Power overwhelming; that feeling of being strong enough to take on the world has been an indelible part of video game escapism, but instead of being a flesh-and-blood hero, how about stepping foot into a towering mech built for destruction and taking on other robotic foes in a battle to the death?
If that sounds like any video game, though, of adopting another persona, what if the premise is presented by FromSoftware, together with Bandai Namco in Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon (AC6)?
Even bolstered by the success of the Souls series and, more recently, Elden Ring, making a return to a dormant franchise with a new direction does not guarantee success, but making risky moves is something that FromSoftware is more than comfortable with, as it has been doing so for more than a decade.
The gaming landscape has undoubtedly changed over the years, with many wondering what a modern Armored Core title will look like. True to form, the experienced team leading the charge has created another excellent showcase of their capabilities: a third-person, high-octane mech action experience that delivers dynamism, tension, and satisfying explosiveness, providing a cerebral test of your strategic and planning skills, all while looking visually arresting at almost every turn.
By the end, you’ll be well versed in the rules of engagement, piloting your own mech against groups of enemies and bosses alike, meddling non-stop to equip the perfect parts to tailor a mech to your play style, and revelling in wanton destruction on a large scale. There are even multiplayer battles to be had against other aspiring players just like yourself. But even before that, it’s wise to understand the premise.
Though numbered as a sequel, Armored Core VI brings a fresh start that doesn’t require players to be deeply invested in the franchise’s history. You only need to love mechs and enjoy ruining those foolish enough to stand in your way. That said, it doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to dive into, with the ensuing conflict at hand full of political manoeuvring, opportunistic and ethical dilemmas, and a planet’s fate at stake.
The action centres on the planet Rubicon 3, where the valuable but volatile energy source known as Coral has submerged the planet and its surroundings in flames and storms. As time passes, humanity is once again trying its luck, with extraterrestrial corporations and resistance groups fighting for control of the substance. As an independent mercenary hired by the enigmatic Handler Walter for a piece of the pie, it doesn’t take long before finding yourself in a titanic struggle among the various factions.
Whether you choose to believe the cause of the Rubicon Liberation Front that sees Coral as divine, join up with a selection of corporations hoping to reap the technological advantage of the substance, or operate somewhere in between, Fires of Rubicon weaves in plenty of intrigue and backstory that can be discovered through conversations, environmental storytelling, and the events that permeate the main story campaign. While it certainly doesn’t border on the almost unfathomable nature of FromSoftware’s more recent works, there is still enough there to create an incessant drive to seek out answers.
Of course, all of that impressive worldbuilding and storytelling would be for nought if the gameplay wasn’t equally compelling, which, unsurprisingly, it is. What was perhaps most startling was that there was equal joy and excitement to be found in trying to assemble the best Armored Core, or AC, to deal with the problems at hand, or actually being in the driver’s seat when taking on a singular, dangerous opponent, engaging in multiple firefights against groups of enemies, or more likely, a combination of both.
The symbiotic relationship between the two halves of AC6 requires players to be all in, as only paying attention to one end of the equation is a recipe for disaster. Sure, while the early chapters of the game can be brute-forced through, that is not the case for the rest of the time spent on Rubicon 3.
It is thus always beneficial to get a handle on how a mission is structured and how best to approach the scenario with a customised AC. Whether it be through the initial mission briefing or from a checkpoint after numerous deaths, Armored Core VI is friendly enough to offer players opportunities to tailor their build to get a better outcome in each mission.
There is no denying that assembly requires more than just focusing on increasingly larger numbers, which will likely be an impediment for casual players trying to get their foot in the door. Even as the number of parts at your disposal grows through progression and buying parts, there are no clear winners in terms of vital specs when it comes to assembling an AC with legs, torso, arms, head, and internal components, together with up to four weapons to consider; there is always a give and take, and therein lies the beauty of such a system.
Rather than reward players with the ability to dominate, AC6 is all about finding the right balance and watching your hard work pay off against menacing foes. Prioritising AP against a hardy opponent might be the right call, but doing so against an agile enemy that can easily avoid your current weapons makes little sense, and when missions stretch to include all sorts of threats, the balancing act becomes even tougher.
Every encounter presents a puzzle to solve, and there were multiple occasions where a trusted AC build eventually hits a brick wall, only for a tweak here and there at a checkpoint or restarting a mission to emerge victorious. Success never felt so intoxicating, and powerful at the same time.
Just a cursory glance at the various specs involved is enough to make anyone giddy. The aforementioned AP is essentially the health of an AC; then there is Attitude Stability, which governs the AP’s ability to take impact before getting overloaded, along with overall weight and load to take into account. It is also key to weigh up energy needs for both defensive and offensive capabilities.
The choice of leg types in Armored Core VI is not just an aesthetic choice, with mobility being dramatically influenced in more ways than one. Bipedal legs are well-rounded options but offer no distinct advantages, Reverse Joint legs bring explosive jumping capacity for additional mobility to compensate for lower stability; Tetrapod legs are great for sustained aerial combat but are slower, while Tank legs are excellent for ground-based warfare and less so for other situations.
On the weapons side, do you go with kinetic or explosive weapons? How about plasma, energy, or even melee and defensive parts? With four weapon slots to choose from and tonnes of options to choose from, there is a build for everyone; you just have to find it by experimenting with everything the game has to offer.
Moreover, an AC’s general abilities can be further augmented by OS Tuning, which uses valuable OST Chips earned from Arena battles to unlock advanced features. Adding a Boost Kick enables a high-impact gap-closing capability; having Manual Aim will suit those sharpshooters, while the Weapon Bay and Weight Control abilities expands build diversity even further through altering the base conditions in which to start missions.
There are also situationally strong but limited Core Expansions abilities that can be enabled, with other upgrades that provide incremental boosts to several damage types and overall defence. A fully upgraded and tuned AC will perform substantially differently from a starter AC, and also distinctly to other fully-loaded mechs which utilise a different direction.
Take a chance to catch your breath; it is not all doom and gloom for those that are feeling that there’s too much to handle. With time and experience, most players will be able to get the hang of things during assembly, and if need be, there is contextual help provided by FromSoftware for those willing to dive deeper. The game wants players to work hard for their reward, and the assembly system is a clear example that works on so many levels and is critical to enjoying the rest of the game.
With the AC sorted out, the time for action beckons, and AC6 largely doles out missions, or Sorties, in a linear fashion, with key Decisions to be made that branch off into alternate paths. Shorter operations fill the gap between significant encounters, allowing players to further hone their skills while earning valuable COAM to spend on parts.
The through line that connects all the Sorties is the need for measured steps, much like the deliberate nature required for the punishing games FromSoftware is famous for, even if you are piloting a powerful AC. Combat against generic weaponry and light Muscle Tracers (MTs) can evoke a sense of powerful dominance but once artillery placements, heavy MTs, other ACs, and more come into the picture, rushing in no longer becomes an option.
Individual enemy types possess different behaviour and threats; even the less threatening opponents can become nuisances if you are not careful. Shields can blunt most frontal attacks, and heavy armour requires increasingly explosive ordinance to get through. With these many factors at play at any given time, coupled with varying enemy numbers and makeup, the complexity and depth involved in AC combat become apparent.
Packing the biggest guns will not always work out, with vertical and horizontal movement of paramount importance as well. The omnidirectional nature of the game elevates the entire experience tremendously, allowing the combat to shine brightly, but also making room for exploration to exploit any gaps in the enemy’s defence.
There is also a need to manage your AC’s various systems and resources. Armed with four weapon slots, knowing whether to fire them off simultaneously or in a calculated fashion is a skill that most would be wise to pick up. There is recoil, reload time, and ammo reserves to think about, as well as the defensive capability and strain resistance of the enemy to consider.
Overloading an enemy and staggering them is always recommended, giving players a rare window to deal critical damage with direct hits, so having a well-rounded arsenal with diverse damage types that can make that happen can be a starting point. As for more defensive players, having Pulse Shields can be a lifesaving addition, once again demonstrating the range of options that players have throughout the time spent on Rubicon 3.
Learning to be patient is perhaps one of the most important lessons Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon will inculcate in players, with observing the battlefield to understand the threats ahead being a crucial ingredient for success. This helps inform any changes that can be made to an AC to become more effective for future engagements.
The need to pay attention to preparation and strategy both before and during a Sortie exposes the flaws of being too hasty, while conversely, those who buy into the entire process are constantly incentivised and encouraged. It also helps that longer Sorties have the checkpoints in place that allow for a breather and AC tweaks, although purists may feel otherwise.
We definitely reaped the benefits of this accessible nature of AC6, especially when the infinitely more dangerous bosses arrive to cap off a mission or the chapter. Rival ACs are always a handful, but the devious minds at the studio have whipped up some truly dastardly foes that will push most players to the limit and pummel them into oblivion incessantly. There is no quick solution to beating an opponent who moves fast, hits hard, and can take a ton of punishment, and thus begin the cycle of assembly, observation, execution, and hopefully, success at the end of it all.
It is a testament to the craft of the FromSoftware team that none of the encounters ever felt unfair or cheap. The way progression is structured always gives players enough leeway to explore their options and experiment, with full refunds always available as part of the parts economy and not limiting players to any choice. With strong fundamentals and, oftentimes, a switch in a major part like the legs, weapons, or the body, these fights can suddenly become more manageable, and victory becomes much closer to grasp.
The two core halves of this particular game make it quite clear that it can be accessible to new players trying to get their feet well, but only to a certain extent. The promise of fun, exciting, and challenging mech combat is a journey that comes with a learning curve of which the steepness is determined by how much players are willing to invest into it.
A grizzled veteran will find much to love in Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon, and with FromSoftware continuing to refine its approach of hardcore sensibilities with a degree of accessibility, so will newcomers to this fabled franchise. The action comes fast and heavy; there is immense depth and enjoyment to be had in assembling ACs, and with a story that takes plenty of twists and turns leading to any of the three endings, it has been an immense pleasure to see things to the end, and return for more before the dust even settles.