Part of the larger BattleTech sci-fi universe, MechWarrior was once an institution of strategy mech action games, largely acclaimed in the PC gaming space before it made a notable appearance on the original Xbox under the guise of MechAssault. Originally launching on PC in 2019 after a lengthy and ambitious development process, the fifth official entry of the IP lands on Xbox as MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries. More than just a homecoming for MechWarrior/MechAssault on Xbox platforms, the latest is quite possibly the most pivotal 2021 platform exclusive not called Halo Infinite. At the time of this review, the game has been part of the Game Pass lineup since its launch.
The launch of MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries has however been rather messy and unceremonious. At the very least, being on Game Pass will bring it to the attention of the service’s massive subscriber base, but regardless of how long it stays on, this is the kind of experience that deserves to be in the Xbox Hall of Fame. Ideally, it should have had far more fanfare and hype than what it got on launch, which was almost next to nothing. Perhaps gaming trends have changed and the MechWarrior name doesn’t mean as much as it once did, but still even in 2021 this Xbox release is as ambitious as they come. While the PC launch in 2019 left a lot to be desired, the experience on Xbox platforms is certainly far more complete and polished, and launches alongside the Heroes of the Inner Sphere expansion pack.
Set in a future where humanity has colonised several planets across the galaxy, with the advances in technology comes advanced warfare in the form of battle mechs. Sadly humanity’s war mongering ways remain the same. The storyline is heavy politically, with a ton of history and backstory that builds upon past MechWarrior games, but thankfully there is also an individual human element too, as players take control of a rookie pilot who must deal with the loss of his father and navigate a galaxy-wide conflict. While long-time fans will certainly be more familiar with the lore, newer players can still jump right in and spend more time getting acquainted with the characters. Even if the lore is a bit demanding, the game world itself is still very much alive and immersive, and so MechWarrior 5 strikes a fine balance by allowing newer players to feel at home without the assumed knowledge.
From a graphical and technical standpoint, MechWarrior 5 is a fine showcase regardless of which Xbox platform you choose, but of course the X|S affords faster load times and greater consistency in performance. While the texture mapping is dated, and the technical side of things are far from flawless, this is still an incredibly ambitious presentation that feels galactic in scope. The hulking mechs battle in awe-inspiring maps that vary in their design and visual effects, and explore detailed environments with real time weather and climate effects. When things get heated up, the sheer amount of real-time destruction never ceases to amaze. As a spectacle the game more than rises to the occasion, and while purists will rightfully find some issues, the visual experience feels greater than the sum of its parts.
From a core gameplay standpoint MechWarrior 5 has a hugely satisfying learning curve. Perhaps the most jarring thing about it is how the legs of the mech move separately from the torso, but once you get accustomed to this it quickly proves to be a helpful nuance to the combat action. What works so well here is how the intricate controls are mapped seamlessly onto the Xbox controller, where complicated play mechanics become second nature rather quickly. It just feels great to play, and if you are using the newer X|S controller then you’re really in for smooth immersion.
MechWarrior 5 is a methodical yet fast-paced mech action game, where the core combat and mission variety are engaging, thanks to immersive play mechanics and an addictive gameplay loop. The campaign experience is epic, as players take part in first-person story segments involving human characters before jumping into the campaign missions which vary in the objective style and approach. Now, this is where MechWarrior 5 can get rather complicated and demanding, as more than the core combat and control systems, it’s what happens in between the missions that demands the most out of the player. It is during these segments where players really need to dive into the in-depth simulation aspects of MechWarrior.
The campaign demands a lot of foresight, as players need to manage both time and resources as they go from mission to mission. It’s all well and good to get into the heat of combat with all guns blazing, but if your mech takes a beating then that means it will need to be repaired, which takes a lot of time and also uses up funds. Managing resources is half the battle, which is why accepting missions also involves an element of negotiation when it comes to fees. The mech customisation can be a time sink, but the game does well enough to provide what you need or hints at the right direction. Still, as players progress through the campaign things get more complicated and trying, which means the pacing can get rather slow. For many mech fans, this is exactly how they enjoy a strategic campaign, but for others this will be quite daunting.
Thankfully, as an alternative for players who are after the gratification of a mech fix without any of the simulation aspects, they can choose to jump into a quick mission right from the main menu and simply enjoy the combat in a self-contained mission. There are multiplayer options too which allow for co-op play, and so there are certainly ways for players to enjoy MechWarrior 5 even when they might not be up for the demanding campaign mode.
Until Halo Infinite launches and delivers on its lofty promises, MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is no doubt among the best Xbox platform exclusives of 2021, and a staggering showcase for your console of choice. It manages to translate an ambitious PC epic almost seamlessly into a console experience, where the play mechanics and control scheme are mapped perfectly onto the Xbox controller. The immersive campaign provides a rewarding and challenging simulation experience, but players looking to jump right into some mech carnage can do just that as well.
Decimate the battlefield with MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One today