with a bunch of robot-shaped statues and a few marionettes.

But that’s my biggest complaint, honestly. MechWarrior 5 is an action game meant to appeal to action game fans–it’s not going to bog a player down with complicated plots or characters with a lot of expository dialog.

I haven’t encountered any in-universe events in the game so far, but I think that was by design. They chose the year 3015 so that there’d be plenty of time between when the game starts and the next big event, which would be the Fourth Succession War of 3028. 

But Overall, The Best MechWarrior Game Yet

Awesome

I’ve mentioned BATTLETECH a few times and I think it’s important to address the fact that I don’t think there’s much point in comparing it to MechWarrior 5. They’re both completely different games that are providing a completely different experience. BATTLETECH is more narratively driven with character development and lore, whereas MechWarrior 5 is a more visceral action experience. I would even go so far as to describe the player character as a “dude-bro” just based on his in-game dialog.

BATTLETECH has also been out for over a year with several DLC expansions under its belt, and while MechWarrior 5 is definitely a complete game, it’s still not fair to compare technical aspects of these games either. MechWarrior 5 will almost certainly improve after its release in the same way that BATTLETECH did, and although I haven’t heard much discussion surrounding DLC, I wouldn’t be surprised to see something announced in 2020.

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is the surprising sequel to MechWarrior Online that surprises not just for being a quality game, but also for recapturing the single-player MechWarrior experience. It doesn’t get everything perfect and I’m sure there will be loads of complaints from other players over time, but I can safely provide my seal of approval. If you were a fan of MechWarrior 4 and wish someone would make a new one, then MechWarrior 5 is exactly that.

Actually, it’s not just that. MechWarrior 5 also has all the improvements in gameplay that have accumulated over the past 15 years, so it’s actually better. I haven’t even done the co-op campaign yet, which I’m really looking forward to.

I know some of you are still kinda upset about the whole Epic exclusive thing. If that’s the case, then you can wait for it to release on Steam in 12 months. By then, whatever bugs were present (and my experience thus far has been bug-free) will have been ironed out and there might even be some additional content. But if you don’t mind another launcher, then you can pick up MechWarrior 5 now for $49.99. 

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy. 

stay syrupy

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About Sean

Hooked on BattleTech at an early age, Sean honestly can't remember whether it was the cartoon, the serial novels or the short-lived TCG that did him in. Whatever it was, his passion for giant shooty robots never died, so now he writes about the latest and greatest in 'Mech related news.

20 thoughts on “MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries Has Arrived – Here’s What You Can Expect

  1. BruteUnicorn134

    Honestly, I thought that you of all people would rip this game a new one with your review, but by Kerensky I was wrong. If you say it is good, then it is good. All my friends are not getting it because of the whole epic thing. meanwhile, I will be making them jealous for the next 12 months.

    Reply
  2. Benjamin Myers

    As a note on Mech availability ….. the game campaign runs from 3015 thru 3049. So things like the Cataphract, Raven, etc, should hopefully not show up until timeline appropriate (I can’t confirm this, just a thought)

    And I’m guessing/hoping the Nightstar is tied into a plot point/campaign mission/campaign boss. The complete list of mechs doesn’t mean they are all available from GO.

    Reply
    1. Lord Sevenous

      Yes all Mechs are Timelocked BUT some Heroes have Lostech Weapons/Equipment so an UrbanMech K9 will be available early in the Game but he will be equiped wit 10 DHS and an UAC5 which will appear very late on the open market and will be very expensive

      Reply
    2. Lord Sevenous

      Tip: If (early) you see a K9 buy it, strip it and then sell the Chassis
      (due to the locked Engine Urbies are not Fun in MW5)

      Reply
  3. Kdogprime

    I suppose it’s nice to see PGI not be completely incompetent for a change.

    See you in a year.

    Reply
  4. Fernando

    Nice review! The thing I REALLY MISS are the critical hits sounds and voices when the Mech lost an arm or weapon. Really hope they will enable those again. Thanks

    Reply
  5. Bogus

    Good to know. I’m far from a PGI hater, but I’ve been in the wait-and-see camp given that MWO was something of a mixed bag–especially since I’m enough of a DRM zealot to want to hold out for the GOG release. Has PGI said anything about whether it’s possible to download it on one machine and install on another, offline one? I have no real quarrel with Epic or Steam itself, I just refuse to have my single player game be gated by some stupid Internet account or launcher client while Team Torrent mocks me for playing by the rules.

    Reply
  6. Mendrugo

    I’m fine with there being LosTech available on the marketplace. In fact, I always thought it was odd that there would be so many LosTech prospectors out there seeking caches of advanced weapons, yet nobody ever fielded any.

    You’d think that at least the Great Houses would have some warehouses of the good stuff squirreled away for use by their most elite/highest ranking troops, but Theodore Kurita refitted Aleksandr Kerensky’s Orion with stock parts, rather than drawing from Takashi’s private reserve to replicate Kerensky’s gunslinger configuration.

    In the original MechWarrior game, we even have a scene where you see a Combine/Matabushi vault being emptied of its treasures (including advanced tech), so we know it’s there – just seemingly never in use. Thus, having it show up in limited numbers and at high prices makes sense – a LosTech prospector found paydirt and is seeking to cash in and retire.

    Reply
    1. Frabby

      Much of the “lostech” being recovered would simply have been 3025-era tech in not-shot-up condition though. If SL-spec material was that common, the shock and awe about Clan tech doesn’t make sense.

      Reply
      1. Mendrugo

        The thing is, by the time people were getting shocked and awed by Clan tech in 3049, many LosTech systems had been back in production for 10-20 years – either as a NAIS innovation, derived from the Helm core, or gifted to the Combine by ComStar.

        While the frequency of LosTech in shops is higher in the games than it probably would be in the canon 3015-3030 timeframe, for gameplay reasons, I have no problem with prized LosTech relics actually being made available for use rather than gathering dust in vaults. (As a Dragon magazine article put it back in the 1980s, “If the demon lord has an unholy paladin bonger +8, he should be using it against the heroes, rather than leaving atop his treasure heap.”) Legit LosTech in 3015 or 3025 makes for good “boss” units to pit against the players. And, when it gets critted, repair may be impossible, making it less likely for the players to get seriously OP.

        Reply
      2. Lord Sevenous

        Were the English and American Fighter Pilots shocked by the appereance of the German ME 262 (first jet-powered fighter)?
        Yes!
        The British had their own Gloster Meteor and they were not behind Germany (technologically wise) in jet-propulsion.

        So the knowlege was there BUT the massive use of it created the same shock and awe you are talking about.

        Reply
    1. Patrick Coyle

      Yeah, that part plus the extremely limited forward-facing line-of-sight sensor system is my only real beef with the game from what I’ve played (I’m one of those holding out for the Steam release, and right now that’s probably for the best.)

      When I had the chance to try it out, I was genuinely enjoying it right up until the moment I did a mission where I got jumped from nowhere at least a half-dozen times. In one case, I had no idea my lance was under attack until a lancemate reported getting pieces blown off. In another, I actually saw VTOLs spawn out of the ether right in front of me. At first I thought there was something buggy about the sensor system, but when I looked into it and realized what was going on, it sucked all the fun out.

      Apparently PGI’s aware of player displeasure – though it makes me wonder why they didn’t anticipate it – but hopefully more reasonable enemy spawning and a 360 sensor will be the standard by next year. If the game had those now, I’d be seriously tempted to get it.

      Reply
      1. Volt

        I actually enjoy the front facing radar. Used correctly, it adds a new dimension of tactics to the game, it really just doesn’t work well with magic spawns. I remember always playing with the front-facing radar mode in the MEKTEK version of MW4:Mercs and it was exhilirating playing cat-and-mouse against other players and using the terrain to mask my location. It’s the same feeling with MWO and I’m glad they ported that over to MW5.
        But yes, they could have implemented 360 radar as an option for those who don’t favor it. there was supposed to be a patch that improves upon the spawning but I heard it’s still pretty hit-and-miss. I wouldn’t know since I got a refund. I probably won’t be touching it again until that’s fixed.
        It was really disappointing and heartbreaking, especially after playing through all the previous games and having these expectations from a game that carries the name of those that came before.
        Granted, there were times where the succeeding game did a step back from the previous one [MW3 mechbay, OMG the agony] but wow, really, MW5 had so many steps back, it felt like a sequel to only MW1 instead.
        oh and where the heck is my zoom window, like in MW3 and MW4. Heck, even MWO had that basic feature. I don’t need to freaking zoom my entire screen, it actually drops framerate like a torrent downloader in a dial-up LAN.

        Reply
  7. Volt

    I’m sorry, is this a paid review?

    1) yes there’s co-op, contract negotiations, and being able to explore the whole inner sphere is nice, but it’s not possible to apply a merc logo or unit color scheme [HBS BattleTech], that makes immersion really shallow
    2) can’t have more than one lance in play, unlike MW4 Mercs
    3) story is weak, unlike the previous mechwarrior games. this feels more like MechWarrior Offline with the procedurally generated missions feeling like instant action.
    4) opfor appear out of nowhere, they are embedded in the map, unlike the previous MW games where it’s possible to gung-ho the mission, snipe, or scout to surprise the enemy and hit them while their pants are down. there is no tactics in play, it’s all just attrition.
    5) there are no actual mission briefs and nav points, so there’s no planning

    so basically, aside from the setting, graphics and FINALLY MAKING BATTLEMECHS NOT FEEL LIKE OMNIMECHS, it really feels like a downgrade from the earlier games.

    “But Overall, The Best MechWarrior Game Yet” I don’t know about that. but you did get something right: “MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is the surprising sequel to MechWarrior Online”. The single-player experience is really shallow. I would have prefered they built up on the good things from the previous games:
    1) multiple lances like MW4:Mercs, including aerospace support like MW2:Mercs
    2) story driven campaign, like MW2, MW2: Ghost Bear’s Legacy, MW2:Mercs, MW3, MW3: Pirate’s Moon, MW4, MW4: Black Knight, MW4:Mercs. And wow, another murdered family member/merc commander? let’s see…. MW1, MW2:Mercs and MW4 did that already. Couldn’t we just have had another origin story instead? feels like the Sony Spider-Man films all over again.
    3) mobile refit bay like MW3 or repair bays like MW4
    4) Solaris VII? The previous 2 Merc editions of MW had Solaris Tournaments, does this one have it, too?
    5) procedurally generated bases WITH opfor, none of this teleporting opfor nonsense. I mean, c’mon they did that with turrets, why not with grounded VTOL, parked vees and shutdown mechs with barracks and mechbays. that way the scout mech on your lance actually has value.

    do we have to wait for someone to MOD these in so we can finally get a worthy sequel?

    Reply
  8. Joseph A. Merrill III

    I located one bug where the drop ship was not available for recovery after a assassination mission covering 3 bases. It is in the pipeline to be fixed due to my report I am sure there were a few others found by now which affected progression.

    Reply
    1. Salusa.secundus

      Sometimes you simply need to repeat mission from another direction. Try the same mission covering the bases in a different order.

      Reply
  9. Salusa.secundus

    I played it for over 50 hrs, had a lot o fun, but there are things i hope they will do better with future patch / DLCs:
    – Tanks have more firepower than mechs, but no way to identify bigger tanks by the icon like you can do for mechs. I want to fix Demolisher, Partisan, Manticore, SRM and LRM carrier first, not the hoovertanks.
    – Spawn points: in defend missions they are even less than 300 mts from my mech. Put them at one km.
    – lot of mechs have HS in the legs to make them work better in water. Where are the rivers or lakes?
    – last solo mission you get explained how field repair bay works. Why did i never see one again?
    I absolutely love the Igor VTOL. No way to spend some C-Bills to call air support?

    Reply
  10. Igor

    With all respect, you HATED MWO but still call MW5 the BEST game in series. Seriously?!
    While excitement from finally getting single-player MW after all these years is understandable, the game itself is far from the “best in series’.
    In fact, it is downgraded version of MWO with (stupid) AI instead of real people. Downgraded in almost every aspect.
    Pros:
    1) Graphics. While slightly worse than MWO it still much better than 18 years old MW4. It is probably should be counted as an achievement.
    2) Single player.
    3) Great soundtrack.
    Cons:
    1) Dumbed down mechlab. No, I am not talking about inability to change engine (by the way, you also cannot SEE which engine is installed). But ferro-fibrous or endo-steel that do not take crit-space is a bad thing.
    2) Dumbed down heat and damage mechanics. That heatsinks in legs DO NOT work better in water (there are small pools of water on one map type). Lost side torso with XL-engine DOES NOTHING. You can stand knee-deep in lava without damage or HEAT. Rocket bay and animated Crab/King Crab arms hatches are simply removed from MWO models, along with “more damage when open” mechanics.
    3) Enemies spawn out if thin air. On difficulties 60+ you cannot give your lancemates any specialized mech incapable of short-range combat because enemies can often appear at 100-200 m distance. It forces only one playstyle – maximum tonnage drop without any tactics except brute force.
    4) Most secondary features like ability to walk in hangar or entire Inner Sphere to visit are placeholders or done “for check marks”.
    5) Bad story, even worse “sandbox gameplay”. FIVE types of missions. You killing waves of enemies while doing one of the following: destroying marked location, trying to prevent it being destroyed by your lancemates going trough buildings, destroying pre-placed buildings or mechs, or just killing waves as long as you can. Rinse and repeat.

    Reply

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