Armored Core: Verdict Day Review
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On 11/06/2013 at 12:00 PM by Travis Hawks
In the future, nobody can hear you compare weaponry stats.
Worth trying if you skipped Armored Core V and one of your favorite games is Excel.
Having largely been left off of the (very small) Armored Core bandwagon, I was surprised that with a little effort I got sucked completely in to the series’ complicated underpinnings when I reviewed Armored Core V over a year ago. From Software has expanded on its last entry and brought us Armored Core: Verdict Day, which corrects a few issues while adding an entirely new complicated system you can dig into. The problem is, this new system has definitely pushed past the series’ tenuous status as accessible by humans using a controller and there’s not enough other new stuff to differentiate it from its predecessor.
Revolutionizing what Armored Core V created wasn’t entirely necessary. The control scheme and capabilities of the mechs that you could tweak down to the smallest detail make for an engaging and rewarding experience for people who want to put in the necessary hours. All of that remains, and I enjoyed sliding back into the pilot’s seat and zipping around in my mech to battle through some story missions and online matches.
Whether online or offline, every encounter puts you in a relatively small landscape to hunt down and pound away at foes. To be successful, you'll need to line up the reticule to get a target lock and, when appropriate, think defensively by making good use of boosters to dodge incoming sniper fire. There are times when you have to swap between weapons in the heat of battle, and waiting for the gears to grind around and engage your secondary artillery makes for some tense moments – all part of the second-to-second strategizing and twitchy combat that makes a win feel like a real accomplishment. It’s clear that the physics and mechanics of these battles is where the developer really put their efforts, and sprinting around and blasting away make all of the time spent puttering in your mech workshop worthwhile.
After finding that the battles were still loads of fun, I was also happy to see that some of the issues with the online modes had been addressed – to a degree. The completely fictitious landmasses you were battling over online in Armored Core V are replaced with a map of our actual Earth – a small thing that actually made me care more about winning. The team you’re on also now must be aligned with one of three worldwide factions instead of only trying to control territories with your own team. This is a good move since taking over a segment of the map and then holding it for any length of time was pretty impossible without some sort of around-the-clock schedule that wasn’t going to be fun for anyone. Best of all, everyone is playing on the same server this time which eliminates the biggest gripe from last time. Now we’re playing right along with Asia, Australia, and Europe which helps to bolster the size of the community – which is desperately needed since it seems to already be waning.
All of those improvements are good, but there are still issues. There’s still an excess of waiting for missions to start, for people to finish tweaking mechs pre-mission, and then just waiting for no discernible reason. There’s also an abundance of messages about what’s been happening on the world map while you’ve been playing or while you’ve been away. These aren’t quick sentences across the screen, but lengthy dispatches that are extremely dry and normally in batches of five or more. I suppose it’s an attempt to keep you immersed, but it’s just boring. Staying involved in this game is going to depend on your team and the larger populace.
It didn’t take long in Armored Core V for players to stop logging on and the world to become dominated by the remaining few dedicated teams. With Verdict Day coming out right at the start of the busy season, the chances of people hanging around for long seem even slimmer. Once the already anemic community dries up, you might be left with just the single-player missions as your main source of entertainment and that probably won’t be enough.
It’s pretty tough to discern significant differences between this “campaign” of loosely connected missions and what was going on in Armored Core V. The overarching story fades in and out of prominence as you go and is poorly voiced and poorly written. Really, you’re just getting dropped into different landscapes to blow up enemies and other mechs. Some of the mission arrangements are more interesting than others, and they can be fun, but I definitely felt like I was replaying different maps over and over most of the time. Even that was hard to get excited about since the graphics still look like recycled assets from the early days of the console.
Maybe that’s enough for you to find ways to tweak and hone different loadouts and capabilities on your mechs and satisfy your anal-retentive side. This is, of course, after you take the time to figure out how all of the customization stuff works. Just like last time, the GUI takes some real adjustment. If you eventually figure out what’s going on, it’s pretty satisfying, but the lack of clear descriptions and instructions will require lots of experimentation.
Once you master how to buy and equip different components, Verdict Day allows you to customize a new system of A.I.-controlled mechs that can join your single player or online matches. There are some pre-made ones available, but you can also tweak the tactics and strategies used on your computer-controlled buddies using a system that completely overwhelmed and bored me. Maybe if this was the only system to futz with I would have stayed more motivated to learn what’s going on, but as it was, after several sessions of reading on-screen text and experimentation I decided I didn’t care. Keep in mind that I have written code and created intricate spreadsheets “for fun” on many occasions and I was put off by this system. I think, really, it’s too granular and allows too many choices for almost everyone out there. It’s a shame, really, since having A.I. partners can come in handy. Luckily, the provided units seemed useful enough and helped me out online and off.
I am really torn about how I feel about Verdict Day and the series in general. There’s so much here to like, and with the right team improving a few things, it could really be a top-notch product. Sadly, it never quite feels like it was refined as much as needed. The series is still lacking some much needed hand-holding in the early stages, and adding some scenery changes and low-level enemy variety would really alleviate the sensation that you are repeating missions over and over. There was, however, a valiant attempt to make Verdict Day more accessible and long-lasting by merging the worldwide servers and by creating a helpful web portal (which never worked for me). Unfortunately, without any sort of promotion from Namco-Bandai, with frequent server downtime, and without a product polished enough to spur word of mouth sales, Verdict Day isn’t the kick in the pants the series needs to move beyond barely gasping along on the fuel of its most dedicated fans.