MechWarrior is a series that I’m amazed I’ve never played before. Giant mechs the size of skyscrapers lumbering around and shooting salvos of missiles and lasers at each other in bombastic fashion, but still promising the kind of hectic combat that’s right up my very dangerous alley. You can even blow up buildings and punch tanks until they explode, which I haven’t been able to do since Prototype 2. Enter MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, newly released for PS5 and PS4.
I sat down fully expecting to love this game right from the start, but it gave me a rough first impression. I started the campaign (not to be confused with career mode) and elected to try the tutorial, because nothing ruins your giant Mech quicker than poor piloting. Unfortunately, I never finished the tutorial – it simply wouldn’t register that I’d realigned my legs with my torso. Your mech’s torso and legs can rotate independently, which allows you to strafe past enemies whilst shooting them, but in teaching me this the tutorial decided I just… hadn’t aligned them. Thankfully you can skip it and jump straight into the rest of the game.
In MechWarrior 5, you’ll be managing a company of mercenaries in the wake of your father’s tragic, unexpected, completely unforeseeable death in a giant mech explosion. You take over his company, name it, pick a logo, and then you’re mostly free to warp around a huge expanse of space called the Inner Sphere. You’ll be doing all the warping from menus, as there’s no spaceflight in this game outside of the loading screen, travelling from system to system and picking up contracts.
Funnily enough, the tutorial, seems almost unnecessary as it’s relatively easy to get to grips with anyway. It’s mostly self-explanatory. There’s a slower and more considered pace than something like Titanfall, with large open areas throughout the maps and all your weapons, which are mapped to the shoulder buttons and triggers, each having cooldowns and the potential to overheat your mech through overuse.
The bits that could use more explanation are all in the menus between the combat. Managing a mercenary outfit is pretty complex, and add to that managing, repairing, outfitting, and upgrading mechs, it’s a bit overwhelming at first. The first time I went to look at a mech to see if I could fiddle with the weaponry, I put my controller down and backed out of the room slowly. Naturally, I ignored that aspect and went back to doing some missions.
The first few battles are a little underwhelming – with you on your own and no AI help, it takes a while to take out the enemies. Thankfully you’re quickly handed control of the company and are able to hire some pilots and acquire some additional mechs to put them in, whether by scrapping them in combat or by purchasing them between missions. With three AI companions, the game’s pace picks up a bit and it starts to feel more like the focused chaos I had expected.
Unfortunately this is where it can get pretty repetitive. Whether or not you’ll enjoy MechWarrior 5 depends on two things: whether or not you’re endlessly entertained by Mech combat and whether you enjoy the management aspect of the game. The actual mech combat part of the game settles into a familiar loop pretty quickly, there’s a relatively small number of environments, mission types are even more limited than that, and the actual story missions are mostly dialogue spoken at you between similar missions to the others. The management part is satisfying, so long as you enjoy building up a mercenary outfit, purchasing/scrapping mechs, negotiating bonuses and salvage shares before contracts, and so on.
Personally, once it got going, I started to really enjoy myself. The Inner Sphere is occupied by various warring factions and the interplay between them was a surprising part of the game for me. I once received transmissions from both sides of a disagreement and decided to help one side, then received another transmission from the opposing side offering me a more cash to take advantage of my now trusted position to betray the side I’d helped initially. You can warp about the Inner Sphere helping the downtrodden, you can work for the big powerful factions, or you can work for whoever pays the highest. This freedom of choice extends to your mechs as well. There’s an awfully large selection of mechs available and you can customise everything about each of them – you can even give them a new paintjob to match your mood if you like.
The game has slightly inconsistent graphics. During missions it can look a bit bare, though it’s at least sharp and clear running on PS5. There’s got some nice effects as well, such as when you laser a tree and the whole thing bursts into flame. Curiously, the hangar you go to between missions looks gorgeous, but also seems to lower the game’s frame rate and feels a little sluggish because of it.
Sound is more impressive than the graphics during missions, and I highly recommend wearing headphones using the in cockpit camera thanks to the immersive way it surrounds you with noise. There’s also some mostly good voice acting here during and between story missions, with one character definitely voiced by the actor that plays Adam Jensen from Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I’m so confident I’m not even going to Google it.
The game also comes with online cooperative play, but you can only play it with friends as there’s no matchmaking. There is cross-play, though, so that makes it marginally more likely you can find someone to play it with at least. It’s a shame there’s no matchmaking as I haven’t been able to try it out! This is available throughout all modes, including the recently added DLCs – Legend of the Kestrel Lancers, Heroes of the Inner Sphere – that adds two further career modes. These are similar in structure to the base game’s campaign mode, but with new storylines and a much higher challenge. These are for veteran players only.