It’s been ten long years since the last Armored Core game released, and back then FromSoftware were attracting more positive attention for their work on Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls and we were still playing on a PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. After Armored Core: Verdict Day, the direct sequel to Armored Core 5, released to a rather tepid reception, most fans thought the Souls formula was here to stay. But in December 2022, that all changed with the unveiling of a brand new generation of Armored Core. Fires of Rubicon is here and while everything has changed, nothing at the core of this franchise has been sacrificed in the name of modern gaming palettes.
The story of Armored Core 6 is the most coherent it’s ever been. Much like the Souls franchise, there are hints of a huge, involved plotline before the events of the game itself unfold which is as equally fascinating as the main story itself. No more strange syntactical errors or awkward story beats litter the plot, Armored Core 6’s narrative is solid if a little bit typical for a mecha-centric story. Fans of the franchise will feel right at home, but even newcomers will enjoy the twists and turns that suddenly come at you at major climactic moments.
The mission-based structure of the game can be a little uneven from time to time, but it doesn’t completely ruin the journey. It keeps you on your toes to expect anything in a mission; You could be briefed to steal some research data, but you end up getting ambushed by elite soldiers piloting a mech faster than yours. It can feel jarring, but veteran players of the series know what’s up with these peaks and valleys. Thankfully, in typical Armored Core fashion, it’s all about learning what’s the most ideal setup to get through that one gatekeeper. Weapon loadouts, different leg parts, tuning your OS – anything should be explored as an option. Experimentation is the key and as long as you’re willing to step outside your comfort zone, you will eventually succeed.
Even if there isn’t a huge open world to explore, environments in Armored Core 6 are built to be roamed around in. Jumping on vertical lifts, hitting the Assault Boost, or just admiring the varied environments of Rubicon-3 is a treat for the eyes and the controls of this game. While the tight corridors of indoor stages like in days gone by are scattered about, they never overstay their welcome. Instead, the more open floor plans during boss battles give you tons of vertical and horizontal freedom to tackle a robot bigger or meaner than you without feeling like you’re at a disadvantage purely because the ceiling is too low or there’s an inconveniently placed building in your way.
There’s tons of polish on the gritty, stone and steel cluttered world of Armored Core 6. It’s rather charming to see a bit of old “gray and brown” color palettes in the environment make a return from 2007, but it’s incredibly effective at conveying a brutal future world that’s been ravaged by apocalyptic events and war. That’s not to say the color palette is entirely muted. You can have a neon-laden AC and weapon effects are dazzling light shows, but against the more starkly gray, black, and brown shades of Armored Core’s worlds it creates this interesting contrast. It doesn’t feel out of place, either. Enemy ACs can be bright pink, blue, and white, or just classic military camouflage patterns. There are a lot of great designs, especially in the mechanical and organic elements coming together with the designs. Some AC parts are much more sleek and curvaceous, then on the other end of the spectrum are these polygonal shapes made from steel plating like an AC was hobbled together out of junk. Nothing feels completely out of place, though. With the Rubiconians using whatever they can to make new technology and the interplanetary corporations on the bleeding edge of weapons development. These stark differences lend themselves to a fantastic amount of world building.
Where Armored Core 6 truly shines is in its combat flow. Director Masaru Yamamura has brought his experience from Sekiro to new heights in innovating on a classic formula by just polishing what was good about the franchise while adding in inspirations from other games closely aligned to FromSoftware’s own catalog. Even if your mech is a supersonic featherweight or the beefiest tank, weight difference gives ACs this unique charm that nobody has yet to perfect besides FromSoftware themselves. Some may dismiss it as “Dark Souls on rollerskates,” but it’s much more than that. There is tactical planning in using cover and how to appropriately use verticality when necessary and weapon choices become everything in deciding how easy or how difficult a boss battle can get.
Defenses even become more granular with the introduction of Pulse Armor and Pulse Shields, allowing players to resist and even deflect attacks to take less damage. Weapon variety is the best in the series with tons of care put into sounds and unique quirks of each class of arm and shoulder mounted gun, each weapon just doesn’t have a different colored explosion. Recoil, bullet velocity, and how your AC reacts are much more visceral than before. You will find yourself cycling guns in and out between missions just to see how different each kind can be.
This is the most approachable Armored Core has been since the series’ inception. Just adding in the idea of a checkpoint where you can rebuild your AC, then jump right back into a major fight is a god-send for accessibility. The combination of the intuitive controls, a story that actually makes sense, and a real passion injected into a franchise thought relegated to the shelves for good feels like FromSoftware truly gave it their all, possibly even more so than Elden Ring. But in an age of massive open worlds and live service titles, FromSoftware has shown that even in 2023 a succinct mission-based structure with strong gameplay ends up being a stellar experience.
A Steam key was provided by PR for the purposes of this review
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A refined experience from a much more mature FromSoftware and a crew behind their best hits gives a once obscure franchise a more palatable experience for all makes Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon an unforgettable mecha action game for the ages.
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