The Mechwarrior series and I go a long, long way back. I don’t know exactly how I came into possession of a copy of Mechwarrior 2, me being only 10 at the time of its release, but I can remember being captivated by the robot on robot combat. My favourite thing was to equip stupidly large mechs with dozens of jump jets and tons of leg armour, flying myself around the map and crushing opponents who didn’t get out of the way. I even remember playing the Ghost Bear expansion with the idea of a melee focused mech (I think it was the Kodiak) seeming like the coolest thing in the world. Eventually I graduated to a long range sniper build based around PPCs and gauss rifles, something which seemed to work for all but the smallest and fastest mechs. I can even remember picking Mechwarrior 4 as a prize at one of the ACTGN LANs I attended, much the confusion of many others around. For me the mechwarrior series was one of those series that defined me as a gamer for a long time.
However the last decade hasn’t really proven fruitful for the series. Sure there was Mechwarrior Online, but that fell victim to a meta game that made all but a few playstyles non-starters (read: snipers and missile boats). So when I heard that a new Mechwarrior game was come out I was tentatively excited as it’s been a long time since I’ve really had a chance to sit down and indulge in my mecha fantasies. Unfortunately though Mechwarrior 5 is just so unashamedly mediocre that even childhood nostalgia couldn’t push me past a couple hours with it.
You’re a young commander working with you father running a mech mercenary corp, taking contracts in all sectors across the galaxy. The company has just finished refurbishing an old Centurion model mech and puts you to task in shaking down its systems. However, right as you’re just about to complete the final diagnostics on the system, you’re attacked by another mercenary company who corners your father and starts interrogating him for information. He’s able to buy you enough time to get airborne but, unfortunately, the other mercenary group wasn’t interested in taking prisoners. Now on the run you set about setting yourself up as a mercenary outfit once again with an eye on vengeance when the time comes.
There’s really no nice way to say this: Mechwarrior 5 looks like absolute garbage. I don’t doubt that a lot of this is to do with the fact that a lot of the terrain and buildings in the game are destructible but even in the scenes where there isn’t any of that the game still looks like it was made over 5 years ago. All the animations are stiff and ungangly, which would be forgivable for the mechs, but all of the human NPCs move like action figures that were accidentally left out in the rain. Even the wide open terrains don’t really look that good with many of the maps feeling very samey after not too long. This doesn’t feel like something that a better PC could improve either. Whilst graphics aren’t everything it was still the first of many red flags that came up during my time with the game.
Mechwarrior 5 does follow the series’ standard tropes for combat, customisation and finding and undertaking missions. Initially you’ll start off with only one mech and limited options which kind of works as an extended tutorial. As you progress you’ll be able to spend your c-bills on new mechs, upgraded weapons and NPC pilots who will join you on missions. The mission system seems to be significantly revamped from what little I can remember of the original mercenaries with a lot of different options to maximise your returns for a given investment. The first couple hours will lock you into campaign missions only but after that you’re free to start roaming the galaxy in search of work which you’ll need to do if you want to hire and maintain a decent crew.
At a basic level Mechwarrior 5’s combat retains much of what I remember being good about the original series however it’s the structure of the encounters and the continuous reuse of the same enemy types that make it an absolute chore. In the dozen or so missions I played (including a handful of non-campaign ones) it seems that you’re always facing the same couple different types of tanks and helicopters for a good long while before the enemy you’re fighting decides to send in a mech or two. The AI on the mechs is incredibly simplistic too, seemingly broken down into different strategies that are predicated on their distance from you. Far away? They’ll attempt to pepper you with missiles and other long range implements while trying to hide behind terrain. Get a little bit close? They’ll run in and start circle strafing you, even if they can’t actually run a circle around you (which can be kind funny). What this leads to is repetitive encounters which really aren’t terribly interesting and take far too long to complete.
Part of what fed into my boredom with Mechwarrior 5 was the lack of customisation that’s available early on in the game. To be sure it’s there but it seems like a lot more of the deeper stuff that I remember enjoying many years ago is locked away until later in the game. I did get to the point of being able to travel where I wanted to but by then I’d already been bored stiff by the repetitive missions and the small amount of freedom I’d gained wasn’t enough to keep me playing. Even playing missions with a full squad wasn’t particularly interesting as they don’t really contribute more to your experience than a handful of canned lines which they repeat endlessly throughout the mission’s duration.
The story is also completely forgettable, made ever so much worse by the voice acting which is delivered flat and with little emotion behind it. To be sure the story certainly sets up all the right ingredients at the start but it’s done in such a bland and uninteresting way that you’ll quickly dismiss it in the hopes that you’ll find something more interesting to catch your attention. It’s just a shame that there really isn’t anything else there to hold the rest of the game up.
It’s a real shame honestly as, at a base level, all the parts of what made mechwarrior great (to me at least) are there. However the mediocre combat experience, coupled with dated graphics and an uninteresting story mean that there’s really nothing to keep you coming back once a mission is done. I was hoping for at least a halfway decent mech game that could keep me entertained just with the customisation alone but even that failed to materialise. In the end I don’t think I could really recommend this game for anyone as it’s likely to disappoint fans and newcomers alike. Perhaps the next instalment will be better, but this is 2 misses in a row for Piranha games, in my opinion.
Mechwarrior 5 is available on PC right now for $49.99. Total play time was 2 hours.