It's been a long time since Mechwarrior 4 stomped its way onto PC in 2000, and that's why mech fans are paying attention to Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries, which has just launched on PC via the Epic Games Store. We've been gearing up and trying out a load of hulking metal war machines ourselves, and it turns out that there's a lot of fun to be had devastating landscapes in a giant mech. Who knew?
The premise is that you're put in charge of a mercenary company that is looking for revenge on the organisation that killed your father, but you can't go after them straight away. They're big and scary and you're just one grieving son (not that grieving, to be fair - he moves on pretty quickly) and a few mercenaries, and so you must grow your outfit by taking on contracts in order to expand your horizons.
After a brief tutorial during which we learn the basics of controlling a mech on the battlefield, we're thrown into an introductory chapter lasting around two hours where we do a few missions and learn the ins and outs of Mechwarrior 5's systems. The whole thing revolves around consulting the Starmap, heading to a point in the universe, and select contracts to take, markets to visit, and barracks where you can hire pilots. All of this takes a matter of in-game days and has a cost, so it's all about balancing your economy too.
The map is massive, and it's all a little bit intimidating at first if truth be told. Piranha Games does a good job of outlining the basics, but still it's easy to get lost in the sea of information, and that's without considering the lore around the setting of the Third Succession War and the factions that are vying for control in the various combat areas of the map.
There are a few things to consider above all else though, one of which is your mechs. These will take damage in battle and they need repairs as a result, which takes in-game days to do. You can also edit your loadout, customise them with any colour scheme you want, and buy more to increase your arsenal, however, your highest priority is to make sure they're not busted and smoking when you need them for a fight.
When your mechs are up to scratch you can then take them out for a spin in contracts, which range from defending an area to taking out a target. These are set missions in specific sandboxes, and helpful markers guide your mechs around as you stomp through the scenery, demolishing forests with one footstep and firing lasers, missiles, and whatever else you have, sending buildings to their doom with one strike.
It's a little bit fiddly controlling mechs at first since one button is forward and another is backward, but you can't come to a stop without reducing speed with a brake button. You also turn your torso and legs independently, which affects how you aim, with the former moving with your mouse, while the latter moves with A and D. There are then buttons to align your legs with your torso (or vice versa), extra weapons to use aside from those on LMB and RMB, and even more besides, so it takes some time to get your head around.
One thing Mechwarrior 5 does exceptionally well is the feeling of power in the mech. We've already mentioned that it's capable of dealing damage to the scenery with one footstep (or more, depending on the size and shape of the mech), but that extends to battle as well, and nailing a laser strike will send a tank up in flames, as will hitting an enemy mech in the head with a well-placed missile from distance. Everything from the flames to the explosions is straight out of a Michael Bay fantasy, and we love it.
Once you get back to your ship and collect your winnings things slow down a bit though, like sifting through paperwork after a gunfight. Repairs must be done, you'll need to talk with your crew, and see where you need to go next. You might even need to negotiate insurance and payout for your next job or go somewhere to hire a new pilot, which of course comes with its own salary and expense headaches. There's a lot to see and do, which may be a positive or negative depending on what you're looking for.
The good news is that hiring other pilots gives you backup in battle, and you can assign them customised mechs as well. Each pilot has their own skillset to consider, as well as how much they'll cost, and you can even invite friends in for some co-op fun if you need some extra firepower to take down a contract. You can assign and reassign teammates at will, so there's a balancing act between keeping allies safe and sound or bringing them in and risking getting them damaged (which is costly).
In terms of the story we weren't really enamoured at all. The protagonist has the most generic, gruff soldier voice we've heard for a while, and the lore around the world lost us within two missions since it seemed so dense and impenetrable. At its core, it's about your company more than the narrative, and your personal goal to grow the team and get stronger all the time.
Mechwarrior 5 also gets difficult pretty quickly as well, as you're advised early on to move quickly in battle to stay alive, but doing that while remembering all the controls and getting your precious shots away with limited ammo is easier said than done. Other mechs take a while to die and they can deal some major damage, so it's not for the faint-hearted, especially since you need to consider that each bit of damage done takes a toll on your wallet, something which hangs over the entire experience.
There's an odd juxtaposition at the heart of Mechwarrior 5. The battles, while fiddly, are super cool and explosive, but that side of the experience grinds to a halt with text-heavy menus to wade through between missions. That's something that definitely needs to be considered before setting a giant mechanised foot in this game, but those who want to tweak and manage their mercenary crew while also living the mech fantasy should head right in.
Loading next content