Armored Core V, the 14th U.S. installment in the long-running third-person mech-combat series by developer From Software is a decent, if not deep game. Occasionally, it’s even fun. With fantastic visuals, solid controls, a ton of customization and robust multiplayer options, both competitively and cooperatively, Armored Core V has a factory of great ideas and a ton of interesting content. Unfortunately, ambiguous gameplay systems, a nonsensical story, extremely imbalanced competitive multiplayer and five-story mechs that feel less powerful than an infantryman in Battlefield 3 all work together to ensure that Armored Core V is a game that never measures up to the sum of its parts.
Taking place in a dystopian future where floating blimps with electrical billboards litter the skylines and Father (think Big Brother from 1984) is always watching, ACV’s story could’ve been pretty unique. Instead, the oppressive angle of Father (the government) and how the citizens are treated is never explored. You play as a faceless, mute pilot of an AC or Armored Core, which are the names of the humanoid mechs of destruction the series is known for. Part of the struggling Resistance, you and an army of others are working to end Father’s rule — that’s really all the story there is, and it’s about as eloquently told. The game does such a poor job of giving context for the action that I scarcely knew which side of the conflict I was fighting on for the first several missions.
With a cast of three extremely forgettable, faceless characters, the game tries and fails to give your always-present squad mates distinguishable or well-rounded personalities. You never come close to caring about them and the b-movie dialogue doesn’t help.
The issues with singleplayer in ACV don’t stop there, however, with the gameplay in the 10 story and 70 order missions being insanely simple and often dull. With the proper set-ups, your AC can tear through just about any AI enemy the game can offer, whether it’s a tank not even a quarter the size of your mech or a skyscraper boss robot that looks like it could single-handedly carry out the apocalypse. The only real challenges come from the enemy ACs that you’ll encounter. They are matched with the player in armor, firepower and maneuverability… sometimes. The point is, you should be excited when you see one, because other than the optional mission objectives that net you extra money, they’re about all the challenge you’ll get out of ACV’s single-player endeavors.
The best thing about Armored Core V isn’t the gameplay, it’s the customization. If you’ve ever played an Armored Core game before, you’ll know what to expect in terms of the hundreds of thousands of different combinations that you can make by building your ACs with various parts. Each AC is composed of a core, legs, arms, head, generator, boosters, FCS (lock-on modules), and recon units, which are used to scan an area for enemies, they’re a neat addition and have replaced a radar). Each also has five slots with which to carry weapons: the right and left arms, right and left shoulder bays (for carrying backup weapons) and a shoulder-mounted weapon, like missiles or anti-missile auto guns. Within each of the AC body parts and weapon types are subtypes, all with uniquely tailored uses for a certain type of AC, (close range, quick assaults, prolonged battles, overwhelming firepower, long range, etc.). Finally, there are numerous choices within each subtype. And, there are ultimate weapons that are impractical but immensely powerful. Additionally, layers upon layers of paint jobs can be applied to every part of your AC, and custom and preset decals add even more to the equation. Suffice it to say, if you like customization and choice, Armored Core V has you in mind.
Unfortunately, for all the meticulous planning and hours you will spend in and out of the garage fine tuning your AC, the online battles, where the meat of ACV lies, are typically over in mere seconds. And instead of skill becoming a factor or even thoughtfully built ACs, more often than not, players are left to dice rolls in the hopes that someone doesn’t have a mech that is completely resistant to all of their weapon types or vice-versa. The game is built on a rock-paper-scissors combat model where it becomes near impossible to make a mech resistant to or powerful against all three damage types (chemical, physical, and electrical), so players are almost always left rather defenseless no matter what. This leads to frustrating battles when you’re on the unlucky end and steamrolling enemies when you’re lucky. On the issue of balance, don’t expect to compete with other players online until you have completed the campaign and your team level is high.
This brings me to the more interesting facets of ACV’s online. First off, co-op with two to sometimes four players can be done with all of ACV’s campaign mode and Order missions. What’s more unique is every single person that plays ACV with an internet connection technically will always be playing multiplayer, as the first thing the game has you do is join or make your own team. Every mission you complete or multiplayer match you win earns your team points, which help you level up your team. The higher your team’s level, the better parts you get access to buy. It’s a cool system that is pretty unique and it works rather well.
The biggest problem with ACV’s online is that there just aren’t enough people playing. If you try to go to matchmaking for ranked or public matches (an outdated system in and of itself), I often received a message saying that no games of that type were being played… and there’s only three modes: battle royal (team deathmatch), free for all, and a unique take on capture and hold where bases and emplacements can be established to defend conquered territory once a team conquests an area. Hosting options are very limited and there doesn’t appear to be any advantage to doing player matches except not being booted back to research for a game once the match is over. The matchmaking runs on an antique system and you will spend far more time waiting to get in a game then you will actually playing.
The game doesn’t tell you how to properly build a mech for different combat situations, and you only get one life per match, which means the game boils down to a lot a trial and error… more of the later though.
For all it’s faults, ACV would be worth the massive time investment if the gameplay were actually fun. Much to my dismay, it isn’t. While the mechs handle well enough after some practice and can shred enemy forces with ease, the ACs just never feel truly powerful. There’s a mix of reasons why. The weak mech and weapon sounds hurt the game a lot. The lack of vibration when your mech takes steps, uses powerful boosters to blast skyward or dodge gatling fire, or fires its own howitzers sink an already leaking ship.
ACV is a mixed bag. It’s only worth a buy for pretty hardcore mech fans. And, it’s only recommendable then because there really isn’t any competition in the mech combat genre by and large. It’s not a bad game, per say, but it’s far from good. Armored Core V offers a ton of options and content to players… but the best choice may simply be to leave this part in the shop until it’s discounted.