After almost ten years without a single release, FromSoftware surprised everyone at The Game Awards 2022 with the announcement of Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon. A new Armored Core, which was their flagship series for many years before they created and perfected the Soulsborne genre,, and one that when compared to their current work is only similar in the high difficulty it carries with each and every game.
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon follows in the footsteps of its direct predecessors. It brings back the cerebral mech building and trial and error gameplay, its opressing, militaristic world, and weighty yet breakneck-fast action. All of the things that made the series so addictive for its fans are here, like a “best of” checklist that includes the best features of every generation of AC, integrated with a more accessible point of entry.
Simply put, those worried about this being “Dark Souls with mechs” can rest assured that they’re in for a surprise: Armored Core VI is nothing like that, from its combat to its structure, and FromSoftware isn’t afraid of alienating those players. It’ll throw you into the deep end, with all the tools you need to survive, and let you to fend for yourself. And it’s an absolute must play.
Speed is the essence of war
Any doubts you might have about the gameplay are cleared as soon as you’re given control of your AC. the movement is swift, if a little stiff. Your mech turns around quickly, guns pointing towards your aiming reticle, and you can walk, run, slide, dash and even boost forwards with great speed. Most of your movement will be boosting around, which can be activated with a simple push of a button, as it gives you the speed you need to keep up with your many enemies.
Almost every action you take costs you some Energy, which is represented by a long bar at the bottom of your screen. Managing its use will be vital at every moment, since this is the resource used for jumping and evading attacks, and if it runs out you’ll become sluggish for a few moments until ti recharges. No matter how heavy your AC, if you can’t move out of the way you’ll be dead in seconds.
Then come the weapons, and what a wonder they are. Your starter mech comes equipped with a standard assault rifle, a shoulder-mounted missile launcher capable of targeting up to four targets at the same time, and a pulse blade on your left arm that can destroy physical shields (and most cannon fodder) in a single strike. This is the most basic of loadouts, and it still feels amazing to use: it is varied, covers most ranges you might find yourself at, and is able to carry you through most of the beginning hours of the game.
However, these are just the tip of the iceberg: as you progress through the game you unlock more pieces for your AC, including many different kinds of weapons. There’s too many to list, but they can be classified in three distinct types: Kinetic (your standard physical damage), Energy (including lasers, plasma, and pulse weapons whichrequires a high-energy engine,), and Explosive (big rocket go boom, also fire). And the beauty of it is that you’re only limited by how you build your mech. More on that below, but suffice it to say one moment you’ve got a Pulse Shield, Chainsaw, Shotgun and Railgun combo, and the other you’re doling out pain with two gatling guns and two missile launchers firing 10 missiles each.
It sounds like a lot of firepower, because it is. One of the fundamentals of gameplay in this game is learning how to correctly use your weapons all at the same time, as each has their own recoil and heat buildup, they might need to cooldown before benign used again, or might require a reload. Timing and strategy is what will lead you to the end of a mission, and some of these can be so long that you might run out of ammo if you’re not careful, leaving you to punch and kick your enemies to victory (which, to our surprise, is a viable option).
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon has a fairly simple structure: the action in the game is divided by missions, loading into specific maps to carry out whatever objective you are given. You drop in, destroy your enemies, and get paid. You can repeat missions at leisure to get more money, but everytime you enter one (for the first time or a repeat) you’ll be charged for whatever ammo you bring and any damages you suffer. There is no massive open world to explore, nor shortcuts to open, but each area you load into is big enough to hold secrets to find and collect, like special parts and weapons that cannot be aquired in the Store.
This is my AC. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
Armored Core VI’s gameplay loop begins and ends in the Garage: Building a good AC (the titular mech after which the series is named) is a cerebral and complex procedure that can be as superficial or in-depth as you want to make it. There are hundreds of different pieces available for you to obtain and outfit your robot with throughout the game, each an everyone of them full of important stats that’ll affect the way you play through missions.
How you choose to assemble a loadout is up to you, but typically you begin by asking yourself how to play: do you want to be a heavy mech carrying massive weaponry, but still be able to move fast? How about a swift and deadly close range attacker? Perhaps a flying fortress, or a literal tank that pushes through enemy lines? Depending on what to do is how you choose your pieces, as the mobility of your AC actually changes depending on its total weight or energy consumption. Leg parts are actually a vital part, as there’s several classes of them that alter the fundamental way you move, so you have to experiment with each one.
The same happens with almost every other part: your arms determine how heavy your main weapons can be, your head alters your stagger meter and accuracy, an engine may be tuned to give you more total energy, or to be focused on quick recharging with less output. This of course leads you to choose your weapons carefully according to your energy budget. Only the most powerful engines can carry multiple laser cannons and gatling guns together, but they might make you move slowly.
Each decision you take affects every other one you make while building an AC. And that is part of the fun. Depending on how you play you may spend as much time analyzing your AC and building the perfect loadout for each situation, because the game is built on trial and error, on creatively designing an answer for each problem that it throws at you without mercy. The satisfaction you get when you finally break through a seemingly impossible opponent is unlike anything we’ve felt before, because in the end it was thanks to the choices made in the Garage.
There’s an enormous amount of combinations possible, but just as has always been the heart and soul of the Armored Core series, what you build in the game is truly your own. As long as you have the credits to buy whatever pieces you want you’ll be able to personalize your AC down to the color pattern of its paint.
Target Verified. Commencing hostilities
Apart from the main and side missions that are offered to you as you progress through the story, You’ll be able to unlock the Arena. In it you’ll encounter a large list of enemy ACs with which to fight, one-on-one, in “simulated battles”, meaning that there are no repercussions if you lose and can simply try again and again until you win.
In this Arena mode, fights are quick and brutal. It is meant both as a showcase to see and experience some of the characters that you’ll find in the game, as well as some that are not. Each fight preceded by details about the AC you’re about to challenge, including their pilot’s background and what led them to arrive on Rubicon. A lot of lore is hidden here, and as long as you’re good enough to beat each of them in a fight, or smart enough to build specific counters for each of them, you’ll be able to dig up stories and mysteries for you to solve.
But there’s also other incentives for you to enter the Arena. Every time you win a fight, you’ll be rewarded with Operating System Tuning Chips (OST Chips), which is a currency used to buy permanent upgrades for all of your build. Regardless of what pieces you equip, you can get upgrades like a special boost kick attack, the ability to carry extra Arm weapons instead of shoulder-mounted weapons, or even a massive Area of Effect attack. The more you participate in Arena battles, the more chips you get.
For every AC you encounter you also unlock their AC data after you defeat them. This means that you can take their build and recreate it for yourself, so long as you have the credits to buy the specific parts, or have found the parts out during missions.
Welcome to Rubicon, you’ll be here for a long time
We could go on and on about every little detail and aspect of the game, analyzing in depth the plot and the hidden mechanics in Armored Core VI as much as we’d like. But in the spirit of letting you discover the game as we did, we wont. Not because there’s too little, but because part of the pleasure of an Armored Core game is discovering new things every time you replay the game. As was already shared by the developers themselves, the one thing you need to know is that there are multiple story paths and endings which are unlocked by your decisions in-game, and that each New Game+ mode is actually full of new content that isn’t there the first time you play.
FromSoftware has managed to revive their dormant mech battle series in a grand manner. For veterans, the question of whether or not this is the best Armored Core in the franchise is a battle that will be fought for years to come (we personally feel like it stands core-to-core with Last Raven), but for everyone else there’s no doubt that this is the best game to enter the legendary and often ignored series.
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is an expertly crafted game, one that will se players coming back over and over, obsessing over stats and weapon synergies, about the rythms of combat and the most overpowered builds they have. They’ll face off against each other’s creations, and share their theories on the mysteries left unresolved by the various endings. This is a new kind of game that feels like everything you loved from the PS2 and Xbox era, modernized and presented in a beautiful package.