Game Rant’s Brian Sipple reviews Armored Core V
Past and present are intertwined in Armored Core V. While the last main installment in the mech combat franchise – Armored Core 4 – was an attempt to reboot the series in the current generation with a more user-accessible facade, the game debuted to staid, if not scant reviews.
But that was five years ago. A lot of gaming has gone by since then, and developer From Software (fresh off a bona fide hit in Dark Souls) and publisher Namco Bandai are back with Armored Core V to reclaim the traditional roots of the 15-year old series – roots that haven’t always been popular with its skeptical but sturdy fan base.
Unfortunately, while the throwback changes pay dividends for minor aspects of the game, this metal mashing combat sim doesn’t last long before the edges start to rust and the scrapyard comes calling.
After a brief tutorial that, more than anything, tutors on how stale the solo experience of Armored Core V can be, From Software erases all doubt about their multiplayer inclinations by throwing gamers head first into AC V’s team-based menu interface. Players can join a team with up to 20 members – or create one from scratch with a unique name, emblems, colors, etc. The game then operates out of the team’s hub (also a chat room) which acts as the staging point for missions, conquests, and tracking the real time leaderboard stats of teams around the world. An abundance of team trading options exist for money, parts, or entire mech builds (referred to as “AC’s”) that provide a great way for team members to build off each other’s successful endeavors.
It’s here in the camaraderie and companionship of organized teams where the majority of AC V’s value is truly derived; unfortunately, the missions themselves prove to be nonstarters for any budding esprit de corps.
The bulk of the mission structure is centered on primary story chapters, where players can ship out with a teammate or recruit a “mercenary” from another team. The “story” title is quite the misnomer however. AC V tries to tell the tale of mech factions competing for world power, but almost none of it is resonant (or for that matter, decipherable) thanks to the absence of exposition, and ensuing hours of confusing cutscenes and awkward dialogue. Even worse: story missions can drag on in excess of an hour, meandering through obfuscating objectives and painstaking respawn checkpoints that only allow for limited weapons tweaking along the way. Earning Team Points to unlock more missions and gear is the only main incentive for sticking it out in story mode – and it definitely won’t satiate the casual fan.
Order missions, on the other hand, are absent of any storytelling elements; and it’s a testament to the painful presentation that this feels like an act of mercy. More quick-and-dirty than main campaign quests, order missions are all about the points and money (Unfortunately, there’s no loot.) Varying between orders such as search and destroy missions or head-to-head AC duels, most last a mere five minutes. It’s a fast way to acquire assets. And for better or worse, it dilutes the story missions’ arduous pace.
One of Armored Core V’s new alternate modes does offer a slight reprieve from the underwhelming missions.
The Conquest mode is a great utilization of the clan-based multiplayer setup. Teams fight for territory control over various sectors of the map, and up to five members can ship out at once (the fifth provides overwatch support, employing the map to plot key points of interest to a teammate’s HUD). Conquering turf or defending your own – all the while gambling with Team Points – is a rewarding experience that will keep things lively for the teams committed to the long haul. It would be nice to see a better approach at organizing NPC matches when users aren’t around to defend themselves. Attacking NPCs subjects players to random allotments of bots with indiscernible skill levels – leaving Team Points to hang precariously in an unnecessary balance.
For all the time spent in the field of battle, an equal amount – if not greater – is spent under the hood, grinding away on AC customization.
There’s a strong case to be made that customizing every follicle and fiber of a human character is one of the more endearing qualities in a deep RPG or MMO experience. For the greasy nuts and bolts of a mech, AC V doesn’t make the feeling mutual. It delves deeply – and very often, nonsensically – into an overwhelmingly complex interface of weapon and armor builds, testing, and part purchasing. Normally a plethora of choice is nothing to look down upon, but each facet of customization is so spread out, so diluted in complex statistics and measurements, and barely explained at all by the game itself. There’s arguably more time to be spent mastering the basics of constructing an AC than playing through the story campaign – the latter of which runs at least 10 hours.
Missions aside, the drudging customization process might have been a necessary evil had AC V rewarded gamers with entertaining combat. But again, it falls flat. Environments, though varied, are visually outdated by a half-decade. The ability to plow over cars or boost through the occasional barricade can feel empowering, but most of the scenery is completely non-destructible. This lends to a constraining sense of linearity for the supposedly titanic AC’s – one that protrudes even further when players encounter the nearly unavoidable volleys of missiles, tank shells, plasma beams and more fired by enemies. Sure, it’s possible to manipulate weapon and armor loadouts to adjust each AC’s weight – but agility is rendered obsolete for the most part: the most viable strategy is to bulk up on weapons and armor; and while this can lead to some riotous action in a vacuum of circumstances, repetitious enemy encounters and strategies ensure that it doesn’t last.
There’s something to be said for the concept of Armored Core V. Even though From Software’s design structure will practically force players’ hands into multiplayer roles, it serves to highlight the best of what the game has to offer – a clan-based, omnipresent competition where multiplayer battle creates its own narratives. None of it, though, atones for dated graphics; tedious, ultra-repetitive gameplay; poorly designed missions; and a disorienting C-movie story that only pales in perplexity to a muddied and way-too-technical-for-its-own-good mech customization interface.
The game is welcoming for hardcore veterans, who will enjoy the new dimension of interactivity. However, it’s utterly stonewalling for anyone else, who will merely see a convoluted and messy title that fails to push the franchise forward in any way.
Armored Core V is now available for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Game Rant played the Xbox 360 version for the review.
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