Developed and published by Activision, MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries was released in September of 1996 as a stand-alone sequel to MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat; it would be the last MechWarrior title created by Activision before the company lost the rights to the BattleTech franchise. As with previous games in the MechWarrior 2 line, gameplay focuses on the actions of large BattleMechs (or 'Mechs) in various combat situations, with an emphasis on simulation-style controls over straightforward action. Unlike the previous games, Mercenaries includes an detailed economy in which players can salvage parts from the battlefield and purchase new 'Mechs with the credits earned from their missions. While it uses the MechWarrior 2 graphics engine, Mercenaries features a number of tweaks such as more detailed textures and lighting.
While MechWarrior 2 and its expansion Ghost Bear's Legacy focused on Clan activites, Mercenaries' story unfolds from the perspective of an Inner Sphere mercenary. Due to this change, many new Inner Sphere 'Mechs are introduced in Mercenaries, with the total number of usable vehicles being more than twice that of the previous games.
Happening before the Refusal War conflict depicted in MechWarrior 2, the plot of Mercenaries focuses on an independent mercenary unit taking contracts from various factions within the Inners Sphere. The War of 3039 has recently ended, and it is a period of relative calm, with both major powers, the Draconis Combine and the Federated Commonwealth, recuperating and rebuilding in order to prepare for their next war. The player can take various jobs from either faction, as well as from others such as Comstar and the Free Rasalhague Republic, in addition to participating in closed arena competitions.
The player's mercenary activities are abruptly interrupted by the Clan invasion, and during the latter part of the game their mercenary unit is swept up in the ensuing war. The final event depicted in the campaign is the Battle of Tukayyid, the decisive confrontation between the Clans and the Inner Sphere that precipitated the Refusal War of MechWarrior 2.
The gameplay of MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries remains largely unchanged over previous iterations in the series. Players are still required to display adept handling of various BattleMechs while simultaneously keeping tabs on its various systems, such as heat dissipation, targeting, and radar display. While the missions themselves are unchanged, Mercenaries allows a larger degree of freedom outside of battle by giving players more control of the specifics leading up to each engagement. From their office players are allowed to purchase and sell 'Mechs, hire new pilots, and decide which missions to take. Furthermore, players must be aware of the game's economy even during missions, as performance determines what is salvaged; anything from individual parts to full 'Mech chassis can be taken from the battlefield.
The single-player component of Mercenaries is split into three modes: Mercenary Commander, Mercenary, and Instant Action. Mercenary Commander is the main campaign mode, with all of Mercenaries' economic elements enabled, while Mercenary is a simplified version of the campaign which plays more similar to previous games in the series. Finally, Instant Action is a slightly expanded version of the Trials of Grievance and Combat Simulation modes of the past two games. Players can choose 'Mechs (both theirs and their opponents') and mission objectives before engaging in a randomly generated combat scenario.
Mercenaries introduces roughly 40 new 'Mechs for players to pilot, the majority of which are of Inner Sphere design. In addition, many of the Clan 'Mechs featured in the previous MechWarrior 2 games return, though the campaign focuses mostly on the new Inner Sphere additions. Finally, two types of 1-ton battle armor are selectable during Instant Action.