MECHWARRIOR 5: MERCENARIES – oh no the baddies killed the man, grr

The UI is clean, inspired by and of a piece with Harebrained Schemes’ interface for 2018’s BattleTech. Piranha’s modern ‘Mech designs are memorable updates to the dated ’80s designs. They stomp menacingly at each other across a pretty diverse set of battlefields that sits starkly opposed to the near-featureless plains of the MechWarrior past. It also brings in your friends in a co-op mode, both for campaign and one-off skirmishes, that is both stable and tactically rich.I was wary, fearing it would be a forgettable linear fairground ride about Corporal Jack Magnum (I honestly can’t remember my character’s name) getting revenge on the… guys, for killing his dad, who… existed.Acceleration is handled independently, so you can move at the exact pace you want, then strafe and rotate your guns (which you need to keep track of) to hit your target on the move. While you can technically use a controller, I wouldn’t recommend it (though specific HOTAS are supported).You can feel the mech shake as it stomps forward, the recoil of the big AutoCannon 20 as the massive slug booms out of the barrel, and the reactor power up when you’re deploying into a mission.

MW5 is also a game that absolutely should have been developed for VR. It’s a very deep strategy game, and it vaguely reminds me of another fighting game, For Honor – deceptively simple on the surface – but it requires finesse, practice, and perfect timing to be really successful at it.The fact that it’s the first MechWarrior single-player game since 2002 should demonstrate just how niche that audience really is, as 2013’s MechWarrior Online sought to bring the series to a purely online setting in the larger BattleTech universe with the hopes of reaching more people who are interested in online shooters. Developer Piranha Games has demonstrated that it knows its way around a mech or two, however, and a return to single-player has been something long-time fans have been anxious for.But it’s The Game Awards tonight, so we haven’t got time for all that right now. But as far as we’re concerned MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is right up there with Shenmue 3 and Psychonauts 2. Perhaps it’s not as famous as either of those games but its long absence from gaming has made its unique style of gameplay a pleasure to return to.Newer players will be turned off by some of the title’s plodding pace, which too often feels like it’s piloting the assault class mech through a bog of exposition and characters who couldn’t be more cookie cutter if they were actual human biscuits. Veterans, familiar with the fact that MechWarrior has never really been about telling a sublime story, will be pleased by the return of several series staples but ultimately disappointed by an individual pilot experience that’s a little lacking.

It’s a campaign mode that really plays into the themes of the setting, ones of scarcity and technological regression, the so-called LosTech. It often forces you to make hard choices about how to re-arm a mech when you can’t find a replacement part—or simply sell the whole thing when it’ll be too time-consuming and expensive to repair.That was how it went, over and over. Mechwarrior 5 started out fine and just kept getting better the more I played it. My complaints about it are mostly minor, and the big one is more of a lingering doubt than a real problem. Overall, it’s safe to say that, after a very long break (and discounting the underwhelming MechWarrior Online, the definitive stompy romp series is back.Speaking of: you can take out a mech’s legs, arms, or kill the pilot directly. This actually matters both short and long term, as tactical shots deal tons of surgical damage and allow you to safely harvest unharmed mech parts in the game’s story mode. Because of that open-ended approach to limb damage, you can get into some pretty harrowing situations: arms blown off, legs barely working, half your weapons disabled while you violently run for the extraction ship. It’s normal!Some are scouts, fast machines that are lightly armed and armored, but good at getting around. Assault and heavy mechs take the enemy head-on, lumbering into battle with the biggest guns you can attach to them.You play as a rookie mercenary MechWarrior, Captain Mason, who is tasked with rebuilding a nearly destroyed mercenary unit after your father dies in battle. You are able to accept contracts from the available factions, and you will strengthen alliances and make enemies. Forging alliances means you get discounts for rebuilding your mechs, and strangely, making enemies doesn’t count against you when you perform missions for them. You are a mercenary and this kind of behavior is evidently expected.Designs vary wildly alongside the different classifications, with lightweight mechs like the Javelin fulfilling just as useful a role as something gigantic like the King Crab. Each design feels like it draws inspiration from the genre at large, giving players a lot of options when it comes to which mech hero they feel like mimicking on the field of battle. Mechs are also extremely customizable, with a huge range of parts ranging from weaponry to boosters available at both markets and as spoils of war.

Your pilot’s hands move across the console to punch a boot-up sequence and grip controls. The doors in front of you crack open as the startup sequence completes and the iconic lines sound: REACTORS, ONLINE. SENSORS, ONLINE. WEAPONS, ONLINE. ALL SYSTEMS… NOMINAL.That was how it went, over and over. Mechwarrior 5 started out fine and just kept getting better the more I played it. My complaints about it are mostly minor, and the big one is more of a lingering doubt than a real problem. Overall, it’s safe to say that, after a very long break (and discounting the underwhelming MechWarrior Online, the definitive stompy romp series is back.You can barrel through buildings with your mechs or jump-jet on top of destructible structures with no issues, which adds a very active feel to combat despite the aforementioned simulation leanings. I also haven’t encountered any major bugs outside of UI issues, compounded by the already rudimentary nature of the UI itself.Going into battle under the tonnage limit means you’ll be at a disadvantage, so be sure to have a good spread of mechs to meet the challenge. You need to juggle what to bring with you, too, whether that’s more ammo for your AutoCannon, additional bullets for your machine gun so that you can pelt enemies and buildings, or heat sinks to lower the risk of overheating when using energy weapons.The campaign is basically, attack, demolish, defend, or assassinate someone. As you build relationships with various factions, you will be given side quests that eventually become rather repetitive. After you play through a few of the introductory missions, a star map becomes available showing where you can travel and how they affect your abilities. However, you will need to manage your resources, time, and money to travel to recruit more pilots and to buy more mechs.

Most missions devolve into very basic elements, like defending a base or settlement, assassinating someone in a mech (who is in a base or settlement), or just generally roaming around and beating up whoever happens to cross the squad’s path. It’s not that these missions aren’t fun, because they can be, and testing out new mech compositions and weapons is enjoyable. They just never feel like they escalate until extremely late in the game. The slog up to it, populated by a lot of reputation-raising side missions that don’t feel like they add much to the game, can be an incredible grind. Later additions, like hostile environments that set a pseduo-timer on missions and require more tactical planning, are also nice, though they’d have been better-suited even earlier in the title to really help add variety.For this reason, I left the campaign behind early on and concentrated on the instant action which was far more gratifying as a single player. Coordinating mech builds with up to three friends in coop would probably be a much better experience for playing the main campaign. The campaign is predictable and boring. Dialogue is just bad in most cases, and you’ll hear the same lines over and over. Paying voice actors is expensive, I realize — and not all of them give great performances — but boy, did I get tired of hearing Ryana. She’ll tell you the same mission briefings over and over ad nauseum, and it’s especially grating since you’ll be doing the same handful of mission types repeatedly.