Trouble in Team Silence

My brother got into a bit of a rant this morning about Armored Core V, and I honestly can’t blame him. I still love Armored Core, but I acknowledge there are numerous flaws. The past couple of weeks he’s been researching how the persistent online war is fought, since the English instruction manual’s about six pages. He was enthusiastic at first, but his discoveries have really worn that down to nothing. The game’s status quo is discouraging, and the lack of support for American players doesn’t help.

When I was getting psyched for the game before it released, I expected something like several corporations fighting for territory across a large continent, and players would join one of them. Players would form teams and clans within their chosen faction so they’d be able to fight alongside (or against) friends. People without teams would at least have allies from their chosen faction or hire themselves out as mercenaries. If one corporation conquered the map, the war would start over from scratch.

It didn’t go as I expected. There’s only one “The Corporation” in the campaign, the dictatorship over the “The City,” and “The Resistance” as the storyline factions. They don’t play a part in the persistent war. It’s just the player-made teams. I suppose it’s meant to represent the region descending into mech-sized gang wars after the City and Corporation get decapitated. If you’re a real social player with lots of AC friends, that’s probably fine, but I’m generally a quiet person on PSN. I might try a recruitment drive on some forums to see what might happen. If you’ve got a small team, you can fill in gaps with mercenaries, but you don’t get to talk to them with a headset. On one level, I can understand that it’s supposed to encourage team recruitment, but it makes it harder to offer a team slot to a mercenary who does well.

From Software’s been behind the times on multiplayer, and it shows in how they sorted out the territory missions. Normally, the way it works is you attack a territory with “start mission” and wear down the territory’s AP (armor points) by succeeding in invasion missions. If there’s no players defending it, you go against AI-controlled defenses. Which seem restricted to turrets. Otherwise, you fight human players. Once you wear down the AP to zero, you can go into Conquest to take it… if there’s a team defending it. If no one defends it (or, if you’re the defender, if no one attacks it) for 12 hours, it reverts to neutral territory and is defended by a team of four AI Men of Honor. All territories in a region are the same arena map. While I give credit for a higher level of detail in their environments than usual, couldn’t they add a little more overall variety?

One really big problem I have is that you don’t get to determine which territory you’re attacking, other than specifying a certain range for the territory value (higher value means you can place better defenses). It’s essentially quick matchmaking. There’s no personal element. You don’t even know whose territory you’re trying to conquer until the opening scene showing the other team’s ACs and emblems. It’s very impersonal and far too abstracted. The only way I can imagine you get to know your enemies is if you’re in one the region’s top teams and fighting to be the number one team who gets displayed on the world map. Little guys like me are stuck with facing random opponents, instead of getting in personal small-scale squabbles with a neighboring team.

I like a lot about the game’s basic engine and how you control your ACs. No indefinite flight means that terrain matters. The way reconnaissance works means that stealth might be possible, and I’d like to experiment with that. To me, that makes ACV an interesting new take on the fundamentals of the series. But for a game that’s supposed to be all about teamwork and tactics, there’s a lot that fails about it in my experience thus far. I’m going to look for new teammates and see if that can spice things up enough or lead to some kind of emergent fun I’ve been missing out on.

The campaign storyline is a cliche storm, but it has a better presentation than usual for AC, which isn’t exactly saying much. It’s a step up from AC4, where the final boss’s line “Well, I guess there really isn’t much to say,” was met with my reply of “Who are you, and why are you shooting at me?” (Spoiler: He’s Joshua O’Brien, an ally from an earlier mission, but I still don’t know why he destroyed Anatolia and shot at me.) At least in ACV, we get enough conversation from the guy to partially understand him and his ally’s motivations. And I got a couple chuckles from his sense of humor. I’ve still got to track down the secret Zodiac guys I missed in the main story missions, though, so I still haven’t seen the whole plot.

Free Battle was fun, especially with full teams and a good player in the commander’s seat. My brother’s heard rumblings that a fair number of players might give up the whole territory war and just free battle. I’ll probably play some more of that and see if I can recruit in the process.

So, to make it explicit, I intend to make Team Silence a group focused on experimenting with stealth hit-and-run tactics. I’d like to see just how big a difference a cohesive team strategy can make. If anything, I’d like to make a team that teaches others to value recon. I’d also like to enjoy some social aspects of playing with a large team.

As for a review of the game for non-players: It might be worth a rental to go through the story and order missions and see if you enjoy the mech customization. I’m not sure if it was worth buying yet, even as an AC fan, so that’s on shaky ground until Team Silence gets some momentum. If you think you might be interested in trying online play, get an early start on finding friends to join your team or finding a friendly existing team, otherwise you may end up with a boring grind like my brother experienced.

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