Come Heavy, Bring Friends: Armored Core V Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 console.
The demo disk which came with my PlayStation (the first one, yeah, that long ago) came with a demo for Armored Core comprising the first two missions. Large don’t-call-‘em-mechs with stacks upon stacks of parts and weapons to mix and match until customization nirvana was reached. I was hooked.
More years than I care to think about and about 18 games later, FROM Software returns the franchise to its roots with the addition of some modern sensibilities in the form of Armored Core V. Is this dance a mecha mosh-pit or doing the junkyard shuffle? Let’s find out.
The latest generation of Armored Core games had a decidedly Gundam flavor to them, despite retaining the incredible customization options which is a series hallmark. Armored Core 4 and its sequel, Armored Core: For Answer, were relatively fast-paced affairs where a match could conceivably be over shortly after it began and the net codes weren’t quite up to handling the amount of action which could simultaneously be taking place. Armored Core V takes the foot off the pedal with much slower pacing and a heavy emphasis on strategy.
The garage has lost none of its charm, though the menus are frustratingly unintuitive. The endless tables of numbers are back and players will be spending ridiculous amounts of time tweaking everything just so. Arm parts, shoulder parts, internal parts, all kinds of parts – and you will analyze each one. Don’t even try to resist it. In the quest to design the perfect AC for your play-style you will learn a language you never knew existed, and you will exalt in your knowledge. After the hours are done you will paint your masterpiece, perhaps creating one of the surprisingly detailed logos and emblems you’ll have access to. You will name your creation and then venture forth onto the battlefield, confident in your superiority… …most likely only to have your creation blown to hell by someone with a load-out that’s overwhelmingly effective against your particular masterpiece, which is why having multiple AC designs is a pretty good idea.
Perhaps the biggest draw on Armored Core V, well, besides the near endless permutations of parts and paints one can apply to their own heavily customized death machine, is the multiplayer. Actually, it’s hard to avoid, given that once you’ve completed a couple mandatory missions you’re given the choice to either join an existing team or create your own. From there on out, every time you fire up the game, you are online.
The world map opens up before you not unlike FROM Software’s past foray in the this-land-is-my-land-and-so-is-your-land play-scape, Chromehounds. Missions are laid out, allowing players access to the largely irrelevant Story Mode, the straightforward kill-everything Order missions, or joining the persistent war of the Conquest Mode. Most players seem to be spending their time grinding Order missions in order (not a pun) to farm team points and cash. More team points increase team level, thus opening up more parts and giving players something to spend their cash on. Team points are also the entry fee for Invasion missions. A “Free Battle” mode also exists for some no-commitment/no-cost sparring sessions with other team members or the community at large – which is the sugary icing on this cake.
Most invasion missions involve a rip-and-run through someone else’s backyard, blowing up turrets, recovering data, or hunting and killing particular targets. Fun, but pretty benign stuff. However, when one team electing an invasion mission intersects with another team doing a stronghold mission on the same map, Armored Core V comes into its own. The sensation from seeing the Emergency screen leaves you performing an immediate mental recap of every little tweak you’ve made to your AC in recent memory, quickly followed by the amount you have in the bank vs. the size of the repair bill if something goes wrong.
At the prep screen, stratagems can be planned and discussed, the garage can be accessed for last-second load-out adjustments, and the role of the “Operator” (an eye-in-the-sky position which turns Armored Core V into a psuedo-RTS) can be assigned. From there, the mission is launched with one team on defense and the other staging an assault. Teamwork wins near every time here, as complimentary AC designs in conjunction with the battlefield intelligence provided by the Operator regularly trumps ad-hoc teams. Indeed, any “mercenaries” (players hired by the mission organizer to fill blank slots in the roster) can’t chat with the other members of their team at all. Basic knowledge of team tactics doesn’t make this an insurmountable obstacle, but the inherent shortcomings become painfully obvious when dealing with a coordinated team.
The multiplayer experience and customization make Armored Core V a fun game to play. If only it was as pretty as it is fun. Well-modeled weapons and parts, though suspiciously not as detailed as those in past titles, keep the eye focused but ho-hum backgrounds and environments detract slightly. As a practical matter, this does not present any serious issues. Your attention, for example, will automatically zero in on anything hostile that moves. Perhaps as a nod to the framerate issues in past titles it actually looks like, visually Armored Core V is a small step back overall vs. AC4 and For Answer.
The single biggest issue with Armored Core V is the utter lack of any explanation as to how the various gameplay systems work. With the endless rows of numbers, the myriad array of systems, gameplay mechanics, Armored Core V manages to avoid providing anything but a lowest-common-denominator explanation of each. Being thrown in the deep end is nothing new when dealing with FROM Software; indeed, Dark Souls was nobody’s choice for “user friendly”. However, the bare bones explanations found here reeks of cut corners and sheer laziness.
Which is a shame because this is a really entertaining game. I want to give this game a great score, I really do. If a player is willing to do a bit of homework and is patient enough to figure out just what the hell all these parts and menus do, they’ll find an engrossing experience which will arrest their attention and suck them into a world they’ll not likely want to leave. However, the sheer opacity which FROM Software built into Armored Core V will most likely trim down the number of adherents to a game where there’s lots and lots to do but just has nobody around to tell them how to do any of it.
Wanderson75.net gives Armored Core V a 3.75/5.0
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