While Fromsoftware’s more recent popularity can be largely attributed to the success of the Souls franchise, off-shoots like Sekiro and Bloodborne, and most importantly, last year’s meteoric release in Elden Ring, the studio has had a reputation for fantastic tough-but-fair games since as early as the days of the original PlayStation. The studio first tried its hands on a sci-fi game with the first Armored Core back on the PS1, and after having left the franchise on the backburner since 2013, the studio has finally brought it back with Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon.
Interestingly, owing to the studio’s success since the last Armored Core release—Armored Core: Verdict Day—FromSoftware has opted to leave behind much of the baggage and backstory of the franchise in favor of starting largely from scratch with Armored Core 6. Featuring a new setting with a completely new set of characters and factions, Armored Core 6 is meant to be a perfect on-ramp for new players looking to get in on the mech action.
The gameplay in Armored Core 6 is rather simple: you’re in control of a mech. Alongside a number of movement options that range from simply running, gliding along the ground with the help of boosters, dashing to dodge attacks, flying for short amounts of time, and even blasting your boosters at full force to fly in the direction you’re looking. Your mech is also equipped with up to four distinct pieces of equipment that can either be weapons or defensive tools.
"Your mech is also equipped with up to four distinct pieces of equipment that can either be weapons or defensive tools"
Weapons are mapped to the triggers and shoulder buttons, corresponding to which limb or shoulder your weapon is currently attached to. When it comes to defensive options, you don’t really get too many options other than shields that help mitigate damage. The only real way to avoid damage in Armored Core 6 is to dodge attacks, and blocking can, at best, mitigate the amount of damage your AC can take.
And this is where we get to one of the most important parts of Armored Core 6: the customization. You’ll be spending quite a bit of time in the Parts Shop and the AC Assembly sections of the game’s menu, since there’s an incredibly heavy emphasis on tailoring your mech loadout to what your next mission would demand of you. To that end, you’re also encouraged to constantly buy and sell new and old parts for your mech, and the prices for these parts never change, which certainly goes a long way in aiding experimentation.
AC customization goes beyond just picking the thing with the best number. The game offers plenty of options for players to customize their mech to their liking, ranging from turning into a fast-but-fragile speedster that dual-wields machine guns, to a slow, bulky tank with 6 legs that has an absurdly-high amount of stability as it marches towards enemy ACs to cut them down with an energy sword. It doesn’t matter whether your tastes in mech leans more towards Gundam or MechWarrior, Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon has you covered.
"It doesn’t matter whether your tastes in mech leans more towards Gundam or MechWarrior"
The missions themselves offer quite a bit of variety in objectives, ranging from simply destroying a few stationary fuel tanks, to taking out a rival AC in a 1-on-1 duel, to climbing atop an enormous mining machine that has been turned into a weapons platform in order to take out its different source of power. These missions don’t ever get too difficult, and Armored Core 6 offers plenty of cushioning for mission failure, allowing you to freely restart from the nearest checkpoints, which also happens to fully replenish your limited healing items. The only real trade-off for retrying missions from checkpoints is that you won’t be able to get an S rank in the mission for that attempt. However, you can retry missions you might have completed to try your hand at a higher ranking.
The ranking system itself doesn’t really do much more than giving you the ability to buy more advanced parts for your mech earlier. You won’t really find them to be cheaper or anything, and skilled players will, at most, be able to get their hands on faster legs or better targeting systems slightly earlier.
As the studio’s reputation would indicate, the story in Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon isn’t told in a straightforward way with bombastic cutscenes. While the cutscenes are present, they’re largely kept to a minimum, opting to instead let you infer the storyline happening around you through conversations, mission briefings, and context clues. Early on in the game, you’re not even given faces for the enemies you’re gunning down, and things only start getting clearer the deeper you get into the game, with missions having you tackle more difficult objectives that put more at stake than just a random faction getting their hands on some Coral.
"The story in Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon isn’t told in a straightforward way with bombastic cutscenes."
Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon kicks off with a simple objective—salvage some destroyed ACs to try and get your hands on a mercenary license that’s still valid. From there, you start taking on missions from different companies to try and build up your reputation, culminating in you joining one of the companies in a major battle for quite a bit of money. The story that’s presented is quite simple, but actually paying attention to what you’re doing to whom in the battlefield actually makes the plot much more complicated than you’d think. Not only are there competing corporations aiming to carve a bigger slice of the planet Rubicon for their own profits, there are also plucky groups of freedom fighters that are only really fighting against the corporations for little more than humane working and living conditions while they’re forced to harvest Coral.
Despite the seemingly simple story with a little bit of depth hiding under the surface, the story in Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon actually starts to go incredibly off the rails, and more or less maintains the largely anti-corporate themes that the franchise has presented throughout its 15-game history. As for players that might be worried that they’re missing out on something from this being their first Armored Core, you don’t really have anything to worry about. Aside from a few references and secrets, Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon offers a fresh story.
Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon is also a gorgeous game. The PS5 version of the title doesn’t really offer a choice between “performance” and “visuals”, and instead just opts to run at a silky-smooth 60 frames per second. While the color palette can be largely muted at times, especially once the action starts getting frantic and you have to really work hard to tell where enemies might appear through smoke clouds and explosions, it never really feels like the game looks dull. The fast-paced action always looks excellent, and you’re never going to have trouble picking out your enemies thanks to a wonderful interface.
"The fast-paced action always looks excellent"
Fans of mechs will also appreciate the clever use of ray tracing used solely in the in-game garage, which brings just about every aspect of your customization to life. From your choice of arms and legs, to the energy sword and missile battery strapped to your mech’s shoulder, right down to the scratches and scuffs you might add while picking out the right paint job for you, Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon brings your AC to life, and manages to get you really attached to your mech.
Being a long time fan of the Armored Core franchise has made reviewing Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon an absolute joy. The action itself is spot-on, and the amount of customization offered for your mech is unmatched, even by heavy hitters in the genre like MechWarrior 5. Throw on top a fun, deep story with plenty of factions playing off each other, and a clean slate allowing for new players to jump into the franchise, Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon is a phenomenal new entry that will likely become the impetus for FromSoftware to explore franchises other than just the Souls games.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Excellent gameplay; Fresh, new story; Great level of customization; Smooth difficulty curve.
Story takes some time to kick in.