MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries' giant mechs and strategic combat make for stomping good fun

Articles: Gaming
Jun 25, 2021 Written by:ROG Article

Sometimes after a long day at work, there is no better way to unwind than stomping around in a 100-ton robot. Nothing satisfies my itch for explosions, destruction and glorious combat quite like battling my way through the war-torn reaches of the Inner Sphere. MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries delivers all of these components in spades and immersed me in the politics and strife of the BattleTech universe once more.

BattleTech games usually throw me into the field of battle with a small squad of teammates, but MechWarrior 5 forced me to go it alone for the first few missions. This time I started the game as a lone warrior rebuilding a mercenary company from the ashes.  After playing multiple missions, playing solo left me feeling a little lonely, so I happily added extra pilots to my organization as soon as possible. Even with all of my compatriots piloting the lightest ‘Mechs that I could scrounge up from spare parts, it felt good to have someone watching my back.

mw5-6Image source: Gamesplanet

My first trip down to the ‘Mech bay put the true size of these machines on full display.  Two sets of stairs down from the bridge, I could look up from the widely spaced feet of my Centurion all way to the cockpit, ten meters above me. I always knew that BattleMechs were giant machines, but being able to walk around them and see just how small my character was compared to their hulking mass made me feel like a tourist gawking at skyscrapers in downtown New York City. They felt just as large when I was in the cockpit, too. Farmhouses or apartment blocks only came up to my knee as I stomped past in my ‘Mech. Combat with tanks, APCs and helicopters sealed the deal for me. If I were on foot, they would be fearsome opponents, but they were mere insects compared to my ‘Mech. These other weapons of war had perhaps two medium lasers or an AC-5 equipped, but I had an entire arsenal at my fingertips, ready to lay waste to legions of enemies all by myself.

In previous MechWarrior titles, objects were not destructible. If I could maneuver behind a house, it shielded me from incoming fire. The destructible buildings in MW5 create a dynamic battlefield that starts with ample cover, but can be quickly whittled down to just a few piles of rubble with nowhere to hide. It took me a few rounds to learn that trees also provide destructible cover. In a pinch, I can run into the nearest jungle to mitigate enemy fire. When I go on the offensive against enemies hiding behind trees, I burn down large swathes of green with my laser weapons before using my ammo-limited missiles and ballistic weapons.

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MW5 rewarded me for speccing out my ‘Mech with a variety of weapons and strategically deploying the right one moment by moment. There are three main weapon types: energy, missile, and ballistic. Energy weapons are generally low weight and are not ammo limited, but their drawback is very high heat output. Missiles are high damage for their weight and have fairly generous ammo per ton, but some models require a lock and have range limitations. Ballistics have high damage and also benefit from localizing all of that damage in one area, rather than spreading like the other two. Their main drawback is being ammo limited. Some players like to create a weapon boat, which means outfitting a ‘Mech with the maximum allowable amount of the same weapon. This optimizes damage, but in the wide-open battlefields prevalent in MW5, specialist ‘Mech loadouts can be a liability due to range or ammo limitations. While “boating” can be fun, I found more success when I mixed a little bit of all three types of weapons in order to have some flexibility on the battlefield.

One subtle but truly amazing feature in MW5 is the inclusion of a dynamic starmap. With the entire Inner Sphere represented, I finally felt like a commander on a moving battlefield. Conflict zones flared up and then smoldered out over time. As I traveled through the galaxy and completed missions, my  enemies and the ‘Mechs that they fielded would change. Jenners were incredibly common in House Kurita space, and likewise the Trebuchet appeared frequently when I moved through House Marik-controlled territory.

mw5-7Image source: Gamesplanet

This living map also served to move me through the campaign. As I repaired my badly damaged mercenary organization, I took campaign quests and odd jobs on a clockwise rotation through the Inner Sphere. By the time I was at the 9 o’clock position at the border between Marik and Steiner space, I was about 50% of the way through the campaign. I really liked this mechanic, as it gently guided my hand in visiting all the Great Houses.

My character did not start off in a 100-ton death machine—the largest available in the franchise. Instead, MW5 placed me in a 50-ton Centurion ‘Mech, right in the middle of the weight rankings. This made me feel effective in combat right from the start, while still giving me plenty of opportunity to grow my collection of ‘Mechs throughout the campaign. While I was able to skip the light ‘Mech progression stage for myself, I still needed to outfit my three lancemates as well, and for a while that meant light ‘Mechs. Once all four of us had graduated to the medium category, the game gave me extensive options for customization and flexibility. For any machine in the 50-ton range, I had enough space to equip a few legitimate weapons and enough armor for everyone to survive a rough fight. Sacrifices of one or the other were no longer required. This trend continued as I moved up the weight ladder, culminating in the mighty assault class ‘Mechs. Once there, I became the king of the battlefield. As the first pilot in my lance to have an assault ‘Mech, I stood head and shoulders above the other rest of the team, as if I had hit a growth spurt well before my peers. Feelings of dominance followed.

mw5-2Image source: Gamesplanet

When I finally took command of the iconic Atlas D, there was no situation I couldn’t handle. Extended engagements where ammo is a concern? Not a problem. I had a copious supply of missiles and four backup lasers with no ammo limitations. Long-range engagements? Not an issue. My missiles could hit from just inside the max radar range. A mech ambushed us from close range? No worries. My AC-20 could quickly punish the interloper. With about 40% of the 100-ton ‘Mech dedicated to weapons, the Atlas felt like a smorgasbord after living in mediums and heavies for a few campaign missions. If my employer needed something destroyed with extreme prejudice, I had just the ‘Mech for the job. Stomping through the galaxy feels best in an Atlas.

As a longtime fan of the franchise, I took to MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries right away. This game remains true to the lore and offers compelling first-person combat. It ticked all the right boxes for me and added some great new features like the full starmap and combined arms battles. If you’ve been hankering for a giant metal robot game that lets you go to town across the whole known galaxy, look no further.

By Lane Prescott