Playing Armored Core V, the latest in From Software’s cultish series of rock ‘em, sock ‘em giant AC (mecha) simulators, was something of an emotional journey. After the dust cleared, our therapist (a former Nintendo gameplay counselor, now in private practice) helped us identify four distinct phases: confusion, excitement, disillusionment, and acceptance.
Series veterans will mostly sidestep that first one, but a little confusion is pretty much inevitable for everyone. Armored Core V is a complex game that introduces some refreshingly original ideas, but its so-called instruction manual is all of six pages (12 if you count the French section). Some of the confusion is due to complexity, but a lot of it just stems from suboptimal interface design.
The clunky AC-customizing UI is adequate, but early on we spent a good three hours in the in-game store just paging through dozens of screens full of five-digit numbers trying to ascertain which parts would best suit our initial AC-building needs. Not gonna lie: At a few points, eyes did glaze over. It felt like a small victory when we finally settled on which generator to buy, not to mention which legs or head or arms or rifles or targeting system.
AC5’s main really cool yet poorly documented idea is its approach to online play. It does away with the usual separation between online and off, so if your console is plugged into the net, you’ll always be online in AC5. You can take on the 10 story and 70+ side missions by yourself or with members of your online team, and either choice will earn experience points for the team. Leveling up your team unlocks new parts in the store and lets you try to wrest areas of the world map away from other teams in Conquest mode, which you’ll then add to your growing territory to defend from similar player-led incursions.
This Conquest mode is intriguing, a direct evolution of the territory capture in From’s early yet warmly remembered 360 mecha game Chromehounds. It’s just kind of unorthodox and strange, and without decent documentation you’ll have to fake it till you make it before you understand everything. Truth be told, we’re still unclear on some of Conquest mode’s specifics.
In any case, once past the hump we hit phase two: excitement. Possibilities felt endless. We redoubled our efforts to level up both our team (a ragtag crew of fellow game journos, called Sign of Zeta) and our mech (a bipedal green gatling-gun affair known as Vile Breakfast) in order to take the post-apocalyptic world of AC5 by storm. Soon we had enough cash (and shop items unlocked) to put together Vile Breakfast Mk.2, and thus entered what we expected to be the game’s primary gameplay/pleasure feedback loop.