It seems that when Armored Core V came about, the focus of the series shifted from becoming the best lone wolf mech pilot in existence to a part of well-formed team. That seems to be the big pull of the series now; continuing what was done in the aforementioned title. Armored Core: Verdict Day pushes forward the decree that the fight is indeed won online and together. What was once first brought up as an intense single-player focused title with miniscule multiplayer opportunities has completely reversed into a more multiplayer-driven experience with a story mode that is used to prepare you for online matches.

It shouldn’t be any surprise that From Software is still in the business of not catering to casual players with this series. While titles such as Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls might have placed the developer’s on the map for making unforgivable games, this trend pretty much began with Armored Core. Even the first story mission right out of the gate will test how much fire you can take without blowing up as your opponents come pretty well stocked with enough bullets to put you down, yet they are pretty good at soaking up yours like a sponge. Never in my history of playing Armored Core games for PS3 have I had a challenge when dealing with the first mission, but Verdict Day’s opener made me sweat quite a bit. Verdict Day becomes so challenging at times, that it’ll have you not caring about the final pay of a mission. In a few missions, I was less concerned about have a negative pay stub and just cared more that it was over.

It is the greater spike in difficulty that From Software wants to push forward: “Don’t go to the battlefield alone.” Since the days of Armored Core 4, multiplayer has gotten an extreme overhaul. Now every mission can support another player, or a computer controlled ally thanks to the newly introduced UNACs (Unmanned Armored Cores). The UNAC unit is a great addition to the Armored Core series. Though lacking in real human intelligence during a sortie, they make up for it by serving as another body for the enemy to concentrate on, while still firing at them, giving you an opportunity to flank them and take them out. You must also pay a repair cost for them at the end of a mission, but it can be worth it when dealing with a somewhat difficult sortie.

And all sorties are accompanied by a greatly crafted soundtrack that adds to the tension of being in high-stake battles. Each piece that accompanied me when fighting rival AC pilots or entire armies made me grip the controller that much tighter with excitement. Even the tune used for building your AC in the workshop was great.

If you need some more refined help with missions, there is the new Signs system that connects you with other Verdict Day players online to give help with missions. This system is downright needed and is pretty much an evolved version than what was first experienced in Armored Core 4. With Signs, a player can register themselves for “contracts” to take on and join a player’s game to help them with a mission. Every mission is open to a player and doesn’t just cover story ones. You can even join team battles against other human AC pilots from around the world. The Signs concept is an excellent use of the Armored Core world From Software has crafted. When taking on a Sign contract, you are pretty much a soldier out for the pay. You are the contractor. With it comes anonymity as you don’t even have the option of conversing with other AC players you take jobs from. The Signs system was a great opportunity to get Verdict Day players immersed more within its world and it has worked rather well. Along with its immersive feel, it can net you some extra credits for buying new parts for your AC. Also an added bonus, your employer can rank your performance on missions making you more desirable for other players looking for help.

If you want a more personal feel to your multiplayer experience, Armored Core: Verdict Day brings back the requirement of joining or creating a team for the purpose of taking on team battles online. This is a feature that really could have been left behind with Armored Core V. Even when creating your own team, you are not required to interact with other teammates who may join you. It is utterly pointless.

As with any Armored Core title, the name of the game is still building your ideal robotic death machine. Armored Core has streamlined the process with a few parts here and there. The FRS system has been scrapped from the previous game and has been replaced by a three-point allocation used for weapons. This is quite the step back for the series as it takes away what Armored Core prides itself on; deep customization. FRS was indeed a hardcore tuning system for players and taking it out sort of diminishes its uncompromising approach to gameplay.

Armored Core: Verdict Day still delivers the same breakneck pace that From Software has been injecting into the Armored Core series since the series first landed on this past generation of consoles. But with the main focus now geared more toward online cooperative and competitive, it is putting its foot down that this is not for casual gamers. Hardcore mech lovers only.