Armored Cores (Abbreviated AC's) are mech units used by the JSDF. Armored Cores are almost always the deciding factor in battles they present themselves in, and possess extraordinary firepower for their size and weight. The exact size for an Armored Core is highly variable depending on the configuration of the mech.
Armored Cores can be classified into generations, running parallel to consecutive generations, to gauge how their capabilities improved or increased in variety as the series progressed. The first generations of Armored Core were unsophisticated, largely designed for straight, face-to-face combat, whereas newer model Armored Cores are extremely fast and deadly, capable of leveling armies in a single, devastating volley of fire.
The idea of the Armored Core began as Muscle Tracers (MT'S). MT's are relatively small vehicles, normally walkers in nature, originally designed in the civilian sector for construction work and other remedial heavy lifting tasks. Of course, this only lasted so long, as both private military contractors and national militaries weaponized MT technology. MT combat units began as reverse joint walking tanks, usually equipped with single, medium-caliber cannons and rockets, or small, spider-like, quadrupedal light units equipped with rockets or machine guns. Over time, the amount and types of MT's grew significantly; MT's weren't significantly more expensive than their conventional warfare counterparts, but did not completely replace them. Often, MT's were deployed alongside tanks, fighter aircraft, helicopter gunships, other conventional fighting vehicles, and of course, infantry.
The natural evolution of the MT was the bipedal model; high-end MT's were soon being produced with experimental laser blade technology, as well as other laser-based rifle weaponry, conventional missile launchers, and other, varying standard armaments. The next step after this was the Cored MT which was followed closely by the Armored Core: a modular, customizable unit that could be tailored to the pilot. As the Armored Core was developed, the new, mercenary pilots called Ravens became the dominant force on the battlefield; a single Raven piloting a medium- or high-quality Armored Core could level an enemy force with relative ease. Armored Cores possessed extremely high-quality armor and energy shields, when compared to even their high-end MT peers.
As the first generation of Armored Cores utilized boosters for semi-powered flight, the AC's were mostly adapted into the JSDF's Air Force while the Muscle Tracers remained in use in their Army. Over time, however, all of the branches made use of the Armored Core.
An Armored Core was made up of the following parts:
- Head - The head unit contains visual sensors, optional radar and computer equipment. The radar and computing functions can include bio-sensors, noise cancelers, night-vision, missile sensors, other map-related functions and the extremely important FCS. Of course, all of these can be disregarded if a pilot wishes for a high-armor model. Head parts are generally lightly armored, and they have the lowest amount of AP of all the components, even if they are heavy models, however.
- Core - The torso area of the AC, and the "armored core" from which the games take their name. This is also where the pilot controls his AC, and is the final part of the Armored Core to be destroyed during combat. In general, the Core is the most durable part of an AC, as expected.
- Arms - The arms are where most weapons are fixed. Heavier arms usually boast better firing stability and armor, whereas light arms usually relate to how quickly the craft can take aim or use a laser blade. Arms can also have inbuilt weapons, which are usually lighter than having arm/weapon combinations; however, they likewise lack the armor total of regular arm units.
- Legs - Legs are the deciding factor of the AC's movement. There are different types, including bipedal (normal and reverse-jointed), quadrupedal (providing superior ground based mobility), and tank legs (providing massive amounts of armor at the cost of speed). Bipedal legs are divided into three sub-groups: Middle legs, which are the all around basic legs for most AC's; Light, which offer extreme speed at the cost of carry weight; and Heavy, the natural opposite of light, which allow high carry weights while limiting mobility. Reverse joint legs also come in three weights, carrying the same traits of bipedal legs; however, reverse joint legs are suited more to aerial combat, with high jumping ability and good energy use. Conversely, quadrupedal legs are the opposite of reverse joint legs, specializing in ground attack, and ill suited to aerial combat, with high energy drain. Lastly, tank legs are supremely heavy, and are highly detrimental to speed; however, tank legs also offer the highest carry weight of all the leg types.
- FCS - The Firing Control System is the craft's targeting computer. FCS come in many different types, each specializing to a different kind of weapon. From the pilot's perspective, an FCS creates a "firebox;" any enemy within targetable range that enters the box will be targeted by any weapon with sufficient range to hit it. A sniper-oriented FCS will create a smaller box, while a machine gun-type-weapon-oriented FCS will create a wider FCS. Also affecting the size of the box is the weapon used; a sniper rifle will decrease the size of the box, while a shotgun will increase it.
- Boosters - These are the thrust systems of an AC, and enable it to fly and boost along the ground. They usually are either efficient for longer use, or powerful for greater speeds. The actual method of thrust is unknown, but it can be deduced that, as the generator is likely not fossil fuel based, the boosters use some sort of ion-reaction drive or other method of propulsion.
- Generator - The AC's engine, this part supplies power to all parts of the AC. Like the boosters, the exact method of supplying power to the AC is not known specifically, though the seemingly limitless energy providable by the generator and its ability to power all of the functions of an AC at once, while still keeping the likely very heavy vehicle airborne, would indicate that it is a nuclear fusion-based power source.
- Weapons - The key component of any AC, weapons are what allow them to take on almost any threat. The sheer variety and quantity are what sets it apart from its predecessor, the MT's.
- Optional Parts - Various modular units which "plugged" into the AC's core, these parts had widely varying effects and could improve anything from turning speed to energy weapon damage. Each core had a limited number of "slots" into which these parts could plug into, and each optional part utilized a set number of slots, increasing based on the part's perceived power and usefulness.Lighter cores usually have more option slots while heavily armored cores have limited number of slots.
The First GenerationEdit
The First Generation AC was the stepping stone from the older Muscle Tracers to the newer, advanced mech unit the JSDF continue to use this day. A First Generation Armored Core could carry radically varying weapons; one AC might have had back-mounted artillery guns and cruise missile launchers, while another could carry a laser rifle and laser sword. Often times, the hand-held version of a weapon will have a back-mounted counterpart, and solid-round weapons had an energy-firing version as well. The First Generation of Armored Cores set the standard for all future Armored Cores to surpass; in terms of mobility, every future generation of Armored Core except the Late Third Generation has been vastly superior, but in terms of weapons, the First Generation of Armored Cores is only outclassed by the Fourth Generation and forward.
The drawbacks of the First Generation Armored Core were readily apparent as one was used; the primary method of thrust, the boosters, did not provide any method of bursting in speed, and made rapid dodging maneuvers ineffective. Also, although First Generation Armored Core-grade weaponry was effective against other Armored Cores of the same generation, and lesser enemies, it simply did not have the stopping power to fight higher-generation Armored Cores, as demonstrated by the Fourth Generation Armored Core's ability to eradicate whole squads of First Generation Armored Cores while taking minimal damage itself.
Another key disadvantage that would carry on until the Fourth Generation is the lack of a speed control; that is to say, the ability to stay at a certain speed. Generally speaking, an AC had only two speeds: absolute standstill or absolute maximum; there was no way to allow the pilot adjust in any form and was only capable of reaching its maximum speed. The only known work around to this was "bunny hopping," activating the booster for a moment to jump and continue going.
Although it had perhaps some of the most powerful weapons, another issue the First Generation suffered from was the inability to use more than one weapon at time. This would later be rectified in the Third Generation and all following ones.
The Second GenerationEdit
The Second Generation Armored Core was a significant milestone in Armored Core technological advancement; although weaponry made relatively little progress in terms of power, the variety of weapons available increased dramatically. Also, the Second Generation Armored Core made several advances in mobility and weapons-placement that made it the template for every other generation of Armored Core after it.
The following improvements from the first generation were made:
- Over Boost - Arguably the most important improvement the Second Generation possesses over the First Generation. Overboost is a larger, more powerful, burst-type booster mounted in the back of the AC's core. When active, plates or panels on the back of the Armored Core will open to reveal the overbooster(s), which will charge briefly before explosively accelerating the Armored Core to speeds approaching 900mph (approximately Mach 1.15), depending on the core and the overbooster. This alleviates the problem of the Armored Core's relatively slow (300-500mph) average speed when using standard boost. The obvious drawback of overboosters is the massive amount of energy drained when in use.
- Extension Weaponry - The other extremely important advancement of the Second Generation, extension weapons are mounted on the Armored Core's shoulders. When activated, they perform whatever task the weapon is designed for, usually mundane and non-offensive, though offensive weapons exist. Extension weapons include relation missiles, which, when active, fire missiles simultaneously with any missiles fired from the back until the ammunition is depleted; anti-missile systems (either anti-missile missiles or lasers) which target inbound missiles and shoot them down with more frequency and accuracy than the core-mounted anti-missile gun; directional boosters, which spontaneously and violently push an Armored Core in a predetermined direction (backwards, down, and in a 90 degree turn); and energy or solid-armor shields.
- Inside Weaponry - Weaponry mounted on the inside of an Armored Core's core, inside weapons were normally auxiliary in nature, and often indirect. Inside weaponry included dumb-fired bombs (both solid and energy based), which were launched blindly backwards from the Armored Core, and best used for bombing targets from the air; mine layers; ECM makers, which placed ECM pods which disrupted radar; missile decoys, which were static decoys which attracted enemy missiles; a backwards firing vulcan (chain) gun; and an orbit cannon maker, which created a small, stationary laser turret.
- Radiator - An interesting addition to the Second Generation, the radiator's introduction marked the beginning of the heat management system. With this addition, all weapons generated some amount of heat on impact; the radiator existed to do away with said heat. However, the heat did no damage unless the Armored Core overheated, in which case the Armored Core would take damage until the heat is dispersed. Strangely, the damage incurred was minimal, and it was quite feasible to only use the basic radiator.
The drawbacks of the Second Generation were not as overt as the First Generation, with the mobility problem alleviated somewhat by overboosting and the combat dynamics improved with the addition of extension and inside weapons. However, this led to increased weight that had to be supported by the legs, and, with the addition of the radiator, meant there was less overall room for weapons. The radiator became, essentially, dead weight, until later, when was used to completely change the balance of the games and alter the mobility available to the Armored Core. Despite this, the Second Generation as a whole presents a stable, consummate example of Armored Core technology.
The Third GenerationEdit
The Third Generation is split into two groups: the AC3-ACSL group (Early Third), and the ACNX-ACLR group (Late Third) with key differences from each.
Early Third GenerationEdit
The Early Third Generation Armored Core was a huge leap in terms offensive ability, though mobility was not improved greatly in the transition from Second to Third Generation.
The following items were added to the Third Generation Armored Core:
- Exceed Orbit - A new type of core (as opposed to overboost cores) which possessed one to two small, hovering drones, each of which fired some form of projectile at any enemy within range. The type of shot (energy or solid) depended on the core, and the power corresponded to the core weight-classification (light had machine gun/energy machine gun EO, medium had rifle/laser rifle EO, and heavy had hi-laser/linear gun EO). Solid round EO became useless after the ammunition was depleted, the core simply becoming the same as a core from the First Generation, while energy EO regenerated its ammunition over time, a significant advantage in its favor.
- Inside Weapons - Inside weapons were moved to the inner shoulder, instead of the core. New types of weapons included napalm rockets, which set enemies on fire, ECM rockets, which jammed enemy electronics, and anti-generator rockets, which adversely affected enemy generator's upon impact.
- Left-Arm Weapons - One of the biggest improvements made to the Third Generation Armored Core was the ability to dual-wield weapons. A variety of weapons existed for the left arm, usually weaker (relatively) versions of weapons available to the right arm. This is not to say that shields and laser blades weren't still available, however, and the choice was purely academic and could vary from Raven to Raven.
Late Third GenerationEdit
The Late Third Generation of Armored Cores stood in stark contrast compared to all other generations; where every other generation improved largely on the previous generation, the Late Third Generation took several leaps backwards in terms of ability for the Armored Core. However, this weakening was actually only applied largely to the player-controlled Armored Core, making the games much harder during this generation. This was because of the OP-INTENSIFY - or more accurately, the lack thereof. Some enemy Ravens still enjoyed this advantage, but the player no longer had access to this part.
The other significant changes that occurred dealt with the AC radiator and heat management system. Firstly, it was decided that when an AC overheated, it would need to use large amounts of energy to power the radiator to cool down. Secondly, it was decided to raise the heat caused by all weapons dramatically (energy weapons specifically received increased heat output, as well as some high fire-rate weapons, like machine guns), making the energy drain relevant. Lastly, boosters were altered so that they use generated heat. Thus, it became incredibly difficult to create a long-term flight-capable AC, as it would constantly run out of energy and be grounded. The higher-level AIs were largely immune to this, as their innate OP-INTENSIFY powers gave them astonishingly increased radiator ability.
The following changes were made in the Late Third Generation:
- Hanger Cores - Likely the most important change to the Late Third Generation Armored Core, hanger cores added the ability to bring additional arm weapons into battle. Included in the weapons available are small, handheld pistols, machine guns, pulse rifles, plasma cannons, and other basic armaments. The hanger core could overlap with an overboost core, giving both abilities at once, but never with an exceed orbit core.
- Tuning - The Late Third Generation saw the addition of tuning. Almost every category of part, besides FCS and weapons, was given 10 points to spend on tuning and several categories to improve. One could choose to dedicate some points to each category, or all of them to one. In this way, a player could slightly improve his base parts without actually switching them out.
- Weapon Magazines - Late Third Generation weaponry received the interesting and less drastic change of magazines. Previous Armored Core games had weapons which kept firing until they completely emptied of ammo, a form of "bottomless magazine." From this point forward, Armored Cores reload some kinds of solid round weapons magazine-by-magazine; a machine gun, instead of firing 700 rounds straight, might now fire 70 before reloading. Many types of weapons were affected by this change, though usually they were high ammo weapons, and always solid round.
There were few drawbacks of the Third Generation; weapon types were plentiful, there were two types of cores to choose from, and the combinations of parts that could be made were shockingly numerous. A minor weakness can be noted in the left arm weapon; although it now provided an extra weapon beside the blade, it was difficult to use. This is mostly attributed to the fact that the left arm was always in the default standby position, thus in order to use it, it required a moment to lift the arm up to ready it in firing position before firing. This meant that there was a delay from the time the weapon was triggered and when it was fired. The left-arm weapon also had no targeting of its own, meaning that if the right-arm weapon was exhausted of ammo before the left-arm weapon and discarded, the left-arm weapon would simply have to be fired blindly.
The Fourth GenerationEdit
Talks of a Fourth-Generation line of Armored Cores have been overheard, and rumors are spreading as to the new functions and abilities of the upcoming production of AC's. While the JSDF is still recovering from the UNSC-Exon strike, some of the corporations are already starting plans and contracts for designs, and engineers with high clearances have already begun to draw up prototype designs.