Armored Core V is a good looking mech game with tons of action, a robust online mode and so much customization that you can spend more time creating than actually fighting. It's full of good ideas that you don't normally see in a console game like this, as well as a diverse set of missions to complete. There's just one problem: This fifth Armored Core is completely impenetrable.
From the nonsensical storyline to the completely busted user interface, Armored Core V feels like it was designed to keep all but the most hardcore fans far, far away. That's a shame, because deep down there's a surprisingly fun mech game here with tons of original ideas and creative level designs.
In a lot of ways Armored Core V is a lot like From Software's last game, Dark Souls
. The developers just throw you into a world (or, in this case, a world map) and hope you'll be intrigued enough to figure out what to do. Even getting into a basic level isn't as clear as it could have been, leading to some very confusing moments early in the game. But after some struggling, I was able to come to grips and actually have a reasonable amount of fun playing this mech shooter.
While past installments have involved a lot of single-player action, Armored Core V makes a big push for online connectivity. In fact, many of the modes in this game would neatly fit under the "Massively Multiplayer Online" banner. Thankfully it doesn't require a monthly fee (unless you count the Xbox Live subscription). Fans looking for a primarily solo experience may not see what the big deal is, but there's a lot to love about the game's social elements.
Right from the get-go you're told to either create your own team or join somebody else's. The idea is that everything you do adds points to your team, impacting Armored Core V's bigger picture. Sadly, all this isn't very clear from the start. The game isn't interested in simply dropping you into a level to play around, it wants you to go through the work of joining, designing and customizing before you even begin to learn what the left and right triggers do.
Thankfully the gameplay itself isn't nearly as difficult as the menu system. Once in a game it turns into your basic slow-moving mech experience. You lumber around large cities, warzones and industrial areas looking for other mechs, picking up items and locating checkpoints. Because the game is so customizable, each level can be tackled in any number of ways. You can load your machine up with the most powerful weapons and play it as an all-out action game, or use a smaller machine to hide in alleyways stealthily looking for bad guys to decommission. The game makes knowing where everybody is even easier thanks to recon darts and your mech's scan mode.
The game is constantly pushing a lot of information at you, something that can be a little overwhelming at first. Although simplified, the heads-up display can be a little confusing and you'll spend a long time reading about all of the parts before you decide to commit to any purchases. This is a game that rewards players for sticking around and fighting to overcome the steep learning curve. A lot of the early game frustration can be eased by teaming up with the right team. This is the kind of game that almost requires a more experienced player to guide newbies through the labyrinth of crazy gameplay decision.
Sadly, if you don't have somebody to point you in the right direction, Armored Core V can be an absolute nightmare. The game is simply impenetrable, purposely keeping all of the most vital information as vague as possible. The game barely tells you what the controls are, let alone what anything in the customization store does. I spent hours trying to decipher the cryptic wording, which ended in a lot of trial and error. I'm glad I stuck with it long enough to figure out what I was doing, but it's a shame that every element of this game is so inaccessible.
Instead of watching a linear story play out, the game defaults on a large world map. Here you'll uncover the main story missions, as well as the countless side tasks you can take on for more money. Unfortunately, because the main story missions are so difficult, you'll spend a lot of your time replaying the relatively easy side tasks grinding for money. To its credit, Armored Core V does start out relatively easy, but it doesn't take long for the story missions to spiral out of hand.
It's clear that these missions are designed for co-op play. All of the missions allow at least two-players to work together, with many other levels allowing for more. The large, wide-open environments are also built for co-op play. The roughly one hundred missions can be tackled by yourself, but the game really shines when you bring a group of friends together. There are going to be a lot of social mech fans that embrace Armored Core V as one of the greatest games of all time, while the less friendly solo players struggle to make heads or tails of this baffling experience.
I was impressed with some of the ideas at play in Armored Core V's online modes. For example, the game allows a player to see the full map and call out where each enemy is. Another mode has you actually winning back pieces of the map, making the persistent world that much more impressive. Capturing (or successfully defending) is one of the most satisfying moments I've had in a game all year, it's a shame that it's wrapped around so much repetition.
Beyond the insane learning curve, Armored Core V does have a few other problems that grate on my nerves. The game's story is completely ludicrous, to the point of being stupid. Characters bicker back and forth over the pettiest of concerns, as if this was a schoolyard fight and not a life or death struggle with destructive mechs. I find the name calling and immature rationales hard to comprehend when buildings are being toppled and families are being displaced (or outright killed).
I was also underwhelmed with the visual presentation. As you would expect, the actual mechs look incredible. However, the backgrounds aren't always the most interesting part of the experience. Many of the stages look dirty, while others are simply bland and unappealing. In the heat of battle you'll hardly have enough time to notice the repeating textures and muddy visuals, but they're hard to miss once the fighting stops. For what it's worth, the less interesting backgrounds do help keep the game from slowing down or hitching up in the eight-player battles.
It's a shame From Software wasn't able to piece together more varied mission types. Too many levels play out exactly the same way, which is even more noticeable as you spend most of your time grinding for money. There are definitely some good ideas in Armored Core V, but the mission structure leaves a lot to be desired.
Armored Core V is the type of game that gets better after dozens of hours of play. Unfortunately, I suspect the bafflingly vague instructions will keep a lot of players from seeing the game's best moments. If you can get over the learning curve and enjoy mainly playing online, then this is a deep and involving mech game worth playing. If you haven't already been won over by mech simulators, then this won't be the one that changes your mind.
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