With Elden Ring winning GOTY 2022 and FromSoftware’s reputation as a mover and shaker in the gaming world, the attention has suddenly shifted towards their upcoming Armored Core title. No doubt, people unfamiliar with the franchise are curious as to what it’s all about. Why would FromSoftware, the developer known for Soulsborne titles, go back to a clunker robot game? And with more than a dozen entries in the series, each generation serving as a soft reboot of the franchise, it’s a daunting task to pick where to start, right?
I’ll help you out. You should start with Armored Core 3.
There’s a reason why Armored Core 3 is often regarded as the best starting point for those who want to delve into the world of Armored Core. AC3 eases new players into the game world far better than the other titles (I’m looking at you, first mission in Last Raven). It has all the narrative, gameplay, and mechanics that are staples of the series, and presents them in their most accessible form. Essentially a remake of the first AC game, the story is provided to the player in a more digestible manner, fleshing out the parts that added depth.
As with the previous games, in AC3 you are a Raven, a mercenary for hire. In a post-apocalyptic world where humanity has been driven underground, a powerful AI known as The Controller rules everything. Despite this, numerous faceless corporations struggle for control of what’s left, offering you jobs to further their own designs.
This narrative unfolds through story missions, supplemented by mission briefings and the game’s mail system. Often you will be told of what happens as a consequence of your actions.
There’s also the Arena, a gauntlet of over 50 designs to test your skills and design choices. The difference here is arena progression is tied to the story, with some of the higher ranking arena members making appearances in missions as either friend or foe. This seamless integration with what’s happening with the main game really sells the immersion of the world to the player.
And then there’s the soundtrack, which is considered as one of the high-water marks within the franchise. I mean, just listen to this. Iconic.
Of course, the defining feature of the series has always been the ability to build and customize your very own Armored Core, one to call your own. Light, medium, or heavyweight? Biped, quad, reverse joint, tank, or hover legs? Rifles, machine guns, howitzers, missiles, energy weapons, or a whole slew of other weapon types? The choice is yours. With something so obviously personal, it’s no wonder why it’s sometimes difficult to accept criticism on one’s own AC, because us players tend to treat our designs like our own children. But I digress.
At the time of its release in 2002, AC3 was From’s biggest project. They really gave this title their all, and it showed. AC3’s reputation among veterans of the series only grew as the years went on. Meanwhile, the number of succeeding expansions it had – Silent Line, Nexus, Nine Breaker, and Last Raven – was a testament to the amount of investment From made in the game.
Whether you’re new to the series or a returning player looking to relive the first time you played an AC game, if you want to truly experience Armored Core, I recommend playing Armored Core 3.
There are ways to play it today of course, 21 years after its original release, and a decade after the last PS2 rolled off the production line. But you already knew that, didn’t you?