Pretty much 17 years have passed since the release of the Mechwarrior 4 expansion, also called Mercenaries. The Battletech license was not necessarily broken since then, but it has only been properly maintained recently. A year and a half ago, the creator of Battletech Jordan Weisman and his new company Harebrained Schemes published an excellent strategy game with Battlemech that made fans and us very happy. Previously, only developer Piranha Games had held the Battletech flag with Mechwarrior Online since 2013. And as good as the Free2Play action game was, many fans simply couldn't get used to the sometimes very chaotic online battles for up to 24 players and the gameplay based on microtransactions. The joy was all the greater when it became known at the end of 2016 that Piranha Games was working on the solo adventure Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries, which has now finally been completed.

Welcome to the 31st century!

Anyone who has heard of Battletech but has not really dealt extensively with the more than 30-year-old science fiction universe can certainly not do much with the technical terms mentioned above.






Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries - Usually not a fair fight. The 40-ton Cicada from Davion cannot normally compete with an 80-tonner like the Awesome. Unfortunately, our 'Mech has been hit a bit harder.



Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries – Usually not a fair fight. The 40-ton Cicada from Davion cannot normally compete with an 80-tonner like the Awesome. Unfortunately, our 'Mech has been hit a bit harder.

Source: Piranha Games




So let's first shed some light on the dark: Battletech focuses on combat machines called Battlemechs that can weigh up to 100 tons. The pilots who control these weapon-starving monsters are called Mechwarrior. Even if the detailed background story spans many centuries, Mechwarrior 5, like the Battletech strategy game, played at the beginning of the third millennium, more precisely from the year 3015. Mankind has colonized hundreds of planets, a large part of which became a star kingdom called Inner Sphere. Five large rulers (Liao, Kurita, Davion, Steiner and Marik) divided this area between themselves and are constantly fighting to gain an advantage.

One empire, five rulers, many wars







Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries - A portion of the star area, called Inner Sphere, that forms the boundary between the Davion (gold) and Liao (green) houses. Fun fact: you can travel to every planet on the huge star map.



Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries – A portion of the star area, called Inner Sphere, that forms the boundary between the Davion (gold) and Liao (green) houses. Fun fact: you can travel to every planet on the huge star map.

Source: Piranha Games




The major goal of everyone involved is, of course, complete rule over all planets. The preferred war tool in the numerous skirmishes are Battlemechs – or Mechs for short – the kings of all battlefields. And because such a 'Mech is a costly affair (spare parts, maintenance, working hours, etc.), the five big houses like to hire mercenaries to save money and equipment and not have to get their fingers dirty. A short explanation for everyone who is familiar with Battletech: Mercenaries plays in terms of storytelling in a time before the clans appear and briefly turn the whole universe upside down. If you have little idea of ​​Battletech, you can forget this information, which is only relevant for fans.

Family drama at the start

The story of Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries revolves around a small, family mercenary group that is more difficult than it gets through. When the leader of the unit blesses the time in a surprise attack, the line falls to his son, whose role in Mercenaries you take on. Your mission: to rebuild the mercenary group practically from scratch to take revenge on your father's nasty murderers. This includes not only missions that you have to undertake, but also the organizational and financial planning of the operation. You have to buy and sell mechs, take care of the supply of spare parts, hire pilots and negotiate the conditions well before orders to get the most out of it. Little by little, you build up a certain reputation through successful missions, which allows you to land more lucrative missions and lead more powerful battlemechs into battle.






Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries - In cold environments, the heat development of all 'Mechs is somewhat reduced.



Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries – In cold environments, the heat development of all 'Mechs is somewhat reduced.

Source: Piranha Games




Demanding ball games

Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries is a mixture of action game and simulation, which requires a certain degree of tactical action in missions. After all, not every job is the same. Sometimes you have to attack a base and destroy it, sometimes you have to get a Mech warrior of a certain faction and his supporters out of the way. There are also defense missions where you have to stop attackers from destroying a specific target. In the end it always comes out the same: You fight other 'Mechs and support troops (tanks, helicopters and turrets). But even if the missions don't offer much variety, you still can't run blindly firing through the area. The basic level of difficulty in the missions, which is also linked to the reputation of your mercenary troop, is simply too high. You won't find an easy mode in Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries. It is all the more important that you carefully examine the control and abilities of your metal monsters.

Up to 100 tons of brute firepower

In the tutorial mission, you will learn everything you need to know about controlling a BattleMech using a 50-ton Centurion Mech, which has formidable armament.






Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries - An overview of all available battlemechs and their respective status. The hunchback of our AI colleague had to put up with a lot. The armor is pretty worn out and a medium laser can also be replaced. Repair time: two to three weeks.



Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries – An overview of all available battlemechs and their respective status. The hunchback of our AI colleague had to put up with a lot. The armor is pretty worn out and a medium laser can also be replaced. Repair time: two to three weeks.

Source: Piranha Games




The weapon systems of a 'Mech can basically be divided into missiles, energy weapons and ballistic weapons, whereby there are various variants with regard to penetration, heat development and range. As a rule, there are several variants of each 'Mech, the peculiarities of which naturally affect the possible uses. In principle, you can also equip a mech chassis yourself with weapons, heat exchangers and equipment and thus assemble your dream mech. However, this requires a very good understanding of the individual components, as well as their advantages and disadvantages. A look at the weapon systems and the basic values ​​of a battle mech (weight, armor, firepower, cooling, speed, bounce and maximum weapon range) give you a good impression of its performance in combat. The tonnage also indicates which category a 'Mech belongs to: light (20 to 35 tons), medium (40 to 55 tons), heavy (60 to 75 tons) or assault (80 to 100 tons). A light mech is of course much more agile and faster than a 100 ton monster like the dreaded Atlas.






Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries - This picture from your mech hangar shows how big the fighting machines are. Between missions you can walk around on your spaceship and look around.



Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries – This picture from your mech hangar shows how big the fighting machines are. Between missions you can walk around on your spaceship and look around.

Source: Piranha Games




With mouse, keyboard and good reflexes

There are three control options in Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries: gamepad, joystick or mouse and keyboard.

After extensive testing of all options, we chose the latter because it offers the greatest control over Battlemech and AI combatants in the sometimes hectic battles in which every shot has to sit. You control your mech here, typical of a shooter, with the W, A, S and D keys while using the mouse to move the 'Mech's upper body. Because a mech's weapons are usually grouped into fire groups in terms of their range, a mouse with at least three or four buttons is recommended. You can fire anything beyond that using the keyboard. The target acquisition with the keys R and T takes some getting used to, but works quite well after a short time. You can use the keyboard's F keys to give simple commands to up to three AI colleagues, which the colleagues then usually follow reliably. Overall, the controls are well thought out and, despite the many functions, are not unnecessarily overloaded.

While the gamepad performs the worst of all control options, the joystick control (we tried MW5 with a Logitech Extreme 3D Pro that has 12 action buttons, throttle and coolie hat) feels realistic and good, is in the crucial ones Moments too slow and awkward. With a little longer familiarization, you can certainly achieve very good results here. The developers continue to expand the list of supported joysticks.






Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries - The huge distances between the individual planets are covered with the help of these jump ships, which can carry many spaceships.



Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries – The huge distances between the individual planets are covered with the help of these jump ships, which can carry many spaceships.

Source: Piranha Games




Heavier is not always better

A typical mission in MW5 is as follows: You choose a planet in a political conflict zone on the giant star map of the Inner Sphere, on which there is an order that has been agreed upon for your current reputation as a mercenary.






Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries - If you generate too much heat from your weapon systems, you risk an emergency shutdown. This will make your 'Mech a still target for attack for a few seconds. Avoid absolutely!



Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries – If you generate too much heat from your weapon systems, you risk an emergency shutdown. This will make your 'Mech a still target for attack for a few seconds. Avoid absolutely!

Source: Piranha Games




Then you go there with your spaceship, on which twelve combat-ready 'Mechs can be accommodated at the same time, and negotiate the key data of the battle. You can adjust the basic parameters of the contract and in this way set how much you receive in payment, how much scrap you are entitled to from the battlefield (salvage) and how high the damage coverage for your 'Mechs is. For this you need negotiation points, which in turn depend on how trustful you are with the respective employer. So if you place a particularly large number of orders for one of the ruling houses, you can achieve significantly better conditions. Then it goes to the Mech selection, whereby your fighting machines must not exceed a maximum total weight depending on the level of difficulty or reputation. It is therefore advisable not only to hoard heavy 'Mechs, but to pay attention to a balanced ratio of all classes. Once you have selected the battlemechs you want, you still have to assign pilots for the fighting machines. You will receive a colleague free of charge as part of a mission shortly after the start of the game. You can hire more on specially marked industrial planets. Most are still green recruits and only improve from order to order through the use of the various weapon systems. Should one of the AI ​​comrades injure himself in a mission, he will usually be out of action for weeks. So you should always have enough replacements available.

Unerring AI buddies

Then it finally starts: Depending on the assignment, you are either immediately in the middle of the battle or have to march to your mission goal or goals. When it comes to destroying or defending a specific target, the opponents usually move in waves of attack. Enemies always await you in three forms: mechs in different weight classes, as well as helicopters and tanks. While the last two types of opponents fall into the "annoying" category, you should not underestimate them and get them out of the way as soon as possible. Fortunately, your AI-controlled lance comrades (a lance is a combat unit that consists of up to four 'Mechs) act intelligently and attack particularly small enemies quickly and purposefully. When it comes to 'Mechs, however, it is advisable to assign priority goals to them in order to make battles more economical. As good as your AI buddies are, in the end your strategic and combative skills are particularly important to get out of the sometimes rock-hard missions alive. And, of course, how well you use your 'Mech's capabilities to reduce damage and quickly take down enemies. Story missions and side quests are inherently challenging and often cannot be accomplished on the first try. The difficulty of standard orders varies greatly, which also affects the fun of the game.






Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries - A powerful King Crab Assault Mech. (Official screenshot)



Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries – A powerful King Crab Assault Mech. (Official screenshot)

Source: Piranha Games




Shopping on the black market

No matter how well you fight: After a mission, repairs are due first. How extensive these are and how much time is spent on them depends on the outcome of the mission and the condition of all the 'Mechs involved.






Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries - let's go shopping. You can buy valuable equipment and mechs on various industrial planets. And if you are not that strict with the law, you are simply looking for a settlement with a black market.



Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries – let's go shopping. You can buy valuable equipment and mechs on various industrial planets. And if you are not that strict with the law, you are simply looking for a settlement with a black market.

Source: Piranha Games




Simple repairs to equipment and armor are quick and inexpensive. If equipment and weapon systems have to be completely replaced, the whole matter is a little trickier. Because in order to install a suitable piece of equipment, you also need to have it in stock and this is not so obvious, especially at the beginning of the game. Especially if you don't want to install the standard 08/15 spare parts in your 'Mechs, but more high-quality variants that offer better basic values, but are also significantly more expensive. In principle, the same applies to battlemechs. Because even if you occasionally get a mech as a scrap or mission reward, you will usually have to buy the really interesting models. The best chance to get good equipment and powerful 'Mechs are industrial planets that you have to fly to to see what is offered there. Planets with a black market are the other way to get good equipment. Sometimes the offer of the respective market place also contains rare mechs in top condition or even hero battlemechs, which are characterized by special equipment. Of course, such offers are anything but cheap and you never have enough money as a leader of a mercenary force. After all, your 'Mechs are always broken, and of course you also have running costs for your ship and your crew.

On tour through the Inner Sphere

Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries is a fairly extensive adventure. This is because you have to laboriously grind yourself through (sometimes multi-level) standard orders and extensive side quests in order to rise in reputation. If you succeed, you will usually have a new story mission in front of your chest, which will require you to do everything that your skills and your current mech hangar have to offer in terms of difficulty. Then the grind starts again for the next step up. We would have wished for significantly more story missions, then the campaign, which should take at least 50 hours, would not last that long. Even if Mechwarrior 5 is designed for solo players, there is still a cooperative multiplayer part. You can use this to invite friends to support you in the campaign or set up your own co-op mission with freely selectable parameters. Due to time constraints, we focused on the solo version of the game for this test.







Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries - This screen gives an overview of the status of your mercenary force, including the reputation with various clients.



Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries – This screen gives an overview of the status of your mercenary force, including the reputation with various clients.

Source: Piranha Games




Technically, Mechwarrior 5 does not pull out any trees. The 'Mechs are detailed and can be painted nicely, but the levels and effects for the current graphics level in 2019 are only somewhere between functional and well located. The Unreal Engine can actually do that better. The damage model that is used for both 'Mechs and buildings is successful, but in the end it is not particularly good because some buildings cannot be completely destroyed. Even if there are pretty corners in the inner sphere, MW5 didn't completely blow us away optically. The soundscape worked better there: The English voice output, which also accompanies you in the German version of the game, is just as harmonious as the rock-sounding soundtrack of the game and the sound effects.

My opinion

Good sequel, still expandable in terms of gameplay.

What was I looking forward to Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries. As a huge fan of the previous games, the tabletop and especially the books, I couldn't wait to finally get back into the virtual cockpit of a battle mech to scrap other combat robots. In many ways, the new Mechwarrior is a dream that has come true. After the first euphoria about the many 'Mechs, the cool missions and the nice look compared to the age-old predecessor has abated, it is noticeable that MW5 has a few weak points that it is difficult to overlook. You have to fight your way through far too little mission unit porridge to get ahead in the story. And the standard missions could use a little more variability and moments of surprise. Piranha Games also makes good use of the Battletech license, but could do a lot more with this ingenious template.

Demanding shooter sim
Many Mech models
Varied levels
Very close to the license
Atmospheric soundtrack
Successful control with mouse and keyboard
Low-tension, sluggish story told
Difficulty in places
Voice samples that repeat too often
Repetitive missions and types of missions
Too few story missions, too many standard banter with little motivation
Enemies appear in front of the player from nowhere in some missions

Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries – A lance of heavy and medium 'Mechs before a mission. (Source: Piranha Games)

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