Xbox One, PS4, PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
August 25, 2023
FromSoftware, Bandai Namco Entertainment
Returning to a beloved franchise that had its last mainline entry back in 2012, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is FromSoftware’s attempt to recalibrate the series. Without completely recircuiting the formula that makes this mech-fighting action game, what we’re offered is a fusion of quality and control from the studio’s most recent Souls-like successes. Armored Core VI is text-book precision in configuring gripping combat gameplay, not without a few imperfections.
Corporate conflict on Rubicon 3
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is an intricate web of mystery, politics, and power struggles set against the backdrop of the enigmatic world of Rubicon. As you, “C4-621” otherwise known as “Rb23 Raven”, awaken above ISB2262 Rubicon 3, you are thrust into a dense narrative, immediately encountering the harsh reality of this conflict-ridden universe. The game’s storytelling is rich, offering layers upon layers of corporate intrigue that keep you invested from the get-go.
The world-building in Fires of Rubicon is impressive. The introduction of Coral as a central resource that causes the conflict, drives the story forward and unveils mysteries. This substance is significant to the factions for numerous reasons, all trying to wield it for personal profit or purpose. As the key plot device, it becomes apparent that the desire for Coral transcends simple material gain and the story becomes even more engaging.
However, while the world-building is captivating, there are moments when the narrative can become convoluted. The abundance of factions, corporations, and characters introduced might overwhelm players initially. They quickly come and go, many characters aren’t more than a voice talking to you, and post-mission notifications with key details can’t be replayed. While the depth adds to the story, it can suffer if some of the detail is missed or overlooked in the intricacy.
Rubicon is a testament to the developers’ attention to detail. Starting in the region of Belius, with its decaying cities and altered landscapes, it paints a vivid picture of the world’s turbulent history. Each Chapter will introduce new spaces and regions and quickly you’ll notice the similarities in the environments. Being a mech game about the future, there are lots of large factories, military bases, and steel structures in assorted colour filters and weather. While there certainly is variety and plenty of detail, not every mission is going to feel fresh to sightsee.
Cybernetic action and strategy
Much like other FromSoftware titles, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon emphasises observation and learning. Instead of mindlessly repeating the same tactic, you must keenly study enemy behaviour, adapt your strategy, and use your observations to your advantage. It’s evident this game stays faithful to the series and the thoughtful approach to difficulty encourages strategic thinking – possibly more than Dark Souls or Elden Ring.
This is because of the standout three-dimensional combat. Your mech’s ability to move not just horizontally but also vertically and in all directions adds a dynamic layer to battles. Omnidirectional movement is essential for mastering combat. The vertical dimension requires extreme focus in bullet hell encounters with huge bosses like Balteus from the end of Chapter 1 or the Sea Spider in Chapter 2. Both these bosses and more also have changing phases and forms that introduce new attacks, movement and defences that will flip your approach on its head and require you to master their patterns as accurately as possible. All the big fights are unique and stand on their own as memorable encounters.
“…stays faithful to the series and the thoughtful approach to difficulty encourages strategic thinking.”
The combat dimensions also open opportunities for various pathways and approaches to missions. In Operation Wall Climber, you can run face-first into a heavily guarded base if you have the right kit, flank from below to avoid the line of sight of damaging artillery, or take the higher route first and eliminate that pesky machinery.
The assembly system, which involves choosing weapons, frame parts, and inner parts, allows for tailored customisation that affects not only your combat abilities but also your play style and strategy. The variety of assembly options offers means you can take a unique approach to each battle. Assembling parts related to movement becomes crucial, impacting your speed and maneuverability, and this is where the game’s strategic depth truly shines.
In battles, you must aim to hit enemies with impact damage. By accumulating impact, you can put enemies in a staggered state, leading to critical damage. But be warned, this goes both ways; your mech can also be staggered. This mechanic keeps you on your toes, constantly balancing offence and defence.
While the strategic depth is commendable, the learning curve is steep for new players of mech-based games or the genre. Thankfully, there are useful training missions that help understand the main combat controls and allow you to test the four-legged, two-jointed, and tank movement styles.
A larger concern is camera movement, which usually is an issue in fast-paced third-person action games like this. With so many small and nimble enemies flying around you, always shooting from acute angles, the camera and lock-on just can’t keep up. It’s annoying at best and disorienting at worst. Admittedly, managing spatial awareness and targeting is part of the difficulty of Armored Core, but being the crux for dying in a crucial boss battle isn’t fun and it’s terrible for accessibility.
I’ve got a job for you, 621…
Armored Core VI, at its core, presents a duality of gameplay: the combat missions and the art of assembly. Each mission begins with a briefing that covers what your objective is, along with information on threats or the combat zone you’ll be operating in.
Missions can vary in length. They can be noticeably short and centred on eliminating a specific enemy, while others are longer and include multiple checkpoints. There is always a mix in each chapter, but the pacing can feel disjointed when one mission might take half an hour to defeat and another is a quick two-minute smash-and-grab. Replaying jobs in Mission Replay mode earns you rankings, graded from S to D based on performance. Achieving higher ranks enhances your payout, reflecting your efficiency and skill. Strive for excellence and reap better rewards.
“New Game+ cycles let you retain progress for more challenging playthroughs and show off the game’s impressive longevity.”
Decisions in missions can lead to branching outcomes, and you can replay missions for more COAM currency to buy parts, better rankings, or investigate alternative paths. New Game+ cycles let you retain progress for more challenging playthroughs and show off the game’s impressive longevity.
Exploration is handsomely rewarded to those who make the effort, demonstrating the depth of content despite the linear mission structure. You can collect a range of items to grow your assembly catalogue of parts. Find combat logs by defeating special enemies with green optical sensors and icons near their AP gauge, contributing to your Hunter Class, divided into ranks like bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Higher-tier foes offer greater rank increases, granting unique parts as rewards. You may also discover data logs within wreckage. These logs offer insights into the game’s lore and are a superb way to get a technical understanding of this augmented world.
Part containers, scattered throughout missions from Chapter 2 onwards, house new AC parts. Enemies might guard these containers, so scanning your environment to detect them is key; their distinctive flashing orange light sets them apart. These optional objectives are perfect incentives for exploring the engineered depths of each mission, scanning high and low to make sure you’re not missing what could be a unique upgrade for the upcoming battle.
There is also Arena mode, which pits you directly against aggressive high-ranking ACs in an in-game simulation. By defeating opponents in the Arena, you earn OST Chips, which enhance your AC’s abilities. System Unlocks offer advanced features like Boost Kick, Quick Turn, Weapon Bay, Weight Control, and Manual Aim. These features cater more to that diversity in playstyles and strategic approaches.
Arena mode wasn’t as difficult as expected, but there are still a couple of tricky opponents to fight. Where the real test happens is in NEST, which is the online one-on-one arena mode unlocked after completing Chapter 2. Once you’ve got a solid build after completing the main campaign, you’ll want to check this out for bragging rights and a true challenge.
Assembling the ultimate Armored Core
Now let’s touch on the Assembly. Adaptation is key – from initial assembly to battling and back again, these intertwined elements are the core of Armored Core. Your first encounter will always be a learning experience: observe and analyse. Building a balanced build is critical for scouting out the enemies ahead, as specialising too much might hinder you. Then, you’re encouraged to experiment with different parts to adapt and succeed.
“Adaptation is key – from initial assembly to battling and back again, these intertwined elements are the core of Armored Core.”
The Parts Shop is where you spend hard-earned COAM to buy equipment and, if necessary, sell them back for the same value. The Parts Shop regularly updates its inventory with new stock at the start of chapters, although this changes as you progress further, especially in New Game+ cycles. With a diverse range of weapons and frame parts, before purchasing you can preview a part’s functionality, compare stats with helpful tooltips, and watch a short video displaying its ability.
The mission and assembly loop is incredibly satisfying. Trying to pay attention to enemies during missions, identify their weapons and defences, compare that to my current AC build, and then reassemble a new approach with pulse weapons to take down shielded foes or explosives for pure damaging force. Armored Core makes you think tactically, assess, and reevaluate just like a machine.
It wouldn’t be a mech game (or a FromSoftware Game, for that matter) without creative visual customisation. You can apply any colour of paint for individual parts, including reflective and lustre options. Use decals and personalised emblems, creating your own with the quite intuitive image editor. Save and load AC designs so you can retain designs across saves for experimenting with looks and functions. Preset ACs from other pilots can also be unlocked through the Arena. There are plenty of options to create the ultimate killing machine, or, as someone commented in one of our gameplay videos, a “buzz light year cosplay”.
Precision in engineering
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon delivers a captivating fusion of striking visual effects and an immersive soundscape that elevates the experience. The game’s art direction embodies the futuristic world dominated by mechs and industry, resulting in a highly polished and detailed presentation. We also had no technical issues playing on a PC with an Nvidia 3080 graphics card and controller.
The visual effects demonstrate outstanding attention to detail. The mechs, core components, and environments are detailed, showcasing a balance between advanced technology and gritty industrial aesthetics. The animations of the ACs’ movements, weapon firing, and damage effects are skilfully executed, as expected from the quality of FromSoftware, contributing to the immersive sense of being in the cockpit of a powerful machine.
The sound design immerses players into the battle zones of Rubicon. The roar of AC engines, the clashing of metal, and the reverberation of weapon fire create an authentic sense of piloting these colossal machines. Each character is distinctively voiced and you don’t often see them in-game besides a call sign and name. It’s amazing how well they are performed to convey the personalities and underlying unease or distrust you may conceive with certain associates.
The music, composed by Kota Hoshino and Shoi Miyazawa, seamlessly transitions between adrenaline-pumping tracks during battles to more atmospheric pieces during missions. The main theme “Fires of Rubicon,” a collaborative effort between Kota Hoshino and Takashi Onodera, captures the game’s essence and sets the tone for the epic conflicts within the game’s universe.
- Deep and satisfying tactical combat
- Impending and exciting bosses
- Visually and sonically impressive
- So many customisation options
- Plenty of content and replayability
- Camera control and accessibility concerns
- Mission pacing can be jarring
- Narrative can get lost in complexity
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is a next-generation action game of mechs, industry, and technology within a rich story. It will be renowned for its advanced approach to strategic combat, integrated assembly system, and immersive soundscape, offering an unparalleled experience for fans of the genre. Amidst its narrative intricacies, pacing, and camera control challenges, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon stands as a symphony of metal and fire, inviting players to pilot their destiny in a futuristic universe unlike any other.