Developed by FROM Software, Armored Core V is the latest entry in this venerable 15 year-old mech combat franchise. How does it hold up against previous titles in the series and the increasingly crowded multiplayer landscape? Pretty damn well, actually.
For those of you out there who don’t know an AC from a Gundam, Armored Core is third-person mech combat game with an extreme emphasis on customization. Throughout the course of the game you’ll buy and earn a massive assortment of 500+ parts that’ll allow you to customize your mech to your heart’s content. These parts include head units, arms, legs, cores, generators, FCS (targeting computer), boosters, shoulder and handheld weapons. It’s important to note that none of these parts are merely cosmetic upgrades and that all of them have their own unique advantages and disadvantages.
For example, the various types of legs all offer different trade-offs between payload carrying capacity, energy drain, turning speed, overall weight and armor, but they also have far greater effects. Biped legs are the best all around and feature knee shields that unfold for extra protection when using large scoped weapons like sniper cannons. Reverse joint legs allow you to make huge jumps into the air that are far and above those performed by any other leg class, allowing you to easily wall jump up buildings for a height advantage. Quad legs deploy anchor spikes that allow you to fire scoped weapons faster and with more accuracy than any other class. Last but not least are the tank treads, a type of leg unit that offers an incredible amount of armor and enables you to fire scoped weapons from the standard third person view, essentially making it possible to use the biggest and most devastating weapons as if they were mere sidearms. As you can see, if I even started to go into all the parts on offer, their specific resistances and the numerous weapon classes that range from massive howitzers to mech sized handguns and laser blades, I could take up the entire review with nothing else.
The gameplay itself is solid and fun, but the controls do have a bit of a learning curve that aren’t exactly helped along by a pretty bad default control scheme. Thankfully ACV has fully customizable controls, a testing ground with an assortment of enemies to chose from and a small handful of tutorial missions to ease the experience. Most players should soon find themselves wall-jumping up office buildings, smashing through construction equipment and shotgunning helicopters out of the sky in no time. The sound is good with tons of different weapon sounds and all the mech stomping noises you could want, along with a pretty cool original soundtrack. The only graphical issue I ran into was the frequent frame rate problems that seem to pop up when a lot of explosions and particle effects were going on at once, and the rainy missions tended to have more issues than the rest, but otherwise the graphics are pretty serviceable and create a nice atmosphere.
With 10 central story missions and 80+ order missions, ACV does feature a pretty lengthy amount of singleplayer content for your consumption. Sadly, most of these are an extremely mixed bag. Each story mission will have you tackling a variety of objectives, cannon fodder, tough enemy mech pilots and the occasional massive boss enemy. These missions will take you anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes each to complete, depending on the mission’s difficulty and your skills. The order missions on the other hand normally only take 5 minutes to complete at their most lengthy and are little more than filler, typically tasking you with the destruction of a small group of generic enemies within a time limit. All of these missions can be tackled in flawless 2 player online co-op, which can definitely help you get past some of the more difficult missions. However, no matter what type of mission you’re on you’ll be listening to the bickering dialogue of numerous NPC teammates and enemies, most of which fluctuates between passable and god awful.
FROM Software has long had a reputation for its special brand of “less is more” storytelling, but it’s here in Armored Core V’s narrative that we find perhaps its greatest failing and missed opportunity. ACV’s setting is a post-apocalyptic world still reeling from the utter devastation wreaked upon the world by war and ecological disasters. The surface is so heavily polluted with some nameless contamination that entire swaths of land are utterly uninhabitable and the majority of human beings now live underground in dilapidated shanty towns. No form of government appears to have survived the catastrophe, and the only functioning city we witness is ruled by an incredibly powerful Corporation run by a tyrannical and and mysterious leader known only as “Father”. Over a period of decades or possibly even centuries, human beings continue to go further and further below ground to seek shelter from the wasteland above and, in this process, begin to unearth Armored Cores. It’s heavily hinted at that this mech technology has been lost for quite some time and that it was most likely used in the very war that ended with the destructi0n of most life on the surface. With very little in the way of prospects below ground, small groups of human beings learn to use the technology and become known as migrants, essentially a term for wandering mercenaries who work for various factions. In this world a group of migrants have turned themselves into a resistance movement against the corporation and seek to overthrow Father and his despotic rule over the fractured remains of humanity.
Scattered throughout this world are all manner of lost super weapons of incredible power and a very interesting subplot about the Zodiacs, a group of men and women who have given up their humanity to become powerful warriors. All of this sounds fantastic and interesting, which only makes it all the more sad that most of this backstory has to be pieced together through various developer interviews, the opening cinematic, and having an especially keen set of eyes and ears during the missions you’ll be playing. You’ll start the game as an enemy of the resistance and even directly take part in the murder a main character’s father, and yet despite the fact that you spend the rest of the game working closely together it’s never brought up again. Does she even know that you were partially responsible in the first place? It’s never answered. As it stands the story presented to the player is about as bare bones as you can get, and does a simply awful job of creating anything out of an interesting setting that’s otherwise very well done.
Thankfully, as we’re about to get to, Armored Core V’s singleplayer is not the core focus of the game.
The first thing you’ll probably notice when you pop the disc in (if you have an active internet connection) is that almost immediately upon hitting the main menu for the first time, ACV will prompt you to join an online team or create one of your own. All teams are user created and there are a ton of options that allow leaders and team members to customize their specific team experience with everything from unique team emblems, matching mech paint schemes, custom messages that are displayed to friend and foe every time you sortie, and even if your team has a focus on casual or professional play. Those without a group of friends to accompany them need not worry, as numerous teams are always looking for new recruits and the community thus far has proven to be exceptionally mature and helpful.
This brings us to ACV’s persistent online world and the ways in which you and your team will interact with it. The world map is split into different territories, each of which represent a designated multiplayer map. Teams launch attacks on these territories, either against AI defenses and Armored Cores or against real individuals defending that territory, all in order to stake their own claim and grab the land for themselves. Maps range from abandoned cities with tons of buildings for cover, frozen canyons, sprawling deserts, marine factory platforms and other large and varied industrial environments. Teams can even customize captured territory by buying and placing their own defenses for a custom layout, something which adds a lot of unpredictability to invasions. Matches can be launched with as many as 5 vs 5 players, with each side having 4 mech pilots and 1 person in the operator seat. The operator is given an overhead strategic view of the map and can scan the battlefield for threats and mark dangerous enemies all while coordinating the team. It’s a wonderful addition to the game and a good operator can really make or break a decisive territory conquest match.
All of these features create an extremely interesting dynamic that, combined with the natural comraderie that forms within a team, becomes downright addictive. In the process of my time with the title I’ve regularly spent sleepless nights with my online compatriots, forming friendships and rivalries in equal measure. It also helps that the voice chat manages to hold up extremely well even with 20 people talking back and forth, and that it supports pop-up text messages for those who don’t have or wont use mics, allowing everyone to still communicate and contribute. It’s also wonderful that the game itself directly supports the ability to send custom emblems, paint schemes, mech schematics, money, parts and even battle reports (essentially top down recordings of a mission) with anyone in your team. The sheer amount of options and functionality handed to the player is simply astounding, and try worth applauding in a multiplayer market where matching clan tags is about as deep as you can get into the team experience. Of course, if team work isn’t your thing you can always sell your services to others as a mercenary or compete in duels and battle royales outside of the overarching territory mode.
All in all, Armored Core V is an extremely interesting title that, while still a sequel in its own franchise, is also an obvious spiritual successor to cult classic Chromehounds. If you’re looking for a deep single player experience and story, Armored Core V is unlikely to satisfy your needs. If however you’re searching for a multiplayer game that engenders true online camaraderie and teamwork all while allowing you to play to your personal strengths, then look no further than Armored Core V.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some territory to conquer.
For more information on how we review games check out our criteria here. A copy of this game was provided to The Paranoid Gamer by the publisher for review purposes. If you have any questions about this title the reviewer will be able to answer them in the comment section.