I've been on a bit of a BattleTech kick as of late. After Catalyst Game Labs (CGL) brought the venerable franchise back from the dead in 2019 with a new range of plastic battlemechs, the first since WizKids introduced their Clix version of the game in the mid 00s.

Naturally, a number of content creators jumped ship, and one of them was a gentleman by the name of "BigRed 40k", who has since rebranded to BigRed 40-Tech."

Whatever. If Games Workshop games are allowed to have dime-a-dozen, "man reads fluff from sourcebook" copycats, I can forgive someone who appears to have genuine enthusiasm for the franchise, and is doing his bit to shill for the reinvented range of plastics from evil overlord CGL.

Anyway I watched a ton of his videos, then started to rewatch playthroughs of Mercenaries, then decided to get it going again and play through it. Again.

Now, a long time ago, before this blog was Thanos-snapped, I did publish a review for Mechwarrior 4: Vengeance - which is the more story-driven version of the same game.

And one of my formative memories is a copy of a strategy guide for Mechwarrior 4: Vengeance, which I read cover to cover. It wasn't until I discovered how to sail on the high seas of piracy that I obtained copies of both, and completed both.

MW4 Mercenaries (sometimes referred to as MW4 Mercs) is seen as the better of the two games, which is seemingly confirmed by Pirahna Games' Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries.

Now I've played through Vengeance AND Mercenaries multiple times now. I have room in my heart for both of them, and I am not prepared to confirm which one I like more.

What I will say, is that Mercenaries, particularly with the MekTek addons that come bundled with the game, is a more accessible title. It has a much wider range of Mechs and weapons, which weren't in the original game, or even in the lore at the time.

Indeed, much of the entertainment value of the game comes from trying all the different weapons and designs, and seeing what works for you. And the game throws lots of different scenarios at you - convoy raids, base defenses - there's even a full blown gladatorial arena.

Where Vengeance hyperfocuses on the trials and tribulations of a series of irrelevant characters on a single world during the FedCom civil war (which means nothing to you if you aren't a BattleTech nerd), Mercenaries puts you in the shoes of a company of soldiers of fortune, and takes a much broader view of the same conflict.

So you'll move from system to system, working for the highest bidder. You can choose to be noble, you can be infamous. The choice is yours, although it's largely just a number on a scoreboard.

There's lots of cute little nods to the wider world - you clean Clan Jade Falcon holdouts from a world, and you get to visit the industrial hubs, battle in Solaris VII - it really is a greatest hits of FedCom civil war players and events.

Don't get it twisted however, this isn't an open world title. It is semi-linear, and there are paths to follow which lead you to the end of the game. And, because we know how the FedCom civil war ends, you don't have agency in how the story ends, you are just a tourist.

But you're a very involved tourist.

And all of these guided tours are placed on a rock solid backbone of technical battlemech gameplay. And, make no mistake, it is technical.

You're driving a walking tank. That means controlling its speed, twisting its torso, putting weapons into groups, managing heat output (particularly from chad clan weapons)

And in between walking, twisting and firing, you're playing babysitter to your idiot lance children, trying to convince them to consider advancing toward the enemy and firing their guns, instead of just turning on the spot and getting murdered.

It's an immersive, enjoying, engaging experience - and is the reason I've played through it so many times. Because the mechanics of mech construction, coupled with field testing your abominations, form two tight rings around the thin but entertaining story.

In addition to building your own technological trainwrecks and tearing mechs into scrap metal, you also get to play the role of bean counter. You're responsible for hiring and firing lancemates, buying and selling equipment and designs. After all, Soldiers of Fortune don't stay soldiers for long if they run out of fortune.

Early on, you might find yourself cutting corners to minimize costs on particularly low-paying contracts - such as carrying lighter designs on a mission, or selling excess weapons you know you'll never use.

At least until you hit the midpoint of the game.

Then the game shifts to buying up and equipping as many ER PPCs, Gauss Rifles, and LRMs onto the heaviest designs you can. There are plenty of missions in the "tail end" of the game that involve dealing with waves of assault mechs, broken up with waves of medium and heavy mechs.

Now, that isn't a bad thing, because you want to be challenged. But, after a fashion, every mission starts to feel the same, even with the variety in mission objectives.

And, naturally, because of the sheer quantity of mechs you salvage (then sell) after every mission, all considerations around cost-cutting and staff salaries end up in the bin too.

But clearly that isn't a dealbreaker, as this is my fourth playthrough. This is the first playthrough that I've bothered to document, and is also the one where I know the most about the setting - and, genuinely, a little bit of investment goes a mile.

It also helps that Mercs 4 is short. By the time the game starts really ramping up the difficulty, you're in the last quarter of the game when you're moving the FedCom civil war to its conclusion.

From start to finish, it took me a week to playthrough, and that was with a handful of hours a night.

So do I recommend Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries? Yes, but it can be frustrating to get working (hint, install it to your C:\ drive) and it looks very dated now. Most of the designs just look like big boxes, compared to the sleeker visuals you might find in something like Mechwarrior Online, or Mercs 5.

But I haven't played Mercs 5, because I don't trust Pirhana Games. I like Mechwarrior 4 - Vengeance AND Mercenaries.

And now, having finished my latest playthrough of Mercs 4, I can go back to procrastinating and painting BattleMechs instead of Salamanders. Look out for those.

Catch you next time,

Critical Information Summary:
Review Platform: PC
Developer: FASA Studios
Publisher: Microsoft
Cost (At Time of Publish): Varies - Second hand market only

Did you like this article? Did you hate it? Go over and keep the discussion going on the official Vulkan's Corner facebook page! - whilst you're at it, leave a like!