Final month my dad requested me a query over dinner: “When did you first get into mechs?” The reply (like my relationship with these strolling tanks) is advanced, so I briefly gave him some timeline about reveals I’d watched, a e-book or two, and moved the subject elsewhere. However looking back, one entry on this record that I ought to’ve paused for longer for was Activision’s MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries. When it got here out in 1996, my expertise with motion video games on PC have been first individual shooters that emphasised unmitigated velocity and explosive extra. However as a simulation, Mercenaries made velocity secondary to the way more dangerous momentum, and its branching narrative about politicking galactic powers (all delivered by way of atmosphere-building diary entries and information updates) gave nuance to the explosions.
I used to be hooked in solely the best way a pre-teen with a whole lot of free time (and entry to the burgeoning web) could possibly be. MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries launched me to the intriguing world of BattleTech, with its many variations throughout gaming, novels, cartoons, and naturally excessive idea arcades. But it surely additionally gave me a style for a brand new, extra tactical and considerate kind of shooter. Lengthy earlier than studying weblog posts about Far Cry 2, it was the MechWarrior sequence—with its bouncing cockpit viewports, its torso-twisting motion, and its general sense of weight and velocity—that taught me what “embodiment” meant for video video games.
Sadly for MechWarrior followers like me, there hasn’t been a single participant MechWarrior recreation since 2002. Video games like MechAssault and BattleTech (which stays glorious in 2019 ) have gone again to the sport’s 31st century setting however don’t supply the simulation fight that made me love the sequence to start with. Fangame MechWarrior: Residing Legends and the free-to-play MechWarrior On-line, in the meantime, translated a lot of what I like in regards to the sequence right into a aggressive, team-based format, however neither gave me the free-form marketing campaign that I used to be determined to revisit.
I give this preamble to underscore the excessive expectations I had coming into MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries. For sequence followers like me, developer Piranha Video games (who additionally made MechWarrior On-line) isn’t simply making a brand new entry in a long-running sequence, they’re taking part in with some lengthy dormant hope. With about 25 hours within the recreation, I can say that Piranha Video games has a minimum of awoken that hope, even when it hasn’t fairly totally fulfilled it. Generally, Mercenaries evokes all the pieces that first introduced me to the sequence. However inconsistency, repetition, and a few confused design weigh the sport down and make this return rather less wonderful than I’d hoped.
From the broadest view, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries follows the melody performed by its predecessors observe for observe. Forged as a rookie pilot turned vengeful mercenary commander named Mason, you lead your crew of mech pilots from node to node throughout an enormous galaxy map, doing the soiled work of the galaxy’s 5 main powers (or anybody else who can scrimp collectively sufficient money in your providers). As you full missions—which vary from demolition responsibility to assassination contracts to base protection—you rack up money, together with gear in your mechs, salvaged robots themselves, and status. And as your rep goes up, you finally unlock new primary story missions, which comply with your encounters with the nefarious Black Inferno mercenary squad. From a chook’s eye view, to date so good.
Even higher, whenever you zoom all the best way in to the best way the mechs really feel, Mercenaries not solely nails all the pieces that I beloved in regards to the previous MechWarrior video games, it truly elevates the motion. These mechs transfer with extra heft and pressure than ever earlier than, and Piranha has emphasised that by specializing in destructible environments, even dedicating two completely different mission varieties to destroying buildings. Shredding away a 15th flooring company helipad from the constructing its bolted onto with a missile volley is already rad, however slamming an 80 ton mech via some four-story workplace park solely to listen to the native corporation-installed mayor shout “Oh no! That’s our Enterprise Heart!” is well one in every of my favourite gaming moments this yr.
This sense of heightened physicality can also be current in nearly any particular person second of fight, thanks not solely to the aforementioned sense of weight, but in addition to the audiovisual results of weapons, and a whole lot of very seen battle injury on the sequence’ trademark strolling tanks. It was at all times rewarding to blast an enemy mech’s arm off of its chassis, however now the interplay feels nearly analog, much less like flipping a binary “arm destroyed” button, and extra like shearing steel away. That sense of risk comes your means too: Each incoming missile, laser, and ballistic assault is one thing you dread, as a result of as soon as your armor is worn away, each new hit might imply the lack of one in every of your individual weapons. And when a mech is lastly totaled, it satisfyingly crumples sadly to the bottom or (much more satisfyingly) is launched a dozen meters away, propelled by the sheer pressure of your barrage..
This a part of the sport is simply… pay attention, it’s simply glorious. A mech pokes its chassis over the ridge: What’s that? you suppose to your self, attempting to position its silhouette in opposition to the encyclopedia of mechs you’ve slowly been constructing behind your mind for the final 15 hours. When the brilliant blue of the machine’s particle projector cannon dazzles its means down in direction of you, slamming into your cockpit, momentarily disrupting your UI, you recognize immediately: That’s a Panther, a lightweight mech that punches above its weight, however whose energy you’ll be able to negate with simply a few effectively positioned pictures to its proper arm. Between the roar of your heavy autocannon, the blackened metal left behind, and the dramatic means your opponent’s steel limb goes flying away within the sky, these moments really feel like oppositional, battlefield surgical procedure.
So, once more: huge image? Examine. Second-to-second motion? Acquired it. To make use of the parlance of the video games themselves, this ought to be an “all techniques nominal” scenario. However all the pieces that’s supposed to attach these two moments collectively feels half-baked. And I imply all the pieces.
Let’s begin with the economic system, which is one thing particularly entrance of thoughts due to how Harebrained Schemes BattleTech completely nailed the dirty give-and-take of mercenary work final yr. In BattleTech, even victories have been pricey, and the “meta-game” in each the story-driven Marketing campaign and administration sim Profession modes was about balancing your lance’s checking account in opposition to your battlefield effectiveness and your crew’s morale. However via the primary seven “status ranges” (about 15 hours of play) in MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, I by no means got here near going into the pink. Mission rewards at all times outweighed my month-to-month prices, and any time I wanted a jolt of money, I might simply flip any additional mechs I had mendacity round.
Due to this, it wasn’t till 20 hours in that I wanted to concentrate to its many dynamic financial techniques, which made me really feel like that a part of the sport basically damaged.
Early on, Mercenaries introduces you to the concept of galactic “zones.” Battle zones are the areas of the galaxy map the place missions can be found, however the tutorial tells you that you need to be cautious about repairing your mechs there. As an alternative, it says, when its time for upkeep, it’s best to head in direction of industrial zones, star sectors with flourishing markets, cheaper restore costs, higher gear obtainable, and which additionally allow you to rent new pilots in your crew. However for these first 20 hours, a lot of the missions have been cakewalks, and I by no means felt it was too pricey or time-intensive to park in a battle zone and wait out even multiple-month lengthy repairs. (And in contrast to final yr’s BattleTech, there aren’t any random narrative occasions to boost this ‘downtime.’ Simply a whole lot of hitting the “Wait” button.
The identical could possibly be stated for the sport’s status and “claims” system. As you string collectively missions for anybody faction, you achieve status with them, which provides you higher costs in outlets and extra “negotiation factors” to spend through the contract part of play. Do you spend these factors on bumping up your paycheck, your proper to put declare to scrapped mechs on the battlefield, or on insurance coverage in your personal machines? Nicely, for these first seven status ranges, cash was such a non-issue that this was by no means an fascinating choice to make.
There’s additionally the truth that the markets appears kind of… damaged. Right here, check out this pair of cropped screenshots from one of many recreation’s markets:
The Cicada on the left, which is in close to good form, is promoting for 1.87M C-Payments. The one on the correct, which has been decreased to a cockpit and one very bruised shoulder, is promoting for 1.76M. With costs like these, is it any surprise that I’m consistently flush with money?
That I even care about this a lot speaks to a deeper drawback, although. If the missions I performed have been a blast, I doubt I’d even discover the busted economic system. Sadly, all the pieces to do with these missions besides the act of transferring these huge mechs round feels inconsistent at finest and basically compromised at worst.
There are three broad classes of mission you’ll take whereas taking part in Mercenaries. The majority of your operations will likely be procedurally generated contracts, which plop you right into a random map populated with some landmarks (enemy bases, a farm, an opposition-held metropolis) and offer you one in every of a handful of targets. I’ll get again to those in a second, however I’ll take a second to say that one of many uncommon, constructive consistencies is the best way these procgen ranges look. Snowy mountains, sulfuric deserts, autumnal valleys; every biome offers a definite sense of ambiance and placeness, even when the map’s made up of repeated and acquainted tile units.
The second, and sadly the rarest, jobs you’ll get are the hand authored missions of Mercenaries’ primary story. After you end the opening set, you’ll start to unlock one in every of these with each couple of Fame ranges earned from finishing the opposite kinds of missions. Whereas the storytelling and characters are dry and uninspired (particularly in distinction to final yr’s eminently flavorful BattleTech), these primary story quests stay Mercenaries is at its finest. The hand-crafted maps and encounters have the rhythm and circulate of army sci-fi: Targets change up mid-mission, opposition reinforcements arrive on the worst doable time, and daring raids lead you heroically up hills and into the (very explosive) coronary heart of your enemy’s base.
The third kind of mission, “Excessive Reward” quests, sits someplace in between these two extremes. They provide distinctive setups that draw on the lore of the BattleTech world and have a tendency to come back with some distinctive dialog and perhaps a hand picked (although maybe not specifically designed) map. A few of these missions (like one about looking down a retired group of ace pilots that betrayed one of many recreation’s main homes almost a full era prior) spark the creativeness. However usually, they really feel too constrained, unable to supply significantly memorable characters, places, or targets as a result of they’re constituted of the identical primary constructing blocks because the procgen missions.
Whether or not you’re doing one in every of these Excessive Reward missions or a random contract, your aim will fall into one in every of 5 mission varieties. You’ll both be finding and killing some particular enemy pilots, destroying a complete enemy settlement, surgically eliminating key opposition infrastructure (like comms towers), defending a pleasant outpost from incoming enemies, or pushing your luck in a wave based mostly “Warzone” battle that rewards you with higher pay the longer you’ll be able to final.
Whereas these targets felt satisfying at first, the repetition set in before later. It was someday round my tenth Warzone mission that my curiosity started to buckle. Whereas Piranha has completely nailed the sensation of piloting a mech round, their procgen system hardly ever provides me thrilling issues to do in that mech. It’s not solely that the authored story missions supply extra cinematic pacing and extra thoughtfully designed places for 100 ton firefights. It’s additionally that these procgen missions proceed in a, frankly, slapdash means.
Let’s say you settle for a Warzone mission: Your job is to hurry to a Home Liao stronghold and defend it from incoming lances from Home Marik, one in every of their rival factions. You deploy, take within the sights (these maps do look stunning, even on repeated performs), and head in direction of your waypoint. If you get there, there are a handful of enemy items to filter, after which the UI tells you that it’s time to filter one other 29 enemies. At which level, these enemies start to reach in waves, which instantly makes the sport really feel extra like an arcade-y horde mode and fewer just like the sim I’d hoped.
Sorry, did I say that the enemies “arrive”? I suppose that’s true typically, once they spawn out of sight and cost over the horizon or arrive by way of enemy dropship. However different instances they simply seem as if from nowhere. Simply 4 50-ton mechs materializing proper in entrance (or, frustratingly proper behind) you. If this can be a bug, then it’s a reasonably extreme one, particularly given the sport’s supposed concentrate on grounded physicality.
However even when all of them confirmed up in additional acceptable methods, all the concept of constructing a mission the place you struggle dozens of enemy BattleMechs feels prefer it grates in opposition to the core attraction of the sequence. (And that is what you’ll be doing in most of those missions, whether or not or not they’re status rank three Warzone contracts or rank 9 story missions.)
What appealed about BattleTech final yr, MechWarrior: Mercenaries 2 a long time in the past, and even Piranha’s personal MechWarrior On-line extra lately is that each struggle had the potential to interrupt dangerous. A effectively positioned AC/20 shot from even the fan-favorite, underdog Urbanmech might damage your heavy mech’s day. Each encounter was dangerous. Right here, I’m swatting “Urbies” down like flies. When the chance evaporates, the fantasy completely deflates.
After hitting rank 8, (once more across the 20 hour mark), the sport lastly finds a way of stress. However even the explanations for that problem spike are inconsistent. Generally, that problem comes from being put up in opposition to extra “expert” pilots—the sport does have a ability ranking system for NPCs, and it may be rewarding to see your individual lancemates get higher over time. However more often than not it seems like Piranha’s concept of “tougher” is simply “extra and heavier mechs.” A Warzone mission with 21 enemy items too straightforward? How about 33?
It’s a large number, and I might go on and on critiquing the ups-and-downs of those and different components of the sport. The sport’s solid of heroes and villains is as fascinating as drywall, however the mechs themselves, which tower over you as you stroll via your hanger, providing greater than sufficient character on their very own. The procgen maps may be infuriating, providing inconceivable odds on bland territory, or fascinating, providing you skirmishes as memorable as any AAA motion recreation setpiece. Even the sequence’ trademark mech customization is a blended bag, providing some higher steerage for brand new gamers whereas severely limiting the customization potential for veterans snug with the system.
All of it leaves me at a little bit of an deadlock, with emotions as messy as the sport itself. Actually, final night time, after I’d filed this evaluation for enhancing, I hit a 3 hour string of normal missions so sharp and gratifying that I rushed to edit this evaluation. “It simply takes some time to get good!” I famous, with reduction and elation. Then, one other tough patch of boring missions and irritating bugs, and eventually a crash to desktop. It’s not dangerous, however inconsistency reigns supreme.
It’s exhausting to disclaim that Mercenaries presents flashes of that previous pleasure. Whilst I complain in regards to the lack of mission selection, the particulars can nonetheless evoke magical scenes: The brilliance of touchdown a PPC shot and seeing all the top-half of an enemy tank flip up and away. A VTOL gunship lifting up amongst autumnal bushes, rising to fireplace its cannons at me and my lance. The flight-or-flight second of seeing the distinctive silhouette of an enemy Catapult on a hill, realizing that my most suitable choice is to run in direction of its infinite volley of missiles in order that I can get inside its efficient vary. Even my losses can provide me tales to inform, when issues work proper: By no means doubt the flexibility of a lightweight mech to tear your heavy to shreds as soon as it will get you trapped within the city canyons of a dense metropolis.
In these snapshots, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is precisely what I needed. A lot in order that even now, in writing these phrases, I’m desirous to boot the sport up and dive again in, powered by my love of the franchise and a complete ream of “maybes.” Possibly if I lastly discover handle to discover a co-op accomplice (there’s no matchmaking that I can see), issues will begin to really feel extra tactical. Possibly status rank 10 or 11 or 12 is the place the sport actually begins to shine. Possibly they’ll do a stability patch that fixes my points—in any case, the core skeleton of the sport works, and a day zero patch did make some key enhancements. However at $49.99, that many maybes makes it a tough recreation to suggest to anybody who isn’t already versed within the mythos and majesty of BattleMechs.
But for me, who has been ready for this recreation for 17 years, who first fell for the franchise after I was 11 or 12? It’s like I stated up prime: That lengthy dormant hope has been awoken. The scaffolding is right here for one thing not okay, however incredible. Within the period of games-as-service—and with Piranha’s personal historical past supporting a multiplayer recreation clear in my thoughts—it’s straightforward to think about Mercenaries not as a misfire, however as a gap salvo of one thing larger to come back.