Sometimes you sit down after a hard day’s work and feel like playing something simple – a game that doesn’t demand deep strategic thought, philosophical and moral dilemmas, and dealing with the consequences of one’s actions in a convoluted world.
Instead, sometimes you just want to stomp around in a giant mech and blow things up – smiling in the warm light of the burnt-out wreckage of your opponents.
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries offers this in spades, and if you’re looking for mindless entertainment, it’s a solid choice.
I shan’t go into too much depth on the game’s setting mainly because it is pretty shallow relative to fully-fledged RPGs and their narrative-driven contemporaries.
The game takes place in 3015, following the fall of an intergalactic human empire and the conflict it sparked.
Due to a technological recession, the various factions that arose from the wreckage of the galaxy have taken to using immense war machines known as BattleMechs in all conflicts.
In this time of near-constant conflict, mercenaries have found ample work and arisen as the go-to weapon the various factions employ whenever they have an issue that needs blasting.
This is where the player character comes in, as you are the son of a Commander of one such mercenary company.
And in a fairly predictable fashion, within twenty minutes of starting the campaign, your father is killed, your base destroyed, and you are made the new Commander of your very own mercenary company.
From there, the various campaign missions will have you moving across the galaxy, taking jobs, getting better mechs, training pilots, and avenging the death of the late Commander.
Pretty standard and uninspired stuff.
But that’s fine because you’re not here for Shakespeare – it’s the gameplay that matters.
How it plays
The primary gameplay loop of MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries can be boiled down into three sections: managing your mercenary company, travelling across the galaxy to find contracts, and completing contracts with teams of massive mechs.
In terms of management, most of your mental effort will go towards weighing the risks of expending C-Bills (the galactic currency) to repair your mechs after combat and buying or selling mechs. It’s not complex but has enough nuance that you can’t be on autopilot all the time.
For instance, in combat, your mechs can be damaged quite easily.
Every ton of armour lost will cost you, and repairing said mechs is also an expensive prospect – especially in combat zones where you can pay anywhere from 60% to 150% more for repairs compared to base prices.
There is also the matter of faction relations. Mercenary though you may be, you still have to be careful about taking contracts, as earning good relations with one faction is often at the cost of bad relations with another.
Factions that you have positive relations will allow you to negotiate for better rewards with contracts, while those that hate you will offer far less.
But these concerns are merely surface-level details as the meat of the game is found when you accept a contract and get into combat.
Contracts and combat
In MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, you can deploy with a Lance of up to four Mechs – one of which you pilot.
You will be aiming to achieve one of several different goals depending on the contract you’ve accepted.
Contracts can require you to destroy a target area, kill a specific enemy, protect a settlement, or wipe out another lance of mechs.
Regardless of the goal, gameplay involves stomping around in your mech, which you can control either from a first-person (cockpit) or a third-person over-the-shoulder view – personally, I favoured the latter as it made it easier to spot enemy mechs.
Controlling your mech is also a reasonably simple task.
It can move forward and backwards and turns as you’d expect, while its torso and weapons can rotate 180 degrees however you prefer – thus allowing you to move in one direction while firing in the opposite direction.
After a few contracts, it will become second nature.
Initially, you’ll be piloting medium and light mechs with high mobility and relatively light armaments, but over time as you salvage and purchase, you’ll progressively acquire heavier and harder-hitting machines.
By the end of the game, I had acquired several lances worth of Heavy and Assault mechs to stomp about in during contracts – and there certainly is a visceral pleasure to it.
I favoured using a rather charming 100-ton monster called an Annihilator whose massive armaments were able to dismantle just about anything that got within range.
However, one of the essential pleasures of MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is the customisation and number of mechs you can acquire, which ensures that if you eventually get tired of playing with one Mech, you can just deploy with an entirely new one for a different combat experience.
While you can name your mercenary company, paint your mechs and choose your emblem, the only customisation that has any gameplay impact is the outfitting of your mechs.
Each mech comes with set slots for weapons and gear that you can swap out to your heart’s content – allowing you to build your ideal 100-ton city leveler.
Beyond a lacking story and a potentially repetitive gameplay loop, my biggest gripe was the AI of your NPC pilots – those controlling the other three mechs in your Lance.
While passable, there were numerous instances where I’d see one Leeroy Jenkins’ing into a group of enemy mechs only to humbly retreat after sustaining several hundreds of thousands of C-Bills worth of damage and achieving nothing else.
Likewise, AI-controlled mechs also have a habit of blowing up buildings you’ve been contracted to protect when enemies run between them, and occasionally walk into you to the sound of screeching metal.
While irritating at times, it isn’t a deal-breaker – especially if you get adept at keeping an eye on your AI allies and issuing orders whenever one starts to do something stupid.
The game does also have multiplayer, so it’s not a complete mech crash
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries isn’t going to win any awards as its story and writing are pretty dull.
However, this isn’t the sort of game you play when you’re looking for an intellectually challenging title – this is the sort of game you play because you like explosions, giant robots, and the satisfaction of seeing millions of in-game currency pouring into your account.
If this sounds like a fun time to you, then you should try MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries.