by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
The Mercs Are Back
Let’s start simple: I love mech games. Well, I love a certain sub-genre of mech games. Blazing-fast anime-style mech games don’t do it for me; I need big, lumbering marvels of engineering that sell me on the dozens of tons of steel moving with every footstep. I love the power. I love the destruction. I love the grittiness. That being said, my options for great mech games have actuality been a lot more limited of late than one might assume given their natural bad-assery. About a year and a half ago I published my thoughts on the latest entry in one of the grandaddies of all heavy-mech franchises, Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries. While I liked the game and thought that it succeeded in scratching my genre itch, there’s no doubt that it had some fairly significant and unfortunate downsides. Now, as the game’s Epic Store exclusivity has come to a close and the game is releasing wide, Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries has received a slew of updates and a big DLC expansion: Heroes of the Inner Sphere.
Right when I booted up MechWarrior 5 for the first time in over a year to try out the new DLC, the game warned me that Heroes of the Inner Sphere is for veteran players who are familiar with how the game works. Scoffing at the warning card’s insulting insinuation of my ability, I jumped straight in. I immediately had my hubris checked as I spent the better part of 20 minutes scrolling around and trying to remember how to even navigate all of the game’s menus, much less successfully pilot a mech. Tail between my legs, I booted the campaign up and replayed the first bit, which helped a lot. Long story short, heed the game’s warning. This isn't an expansion to jump into blind.
Loosening the Reins
Despite what you might assume, Heroes of the Inner Sphere is NOT a story expansion for MechWarrior 5. Instead, this expansion adds a new mode to the game-career. In career mode, you’ll choose a house (which each controls part of the playable galaxy), and then the game lets go of the leash and lets you build a mercenary team from almost the ground up. While you’re certainly not anyone of particular renown, career mode does start you off with a few goodies to let you hit the action right away - namely a few pilots, mechs, and enough c-bills (currency) to not immediately drop into bankruptcy. From there, it’s up to you to jump to battlezones, complete contracts, hire new pilots, and improve/add more mechs. To be frank, it’s not that different from what was already in the game’s story mode, but it makes for a much quicker start and eschews a narrative that really isn’t worth playing through twice.
As you’d expect, a Heroes of the Inner Sphere career run demands the same balancing act of actual combat and resource management as the base game. While it’s fun to hop into missions and charge straight at the objective or enemy mech, you’ll quickly find that repair costs add up, and money isn’t infinite. Cantinas let you pick up side objectives to complete, but I didn’t find them to be terribly immersive or thematic. Accomplishing tasks from the cantina rewards resources, which makes sense, and it also lets you work towards a series of perk unlocks that offer slight improvements to your mechs. The unlocks aren’t anything wild or particularly noteworthy, but they do help. It just doesn’t make much sense that they’re coming from shady characters in a shady cantina. I would have liked to see these side tasks come with some tough decisions or more thematic quests to give the upgrades some more substance and meaning. Also new are a few heroes, some mech chassis, and some weapons. Like the cantina tasks and upgrades, they’re... fine. For a much-touted DLC paired with a big Year One upgrade to the base game, I guess I just expected the new additions to be more novel, interesting, complex... something. More content is more content and it all melds very well with what’s already in the game, it’s just hard to fully recommend spending $20 USD when a good portion of the content is fairly unexciting.
Heroes of the Inner Sphere is definitely worth picking up along with the main game for those jumping in for the first time, but players who have already spent hours with MechWarrior 5’s existing content may find the new additions to feel a bit been-there-done-that. The new career mode is my new preferred way to play, but the new structure, mechs, weapons, and mission type fail to significantly distance themselves from what’s already been present in the game.
New mechs and weapons are welcome additions, career mode is a nice alternative to the story mode
New content may not be novel enough to justify the asking price