‘Armored Core: Verdict Day’ preview: Building a better bot with a little help from your imaginary friends

14.battle area

As discussed in our Dark Souls II preview, developer From Software pulled of a seemingly impossible feat in the modern game industry. It found success in making a series of games that are obtuse, difficult, and time consuming. No small task in an industry that’s become defined by big budget releases that dumb down mechanics so as to avoid alienating anyone that can’t cut the mustard. What’s strange though, is that while From Software’s Dark Souls team has stumbled upon the magic formula for drawing players into difficult titles, they haven’t been able to apply that formula to its other games.

Armored CoreArmored Core, From Software’s giant mech fighting war series, is entering its sixteenth year. Between spin-offs, mobile versions, sequels and expansions, Armored Core: Verdict Day will be the twentieth game in the series. Long before the advent of Dark Souls, the Armored Core games had a reputation for also being obtuse and difficult. Even controlling the game could be a little bizarre depending on the controller setup you used (as demonstrated by this old picture on Kotaku on the right from a preview for the last game, Armored Core V).

The games are filled with literal armies of customizable robot tanks for you to customize with an insane layer of customizability for weapons load outs and skills. But with under 500,000 sales worldwide for Armored Core V, you’d think From Software would be thinking of ways to re-imagine the series to try and bring in more players. It has, to a degree, but in the process it’s made the game more complicated.

Armored Core Verdict Day 1

In addition to new weapons like “Weapon Arms,” which transforms limbs into giant swords, Verdict Day’s big new feature is the UNAC system. Like Armored Core V, Verdict Day is about building teams of Core fighters and letting the game’s three warring factions duel it out. Each playthrough is a season, with Red, Blue, and Green teams fighting in skirmishes around the world until only one controls everything. The problem in V according to the producer, is that there weren’t enough people playing the actual game for people to form teams. The UNAC system is meant to be the remedy. Rather than forming a team of fighters with other actual players, you build an AI team.

This isn’t a simple task of picking your team from a stable of types and sending them out there. Verdict Day lets you completely customize the AI, going into exact detail in how you want your private army to behave, from actions to attitude. Once in the field, you give your teammates commands. The producer and designer of the game emphasized repeatedly in the demo about how an all AI team receiving commands from a player would be a ready match for a team of live players.

Armored Core Verdict Day 2

I took on the designer’s AI team. Rather than coming away impressed, I came away completely mystified, with no clear sense of what my one live teammate and three AI partners were doing in the field. The opponent AI, meanwhile, were cunning but no more so than the typical AI enemies you’d face in a regular single player game. How my human opponent the designer was adapting their behavior on the fly, was totally unknown and From Software wasn’t elaborating. These games are made for a very specific type of player, and anyone new to the series will need embrace the steep learning curve.

The Core was fun to steer though, and the game was attractive enough. If nothing else, after sixteen years, it’s impossible to mistake the steely militarism of From’s series. It has been just over year since Armored Core V was released, but Verdict Day is its own game and not an expansion. There are obvious connections though, and it feels like an attempt to try and salvage the work it did on V while finding a new way for fans to connect. (It even has the same giant “V” logo in the back of its menu screens.)

Verdict Day should excite fans of the series, but it may not do much to appeal to a new audience. If the goal is to further tailor the game to the hardcore fan base, this game should do that. And that’s a fair move for From Software, but it won’t ever see the same results that other games that share the same spiritual level of difficulty enjoy. But if you want a very difficult game with baffling controls and a flair for customization, keep an eye out for Verdict Day.

Product Review

Huawei’s monster Mate 20 X makes the Galaxy Note 9 look small

The Huawei Mate 20 X has a 7.2-inch screen, but is surprisingly manageable to hold, yet still a little too big to carry around. Huawei’s pushing the phone’s ability as a mobile gaming handheld, challenging the Nintendo Switch.

Here's where Xur is and what he has for wares this week in 'Destiny 2: Forsaken'

The weekly vendor in Destiny 2: Forsaken always brings Exotic weapons and armor, some of the toughest loot to find in the game. Here's everything you need to know to track down Xur: Where he is, when he shows up, and what he's stocking.

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.

These are the best Xbox One games out right now

More than four years into its lifespan, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From 'Cuphead' to 'Halo 5,' the best Xbox One games offer something for everyone.

The hottest Nintendo Switch games you can get right now

The Nintendo Switch's lineup started off small, but games have steadily released as the console continues through its second year. Here are the best Nintendo Switch games available now, from Super Mario Odyssey to Fortnite.

Annual game releases are boring. Try a quirky indie game for the PS4 instead

While big budget games rely on practical innovation, indie games dive head first into new, unexplored territories. If the quirky and unusual appeal to you, take a look at our list of the best indie games on PS4.
Product Review

Kill a Nazi while skiing in ’Battlefield V: War Stories’

World War II is hardly a unique setting for a shooter, but Battlefield V’s War Stories has managed to liven it up. Our preview left us eager to see more of the new Battlefield’s single-player story.

‘Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’ adds Black Market system to dress up your soldier

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 added the Black Market system to PS4 today, giving players new ways to unlock and acquire additional customization items, such as outfits for Specialists.

In 2018, the rivalry between AMD and Intel has become more interesting than ever

When it comes to selecting a CPU for your PC, there's no shortage of chips for you to choose from. With Ryzen, Threadripper, and Core i9 CPUs though, the AMD vs. Intel argument is muddier than ever.

The best video games to gift this holiday season, from ‘Spider-Man’ to ‘Hitman 2’

The holidays are quickly approaching and you might be looking for ideas on what to get your favorite gamer. Here are the best games you can buy for your gaming loved ones this holiday season.

Have problems with your Xbox One? We have the solutions

The Xbox One has evolved over the years, but so have its problems. Thankfully, we have solutions for some of the console's most enduring problems, whether you're experiencing issues with connectivity or your discs.

Gaming on a laptop has never been better. These are your best options

Gaming desktops are powerful, but they tie you down to your desk. For those of us who prefer a more mobile experience, here are the best gaming laptops on the market, ranging from budget machines to maxed-out, wallet-emptying PCs.

Choose your weapon wisely -- these are the best keyboards for gaming on your PC

Your PC isn't complete without one of the best gaming keyboards on the planet. We have a list spanning full-sized models to compact versions from Razer, Cooler Master, Corsair, Logitech G, and more.

Why are game studios run like sweat shops? The human toll of ‘crunch time’

After the revelation of 100-hour work weeks in Red Dead Redemption 2’s development, we spoke with a number of developers about what it’s like to work in crunch culture in the game industry.