Dark or Light

Red's Read on MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries

Red Thomas Posted:
Columns 0

I think it’s fair to say that MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is a mixed bag at this point.  Playing it since release has helped me come to really like certain aspects of what the team has done, which strangely makes me just more irritated over other things.  There are so many great successes in the game, and yet there were a few decisions that just have me really scratching my head.

I’m hoping to explore some of the good and the bad in MechWarrior 5 as I work through some of my own experiences in the game.  Hopefully by the end of the article, you’ll have a better idea of whether the game is for you or not.  Some issues I have with the game could be fixed in time, and some will never be addressed for very obvious reasons.  That said, there are some really excellent ideas in this game, so you’ll also have that to consider when making your choice.

Bad Shots

Some of the issues I have with MW5 stem from just really bad choices.  Whether they’re the result of early testing and focus groups that didn’t happen, or what is just hard to say.  Whatever happened, these are the bad decisions that really make the game hard for me to recommend.

One very clear problem is the terrible voice acting.  It’s worse because it’s just unnecessary.  The lead mechtech is supposed to have a Cockney accent (I think), but it’s just a really bad one.  Why?  If you can’t get anyone who’s actually from the Eastend to voice act for you, there’s no reason to force someone else to adopt a non-native vernacular.   At least, I assume that’s what they were going for with that character, the accent is kind of hard to place.  Being a mercenary company, the NPCs could easily be from wherever you wanted them to be from and there was no need to force an accent.

Who are you talking to, Fahad?  I’m standing over here…  Also, what’s with the weird accent.  Aren’t you from the Commonwealth originally?

Requiring you to talk to NPCs at all was another mistake that was just unnecessary.  There’s no reason those NPCs couldn’t have been connecting to conference calls from their respective departments with a two-dimensional representation.  It would have been easier to implement, and the 3D models wouldn’t have had to be built, textured, and rigged had they chosen otherwise.  All that was wasted effort that is made worse in that it actually detracts from the game as NPCs won’t even turn towards you when talking.

The NPCs are effectively there for the sole purpose of driving the story, which is also on my list of mistakes.  I’m just not a fan of the whole murdered father thing.  It was done in Mechwarrior 4, and it was done much better with more complexity and better use of lore.  I might have been more onboard if most of the crew were related.  That would have made more sense to me, but that the father is killed and the son who was just learning to pilot the mech suddenly has control of the whole merch company?  That doesn’t make sense.  Professional mercenaries are not going to follow some kid with no experience in either running a company or combat.  Neither does the idea that this merc company would consist entirely of the father and the son and no other mechs or warriors make sense to me.

The story instead comes across as forced, and it’s just so unnecessary.  Piranha could have taken a note from Harebrained Schemes and their “Flash Point” idea for a great way to create interesting stories that fit the mercenary concept.  Even hiring the player for a series of missions to support the protagonist and experiencing the story third hand would have made more sense.  In that case, the emotional detachment and sparse motivation would been a workable context.  It’d also give players who just want to be mercs the chance to ignore the main storyline without breaking the immersive experience.

Near Misses

Some choices in MechWarrior 5 make sense and almost hit the mark, but just fall short because of some minor flaw.  I wouldn’t be quite so irritated by some of these if not just for the fact that they seem to specifically break a good idea.  In some ways, the near misses can be worse because they’re so close to something great and just miss it a bit.

One really great example is how the radar works in the game.  On one hand, I really like the idea of radar not being perfect.  It leaves room for sensor packages and ECM to have serious functionality in the game, and I like that a whole lot.  Plus, it’s just realistic that you wouldn’t be able to pickup radar signatures on the other side of hills and through trees that would interfere with the signal enough to make automatic recognition of targets difficult.  I also just like the gameplay aspect of not always knowing precisely and instantly where every hot mech in the game is at any given time.

Only terrible people would ever play a MechWarrior game in 3rd person.  I’m offended this option even exists in the game.  If you use it, you should really spend some time reconsidering your life choices.

My problem comes from the fact that you can lose track of objects as they pass behind you and radar effectively becomes something that only works with line of sight.  The whole point of radar in a game like this is to know where enemies are when they pass behind you.  In a way, I’d even rather just not have radar at all if you don’t have locking missiles.  At least in that case it would make sense that targeting radars wouldn’t face backwards.  Combined with enemies that constantly spawn in on top of you, it ends up being frustrating, though.

The weird enemy spawns are another thing that is almost good and then falls short.  The first time the doors opened on the dropship and I was taking fire as I offloaded with my lance, I was excited.  Powering up and storming through the dropbay doors into the thick of battle as my team executed a hot drop was a great experience.  The time I started a mission on the planet’s surface and took a tank round to the forehead during the cut scene while the lady was giving me my briefing was somewhat less epic.

I also appreciate that tanks and missile carriers are constantly moving in from all around me and surprising me.  It makes sense that these smaller vehicles would go unnoticed until they’re right on top of me.  The randomly spawning mechs, which often seem to spawn behind me and in front of one of my fellow mercenaries makes far less sense.  On one hand, that sense of multi-armed combat that comes from armored vehicles and rotary aircraft swarming the combat zone is just a fantastic and fun experience, but it’s killed by all the surprise mech spawns.

There’s so much that I like about the dropship.  It’s interesting to walk around between missions and see the cool damage to your mechs in their respective bays.  It’s also pretty thrilling to see them come swooping in at the end of a mission to recover your lance.   Those runs to the LZ while being chased and harassed by the enemy creates a fun tension to the end of the mission, which I like a lot.   Leopard dropships have PPCs, LRMs, and an assortment of lasers, though.  Why aren’t they shooting back to help clear the drop zone?  Either when doing a hot drop, or when doing a hot extraction, it would add so much to the atmosphere of the game to have the ship come in with guns blazing for the exfil, but it’s all missing.

Lastly, the multiplayer…  This is one I kind of understand, but just really am not happy about.  On the good side, there is a coop option for the game, and being able to phone a friend for a particularly tough mission is as handy as it is fun.  Replacing AI pilots with friends is a great way to enjoy the game together.

What’s not as great is that the player has no chance to modify the mech, or even look at the mech while you modify it for them.  That kind of makes sense from an anti-trolling perspective, but it’s also really frustrating when playing with friends.  I’m also irritated that we don’t have some sort of multiplayer melee as every other game has had, but this is the same company behind a certain “Online” option.  They’re clearly trying not to compete with their own game, but it leaves me feeling like there’s a serious missing piece from MW5.  If only coop was more robust, maybe the lack of multiplayer deathmatch would be less frustrating, but I’m confident that we’ll never know for sure.

Tight Shots

That’s not to say that MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries doesn’t have its positives, though.  There are several things about the game that I really like a whole lot.  For all that there are choices that make me really question how I feel about the game, there are also some successes that always have me excited to return.

Seeing the damage to your mechs after a mission is one of the really well executed parts of MW5.

One of the immediate successes is the contract system.  In some ways they borrowed from BATTLETECH in how the player can choose between payout and salvage, but they tweaked the format in a really intelligent way.  The first tweak is by including a third option that effectively amounts to insurance.  I’m finding myself increasingly choosing to balance the damage payout with the contract payout.   Granted, I typically max salvage no matter what, but point-for-point, damage payout gets you more than putting those same points towards the contract award.

The downside is that damage payout only pays for damage, so if you take none or take less than you purchased during the contract negotiation, you’re just out that extra cash.  I still always take at least one point in damage payout, if I can.  I’m going to get shot and I’m going to use that cash on replacing armor, if not something more vital.  It’s just a good way to take the sting out of a tough mission.

Speaking of points, you get more as you complete missions to become both higher ranked as a mercenary company and better liked by given factions.  Faction favor translates to extra points in contract negotiations, and they add up very quickly.  The more factions like you, the more they’ll pay for your excess equipment and the better deals you get on new equipment, too.

That faction reputation can make for some really interesting gameplay, too.  I’ll often find myself weaving back and forth between two factions to do missions in one House’s space while drifting back to the other for repair and refit operations.  I’ll also hold on to salvage and mechs I intend to sell and wait to upgrade equipment and mechs until I’m somewhere that I have those bonuses, extending that merc budget just a little more.

I’d say that mission system is super cool, too.  Certain areas are hot-zones of activity, which generate contract opportunities, but repairing or refitting your mech in those areas will take more time and money.  Unlike previous games, I find myself making pushes into hot-zones for a series of missions, and then popping back to the nearest industrial center to recover before heading back out.  This creates that ebb and flow to the mercenary lifestyle that I think is extra immersive and makes the game a lot more interesting.

The contract negotiation system is one of the things I really like a whole lot about the game.

The numbers and types of missions is also really well done.  Every area of increased activity feels unique and as if the problems of the given region are distinct from others.  This gives you the sense of each region being its own campaign.   There are also a wide array of mission types and complexities for you to run.

This kind system is further enhanced by the intel option.  I feel it’s a bit of a missed opportunity because I’d like to be able to get more details about systems and sectors in briefings by deploying intelligence assets, but the mechanic as it stands is pretty cool.  Before traveling to a system, you can check the intel to see who’s offering the missions in that system, as well as what mechs you can expect to run into.  This is particularly helpful as in you know going in whether that cool new HBK-4G has a chance of being on the opposing side or not.  I can’t say I haven’t taken a few missions just because there was a decent chance that I might be able to leg a specific mech and pick it up as post-mission salvage.

Silhouette Inspection

I focused a little more on the negative in this article than I normally would, but in part it’s to counter how much I have actually liked the game.  The fact is, I do like it and I really want to recommend it, but I can’t do that based on some pretty big flaws.  It’s hard to be in a position where you can easily see problems, but still find yourself ignoring those problems and appreciating the successes more.

I don’t understand why little things are missing.  Like why not include some text to explain what makes the COM-TDK such a special mech?  Also, how did a Lyran mech end up in a Davion market?

I think that Piranha did a couple things incredibly well in MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries.  Their development of the meta-game is spot on.  The way contracts are negotiated, the interaction with the economy and factions, and the general feel of the game itself outside of combat is just so well done.  I also think they really did a fantastic job of creating large maps with lots of interesting features and fixed defense emplacements for occasional action.  Combined with the heavy combined arms presence, it creates a pacing in most missions that is exciting and fun.  Those together feel very spot on for me and I’m really enjoying the experience.

The problem is that they just made dumb mistakes that were so unnecessary, which makes them that much more frustrating.  There was no need for this crazy and convoluted introduction story that makes absolutely no sense in context.  They don’t need the modeled NPCs and there’s no reason to force you to walk to them for conversations where they’ve adopted fake accents.  There’s no reason to start you in an open field while you’re taking fire and not allow you to control your mech or to spawn enemy mechs right on top of you mid-mission.

No matter how much I personally like it, I just can’t recommend a game that has ridiculous problems like that, no matter how much I actually enjoy the game otherwise.  I’m also unsure how to end an article about such a game.  I can neither tell you that you should buy it,  nor that I don’t like it, so I guess I just have to ask about your own experiences in the game.  Are there aspects of if that you’ve really enjoyed?  If you’ve bought the game and not liked some things, let me know what I missed that irritates you.  In the meantime, Rico’s Rednecks have finally completed their pilgrimage to Steiner space and I have some work the Lyrans would appreciate seeing done.  I’ll check back in with you all post-mission.


Red Thomas

A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture.