After taking a three year hiatus from the Armored Core series (and helplessly punishing players in the interim with its infamous Soul games) From Software has decided to return to its roots with Armored Core V. While veterans of the series have more than ever to chew on to get their mech fix, the barrier for newcomers unfortunately remains high as ever.
From Software’s knack for blurring the line between single player and multiplayer is evident in many of its games. Naturally then, the same was planned for Armored Core V; but it’s a feature implemented only somewhat successfully. When you first boot up the game, you’ll be tasked with either creating a new team or joining an existing one. After establishing an alliance with a group, all progress in your single player campaign and multiplayer battles contributes to your team’s overall rating. Rack up enough team points and you’ll be able to conquer territory online via the world map, which also provides a gateway into the somewhat repetitive story mode and the 80 or so side missions on offer.
If you’re hoping the single player campaign presents a narrative set to rival the likes of Mass Effect, then I’m afraid you’ve picked up the wrong game. Story missions have undoubtedly been shoehorned in favour of a deeper, more coherent multiplayer experience and boy, does it show. The ten missions repeat the same “Move from point A to B while obliterating everyone in the process” structure which grows old way too quickly. You’ll often find yourself grinding through the even more soulless ‘order’ side missions to simply earn enough cash to take your mech online, where the majority of Armored Core V lies.
In regards to the plot itself, from what I gathered, you’re a mech (appropriately called an AC) pilot of the ‘resistance’ in a near dystopian future, and that’s about where everything stops making sense. No really, it’s that confusing (think “The Architect” scene from the Matrix). With voice over dialogue being the only real vehicle to drive the narrative forward and the majority of the characters sounding similar, Armored Core V‘s story soon becomes a convoluted mess. Needless to say, you’ll quickly be skipping the cut scenes in order to jump right to the mech-on-mech dogfights.
Despite this, credit must be given to From Software’s ability to capture the feeling of piloting these giant behemoths. From the fancy (and often confusing) HUD, to the game’s movement and visual design, you can’t help but feel empowered as these weapons of mass destruction. Combat becomes fast & frantic (especially when going toe to toe with another tricked out AC), yet you still feel in total control when boosting around the battlefield, dodging enemy fire and chasing enemies down.
It wouldn’t be an Armored Core game though without customisation, and V delivers it in spades. The amount of configuration options on-hand is absolutely insane, often quite absorbing. Weapons, arms, head modules, boosters, lock on systems, leg configurations, generators plus a bucket load more can all be tweaked to cater for about any play style you can think of.
Prefer an all guns blazing approach to combat? Equip some tank-tread legs, along with twin battle riffles and a few H.E.A.T missiles you’ll be set. Want to take more stealthy approach, Solid Snake style? Yep, you can do that as well. While you’re not exactly choking other robots into submission, the mechs in AC V are a lot nimbler in comparison to previous installments. This allows for load-outs that are capable of more agile movements, like dashing in between buildings and alley ways. Nothing quite captures the feeling of setting off a few lock-on jammers, only to weave in and out of side streets to greet the enemy with a stealthy blade assault to the face.
The real action however, happens once you begin to take the battle online. The main multiplayer mode ‘Conquest’ drops teams into battle for territory located on the world map. Given the amount of mech configurations that are possible, these PvP matches can really get the blood pumping with the variety of roles team members can play. Assault AC’s firing rockets flying left right and center, support bots jamming lock-on signals, and sniper mechs taking vantage points upon skyscrapers all result in some truly fun and awe inspiring moments. The “Men of Honor” program also allows pilots to become mercenaries for hire, putting you on the open market to provide other teams with support.
While the notion of giant mechs blowing each other to oblivion as you fly across the battlefield at breakneck speeds can only but bring a smile to ones face, it does come with a handful of pitfalls. After a somewhat basic tutorial on how to pilot your mech, you are thrown to the sharks and left to fend for yourself as literally nothing from that point on is ever explained to the player.
Simple, yet crucial operations such as switching bay weapons and using workshops (which restock ammo and health midway through missions) are never explicitly described. Nor is there a tutorial on what the seemly endless wall of mech component statistics actually mean. All too often you’re expected to have prior knowledge of these aspects, which often results in a trial and error approach to succeeding. When you’re spending more time in the workshop grinding through stats than on the battlefield, you know there’s some form on miscommunication happening.
Although Armored Core V’s online features can be a blessing to its somewhat thin single player experience, it also transforms into the title’s Achilles heel. With the bulk of the game being reliant on an active community to keep the title fresh, servers are currently region locked, making the search for an online match seem like walking through a ghost town. Conquest battles become duels with Dark Soul-difficult NPCs, and the entire mercenary feature becomes non-existent. I had trouble for days locating a single player, let alone enough to go on a full on assault another teams territory; a shame given how much fun a proper PvP match can actually hold.
At a base level, Armored Core V checks all the right boxes to become a truly great mech title. Deep customisation, tight frantic combat and strong emphasis on your usual team based multiplayer modes are all accounted for. However its lack of direction to newcomers and its dependency on an active online community to really shine could potentially end up becoming its ultimate undoing.
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