The moment a new Armored Core game is announced, you can be almost certain there will be at least one expansion pack before there's a full-fledged sequel. Consider the original game's arena-based expansion and the five Armored Core 3 expansions. As such, Armored Core Verdict Day is not much of a surprise to Armored Core faithful. Verdict Day is a direct sequel to Armored Core V, but perhaps "sequel" isn't the right word. Verdict Day is more of an expansion pack. The core mechanics and basic gameplay are almost untouched, and most of the updates are under-the-hood changes or additional items and equipment.
Verdict Day lets you import your save file from Armored Core V, and that seems to be what the game expects. It's a continuation of AC5. While starting fresh begins you with a giant robot, the game seems to assume that you'll be hopping into the 60-plus new missions with an existing robot that's been tried and tested on the battlefields. As with the previous title, the plot is fairly thin and borders on incoherent. There's corporate competition and ancient technology, but I'd be hard-pressed to name characters and explain events. There are several story points that only make sense if you're a die-hard Armored Core fan who can recognize obscure robots and even more obscure terminology.
The selling point of Armored Core has never been the story. It's been about building and customizing giant robots to burn through the plot. AC5 offers a batch of new parts and equipment for longtime fans to further customize their robots. There are additional weapons, including the return of weapon arms, which allow you to sacrifice some defense and customization for lighter weight and greater mobility or shields. A lot of this is only meaningful to players who put a lot of time into AC5, but it still adds some extra value to the game. There are hundreds of ways to customize your AC, and most are mechanically viable. You can bombard enemies from a distance or get up close and cut them to pieces with laser swords. There's some rock-paper-scissors-like mechanics with different defensive armors and different kinds of weaponry, but in the end, it comes down to piloting skill as much as equipment building.
One of the cooler new customization features is the Unmanned Armored Cores, also known as UNACs. Based on the systems found in Armored Core: Formula Front, UNACs are AI allies that the player can customize by using special chips to set attack and defense patterns. These UNACs can then be used in place of human allies. They're no replacement for an actual guy behind the controls, but they can fill in gaps reasonably well. They also add a fun extra layer of customization for players who are interested. They also add some weight to the multiplayer by filling in for human players when they're unavailable.
Verdict Day's difficulty curve is slightly schizophrenic. Hop in with a new robot, and you'll feel behind the curve for a good portion of the game. Hop in with a tried-and-true AC, and you'll probably walk over everything prior to the Hardcore missions, which are clearly for the Armored Core faithful. Hardcore missions task you with finishing the game again under insanely strenuous conditions, including limited lives, limited equipment, and no grinding. As far as single-player gameplay goes, Hardcore missions seem to be the major selling point of the game. They probably represent the single greatest set of challenges an Armored Core player will ever face, and they are the ultimate test of skill in single-player combat. They might even outrank the infamous Dark Souls as the most punishing and difficult things From Software has done. However, they're also less fun than Dark Souls, as they rely heavily on massive handicaps and unfair situations instead of great level design. They're still fun, especially for Armored Core veterans. To be honest, they may only be fun for Armored Core veterans.
AC5 was heavily built around its multiplayer mode, and Verdict Day doesn't really alter that. If you played AC5, you'll know that finding people online was a hassle since the online mode was initially crippled. You rarely fight human opponents, and figuring out how to capture enemy bases was more trouble than it was worth. Verdict Day makes some tweaks in this regard. The community is more open and varied, and you're now tied to a faction that keeps the fights coming quickly. The UNAC feature also increases the number of active units on the field, if not the number of players. In the end, the title still suffers from many of the same problems as AC5, including an online community comprised almost entirely of hardcore players. If you're one of those dedicated players, you probably already have the game. If you're not, then it can be incredibly daunting to jump in and play.
Unfortunately, Verdict Day's visuals haven't changed much from the original game. The cores look great, but everything around them is low-effort. Boring environments, anemic explosions, and some slowdown during hectic moments are all problems retained from the original game. After seeing games like Dark Souls II, I know that From Software can do better, and it's disappointing to see Verdict Day seemingly unchanged from its predecessor. Fortunately, the game still sounds great, although the voice acting is as low-budget and low-effort as ever. The sounds of combat are intense and exciting, which is why it's frustrating that it takes place in such boring environments.
Armored Core: Verdict Day is exactly what you'd expect from a half-sequel/half-expansion pack: It offers more of the same and not a lot else. There are mechanical fixes and cleanups, and the expansion pack has somewhat revived the quickly fading online community, but in the end, it's more Armored Core V. If you enjoyed the previous game, you'll enjoy this one. Perhaps most critically, you should play the previous game before you play Verdict Day because it's clearly designed with the assumption that you had. Verdict Day is only for the hardcore. Even if you're a giant robot fan, you'd be better starting with Armored Core V.
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