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Armored Core V Review

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On 04/07/2012 at 03:39 PM by Travis Hawks

A select few will go nuts for this game that most people will hate.

For lovers of spreadsheets and frenetic battles for world domination.

Armored Core V has its faults. Whether it's the limp story mode or the user-hating menu system, its design is sure to scare away most. However, gamers who love to decipher complex systems and are willing to invest the time will find an experience that's incredibly engaging.  Armored Core V doesn’t shy away from its inscrutable nature, which will drive the compulsive number-crunching freaks to get that much more obsessed with figuring it all out.  Throw in the blitzkrieg, large scale mech battles, and you have a mixture that appeals to a very specific type of gamer – and they are going to need a professional intervention to pull them away.

This highly specialized, highly addictive game has a unique format that has no real predecessor, offering a strange blend of story missions, side quests, and online play.  It’s all blurred together into a new sort of game with plenty to do. The game all but requires online play to participate, so you'd better have an Xbox Live account.

The game starts down its online-centric trail when you first start and are forced to join a team. You can start your own single-member “team” and keep everything to yourself, but that’s certainly missing the point.  From the get-go, you are allowed to play through the story or side missions with another member of your team.  If nobody else is online at the time, or you have no friends, you just hire a mercenary to tag along with you.  You’ll probably want a partner along on the story missions because they become extremely difficult if you complete them solo – there is no change in difficulty between single- and two-player playthroughs. 

The game’s narrative is a cobbled together mess of uninteresting motives to go and blow stuff up.  Each of the ten missions is fast paced and snappy, lasting only about ten to fifteen minutes apiece.  The action isn’t as speedy as the last couple of entries in the series, but will still get your heart thumping.  Using the boost is still a requirement, but  won’t keep you constantly airborne like before.  It’s possible to be a bit more tactical, too. Smaller mechs and more elaborate level designs allow for tactical and occasionally stealthy approaches to the missions and online play.  Making several jumps to the roof a skyscraper and then plummeting down as you unleash a barrage of gunfire on an unsuspecting opponent directly below is extremely satisfying.

The button layout is pretty intuitive and easy to master, a big shift from the awkward setup of Armored Core 4.  Blasting around maps is fun as you switch between your hefty arsenals. Any issues you might have with the way your AC is handling is most likely due to a problematic session in the workshop and not the fault of the game’s physics.

The default control setup has a lock-on targeting system that is completely necessary with opponents zooming in every direction to avoid you and line up their own shot.  Getting a target lock still requires skill and spot-on timing of the player, and that’s just to get a few shots to land – much less to destroy an opponent.  There’s a lot of practice and learning required to master the action filled portion of Armored Core V, no matter the amount of optimization done in the assembly room.

There’s also plenty of incentive to replay the missions, with parts to find for upgrading your AC, and other rewards for completing subquests.  Even though these missions lack a lot in the narrative department, charging around in your AC, locking onto targets, and turning them to scrap makes you forget about the canned evil laughter and ham fisted political posturing being spouted off in the cut-scenes. 

Outside of the story missions, there are “order missions,” which are essentially side quests that are either zippy one-on-one encounters against a single A.I. opponent or battles to cleanse areas of several smaller enemies.  They can be tackled at any time, with new ones becoming available as you progress.  The order missions are a great way to test out and increase the performance of your AC.  Additionally, successfully completing order and story missions garners cash for you and points for your team.  So, even when you are completing solo missions, you are still linked to your team.

You’ll want to help your team earn points, because it’s the only way to take full advantage of the persistent world map that really makes Armored Core V something special.  Team points can be put on the line to invade and conquer other teams’ territory – where a failed invasion will send your team scrambling to regain lost points.  Once some turf has been acquired, there are ways to customize the stationary defensive weapons that will remain on that piece of land should someone try to wrest it away from your team.  The more territory your team gains in an area places you higher on the leaderboard, and the top team gets their emblem splashed across the map for all to see. 

That initial forced enlistment into a team really feeds into the whole experience; it keeps you motivated to help each other out every time you play.  Oh, and you’ll want to get on a big team (ten or more members seems sufficient).  I languished for a time on a small one, but getting online at the same time wasn’t working out.  Luckily, during one of these lonely sessions I hired myself out as a mercenary and was asked to join a growing team.  Once our group hit a critical mass, there were always enough players online to go on team missions or pull-off and work some co-op order missions to help gain extra points.  Possibly more important than having a team for competing online, though, is the collaborative learning that the game requires.

I doubt that the opacity of the game’s mechanics was intentional, but so many of the elements of the game require team collaboration to decipher that it ends up strengthening the experience.  If you find some of the few message boards discussing the game online, you will see that theories abound regarding how different team battle mechanics work and how to best manage them.  I’m not just talking about strategies – I mean how the thing actually works.  What the menu options actually mean and where to go on the menus to do what you want are all discussed in forums and amongst teams with some pretty dedicated and experienced players.  Make no mistake – this is a flaw of the game, but in the end it actually adds to the appeal to the sort of player this game is made for.

You’ll also need your team to feed you good tips on AC builds and stats in the expansive customization options.  Even with good people giving you info from their own experiences in the mech editor, there is going to be lots of trial-and-error, lots of stat page studying, and lots of time spent fiddling in the workshop menus.  Each part of your mech has an effect on your defenses and offensive specialties, so getting the balance just right for a particular play style or mission takes real commitment. 

To add to the complexity, you orient the weapons you buy to focus on a capability like accuracy or rapid fire when you purchase them.  Once owned and installed, using a weapon will improve its performance in the direction you initialized it in.  So, you could have two of the same weapons that end up behaving in different ways.  I generally opted for emphasis on rapid-fire and power when buying new weapons, which is a good match for my generally haphazard aiming in shooters.  Currently, the Gatling guns deal the most satisfying damage (there is talk of this changing in a patch), but I also get a big kick out of lobbing H.E.A.T. Howitzer shells across the map.

This game is screaming for a Prima strategy guide, but there is none.  Without a guide available, you might try and head to the game manual, which has a laughable lack of any useful information.  There’s also no tutorial mode or mission.  Some menus are downright misleading, such as the fact that “Buy New Parts” allows you to purchase items that other players have sold (sounds like used parts to me!).  If you want to buy a new part, you head to the “Buy Parts” menu.  Perhaps a lot of this is a localization issue, but whatever the excuse, there is an egregious lack of specifics. 

If all of this frightens you, avoid this game.  If you like a challenge and enjoy deep and confusing systems (SaGa, perhaps?) then you are most likely the perfect customer.  The lightning fast battles, in-depth customization, inscrutable menus and options, and a never-before-seen stew of online play make Armored Core V an experience like nothing else.  The majority will be turned off by its requirement for a huge time and thought commitment.  Those that enjoy a puzzling batch of customization options, but also thrive in frenetic, short battles are going to fall in love with this title.  Since I fall in the latter camp, I am going to need all of you on the outside of Armored Core V to make sure I come out of this sometime soon.  Please… just not yet.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.




04/09/2012 at 04:20 PM

Great review Mr. Hawks. The mechs look pretty sweet. I like that the missions have some replayability. The complexity and confusing menus sound pretty frustrating but this seems like a game I might be able to grind out and enjoy similar to how you enjoy it. I knew this was an online centric game and I expected it to be pretty strong in those areas, but I've been more interested in the offline. So it is possible to play offline by hiring a merc teammate? Is the friendly merc programming pretty helpful or do they seem to detract from your experience at all?

Ever since you did the preview for the game I was most interested in the movement mechanics and the combat. I know you said this was suppose to be more slow paced than previous games in the series and the game was suppose to offer a little bit of strategy and stealth. Do you think the game delivered and gave you those kinds of options? I've been hoping that they managed some kind of balance between having heavy mechanical robots with punch, yet be agile enough and maneuverable enough to avoid being a slow moving fish-in-a-barrel. I want a mech to be heavy, mean, and not cartoonish, but I also don't want to be a slow moving bullet sponge.

Travis Hawks Senior Editor

04/09/2012 at 09:28 PM

Thanks, Mr. 117.  If you are going to be playing strictly offline, I think you are stuck doing the missions solo.  The mercenary system is another online element that some people eat up and others don't even touch.  Hiring a fellow human out for space bucks can be pretty helpful on some levels in the missions, but you can also hire mercs for all of the competitive modes as well.  It's really pretty cool, but you are out of luck if you stay offline.

Like I said in my review, some of the missions get pretty tough on your own, but I think you can tackle them with the proper approach.  Doing some of the easier order missions if you get stuck on the story will allow you to earn some cash.  Then you can upgrade your mech enough to make the level a bit easier for you.  Customizing and upgrading is key!

I think they pretty much nailed the balance of hulking and speedy mechs.  I felt like I wanted them to be really weighty and stuck on the ground when I started, but after playing this in-between style, I think it's best.  You can leave your boost off and stomp around slowly if you want - but it will probably just get you killed.  

Let us know if you pick up the game and what you think - especially if you do it all offline!

Julian Titus Senior Editor

04/09/2012 at 10:57 PM

I loved the first Armored Core and Project Phantasma. I keep wanting to jump back in, but it seems like the games are getting more and more complicated. The emphasis on online play is a deal breaker for me.

I just want to make an Optimus Prime mech and blow stuff up. Is that too much to ask?? :P

Travis Hawks Senior Editor

04/10/2012 at 06:18 AM

I am not normally a huge online player either, but this game just hit me right.  If nothing else, you should try it out once it's in the bargain bin and build that Optimus Prime.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

04/10/2012 at 10:48 AM

This game just looks cool. I really want to like it, but it sounds way too complex.  I'm gonna go on the advice you gave Julian and bargain bin hunt for it later.

Travis Hawks Senior Editor

04/10/2012 at 09:58 PM

In an attempt to be helpful, Namco Bandai has posted some FAQs about the game on their site.  It's pretty clear that From Software holds the Rosetta Stone to this thing and are only dribbling it out to the U.S. branch of Namco Bandai.  

If you are completely stuck or confused, check these answers out and see if they are helpful:,1

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