If Bloodborne is a straight-A student excelling at a difficult college, Armored Core is Bloodborne’s burnout gritty older brother who dropped out of high school to be an underground fisticuffs fighter. Car tax/porn at the bottom.
(Anyone mind giving this a crosspost to maybe some of the gaming sub blogs?)
I’ve followed From Software for 16 years now as a die-hard fan of the Armored Core series, and watched the company go from being Vector Motors to Tesla. Seeing praise and news for From Software, to me, is like seeing your town’s mayor run for president.
Armored Core is, really, the best gearhead game.... that doesn’t feature any cars.
There’s a few things about Armored Core that not only appeal to myself as a gearhead, but completely change the way you should view video games. A lot of the groundbreaking innovation in the Souls series comes straight from their work with AC.
1. It is a tinkerer/gearhead/statistician’s wet dream. In every Armored Core game, your mech is built from about 15 different categories of parts, the aggregate of which affect your overall stats. Each category has about 20-60 parts. Each part has about 5-30 stats, exclusive to that category. This means each player has to manage about 200-400 stats depending on which game you play. Every one of those stats matter. Hands down, there is no game more customization than Armored Core. Forza? HA. Elder Scrolls? Don’t make me laugh.
And that’s just the gameplay-affecting stats. You also have complete customization over appearance, coloring, formation of teams, map choices, and more. It’s staggering, truly. Probably the biggest reason it’s not a super-successful series is how hardcore you have to be to enjoy it. It makes Dark Souls look pedestrian. “Oh, you just die, figure it out, and keep going? Cute. It takes me months to figure out which stat is causing me to die so quickly, rectify it, change my game play, and then improve.”
2. It rewards the intelligent AND the hard working, but punishes those who are just one or the other. ALL of those crazy stats boil down to a few simple controls, just like a race car. You have guns, movement, and targeting inputs, throttle, brake, and streering. It’s a simulator in the hardcore sense, even if it’s simulating something completely fictional.
Like Gran Turismo or other racing sims, having the right tune and the right car can make even the most difficult races a breeze. Likewise, being an excellent driver means you can take slow cars around faster than your peers. However, if you aren’t a bit of both, you are heavily disadvantaged. Piloting an AC is a lot like driving a car, in that sense.
It puts to use all the skills of learning physics, with none of the previous knowledge of how physics works to get in the way.
It also isolates a lot of players who get turned off, especially ones who aren’t used to having to do math (gasp!) to win at a game where you should just be able to run and gun. The response to players who don’t ‘get’ the stats is similar to that of good Gran Turismo players who chastise newbies who refuse to tune their cars from default.
3. In all armored Core games, there is no leveling up. You get about 40-50% of everything you will ever use in the game within the first 30-60 minutes of gameplay. You get the rest after a few hours.
The problem is, it can take months, even years, of playing to really -understand- what most of the stats mean, when to use certain parts, and how. In that way, It’s far more realistic than any other difficulty system I have ever seen. You get it all, and your success depends on your ability to understand, practice, and utilize it, rather than simply build resources. This is a lot closer to overcoming challenges in real life than any video game I’ve seen yet.
Dark Souls is like taking a very, very, very hard test. Armored Core is like being asked to become a millionaire, using any means necessary, in under a year. It’s open-ended difficulty.
Learning to play is like learning to race in that way. When you start, you’re bumbling around and crashing into every wall. But once you get the hang of it, you can hop in any car and make it beautiful. And you never stop improving.
4. There is a high metagame and tight community. Story mode is, basically, a long tutorial for multiplayer so you don’t get crushed right away.
PvP can be insanely specialized. The game can be vastly more fun or more frustrating depending solely on who are in your friend’s list.
Like a good club racing group (or fight club) there’s a real hierarchy and archetype to the types of players you meet online. Most of them have been playing for a while and are particularly good at it. The lower levels are revolving doors based on who has the patience to break into the intermediate play where it starts picking up and being more fun.
Playing against other players is like seeing a Viper SRT race against a restomod Ferrari 512. Even though builds and styles are vastly different, all that matters is who wins, and strategies can be quite complex to achieve that given the limitations of certain part combinations.
Team play has been introduced in the latest generation, and has greatly helped improve the community. The multiplayer is console-based Peer to peer, so you can still play multiplayer on the older PS3 titles that have it.
It’s not surprising to see people on forums that have been talking about the game for 5, 10, and 15 years. Few series can grab and -hold- fans so well. The skills between the games translates well also, so your experience compounds with each new release.
5. With a few exceptions, every major enemy and player in the game is on the same level you are. Since there’s no leveling up and almost all the customization is usable in some capacity. This means that there are few exploitables or advantages to be gained overall, and you’re out in the woods on your own when it comes to predicting your next move.
Enemies do scale up slightly in their AI and builds as you go along the campaign, but when you enter multiplayer, there’s no “right” way to do anything, except for what works. You can get killed by a newbie as much as you can win against a master, depending on the circumstances of the encounter. Controlling those circumstances is how you become better.
And you only get about 30 seconds (out of 1-3 minute matches) to control those circumstances before you’re in it deep.
Some matches you might just be completely at a disadvantage because of small critical errors in your part choices, and in other matches, you might be outclassed due to sheer skill of the other player. It might seem relatively arbitrary but the depth is real. I’ve been playing Verdict Day for nearly two years now and I still don’t know everything about it, and get my ass handed to me regularly.
All in all, I’m just really hoping that the success of Bloodborne and Dark Souls 2 means that the team that worked on Armored Core Verdict Day is secretly working on the background on Armored Core 6, and we’ll see it announced soon as their next game. It’s been a developmental game series for me, and as both a gearhead and a mecha fan, it ticks a lot of boxes that I enjoy.
The other option is that, possibly, Miyazaki will pull himself on to AC6 and they’ll start development now. Either way, if From could give us a word or two between now and the end of the year, that would be really nice. Please?
And, as promised, your car porn. Let’s go with Dodges and Ferraris.