Bloodborne was my first Soulsborne game, and I fell into the rabbit hole of FromSoft games very quickly. I enjoyed the combat, the movement, and the boss fights. My immediate comment about my experience was something along the lines of “Yeah, it feels like a great piloting game.” This got me weird looks from my friends, and at that point, I had conveniently forgotten the developer who was responsible for Bloodborne and a crazy old robot game that I had played several years prior. When I realized this, it all started making sense. Much of the old DNA from the Armored Core series leaks out here and there in how the Soulsborne games play out, specifically for combat.
Armored Core, with its last installment dating to about 10 years back, has a lot of questions about what’s changed, how the Souls franchise has influenced the mechanics, and for a good amount of people: “What the heck is Armored Core?!” To briefly answer that question, it’s a game where you customize and pilot a giant robot that you play through a set of missions. It’s a fairly old-school formula and makes us ask a question. Does a game like this have a place in today’s gaming scene?
Do we really want a game where you spend maybe half an hour figuring out which part goes where, seeing how to make the numbers on the stats as best as you possibly can, only to bring it out to a five-minute mission where you potentially crash and burn, and then proceed to stubbornly fight on until you either give up and go back to the drawing board or you emerge victorious from a seemingly impossible boss fight? Well, some might not find that as an appealing prospect. But for a fan of the series such as myself- I’ve been waiting for this.
Production (4.5 / 5)
While it would be easy to say that this is most likely just the same engine in Elden Ring being put to use, I’d have to say that this is the farthest thing from the whole copy-paste treatment which we’ve come to expect from engine reuse. It’s of the post-apocalyptic genre, yes. But it’s in a totally different setting, abandoned cities, bases, towering metal structures, scaffoldings, and giant robots. One other thing also stood out, the stable performance. I reviewed the game on the PlayStation 5 and was enjoying a stable frame rate, though I had of course set the game to frame rate priority. News elsewhere does say the game can easily reach 120 or even 240 frames with the right hardware. Pretty amazing on the performance end, honestly.
Some might argue that this is due to the game being developed to be able to run on previous generation consoles, which would be the likes of the PlayStation 4. I’m inclined to agree, where since they tried to make the game completely viable for older hardware, it’s easily going to perform well on beefier, more updated hardware (though again, Elden Ring was proof that this isn’t necessarily the case).
And when you look at it under a microscope, yeah, Armored Core 6 doesn’t look that detailed. The models or textures aren’t all that complex. The lack of anything organic within the world makes it easy to animate things as the blocky, hulking machines that they are. The effects can be picked apart to be quite simple some bullets aren’t even 3D objects. But is that a bad thing?
I mean look at older animation reels, I think it’s a fair comparison considering a lot of what people pay attention to is what they see. We know we like to meme on exaggerated frames and what simply looks like a bad drawing on screenshots. But you know, that’s not how animation works, the reason things can get so deformed or distorted would be to give it more expressive movement. It just looks better when it’s moving. You see this a lot in Guilty Gear Xrd and Strive. When it all comes together, some things just look better, rather than still frames from a screenshot. I’d say the same for this newest entry for Armored Core. Ideally, they don’t animate all that well since they’re all robots, and the effects don’t look all that interesting. At the end of the day, most of these are projectiles and explosions of varying colors and sizes. But when you’re in there and desperately fighting for victory, not only do they do the job, but they fit the moment to a “T.” You know when it’s time to dodge, you know when you have a lock on, and you always know if you’re looking at an enemy. This is great art direction, as what they make you focus on is making sure you shoot down the enemy before they do the same to you.
If I had any qualms about the way the game looked, it might be the interface. Sure, it’s nice and minimal, but it was particularly hard to keep track of missiles that flew out of my view range. I just had to guess the timing on how to dodge them for the most part. The directional alerts were generally inaccurate as well. Maybe it was intended to keep you alert and desperately searching for whatever the system is trying to alert you about, it wasn’t too bad. But I do wish they had a better indicator for attacks coming in from blind spots.
One thing that truly impressed me was the environment, particularly the vistas that you got to see while going through the missions does set the tone and the setting much better. I know a lot of players won’t notice these gorgeous backgrounds far into the distance, but heck. I loved it.
The audio dimension is also something I hold in high regard for Armored Core 6. You’ll get all your exposition from dialogue and voice lines from the many characters you get to witness. But the sounds of every weapon you and every other mech fire also have a unique profile to them, you can tell it’s a rifle, a machine gun, a laser cannon, or a bunch of missiles that were just fired. In this sense, you kind of have an alternate radar you can use if you’re using good enough headphones. Maybe it can do a little better by having impact sounds to figure out if something was evaded or hit, though there’s already decent visual feedback for that.
Then there’s the music, ohh the music. The last time I got this happy about music would be like, Ace Combat 7, which oddly enough has the same initials. The thematic scoring isn’t as consistent as Ace Combat, which is a bit of a letdown. Though From Software isn’t really a big fan of this whole, everything ties down to the same melody kind of deal. Music for certain missions and boss fights are very memorable to the point that I would like to have the OST of Armored Core 6 at the nearest opportunity.
Armored Core doesn’t bring something all that new to the table. Post-apocalyptic wars fought with giant robots almost sound like a War Hammer campaign. But it seems to know just how much is needed to make something feel significant but not distracting from the core experience, and it’s a demonstration of their disciplined use of what they have that makes the experience not only easy to digest but memorable.
Mechanics (4.5 / 5)
This robot piloting game comes at you with 4 different attack buttons for the corresponding weapon slots you can make use of. Movement is also pretty traditional save for how you can fly, making the field of movement completely 3D when it comes to approaching enemies and avoiding attacks.
So when in actual combat, you’re going to be asked to find and shoot at targets, doable. Manage your reloads easily, cooldowns, no problem, dodge enemy fire, sure, manage your energy bar, just like other games, and maintain a position where you’re not exposing yourself to every other gun-toting, missile launching, laser blade swinging baddie that’s after you. The thing is, all of that is something you do all at the same time. Or maybe in rapid succession over 5-10 second intervals. The tasks themselves are pretty simple on paper, at least as individual actions. But deciding what’s more important to your brain is going to be the challenge as you have to decide every other second is something that can be taxing. You can move quickly and rush down enemies with no problem, the actual problem is that everybody else can do the same thing.
One particular change that I think sticks out from every other Armored Core is how well the melee attacks work now, It has good movement and tracking and can be a reliable part of anybody’s arsenal. It helps a lot that melee attacks not only offer a lot of damage but also build up the stagger bar a lot. Yes, a stagger bar, much like Sekiro, where filling it up will leave one vulnerable to direct hits, which also has bonus damage. This new mechanic influences how one may want to play, rewarding constant aggression and discouraging turtling up.
The other half of the action isn’t exactly action-packed, as you are asked to take off your pilot suit and don on the lab coat, it’s time to design your mech. If you’re the type of guy that likes to min-max their builds, oh boy, you’re in for a ride. There are many parts to work with, many more parts to find, and a lot of tweaking to do if you’re up for it. You see, they’ve set up the system such that you can choose two of three things, you can build it fast, strong, or tough. You can’t carry heavier weapons with a lighter frame, and you lose a lot of mobility when carrying beefier armor. It’s an interesting point where you have to choose what to commit to, but it’s possible to try to reach a balance between the three.
A balanced build is my default one which I use for general purposes on missions. Though it lacks any real explosive firepower. I also have a PVP/Arena build that I’ve built around using shotguns, where Zimmerman would have to be my favorite. And I also have a tank build that’s just meant to go in and brute force the game when I’ve had enough of a certain boss.
The cool part about exploring the assembly is when you get down to the more specific details of every part you put into your build. Some engines will perform better for energy weapons, some chip that helps your lock-on is better suited for sniping, certain boosters make you dash faster when doing melee attacks, and all sorts of interesting stats for fine-tuning builds when you’ve decided on the strategy of your build. This whole tiered system of figuring out your stats for parts serves those who are new to the game well, where they can mainly just pay attention to the main stats that each part provides. But if you’re the type that wants to get the best possible performance for what you want to do, you get to find out what suits your needs best by opening up the more comprehensive set of stats for the part you’re considering. And you even get to see how it affects every numerical value for your robot. In Armored Core, every part affecting the performance of the entire assembly is well, core to the experience.
Content (5 / 5)
Armored Core 6 is played out through a set of pre-set missions which is a complete 180 from the usual open-world approach that we see from most triple-A offerings these days. It also means you can get into the action of a mission very quickly. It can feel like the game is sort of on rails because of the direct nature of the objectives, though there are side objectives you can go after and search for. You don’t have to go too far to find these combat logs or hidden chests either, though maybe a few of them aren’t as easy to find.
The missions themselves are very fun, The first half is more interested in teaching you how to play or how certain enemies work, and then you get to the end boss of Chapter 1, who much like Sekiro, is a teacher who’s going to check if you’ve learned how to play Armored Core. You can get away with your strategy and biding your time, but when it comes to this boss, it comes with its own rules. This is where you start feeling the Dark Souls game design experience kicks itself into high gear. These will be the rage-inducing, controller-breaking fights that From Software has become known for. But learning how to play these fights correctly will not only make the experience rewarding but also make it much, much easier on future runs.
Speaking of runs, Armored Core 6 is built around being played repeatedly, like Nier Automata. Where New Game+ and New Game++ are automatically started right after finishing a run through the game. You are meant to collect all endings on one save file, and you can only have one save file. So, be careful about starting a completely new game, because that would erase all your progress. And again, like Nier, playing through an NG+ offers some slightly different content as you progress. It can be alternate mission paths, objectives, or little surprises during encounters you originally were very familiar with. Your first run will net you about 10-20 hours depending on how much you’re willing to grind, and succeeding runs will go much quicker since you’ll mostly skip cut scenes and you’re past the learning phase. Letting you breeze through previous encounters with not only your now, superior mech build but along your informed knowledge about the fights you’re about to face.
And you might think that some of the missions would feel repetitive especially as you play them through new game +, and for those who think that, you have no idea how fun a 3 minute-run of a mission of taking down a novice pilot could be. Is that some subtle writing put in there where the Armored Core comments on how I’ve become another cog in the machine of a corporate-controlled dystopia? I don’t know, I’m not that smart, I need another 200,000 Coam and this guy’s the easy mark.
Honestly though, getting past the first chapter, where there’s a total of five, missions gives you enough variety to keep the experiences fresh and fun. Some of them are straight-up challenges or the traditional destroy a bunch of enemies and then eventually a boss approach. Others feel like they’re tributes to some very special moments and stories that are popular in the mecha genre, and there’s no way I’m not playing those again with some special music playing in my background, or even with a customized mech that suits the scene a lot better. The missions you play through have a very direct intent to deliver a specific type of experience, and getting the open-world design away from Armored Core 6 lets the developers be laser-focused on making sure those experiences come across as pure and potent as possible.
The story is a bit tough to get a handle on unless you sit through and pay attention to all of the dialogue and briefings that you get. Though to be honest, this is the first Armored Core I’ve played where I care about the characters you interact with. The story’s a bit of a curve ball as compared to other Armored Core games, but there was enough there to keep me going and care about the people involved. Especially Rusty, our buddy.
Features (3.5 / 5)
Here comes the first thing I’m not too happy with for Armored Core 6: Restricted Online Play. This means those who can play together online will be limited to their native proprietary online ecosystems. In other words, those on PlayStation can only play with other people on PlayStation, same for Xbox and Steam. I mean, I get the problem, if my crossplay experience with Tekken 8’s network test was any indication. But I was hoping they would at the very least, let us share AC designs decals, and emblems across platforms. It’s not online play, and I hope that From Software can figure out a way to get that done. Because I’m so jealous of some of the designs I see on people playing on PC.
You see, in the assembly of your mech you can not only optimize your build for the strategy you have in mind, but you can also customize how it looks. And you better believe I spent a certain number of hours just getting our very own Reimaru Files logo made in the game. And I also spent additional hours making a custom paint job to match. And well, I showed the design to Chad and he immediately struck me down for branding violations on the robot. But that’s beside the point! I didn’t stop there, I also made other builds that would be my version of Char’s Zaku, and even the Sazabi, because if you saw those legs you knew what they were for. Those who have built model kits before must know the sheer joy of being able to place decals perfectly on your giant robot. You can make something cool, or even something very funny, and share it if you like. I mean, someone made their version of Megas XLR, with a red car on top and even flaming decals on the arms and legs, and you better believe I downloaded the design data for that faster than Balteus could kill me.
And of course, this game has a photo mode. Yes, you’re going to want to record the very moment you take down some big baddie, or just bask in the glory of your metallic child in the hangar. The weathering you get from fights too, it almost feels like it can be wallpaper material. This returns me to my point, From Software, please, please make a way to make cross-play work. Even if it’s just sharing AC data and decals! Please!
Man, suffice to say I’ve been waiting for this game. I’m sure this isn’t going to be a game for everyone, and thank goodness From Software has stuck to its guns. Thank goodness there’s a studio out there that can’t be swayed by trends in the scene, Armored Core can easily be translated to a Live Service type of game with the gacha mechanics and some sort of loot economy that not even Japanese developers shy away from. But Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon just stays the path, calm, cold, and collected, making sure that it keeps to the roots of what the game is about, and makes itself so that it can stand up to the legacy of the series.
The fast-paced combat, the possibilities hidden within the customization of builds, and the absolutely fun missions all line up cleanly to deliver you to the firing line of fun as quickly as they can. The innovations it has integrated itself with from newer games, as well as the refined combat mechanics that they have developed through the years with the Soulsborne series show here. And they were able to build it into Armored Core 6 without diluting the intended gameplay experience that many fans have come to know and love.
This title might yet again, be another torch being lit that signals a new era of games to be made, will it mean the return of the mecha genre after many had turned away from it during the PlayStation 2 age? Will it encourage the creation of more high-profile single-player games that don’t try to be the next game meant for you to play for an unforeseen amount of hours? For both counts, I hope so. To From Software, it was worth the wait.
Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon is fine-tuned, fully functional, and fundamentally fun. Scoring a 4.5 out of 5.
Available on Playstation, Xbox, and Steam.