Mechwarrior 5 Is Pretty Bad, Save For One Thing

Mechwarrior 5 Is Pretty Bad, Save For One Thing

There are some games from the AA space – ambitious without the polish, let’s say – that are so good that it’s astonishing what the developers have accomplished. And then there’s the other kind of AA, the kinds of games where that astonishment is replaced with forgiveness.

Mechwarrior 5 is definitely the latter.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying Mechwarrior 5 isn’t enjoyable. I’m definitely not saying it’s amazing either, because it certainly isn’t. But there’s a few good ideas and some solid enough mechanics for fans to bite their teeth into. It’s just that those mechanics are surrounded by so many other annoyances: a lack of originality, lack of depth, a lack of polish, poor AI, inconsistent visuals and a grind that’s tied together by … well, not much.

Mechwarrior 5 starts like this. You’re the son of a legendary Mech pilot who ends up taking over a mercenary company after a lengthy ham-fisted tutorial. The game immediately becomes BATTLETECH the FPS from that point: a friend of your fathers hunts down some intel, but you need to do jobs for him in the interim, as well as raising your mercenary reputation in general, so you bounce around from planet to planet basically grinding against cannon fodder until the universe starts to pay attention.

And there’s a lot of universe to bounce around, by the way.

Every single one of those dots? That’s a planet. Not all of those will actually have missions for you, or even be relevant throughout the course of your campaign, but you might have to travel through some of them to get where you’re going. That costs time and, more importantly, money.

Balancing your budget is pretty much what the whole game is about, although there’s some factional elements at play too. All of your mechs have upkeep, and the pilots have their own salary, so you have to balance that against the repair bill and what you risk on the field.

Every time you step out for a mission, you’ll get the chance to negotiate for extra pay, insurance against damages, or a bigger stake on damaged parts and mechs left over. It’s usually a good idea to bump up your salvage shares early on, because you’ll usually find weapons that can be palmed off for more cash. When you get enough standing with a particular faction, your ability to barter increases even further, meaning more money, more loot, and more insurance.

All the maps are procedurally generated based off a number of factors, including the mission type, what biome (read: planets) you’re landing on, the size of the battle area and more. The mix of planets is pretty vibrant, which helps add some much needed colour in a game that has a lot of low quality effects and textures at times.

The best part about MW5 is definitely the combat, and the elements around the combat. If you’ve never played the series before, imagine controlling a giant, hulking tank: your chassis and torso can move independently of each other, and if you don’t control the movement correctly you can find yourself stuck in the open getting wailed on.

But once you’ve got that downpat, then it’s going through the motions of locking on, firing, adjusting your aim for the cannon because it needs a bit of lead time, scanning up, seeing some VTOL raining fire from the sky, waiting till they come into range and then blasting them with your lasers.

The moment-to-moment loop of MW5, when you’re just focusing on the enemies in front of you, managing your flank and zooming in and out to target a mech’s legs instead of going for the easy chest shot, is fantastic. Absolutely no complaints there, and there’s even a couple of nice cinematic touches when the battle starts:

The problem, really, is everything else around it.

Each of the planets that you land on don’t have any real characteristics of their own. There’s no life, no story, no character beyond being seemingly in some sort of conflict between one faction or another. There’s a couple of moments where the game’s systems seem like they might come to life: you’ll get the choice occasionally to do jobs for pirate raiders, which might involve ransacking some civilians. You can take those missions, but it’ll piss off another faction, so it’s on you to manage your reputation across the board if you want to keep all your options open.

The story basically falls flat on its arse from the opening chapter. None of it is ever delivered with any impact or panache: it’s merely a foil to keep the management side of the game together. That’s fine in principle, but I couldn’t help but wonder if Piranha Games, the Canadian developer behind Mechwarrior 5 and Mechwarrior Online, could have been smarter about how they spent their time.

In between missions, for instance, you’ll be hovering around this deck.

It’s a space where your mechs get repaired, and you can see the damage done to them after a battle and get a sense of scale. It’s nice, but there’s basically nothing else for you to do in the opening hours. It’s lifeless, so all you do is go back to the terminal and dive into the UI, which is a bit of a mess.

Take this basic trading screen for the mech market. Here are all the items in my inventory, sorted by value and into two categories (weapons and equipment). They’re all spare salvage, in case you’re wondering, and the game doesn’t give you any indication here on what mechs can use what weapons or what equipment is best for what.

Repairing your mechs is an exercise in monotony. You’ll repeatedly stockpile extra weapons, ammo and bits of equipment from the battlefield. But what if one of your mechs loses a component on the field? You have to go into the repair screen, manually deselect it from the mech and then drag or add a new component from your inventory. Why aren’t destroyed components automatically removed or deselected? You can’t repair destroyed components, so all the game is doing is wasting a bit of your time.

Mech customisation is pretty limited too. Weapons and attachments (like jumpjets) are limited by size, and mechs have a limited amount of hardpoints on top of that. So, for instance, if you decided to remove four jumpjets from a lighter mech to beef up its firepower, you … can’t. You can’t remove two smaller guns and stick one medium sized gun in its place, because the hardpoints are locked to guns of a certain size.

The in-game HUD’s a bit weak, too. Here’s what the in-game hud looked like for Mechwarrior Online:

And Mechwarrior 5:

It’s easier to parse if you’ve never played a Mechwarrior game, for sure. But games like these – especially ones backed on Kickstarter – are playing to a particular crowd who love the overwhelming nature of these mechs, particularly the feel inside the cockpit. MW5‘s cockpits are flat, and most of the time I just defaulted to the third-person view simply because there wasn’t anything visually interesting inside the mech. I felt like I was playing Heavy Gear, not Mechwarrior.

But when you’re in third-person, the HUD has problems there too. It’s not visually distinct enough on the brighter snowy or grassy levels. A lot of the outlines and bars tend to fade into the surroundings and action, which doesn’t help when you’re in a massive firefight with tanks, VTOLs and enemy mechs spawning out of nowhere.

And yeah, that happens a lot: you’ll be carving through a mission and, DOOM style, extra waves pop in out of nowhere. (Which probably explains why radar is bizarrely limited to line of sight in MW5 – it doesn’t make any sense from a practical level, but if you could see enemies the second they spawned like normal radar, the game would be ridiculously easy.)

The enemy AI loves to charge into close quarters, past its minimum range, and your squadmates aren’t much smarter. There’s nothing especially clever with the level design either, and the randomly spawning waves can make some missions vault from pretty easy to a surprising pain in the arse – but only because you’re out of position, which is impossible to manage when enemies appear out of nowhere.

Coupled with the general “build your reputation” and grinding for cash, it sucks a lot of the compelling potential from the management side of the game. When you finally get the millions for a fresh, hulking mech – the ones you didn’t earn through story missions and side gigs, anyway – there’s no sense of accomplishment. Like Rebel Galaxy Outlaw earlier this year, it’s a bit of a hollow grind, and that’s a shame.

The most important part is Mechwarrior 5‘s gameplay loop. The moment-to-moment firing of weapons, mechs overheating, units flying around, issuing orders to your AI or friends in co-op: that’s all really well done. On the sheer mechanics alone, I’ve got no problem with the game.

It’s just that everything else around it, the wrapping transforming a good idea for a game into an attractive, marketable product is a failure. The graphics are a bit dated, the voice overs and briefings are forgettable, the plot and writing is worse, the AI has one tactic up its sleeve, the music is better replaced with your own YouTube playlist and the general mission design gets stale pretty quickly.

But there’s still potential. If Mechwarrior 5 had a crappy gameplay loop with nice ideas around it, it’d be completely irredeemable. As it stands, it’s definitely a game to avoid for everyone bar the Mechwarrior hardcore — which is a pretty sad thing to say given how good BATTLETECH was, and how much potential the Mechwarrior franchise has.


  • The core changes I want to see is;
    -Better ui
    -Better faction loyalty bonuses (factions sending light support into missions when maxed out, events or deals)
    -Better ai, both sides are pretty garbage
    -Persistent coop for the person joining (maybe they bring a single mech from their group and get a cut of pay or salvage).
    -Mission variables (warzone should feel like more of a warzone, there should be more support units on both sides)
    -Better crit mechanics, I would love to return to the terror of MW2

  • I suspect most of the game’s flaws stem from the fact that they still think they’re working on their online arena battler, MWO. Almost as if they bolted a single-player campaign onto the same game. The absence of a functional radar, the fact that enemies can randomly spawn(/respawn?) literally right in front of your face, the unprecedented absurdity of their next-level restrictions on hard-points obviously done for the sake of PVP balance and distinct silhouette recognition, the very ‘online lobby’ nature of starting a mission… No-one sitting down to create the next great single-player Mechwarrior Mercenaries game would invent those failings. They just have to be inherited: a series of bad decisions and compromises that make sense for an online lobby-shooter, but which they’re so familiar and comfortable with that they’ve lost sight of how they are absolutely bad decisions and compromises in a fully-fledged single-player Mechwarrior game.

    I still played it again this morning, just to scatch an itch and because I was looking forward to this for so, so long… but it’s getting old really fast. The frustrations that wear over time (grinding for the perfect variant of mech in order to use a weapon loadout I like, only to encounter it as salvage in a mission that arbitrarily allocated fewer salvage shares than required to obtain it), learning to my dismay that some favourite chassis’ simply aren’t able to be fitted the way I’ve fitted them for the last twenty years, and repetition in the ‘radiant quest’ random contracts.

    I’m thinking this might be one to put on ice until the Steam release, with all the bug-fixes, and hopefully design enhancements patched in.

    • Remember when Mechwarrior 2 had a branching storyline depending on how well you did in the campaign

      *sigh* those were the days

          • I would argue that even the disappointment that was 4 was at least better. Rip Duncan Fishers sexy voice every time you hit up Solaris.

            I would even settle for enemies not spawning point blank behind you.

      • All the money they must’ve spent, all the man-hours, all the art, the testing involved to let you move around that empty ship and its five different consoles that all end up showing you the same menus, as well as animating and voicing two mostly-mute crew members you can occasionally interact with… all that effort and resources and it gets utterly out-classed by the plain text journal your character keeps in MW2:Mercs, detailing the time you spent in the mess hall with the regulars you’re supporting, describing the feeling of guilt over receiving their praise when you know you could end up fighting against them the next month, detailing the day-to-day tedium of patrols, of simply spending hours in your mech on urban streets as a show of force in front of civilian protests.

        One of the most memorable moments in gaming for me is making the decision to run away with the stolen Ghost Bear clan Kodiak instead of turning it over to your IS employer, leaving you with an absurdly high-tech, ultra-powered mech worth more than any of the credits the Combine would’ve given you.

        I haven’t seen any moments like that in MW5. Hell, in the very first tutorial mission, taking the mech for a spin, I turned and noted, “Now, because the writing is awful, what we can expect next is for an ‘unexpected’ ambush in the middle of this training exercise that kills our father fig– er, actual father, sets the antagonists, and puts us on the run without any resources, starting us from scratch.” And a minute later, I was right.

        I don’t have any faith in MW5 to produce another ‘stealing the Kodiak’ mission. I think at best, we might possibly, just possibly see the Solaris arena at best.

  • I saw the star map for the Inner Sphere and instantly the names of the various succession states (Kurita, Davion, Steiner, Liao and Marik) popped into my head. I played a crap ton of the Battletech board game in my much younger years.

  • Outside of combat, there’s a lot to be desired or feels half baked.

    One aspect is the ship. Sure its pretty cool seeing your mechs in first person but nothing else really happens besides going to a terminal or barely speaking to 1 or 2 NPCs.

    Why can’t I see the pilots I’ve hired instead of a 2D portrait, why can’t I do some upgrades to the ship etc…

    Its such a stark difference how Battletech made activities on the dropship lively and interesting beyond just mech management.

  • Dang, that’s a shame. After I kind of struggled to get back into Battletech’s expansions after finishing the campaign, I kind hoped this would scratch that mech itch

  • There is no hatchets for black knight and other mechs, no melee options at all. And to top it off you can’t adjust your mechs core size (engine speed).
    All the weapon points are basically locked down so customizing your mech is VERY limited
    (one of the primary reason why people loved battletech, customization!)

    Games also quite buggy and has some major performance and glitches going on during the initial campaign start (dots and sparkles, poor performance in areas).

    • While the game has a myriad of problems, the mechbay isn’t one. The restrictions on loadouts and engine size stem from the fact that at this point in the lore they didn’t have access to omnitech, so most mechs were not really customizable.

    • I’m sure they locked down the hardpoints in 4 as well? That REALLY bugs me they did that in this one. I can only fit lasers in one area, auto cannons in another? Give me back the old games where my power equalled what I could take and my weight dictated what I could carry…

  • I can barely get past the first mission! Even running around and non stop moving, the enemas have 200% accuracy so I blow up! The one time I finally got out of that mission, the second one is 1000% worse! By the time I make it to the place I am supposed to level, I am almost dead. Again, same thing. No matter how much I move, use terrain for cover, etc, I get blasted away

Log in to comment on this story!