MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries Review – Large, bulky, and a blast to play

MechWarrior is back and is delivering possibly one of its biggest and heaviest hitters in the history of the franchise ranging from a rather broad campaign to a career mode that’ll let you carry over your campaign content or start fresh alongside a refreshing cooperative play option. Does it work? Let’s find out.

+Offers an absolutely enormous amount of content between Career and Campaign modes
+Each mech feels absolutely massive and grounded in realism
+Online co-op runs extremely smooth with little to no lag, if any
+PS5’s adaptive triggers activate when approaching critical heat

-Difficulty spikes are mind blowing at times
-Contacts List on PlayStation 5 doesn’t pull PlayStation Network friends for some

When it comes to the MechWarrior franchise, I wasn’t introduced into it until well after MechWarrior 3 had already hit mainstream PCs. My first real experience with the franchise wasn’t actually until later with MechAssault, which in its own right, is a very different beast compared to the core series itself.

Sure, I’d played the tabletop game a few times, even got a hang of how combat scenarios work, and even began reading the books as I could find them. As you can imagine, they were rather hard to find, but I still enjoyed them as much as I did anything else. Now, here we are, years later with the latest installment, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, which takes us into the year 3027 as pilot and historical franchise figure, Mason Freeman.

The long story short? You’re a mercenary. You take any job you can and you have no loyalty to any of the factions if you choose not to. Yet, there are repercussions for not having any. So let’s dig in and really see what this game is made of.

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is rather light on story and it’s not actually a bad thing due to how rich it is in lore-based elements

Now, one thing I want to make clear: There’s not a ton of story. Not like you’d get with titles such as MechAssault, Daemon X Machina, and Armored Core. To be quite honest, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is rather short on it, the story is only told in bits and pieces. The storytelling elements come down to you putting the narrative between mission objectives, loyalties, and interactions with other characters through communications and chatter.

While some may not approve of this, let me make this clear, the game doesn’t need it in a lot of ways. The content itself speaks volumes about the experience the game has to offer. Sure, there are plenty of us that would want an in-depth story, one that could rival the likes of titles such as Armored Core or Daemon X Machina, but truth is, you aren’t getting there here. It just works for this title, mostly due to the fact the game’s missions each have their own narrative and outlines to enjoy.

Now, you might be wondering: Why is it okay to be okay with a story that’s rather thin? Because this game isn’t necessarily about the story, but rather, what it has to offer. Don’t get it wrong, there is a story, but it won’t be super strong for very apparent reasons here shortly.

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries has a ton to offer in both scale of combat and total scope and scale of the actual game itself

One of the most impressive features about MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries comes down to its actual scope and scale. The game isn’t tiny. To be honest, it’s an absolute monster with a galaxy map that actually could rival that of the original Mass Effect title in just how much there is to it. Don’t believe me? Just take at that screen shot up above.

MechWarrior 5 is impressive in the sense that every solar system within the Innersphere, as they call it, has something to offer. These offerings range from contracts (missions), jobs, mechs, weapons, and even mercenaries to hire. Each one comes with its own unique design element to it as well as far as its story is concerned. You’ll notice this down on that little news ticker down on the bottom of your screen.

Each one also has its own challenges, missions, or just purpose for belonging. Not all of these planets and or solar systems will have something to offer, just as it would happen in real life. Some of them are peaceful areas or ones that have yet to be settled or can’t be settled due to the hostility of the planet itself.

Now, it is worth noting that regions will change what they have to offer on a day-to-day basis. Some regions will have a mission, but if you wait, those missions could be gone temporarily or possibly forever. It just comes down to timing. It’s best to take what you can, while you can, if that makes sense.

Each mech is just as bulky and heavy as you would hope, giving them a realistic feeling, and a sense of depth as one might hope

Now, one thing is that the MechWarrior series is very much a part of the Battletech universe. Yes, the one that we’ve come to know and love over the years, but somehow, is always confused with one another since they are actually one-in-the-same. 

To keep that sentiment alive, Piranha Games kept true to just how heavy these mechs actually are, making sure they feel their weight, but also how clunky they can be. Mech’s such as the RFL-4D aka the Rifleman make sure you know just how heavy you actually are. You’re slow, clunky, and can barely maneuver. The mech itself is what it sounds like: A walking cannon.

You can be quick and nimble however, but your weapon loadouts are smaller, lighter, and won’t pack as much as a heavier mech would when piloting a suit such as the LCT-V1 aka the Locust. It’s fast, nimble, using Light Machine Guns to whittle down an enemies armor (health) while the Rifleman can stand in the back using its PPC’s or Large Lasers to melt an enemy pilot’s mech.

Each mech does come with its own uses, fully customizable loadouts, and capabilities. It all comes down to where you want the most armor, how you want your mech to work, and what kind of weapons it can handle based on its tonnage. The heavier the mech, the more it can handle, but at the cost of mobility. 

Lance’s can comprise of 200 tonnage in total, allowing for some extremely unique squads aka Lances. These Lance’s can vary from light to heavy mech’s, some weighing as much as 65 to 75 tons. It does not go without saying: Yes, the Atlas is in the game. Diehard fans of MechWarrior can rejoice knowing that the “king” of all mechs is available and obtainable with the right amount of patience and gameplay time.

Just remember to keep a few extra mechs in repair status for multi-stage missions. If not, you could be aborting an operation and losing your chance at high reputation and salvage gains. It’s a mistake we’ve made and had to start over because of when we first started our review.

Performance between current-gen and next-gen consoles is something worth discussing

Now, I want to make this clear: Do not expect next-gen levels of performance on the current-gen consoles. The PlayStation 4 Pro and the Xbox One and Xbox One X don’t exactly meet the high-end quality of platforms such as PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S. Graphics are taken down to what feels like medium-low on last-gen platforms, causing some disruption in what the game has to offer including odd pixelation and a lack of smoothing on edges due to anti-aliasing features.

Next-gen consoles, however, are a different beast altogether. Framerate, while variable, does seem to stay pretty steady, sometimes barely dropping below the game’s targeted 60 FPS at 4K resolutions, or at least that’s what it seems to be. It is worth nothing that there does seem to be some Dynamic Resolution Scaling happening in the background to ensure that framerates stay as smooth as they should. While we can’t confirm this due to the closed environment of the consoles, it is most notable when a lot is going on, and the draw distance does seem to lower just a bit.

Now, when it comes between the Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5, we do want to say this and make it known: There doesn’t seem to be any, if at all, when it comes to performance differences with the latest updates to the game. It seems to be almost identical, especially on Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. However, there are a few bugs we have experienced on PlayStation 5 that we haven’t encountered on Xbox Series X yet.

It’s time for some minor repairs and some small changes to how the social aspect of the game works for coop

Now, we’ve only encountered this bug on the PlayStation 5 version of the game. So let’s talk about the Contact List for cooperative play really quickly. Those who do run into this issue will find that they have zero contacts on their list. The reason behind it? Unclear. The only way to get your friends, even if your friends list is working, to show up is to obtain their Invite Number or to have them invite you to their game.

The downside to this is that progress only goes one way. You help them progress their story or career in co-op as they reap the rewards and then, if they are nice enough, they return the favor. Why is this a thing? Well, you kind of replace one of their mercenary pilots. Because of this, there are no rewards for you to obtain.

It’s a minor nuisance, but hey, the co-op is fun enough that it actually doesn’t really matter. It works well, the netcode is clean as can be, and the servers run pretty damn good. Even with my co-op partner for this review being on a hotspot, we never got lag, nor did he ever jump around with his connection. It’s just that damned good.

However, there are a few bugs that still need ironed out ranging from performance hiccups to balancing issues. Some zones go from “I can do this” to “I’m done, I need to start over, so I’m just done.” It’s not uncommon either. You’ll find this happens quite a bit if you aren’t obtaining salvage, maintaining your mechs, or just simply spending every penny you get on weapons and ammo.

It’s a pain and honestly, the game could benefit from an auto-salvage mode based on your interests and or settings. It would work best, especially in areas where you can’t obtain salvage that requires 18 points of salvage when you have 13 points to spend. It’s a bit frustrating even though it goes up later in the game.

Controls – We gotta talk about how the mechs actually work in this game really fast before we reach our conclusion

This is something we can’t forget to discuss: Controls. This game is an absolute beast of a game. The reason we are mentioning controls in our review isn’t because they are overly complex to learn or to utilize, but rather, because there’s a lot going on and Piranha Games actually managed to pull this level of complexity off rather well.

Unlike most games, you’ll find that the controls have been dumbed down to work on consoles in some fashion or another. That’s not just the case here, but it’s also been done in a mindblowing way. Due to how many keys a mouse and keyboard user has, the options they have are limitless. They can keybind anything they want to any key, make it work how they wish, and go along their merry way blowing enemy mechs to smithereens.

Console players, well, we don’t exactly have that choice, but to some extent, we do. One of these options comes in the format of weapon groups. You can customize what weapons you want to a single group, assign each weapon to an individual slot, or just go all out and have a chainfire group assigned.

The game by default also, as seen above, does a great job at using every button that it can on the controller without sacrificing functionality or usability. While to some, the level of accessibility will be significantly more difficult, to others, this is just a really well done design. It’s honestly impressive as you can control your Lance with up on the d-pad, access abilities such as Air Strike with right on the d-pad, change your camera with down, and access the more advanced menus with left on the d-pad.

Depending on the option you are aiming for, you may find you have to do more than one press. For example, accessing the Lance menu to form on you requires up, up, and then right on the d-pad, making your entire Lance form on you. To select an individual one, you have to press up, then the direction that unit is on, and then the form on you or attack your target option that you want.

There is one feature we have to discuss: You can now control members of your Lance. This allows you to take over an individual Lance and be on your way while the A.I. takes over the one you started as. It’s a nifty feature to have and it does deliver some minor gameplay changes that are rather fun to experience.

The Conclusion – Head for Extraction

As we wrap up our review, I still feel there is a lot we can discuss about MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries. The career mode being one, but to do that, we’d almost have to write an entire review just on it as the Career Mode, while slightly the same as the story, does have some minor changes to its “story” as well as what it has to offer.

MechWarriors 5: Mercenaries
PC, PlayStation, and Xbox
Version(s) Reviewed: PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S
Developer: Piranha Games
Publisher:  Piranha Games
Release Date: Available Now
Price: $29.99 (Base Game) | $59.99 (Game + DLC)

Gameplay wise, nothing changes, the star map works the same, recruitment works the same, and even repairs do whether you are in Career Mode or Campaign Mode. They’re fun regardless of what route you take, but it is advised you start with Campaign and enjoy the story. The reason I say this? It’ll give you the most of what MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries has to offer at the end of the day.

Our review is based upon a retail version of the game that was provided to us by the publisher for the review. For information about our ethics policy please click here.

About the Writer(s):


Dustin is our native video game reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook today.

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