TL;DR: Took another jab at the mech model after looking at some references.
In Blender, I started using the subdivision surface modifier as an integral part of the modeling process, setting the crease strength of individual edges to differentiate between sharp and smooth edges. The SubD modifier pretty much doesn’t work well unless your topology is decent, so it’s a good safeguard against lazy topology. It’s pretty amazing how a boring cubular design becomes interesting once you relax some of the edges.
In Substance Painter, I previously used a different material for each separate part of the mesh. Now I use just one material for the whole model along with a masked folder for each separate part. Same results, vastly better performance.
While 95% of the models I use will likely be generic premade assets from various marketplaces, there still needs to be some “flavor” and some assets will need to be custom modeled- namely the mech(s) and the enemies.