armored core is organized in generations. each generation is like a self-contained miniseries. you only really need to play one game of each gen to get a good sense of the series’ progression over time but they have plotlines if you care about those. do play the first one. it’s a classic
AC1: master of arena. AC1 is super chunky (check out those walk cycles baby) and honestly feels perfect to me. has the least intimidating numbers. is the hardest to break. no fucking nonsense. i love it. master of arena has a whole disc’s worth of arena fightan which became the beating heart of the series over time so play that one
AC2: another age. AC2 is something of a awkward middle child, it’s really good but it feels sort of accidentally weightless and stiff and has kind of a shitty unoptimized engine bc the first one was a ps2 launch title. AC2 has more than a few hidden mechanics that it never really explains. you can do perpetual overboost if you know how to build.
AC3: silent line. there is, what, six of these games? they really overdid it. Armored Core Nexus introduced heat management and it was so unforgiving that it kinda sucked, silent line is the game directly before nexus (oops). AC3 is the platonic ideal of the series. there is an absolutely ridiculous amount of shit you can do in these games. there’s funnels. and limit breaks. the quad legs actually like, walk. silent line is amazing, play it. last raven is super underrated too imo
ACFA is sort of a leap straight past the logical conclusion of the armored core formula in most every sense and really is the most artful and moody and interesting of the lot (this is famously a miyazaki joint) so i would actually recommend leaving it for last if you’re interested in playing more than one AC game. there is a tremendous amount to say about this game in the context of the rest of the series. i would describe it as bananas. in other AC games, both visible and invisible numbers and statistics average around four digits. in AC4/FA they average six digits and you really feel it. this game is a blast to play multiplayer if you are an insane person. i long for a pc port
AC5: verdict day. i think these games are really really underrated and have an impeccable sense of weight. AC4 and AC5 have kind of opposite personalities (AC4 = inhuman, weightless, bodiless dancing death angels of eldritch scale and velocity, AC5 = smaller scale, gritty, chunky, heavy, wall jumping, check-out-my-tankfucker urban warfare) and the contrast works in their favour. AC5 had an interesting but ill-fated persistent multiplayer component. it really sucks that armored core’s multiplayer never seems to catch on because it’s theoretically brilliant. i think there’s a lot about these games that was maybe ill-considered and risky in retrospect but it really just feels so real in your hands