FromSoftware is a studio that needs very little introduction. I won’t even name some of their more recent titles, because there’s a very good chance that FromSoftware is the reason you have your eyes on Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon. I don’t think many other studios could make a niche mech-building action title gain mainstream attention, and that’s okay.
However, while Armored Core may seem fresh to many, it used to be FromSoftware’s bread and butter before they made a certain action RPG in 2011. There are so many Armored Core games that Fires of Rubicon is technically the sixteenth game in the franchise. However, don’t let that list of games fool you. Armored Core VI is very much made for newcomers in mind, and is likely the most accessible game in the series.
So, is Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon worth your time? If you are averse to mecha but are somehow hoping that the FromSoftware logo on the tin will redeem that aspect for you, I’m afraid to say that Armored Core VI probably isn’t for you. However, if you approach this title with an open mind, you will find one of the most thrilling mech action games to ever exist.
A Brief Explanation of Armored Core
Besides mecha fans themselves, who exactly is Armored Core for? If you enjoy the Ace Combat series but wouldn’t mind piloting mechs instead of planes, there’s a good chance you will enjoy Armored Core. It’s a series that features a mission-based structure and tons of customization options. Armored Core VI is no exception to this as it’s a modern interpretation of everything that gave the series its niche appeal all the way back in the 90s.
Like the majority of Armored Core games, Fires of Rubicon has players assuming the role of a mercenary taking jobs from various corporations and factions. However, one major difference is that this game’s player character has a name, technically speaking. You play as 621, an augmented human smuggled onto the titular planet thanks to the mysterious Handler Walter.
The fact that the character is referred to as a number instead of a name at first sets the general tone for this world. Your character isn’t seen so much as a human being, but an asset to be traded and used. In fact, it can be assumed that 621’s initial goal is to earn enough money to buy their humanity back. The world of Armored Core VI is not a friendly one.
A Force to Be Reckoned With
Unlike many of FromSoftware’s other offerings, it quickly becomes apparent that Armored Core VI is a bit less about overcoming overwhelming odds. That’s not to say that the game never provides a challenge, but it’s a lot more arcadey than what you may expect if this is your first Armored Core game. This is very much an intentional design choice.
This game presents players with an action-packed mecha power fantasy that will also make players think critically about their actions. Instead of getting bullied, you’re quite often the one doing the bullying. Many opponents you will face are simply cannon fodder that can only react to an Armored Core in terror. It’s not like you hold a grudge against any of these people, as they simply stand in the way between you and your paycheck.
This is about as dark as it sounds, but it sure does make for a truly addictive gameplay loop. The act of piloting your mech is fun enough that it can keep you coming back for more. While the selection of parts to choose from is quite limited at first, options open up much more as players progress through the game. This gives plenty of incentive to experiment with builds for optimization or just to keep the game fresh.
The Bleak, but Crazy World of Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon
In several ways, the world of Armored Core VI feels like a dystopian sci-fi setting as imagined by a 12-year-old, but I mean that in the best way possible. While Rubicon 3 is quite a dehumanizing place, it’s also full of some fun, wacky set pieces that made me feel like a kid again. It’s pretty silly to fight a giant, robotic worm and explore an abandoned floating city that’s been left perfectly intact, but it all comes off as sincere.
While this planet may be generally lacking in color, I became increasingly excited to see where the game would take me next. There is quite a bit of variety in locations here despite the bleak presentation. Additionally, the game is not afraid to embrace the spectacle of mecha. Armored Core VI frequently prioritizes fun and excitement above all else.
Some may believe that the game’s environments appear to be a bit bland, but I couldn’t disagree more. The art direction of Armored Core VI is on par with any other FromSoftware title. The world of Rubicon 3 feels like a full realization of oppressive sci-fi concept art despite lacking some graphical fidelity. It’s still a more eye-catching game than most thanks to this.
A Surprisingly Gripping Narrative
One aspect of Armored Core VI I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did was its story. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate FromSoftware’s often esoteric approach to word-building, but the narrative itself isn’t a primary reason why I play FromSoftware games. I very much enjoy the post-apocalyptic worlds of Armored Core games, but the general gameplay loop and customization are what pull me in the most.
While I can understand why some may find the presentation of Armored Core VI‘s story to be off-putting, I became very much invested in it. The game’s cast grew on me and generally became more interesting as I progressed. In fact, I remember every character’s name and personality despite never seeing their faces.
Eventually, the story became one of my biggest incentives to replay this title. The next two playthroughs allowed me to gain a greater understanding of the story and see it from different perspectives. I found each ending to be thought-provoking, making me question my actions, even if they initially seemed to be right. If that isn’t a sign of great art, I don’t know what is.
A Dance of Giant Robots
Armored Core VI may contain the most viscerally satisfying combat system of any FromSoftware game I have played. While the previous Armored Core titles still mostly hold up as very enjoyable games in my opinion, the difference in action here is noticeable. Animations are top-notch and the default controls feel more intuitive than ever. It’s clear that FromSoftware has learned a lot since the last Armored Core game.
Very few action games give players the freedom of movement that this series does, and Armored Core VI is no exception to this. The game feels quite a bit more snappy to play thanks to a lack of a turning speed stat, but the mechs still manage to retain a sense of weight. It still doesn’t play as fast as Armored Core: For Answer does, but it doesn’t feel slow by any means. This is easily one of the fastest games FromSoftware has made.
Mastering movement mechanics is just as important as any other Armored Core game. Sure, it may function a bit differently this time, but it’s still as engaging as ever. Like previous games in the series, you can’t press a button that will give you any invincibility frames. The game will test your spatial awareness and your ability to pilot effectively in satisfying ways.
An Expansive World of Customization
It’s likely already clear to many that Armored Core VI‘s extensive customization is one of its key strengths. What’s even more impressive is that the game’s customization affects both cosmetics and gameplay in engaging ways. The parts you choose can directly impact how your mech will look and play. This is pretty much true for every game in the series, but it’s so much fun to see so many people discover it now.
You can make your mech look as silly or as badass as you desire. The only limitations are the parts you can select from, your ability to make decals, and your imagination. If you want to build a machine purely for looks, you can do that. It may not function very well and will make the game harder to play, but at least it looks stylish!
Perhaps my only issue with the customization is that most legs in the game are bipedal. While I tend to play with bipedal and reverse-joint legs the most, it would be nice to see more tank and tetrapod legs. The options that are available are great but very limited. Despite that, the customization available in Armored Core VI puts many other games to shame.
Intense Boss Encounters
You will face some tough opponents in Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon. While the game is generally easier than a lot of what FromSoftware has released in recent years, there are some fights that can absolutely make you sweat. However, are these tougher encounters any good?
While some have found the difficulty spikes of boss fights to be somewhat frustrating, I believe that most of them are fun and engaging challenges. Some of the most difficult encounters did an excellent job of testing my abilities as a pilot while still feeling dynamic. I still struggled with a few fights, but nothing ever felt hopelessly difficult. However, if encounters such as Balteus did frustrate you, FromSoftware has made some of the more infamous fights a bit easier to tackle now.
Coming up with different strategies to take down bosses is incredibly fun. While there are generally a few optimal ways to take down a boss, nothing is stopping you from challenging yourself if you wish. However, while being a fun spectacle and not particularly difficult, there is one fight in the game that gets pretty old on repeat playthroughs thanks to its gimmick. However, I did very much enjoy the majority of boss encounters.
The Incredible Audio of Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon
I’ll admit that audio typically isn’t something I highly prioritize when judging the quality of a game. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love a good soundtrack. However, as long as the sound design and voice acting of a game don’t contain any egregious issues, it usually doesn’t weigh heavily on my impressions. Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is an exception to this, as the audio experience is so outstandingly great that I can’t ignore it.
Every aspect of this game’s sound contributes to a wonderful sense of immersion. Bullets pack a punch, missiles rip through the sky, and Gatling guns roar as they shred metal to pieces. Despite never seeing the face of any character in this game, the voice performances do a great job of conveying each personality.
Armored Core VI‘s soundtrack often prioritizes ambiance over distinct melodies, and this generally works great. While I do somewhat prefer the soundtracks of some older games in the series (especially the fourth-generation titles), there are some truly great tracks here. I’m glad Kota Hoshino has returned to compose for this game, as this makes for one of the most unique soundtracks in a modern FromSoftware title.
Somewhat Short but Very Sweet
A single playthrough of Armored Core VI isn’t going to take most players very long. However, there is enough content here to keep players coming back for hours. If you want to play the game as something of a distraction to keep you busy for a week, one playthrough on its own is satisfying enough.
However, to get the most out of Armored Core VI, you will need to play it at least three times. My only gripe with this is the fact that it’s impossible to earn mission rankings when you encounter them in the story. The player must select an individual mission and replay it if they wish to earn an S ranking. It would be nice to at least earn rankings on previous missions while encountering them on a repeat playthrough, as I was beginning to feel a little burned out the third time through.
However, each playthrough adds just enough interesting content to keep the player engaged. You shouldn’t expect the insanity of what a Yoko Taro game does with New Game Plus, but what you get is still pretty neat and worth playing through. This also just gave me an excuse to keep playing a game that I find incredibly fun to play.
PvP has always been a staple of the Armored Core franchise, so it’s somewhat of a given that it has returned. While the online features of Armored Core VI feel somewhat primitive compared to other games currently on the market, it’s at least functional. There are only two modes to choose from, but potential hours of fun with friends with all the different mech parts considered.
It’s very clear that multiplayer wasn’t as heavy of a focus for the development team as the single-player campaign, and that’s okay. I tend to think of Armored Core VI‘s PvP as a cherry on top of an already delicious cake. I’d like to see some more innovation in this area for future Armored Core titles, but what’s here is enjoyable.
In fact, one could argue that the simplicity of joining a lobby with only the goal of having fun with other players is refreshing. There are no microtransactions or lootboxes to worry about here. Instead, it’s all about simply enjoying Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon with others.
Some Technical Stuff
Armored Core VI may not provide any cutting-edge visuals, but I would say that it’s one of FromSoftware’s most technically impressive titles. This game manages to capture a truly jaw-dropping sense of scale at times, and it runs very smoothly for the most part.
In addition, Armored Core VI also easily has the best PC port of any FromSoftware game to date. The game supports framerates of up to 120 FPS, which is a first for this developer. It also plays great with a keyboard and mouse, which might actually be the optimal way to experience this title. Additionally, the game is a pretty solid experience on Steam Deck. Besides a few crashes here and there, I never experienced any noticeable technical issues with the game.
Overall, I believe Armored Core VI sets a new standard for polish when it comes to FromSoftware titles. Hopefully, future titles will be able to meet or exceed the technical polish of this game. It makes me even more excited to see what’s next for this studio.
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon Is Another Victory for FromSoftware
Despite being absent for around ten years, Armored Core returns with a nearly flawless landing. FromSoftware continues to prove itself as one of the most consistent studios within the games industry. While this game may not appeal to everyone, it still very much understands what makes Armored Core an amazing franchise for mecha fans.
Armored Core VI is easily one of my favorite titles in the series, especially with the balancing changes that have been recently made. It’s a wonderful blend of exhilarating gameplay, strong art direction, an atmospheric soundtrack, and a surprisingly gripping narrative with memorable characters. While it’s one of the easier titles in the Armored Core series, it’s still an exceptional mech action game and achieves a level of polish that the previous games could only dream of.
I adore almost everything about Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon. It may be my favorite game this year, and I don’t say that lightly by any means. This game effortlessly manages to be a stellar introductory point for newcomers and a love letter for old fans. If you are open to some mech destruction, I cannot recommend Armored Core VI enough.
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is currently available on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC via Steam.