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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (473)

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Tiny Tina's Wonderlands 3.5/5
Ratchet & Clank: Rift A... 4.5/5
Super Mario Bros. Wonder 4.5/5
The Alliance Alive 2/5
Catmaze 4.5/5
Turnip Boy Commits Tax ... 4.5/5
Seasons After Fall 3/5
Rayon Riddles - Rise of... 0.5/5
World to the West 4/5
MechWarrior 5: Mercenar... 4/5
Streets of Kamurocho 2.5/5
Aeon of Sands - The Tra... 2.5/5
Greak: Memories of Azur 3.5/5
Yaga 2.5/5
Riverbond 3/5
Bug Fables: The Everlas... 4.5/5
Front Mission 1st Remake 1.5/5
Middle-earth: Shadow of... 3.5/5
Bladed Fury 3.5/5
Ruzar - The Life Stone 3.5/5
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin 3.5/5
Mighty Switch Force! Co... 2.5/5
Aegis of Earth: Protono... 3/5
Torchlight III 2.5/5
Cyberpunk 2077 3.5/5

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MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries   PC (Steam) 

The Bad, the Good, and the Repetitive    4/5 stars

“MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries” (“MechWarrior 5”) is the latest in the long-running ‘MechWarrior’ series of squad-based, Mech-themed shooters based on the BattleTech tabletop wargame published by FASA. As a huge fan of Mechs as a sci-fi sub-genre, I have never actually played a ‘MechWarrior’ game before, largely due to the fact that, outside of a small handful of side-games and/or spinoffs, the main entries in the series were exclusive to PC gaming during the PC Gaming Leaden Age. Indeed, prior to “MechWarrior 5,” the last main, numbered entry in the series was “MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries,” which was released way back in 2002.

“MechWarrior 5,” on the other hand, was released in 2019 – nearly 2 decades after the last mainline ‘MechWarrior’ release – and is not only a multi-platform release with nearly-identical gameplay on PC and consoles, it came into a world of PC gaming drastically different from (and significantly better than) what it once was. Previously, ‘MechWarrior’ videogames went through a number of different development studios and publishers before ultimately setting on FASA doing their own development work on the computerized adaptations of their tabletop products. That didn’t last into the modern era, however, with Hairbrained Schemes taking over development of turn-based Strategy BattleTech adaptations, and Piranha taking over development of action-based Shooter BattleTech adaptations, starting with the “MechWarrior Online” Live Service PvP title in 2013.

Thus, “MechWarrior 5” is really the first ‘MechWarrior’ game to meet my criteria of ‘playable.’ Even better, “MechWarrior 5” is the second (following “MechWarrior 4”) game in the series to feature cooperative multiplayer and a cooperative campaign. With most of the MJ Crew being self-confessed Mech fans, it was a no-brainer for us to play through this game sooner or later.

“MechWarrior 5” is pretty average across the entire presentation category. It’s built in Epic’s Unreal Engine 4, so it doesn’t have the plethora of quirks and strange behaviors that games built in Unity typically do. However, it doesn’t really look all that impressive for an Unreal Engine game, which simply means the art team at Piranha didn’t do a very good job. The ‘Mechs themselves are all ripped straight from the pages of ‘80s-era tabletop wargaming manuals, and tend to look big, clunky, and ugly – these aren’t the gaudy, stylish mecha anime fans are used to seeing. Environments also tend to be rather drab and uninteresting, in spite of the fact that there are numerous biomes in which to run missions, ranging from deserts to ice worlds to lava worlds to temperate forests and countrysides. Architecture is universally ugly and utilitarian to reflect the game world’s Dark Future aesthetic. Animation is just as Spartan as the graphical assets themselves, with ‘Mechs never looking particularly ‘cool’ in action, and destroyed environmental objects simply changing from ‘not destroyed’ to ‘destroyed’ with very little fanfare.

Audio is likewise mediocre, with a completely forgettable soundtrack that may as well not even exist. The game is fully voiced, however, with a whopping 4 main cast members and a handful of generic ‘Mech pilot voices for both squadmates and enemy pilots. The main cast does an adequate, if unspectacular, job of delivering their lines and illustrating the narrative, though the only performance with any memorable lines and enough presence to make an impression is the player’s operations officer, Ryana Campbell… who sometimes talks too much for her own good.

Technically is where I actually think “MechWarrior 5” shines the brightest in presentation. The game is minorly buggy, to the extent that we had a few issues with getting client characters connected to the host or graphical issues that required restarting the game (and updating GPU drivers, *sigh*), but nothing major. However, the game’s Quality of Life and built-in modding features are quite spectacular, with more options and tweakable settings being added all the time with each major DLC release. While we found the default settings for most things to be quite terrible, there are options to change everything… and PC gaming is all about options. Even beyond the built-in QoL and tweakability the game has out of the box, it has built-in mod support, and the Steam version has this mod support fully integrated with the Steam Workshop, which makes adding more ‘Mechs and weapons, changing mechanical behavior, or tweaking the in-game economics very easy. For us, the ‘Omnislots’ mod was absolutely essential and boosted our enjoyment of the game considerably, simply by allowing more customization in ‘Mech loadouts than the vanilla experience.

If you’re a fanatic who is obsessed with the world lore of the BattleTech universe, you’ll probably get more out of “MechWarrior 5” than I did, with my almost complete unfamiliarity with the world and its backstory (really, only what little I retained after playing 2018’s “Battletech”). This world lore unfolds via easily missable/ignorable/skippable news releases within the game’s UI, but otherwise doesn’t affect much of anything, other than making certain ‘Mechs and weapons available ONLY after their canonical release date on the in-game calendar.

The actual plot and narrative of “MechWarrior 5,” however, is a fairly basic and uninteresting revenge story. Our hero is Mason (no first name), the son (and only son, not daughter) of the allegedly famous Nikolai Mason, a mercenary in the employ of the Federated Suns faction. Shortly after going through a training mission with Daddy Nik to learn the ins and outs of ‘Mech operation, Mason is orphaned when a heavily-armed squad of unknown mercenary BattleMechs show up and kill everyone, including Nikolai. Mason barely escapes with his life (and his severely damaged Centurion ‘Mech) and must suddenly make his way through life on his own.

But not really, since Mason has a number of friends and associated already through his father’s connections, namely Ryana Cambell, the ops officer, and Fahad Arazad, the ‘MechTech. Mason and his two companions must rebuild a new mercenary company from the ashes of the old in order to track down the mysterious mercenaries who wiped out Nik’s Cavaliers. In the process, they will build important alliances and delve into some of the enduring mysteries of their world’s past.

Of course, for the most part, Mason’s mercenary company will simply take gobs and gobs of procedurally-generated missions from a small pool of mission types in order to build up enough reputation to advance the plot and enough C-Bills (read: cash monies) to afford increasingly bigger and more dangerous machinery. And this is where “MechWarrior 5” really falls flat for me. Early in the game, procedural missions don’t really provide all that much reputation or financial gain, which means running through a lot (and I mean A LOT) of repetitive, procedural content between each story mission. Past the halfway point, the gains and pacing get a lot better, but the overall balancing of things makes the less-than-exciting early game – rife with weak Light and Medium ‘Mechs with crappy weapon loadouts – drag on way longer than it should before eventually blossoming into something interesting with unique (non-procedurally-generated) side quests and story quests coming at a faster clip.

Another big problem with the storytelling in “MechWarrior 5” is that ONLY the host player can see the text-based mission briefs or hear nearly all of the dialog interactions between Mason, Ryana, and Fahad. This is a BIG problem, as I found myself reading the mission briefs aloud like it was Story Time at the Home For Slow Children and trying to recap audio conversations as succinctly as possible… and Ryana sure does love to talk… sometimes too much… in the midst of a hairy firefight.

“MechWarrior 5’s” main campaign took us about 60 hours to coop through. As insinuated above, I felt like this was too long for the amount of plot drip-fed to players over the course of the playtime. There are, however, a sizeable number of story-based DLC expansions that we don’t own (since the “Dropship Edition” of the game doesn’t include most of the DLC and said DLC hasn’t seen any super-amazing discounts yet)… but we would like to. In spite of the mediocrity of its plot, narrative, pacing, and worldbuilding, every MJ Crew member who played through the base “MechWarrior 5” actually wants to buy and playthrough the expansions… after a bit of a break, that is.

‘MechWarrior’ has always been about big, slow, ‘realistic’ mech combat in 2-storey tall bipedal tanks powered by fusion reactors. It’s emphatically NOT a fast, speedy, or twitchy game by any stretch of the imagination. None of that has changed in “MechWarrior 5.”

However, the default mechanics of the game need to be called out for how abjectly terrible they are. By default, ‘Mech movement is controlled by a throttle, and a ‘Mech will just keep walking forward unless the player turns or hits the brakes. This movement schema is HORRENDOUS, and every one of the MJ Crew who played “MechWarrior 5” was ready to drop the game and move onto a different coop title after the tutorial, simply because shooting from a barely-controlled moving platform is NOT fun in any conceivable way. Thankfully, before calling it quits, I dug around in the game’s option menu and found a setting to switch it to “FPS Style” controls, which instantly transformed the game from a clunky, sloppy, disaster to a solid, if not slow-paced, shooter. “MechWarrior 5” even support the ability to toggle between First-Person and Third-Person Shooter modes, which I thought was really nice. I have no idea why the controls are so unintuitive and crazily designed by default, since NO piece of heavy machinery has a throttle like that these days… it’s like the design mentality is taking the throttle from an early 20th Century tractor and applying it to a humanoid tank, when the more reasonable thing to do is take the twin-stick controls from a skid-loader and apply it to that humanoid tank.

The player will be tasked with assembling a ‘lance’ of up to four of these giant ‘Mechs, outfitted with as much armor and weaponry as the ‘Mech’s frame can handle. Each mission typically features a ‘Drop Tonnage,’ which is a way of measuring the difficulty of the mission and the types of enemy ‘Mechs to expect. Early game missions typically have really low Drop Tonnage, so with three of us coop-ing the game, we only deployed three of the heaviest ‘Mechs we could, leaving the fourth slot empty. Upon advancing to the mid-game and end-game, however, the Drop Tonnage rises appreciably, and we needed an extra weapons platform, so we populated the fourth slot with a computer controlled pilot… who rarely performed particularly well.

When playing solo, all ‘Mechs except Commander Mason’s are computer controlled, with the player provided the ability to issue vague commands to them, either individually or as an entire squad. I did notice that, when playing as a coop group with other players, enemies tend to act a bit smarter than they do in single-player mode. Regardless, enemies do tend to be single-minded and pursue whomever attacked them first – or the player controlling Commander Mason – instead of behaving tactically. Of course, sometimes the enemies come in such overwhelming numbers that they don’t actually need tactics to present a challenge.

As mentioned in the Story section above, the vast majority of missions in “MechWarrior 5” are procedurally generated from a handful of types: Assassination (taking out a specific ‘Mech target), Defense (protecting a building complex from a set number of enemies), Demolition (destroying a building complex while fending off enemies), Raid (destroying infrastructure, like radio towers, at specific points on the map while fending off enemies), and Warzone (killing a certain number of enemies, with infinite waves of foes and the potential to earn bonus pay for going over the requirement). These missions are generally very samey, and with the exception of Multi-Mission Contracts, which require the player’s team to complete 2 or more missions WITHOUT repairing their ‘Mechs in between, never really change through the game’s duration. Yeah, the non-mech tanks and aircraft get a bit nastier and the enemy ‘Mechs that hit the field get heavier as the Drop Tonnage increases, but that does little to prevent missions from feeling repetitive.

What DOES make missions feel fresh (-ish) is acquiring new ‘Mechs and weapons, then taking them out for a spin. ‘Mechs and weapons can be acquired through salvaging them after battle or outright purchasing them from stores. Of course, due to the nature of the beast, both enemy ‘Mech spawns and shop inventories are procedurally generated as well. Even worse, while there are markers that appear on the starmap to designate planets where a ‘rare’ ‘Mech or weapon (or even a ‘Hero’ ‘Mech) are for sale, apparently Internet bandwidth is still so terrible in the far future that nobody can post pictures and descriptions of their ‘rare’ items, forcing the player to fly all over the galaxy, only to find that there’s nothing of interest for sale afterall.

Flying all over the galaxy is problematic because this is a game based on the BattleTech tabletop wargame, and like the “Battltech” TRPG of 2018, there are economic factors baked into the gameplay at a fundamental level. Moving from system to system on the starmap costs time and money. Running a mission burns time. Repairing damaged equipment costs time and money. Waiting for injured ‘Mechwarriors to recover (everyone except Mason can be injured or outright DIE) wastes time. Meanwhile every ‘Mechwarrior on the roster and every ‘Mech in the launch bay consumes C-Bills every payday – and thankfully “MechWarrior 5” has the paydays set properly at 90 days apart instead of 30 days like in “Battletech”!

Fortunately, I was able to find mods to decrease the Financial Management Sim aspects of the game and let the MJ Crew enjoy the mech piloting aspect largely unimpeded. We did still have to worry about certain pilots always getting their expensive, rare weapon arms blown off and destroyed. However, in their last update, Piranha really seems to have taken notice of the popularity of mods to tone-down the C-Bill sink aspects of the game, with built-in options to completely disable a significant amount of the in-game economy’s ongoing costs (it still requires a mod to make space travel costs reasonable, though).

Aside from the fact that the game has players spend far too much time doing samey, repetitive procedural missions from a tiny handful of archetypes, the other main thing that prevents “MechWarrior 5” from being a mind-blowingly awesome mech-driving experience is the fact that the ‘Mechs themselves are generally fairly static and non-customizable. Until you get to the heaviest Assault Class ‘Mechs, most of them struggle to carry a reasonable amount of weaponry without having to strip their armor down to the point of useless glass-cannon status. Likewise, “MechWarrior 5” uses the ‘hardpoint’ system for mounting weapons (which is, to my understanding, an optional rule in the tabletop game), which means that weapons can only be mounted in specific places on each ‘Mech, and each mounting hardpoint is only compatible with one of the three overarching categories of Ballistic, Energy, or Missile. As mentioned earlier, I installed a mod from the Steam Workshop called ‘Omnipoints,’ which allows every hardpoint on every ‘Mech to mount any category of weapon – though it still recognizes the size limitations of the hardpoints. Being able to experiment with different loadouts thanks to the ‘Omnipoints’ mod was a LOT of fun, surprisingly. It’s shocking and disappointing that all modern BattleTech tabletop adaptations keep using the more limited hardpoint rule when it’s such a drag on one of the best parts of Mech Sims.

If “MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries” wasn’t replete with robust in-game options, QoL settings, and community-driven mods, and was only the default experience, it would be worth about 1-or-2 out of 5 stars, due to its unbearably designed, horrifically clunky core gameplay mechanics. However, those options, QoL features, and mods DO exist, and they allow a fairly repetitive Mech Driving Sim (and Space Financial Management Sim) to become an enjoyable, bespoke experience. While neither the presentation nor story are anything to write home about, if you want to spend some time driving giant humanoid tanks through dark future battlefields alongside a friend or three, “MechWarrior 5” is pretty much your only option. Of course, because of their lack of mod support and pay2play online subscriptions, the console versions of this game are still significantly worse.

Presentation: 3.5/5
Story: 3/5
Gameplay: 4/5
Overall (not an average): 4/5



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