Gamescom 2011: Armored Core V Preview - Hard to the Core!
Written Monday, August 29, 2011 By Lee AbrahamsView author's profile
If there is one thing that From Software is known for, it is a love for giant, stompy robots and their ability to seriously beat shit up. Most of the Armored Core franchise has revolved around single-player action, but this time around the developer wanted to focus a lot of care and attention on online action. What this basically means is that all of those fans of Chromehounds who shed a silent tear when the servers were shut down can rejoice, as it seems that there is a new sheriff in town. Assuming sheriffs had mech suits with missile launchers.
From Sotware wants to mix things up in terms of team design as well, so while you can have five players in battle at once only four of them will actually be engaging in combat. The fifth will take the role of the Operator, a role that is basically the team strategist. The Operator has a view of the entire map, as well as the location of allies, enemies and objectives. Their role is basically to co-ordinate the mission by setting waypoints for teams to follow, scouting out enemy abilities and relaying them to players and also matching up the strengths of the other players against opposing mechs. It's a clever idea, but with the amount of gung-ho players that treat every game like an FPS, it could be a rather unfashionable role. Though when used well by co-ordinated teams it could well prove the difference between victory and defeat.
In order to highlight the role, we joined forces with three other players to take on a map designed specifically by hardened Armored Core players who were currently beta testing the game in Japan. At the first screen the Operator has a chance to recommend a strategy and loadout for all players, and then we were thrust into battle. Our job was to take out a whole host of helicopters that were reinforcing the area ahead. Two players immediately made a dash for the tunnel system ahead, while our job was to sweep up the river and flank the enemy. The developer took the role of operator and dropped target markers in our path to highlight our route, with different colours for each of the two teams we had split into.
The game certainly looks pretty good, with wonderfully detailed mechs and lush scenery, plus the robots themselves are surprisingly spry and response. With the ability to dash, jump and hover they can traverse the battlefield with ease. The Operator dropped markers on our target and also called out the best positions to take up to avoid defensive return fire. One target down, and plenty to go and we really had a handle on the game now. As you would expect you can customise your weapons and equipment to your hearts content, and the weapons we had included the ubiquitous machine gun and a host of rockets. Both teams made steady progress through the objectives, while pummeling any opposition and generally avoiding any potentially deadly fields of fire. The advantage of having an operator was obvious, as they could swiftly exploit any weaknesses in the defense turrets and have the other players respond accordingly.
Unfortunately we ran out of time with only one target left, though at least we had the honour of being the only team with zero casualties in the three days that the presentation had been going on during Gamescom. In fact the map was specifically chosen to be pretty difficult, in order to demonstrate how maps could be tailored to fight off invading players in online battles. This is all tied into the new territory system for online play, which is what will have former Chromehounds addicts jumping for joy.
The online world will be made up of multiple territories, which teams can acquire and fight over with other players. However, players are obviously not available to defend their own maps at all hours of the day, so this is where a certain element of tower defence play comes to the fore. Players can basically fortify and customise their territory with a variety of equipment. Each map has a plethora of green and blue spots, which are defence points that the player can place any one of 70+ turrets on. Each turret has its own strength and field of fire, and the key is to create a map with as many overlapping fields of fire as possible to provide the sternest challenges possible to invading players. The number and type of weapons available on each map will vary depending on the rating of the map and its available power resources, so it isn’t possible just to drop a thousand rocket turrets on every available surface. The idea here is to make it so the same map can provide almost limitless possibilities and variation.
By mixing up the defense systems on each map you can make an attack as difficult as possible for opposing teams, but you can also create different strategies and templates should you want to defend the map in person. The example, shown had heavy defence systems set up on two of the three routes into a certain map. Obviously an Operator would therefore suggest players go down the unguarded route, but that is where you will be waiting with a team of heavily outfitted badasses. Then when it is time for some shut-eye, you can revert the defence grid to the more general coverage and hope that your turrets can do a damn fine job. However, losing a battle does not mean losing a territory straight away, as each map has its own AP gauge, the gauge decreases as teams successfully attack your map and when it hits zero you have a chance at a make or break Conquest Mission. This fight has a time limit on it, so if you don’t play the battle within a few days you will lose your map by default, though if you play the mission and win then your area will regain lost AP, plus a whole host of swag, and the crisis will be averted. Hurrah for defying evil invaders.
You can form your own clan/team of up to twenty players, though only five can participate in a battle at any one time. You can obviously split those twenty players across multiple missions and actions should you want to extend your reach as quickly as possible. Once you have territories in hand then it is time to defend them to the best of your ability, as well as building maps to suit your own personal play style. It is a clever idea and one that should broaden the games appeal to people who aren’t normally attracted to the genre, as there are a variety of playstyles available for players both online and offline. Plus, you are never forced to play as an Operator, fiddle with maps or anything else, so if you just want to smash enemies with a robot then you can.
When you couple this bumper new online offering with the regular single-player component as well as more general multiplayer modes, then you have a very appealing package. Of course the fear is that, just like in Chromehounds, a few well co-ordinated teams could quickly dominate a wide range of territories making it hard for newcomers to gain a foothold. Obviously the onus will be on teamwork and co-operation rather than gung-ho tactics, and even though you can play online solo it would seem to make very little sense to do so assuming you want a chance at success that is. Still we were certainly impressed with what was on show in Armored Core V, and if the territory mode takes off it could provide a great depth of additional play.
Prepare to strap into a giant robot suit of your own making when Armored Core V busts onto shelves in early 2012.