Hot off the heels of their titanic success with Elden Ring, FromSoftware has brought back one its most beloved IPs from its vast repertoire. After an over 10-year hiatus, the fast-paced, high-flying, explosive mech combat is finally back in Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon.
If you’re new to Armored Core like me, here’s a quick rundown of the gameplay loop: You set off on sorties (the game’s story missions), do battle, earn COAM (currency) at the end based on combat proficiency, then return to base to shop for parts and upgrade and/ or visually customize your AC. If you’re wanting to stray off the beaten path, the game features Arenas, where you’re able to pick from a long list of other AC pilots to fight to earn rewards such as COAM, cosmetic emblems, and OST Chips (more on these in a bit). Upon finishing Chapter Two, players unlock NEST, Armored Core VI‘s online multiplayer mode. It sounds like a lot, but navigating the game’s menus is extremely easy and user-friendly; I never once found myself lost or not knowing how to access a certain feature.
FromSoftware titles are known for their brutal difficulty and punishing combat mechanics. While Armored Core VI does have a bit of a learning curve (especially with the controls) and ridiculous difficulty spikes during certain boss battles, this game is significantly more tame than its soulslike cousins. Don’t get me wrong; you will die. But the game offers enough checkpoints that dying hardly hinders your progress. Fortunately, there aren’t really any penalties for dying either; you don’t drop money, your mech parts don’t degrade in quality, and so on. Dying is inevitable, but the game is very forgiving. Some longer missions even offer a supply drop that fully restores your health, ammo, and healing items.
Players will find most of the game is easy to get through. Regular enemies will typically die in one or two shots, and some enemy AC’s are absolute pushovers. Traversing the world is simple enough, as the game is extremely linear (although you can explore a bit to find AC parts and logs scattered throughout the world). But, in classic FromSoftware fashion, the boss battles are where Armored Core VI‘s combat truly shine. All enemies have a stagger bar that is filled by dealing damage or exploiting a weakness that, when filled, renders the enemy disoriented and more susceptible to damage for a short time. This is key in defeating bosses. For example, the Chapter One end boss Balteus gives most players a run for their money. The flying, rotund AI craft has a wide variety of weapons in its arsenal; it’ll shoot what feels like a hundred small missiles at you, discharge electricity if you get too close, charge you, and even try to melt you with its engines. It will also fly high and fast, so players will have to be quick to dodge and chase nonstop, making trying to get in close with a shotgun or sword tough.
The key to victory is finding out the enemy’s patterns and weakness, and this is where dying can be a good thing. Upon death, you’re prompted to restart or quit the mission, or go directly into the Assembly menu to kit out your AC with the appropriate contextual build, creating a seamless transition between optimizing and restarting the fight. This is why dying isn’t so bad; you will often find that your current build doesn’t do too well against a particular boss, so although it’s easy to get frustrated with constant restarting, it’s important to take each boss fight slowly to learn its patterns and weaknesses. Don’t be afraid to fail, otherwise you’re likely to make little to no progress. The quick return with no real death penalty is Armored Core VI‘s best quality of life feature.
Other than the endless trial and error of figuring out boss fights, you’ll spend most of your time designing your AC. The customization options here serve both fashion and function, as you’re able to apply paint jobs and emblems to your mech. This goes pretty deep, with the option to either fully apply a color to your whole suit, or paint each part individually. Additionally, all cosmetics are available through in-game progress such as Arena fights. No microtransactions here. You can also upload and share custom emblems with other players (so long as you’re on the same platform), which is a great way to connect with other players and creates a sense of community.
The best part of Assembly is figuring out your build. You can customize essentially every piece of the mech’s body, provided you don’t go over the weight and energy limits. For example, you can have a fast, guns blazing dual-SMG build that wipe regular enemies in no time, or a heavier build that focuses on bazookas and the floating tetrapod legs. Rubicon is your oyster.
Weapons and AC parts are available at the Parts Shop and new items are available after completing story missions. Although these cost an arm and a leg, the game makes it easy to earn more COAM by replaying sorties or Arena battles. I never once felt like I couldn’t afford to purchase anything I wanted provided I did just a little bit of grinding, but this enhanced my overall experience and extended the relatively short main campaign.
A very welcome feature in AC assembly is OS Tuning, paid for with OST Chips, earned by defeating enemy ACs in Arena. These are permanent upgrades that buff your AC’s offensive and defensive power, as well as unlock unique abilities, such as doing a quick turn or the option to mount hand weapons in your shoulder slots. The gameplay loop rewards exploring all of its features. Stuck on a boss and dying too easily? Do Arena battles to give your self an edge with OS Tuning. Is your weapon not cutting it for this situation? Reassemble and jump right back into it. The game has an identity that is fast-paced, no-filler action, and presents this to its very core. The combat and mobility are all done at break neck speeds, and the menu navigation and load times are no different, a testament to the game’s technical polish.
The story, however, leaves a lot to be desired. While you don’t need to have played any previous Armored Core titles to jump into VI, the game’s world uses the same corporations found in the older games. You play as a mercenary AC pilot saved by Handler Walter, who gives you jobs and explains what’s going on in the story throughout. Exposition is given solely through dialogue spoken either directly to you or between other important entities. I often was confused about what was going on (seriously, I still have no idea what Coral is or its importance) despite quality voice performances.
Armored Core VI’s visuals and sound design are top notch. The environments, although repetitive, are gorgeous, and the semi-destructible levels help add a bit of personality to the world. The mech sounds would be right at home in a Transformers flick, and the combat music leaves me hyped and ready to jump back in after dying.
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is an impressive entry into FromSoftware’s already legendary library. Despite a bland story, the game’s combat and customization options are its strengths, allowing players to build a mech and maneuver the world seamlessly, provided they take the time to learn the piloting mechanics. Although the game sports only three playable modes, there is plenty of content to last you. I’ve played around 20 hours and I haven’t even rolled credits yet. Whether you’re a returning Armored Core fan or this is your first time suiting up, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is must-play for those looking to test their skills.