Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon | Developer: FromSoftware | Publisher: Bandai Namco Games | Year: 2023
A stunning and action-packed mech shooter for the modern age, FromSoftware reignites its heavy metal series in smoking hot style.
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon key art

Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon

“I can be as a meteor in your life,” said Anne Lister. Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon could say the same — it’s a short game that burns brightly and hits hard while it lasts, with its exciting gameplay setting a new gold standard for this famous series of mech-based shooters.

In what marks a reboot of the franchise, players are cast as an augmented mercenary conducting illegal operations on Planet Rubicon. Profiteering is paramount in this hostile world where seedy corporations wage war against a planetary council (as well as each other) for mining rights to a powerful substance known as Coral, which once literally caused space Armageddon. The concept then is FromSoftware meets Dune, and it’s pretty awesome.

With me being a lowly Sega Saturn owner during the 32-bit era, I didn’t play the original Armored Core nor any of its sequels, but it’s not a worry because this sixth title actually has more in common with FromSoftware’s recent output than its past.

Armored Core VI is like Sekiro with guns, as skirmishing mechs (or “ACs” as they’re known here) pulverize each other with ballistics, energy rifles, and shoulder-mounted missile launchers, as they try to max their opponent’s strain meter for a direct hit, often with a skewering melee weapon. The strain system isn’t as all-encompassing as the stagger meter was in Sekiro, and that’s mainly because the AC assembly options allow players to create varied builds with unique attack vectors.

An excellent training mode introduces some basic archetypes of AC, from the standard bipedal mech favouring light frames and legs that can dodge quickly, to hovering artillery mechs whose bulky generators let them annihilate grounded foes with long range cannons and spread rockets.

AC parts and weapons are sold at purchase price, making it easy to trial builds in the ample test mode and 1v1 arena battles. Understanding the subtle lock-on system is tricky at first, but once players learn the camera behaviour and minimal interface, the ACs respond in a fluid and intuitive manner. The only consistent problem I have is accidentally assault boosting (essentially dashing) because clicking in the left thumbstick is easily done when the fighting gets really intense. (Gun Valkyrie for Xbox had a similar problem, though it’s not as bad here, thankfully.)

Armored Core VI presents a more traditional mission-based structure instead of an open world. It certainly doesn’t stop the game from looking gorgeous though. Maps have strict boundaries and invisible walls to keep players in range, but Rubicon’s many snowy tundras and dark caverns are a vivid sight to behold nonetheless. A nice photo mode helps showcase the beautiful graphics and powerful atmosphere. FromSoftware is fond of a good vista, and it’s even better when they smoothly render those sights in 120hz on PC. A personal best for them, I believe.

Coming back to the missions, Armored Core VI is almost like playing an entire game made up of punchy levels in the style of Mass Effect 2’s away missions. These play excellently in short bursts and long sessions alike, with objectives including simple search and destroy orders, to more agile affairs like the one where players must escape from an exploding mine shaft. There are frantic set pieces of sheer mayhem opposed by quieter moments of introspection, and entire missions devoted to fighting a single enemy. The variety is good.

In terms of difficulty, the game is surprisingly easy outside of certain boss fights. New features are elegantly introduced over time to not overwhelm players, with a breezy opening mission assigning a default mech and some basic objectives to get players comfortable exploring Rubicon’s intelligently recycled maps. Regular enemies like drone tanks and choppers are typically armed with weak bullets and harsh language, which hardly compares to the awesome mobility and crushing power of your AC. Imposing bosses and rival ACs pose a bigger challenge, but the generous checkpoints make it hard to lose much progress, especially when missions are so short anyway.

Players can even reassemble their mech when reloading from a checkpoint. This is notable because each boss has weaknesses players can exploit with certain weapon configurations. Experimentation is explicitly encouraged, but a large library of parts is needed for best results, so it won’t always avert frustration in the early stages. It’s a similar case when sharing builds with other players via a code system — if you haven’t unlocked a specific part, it prevents those shared ACs from being assembled until you do.

Missions not grading your performance on the first attempt is a brilliant touch (although it’s less welcome on New Game+) for encouraging players to take their time. New parts are available to buy as the campaign goes on, although by the end of my first run, I was getting the sense that lightweight “rush” builds were hard to beat. There are some fun toys to play with here, but diversity did feel harmed by certain weapons like shotguns feeling too effective. Optimising the weight of an AC down to exact parameters is always fun though.

Armored Core VI will probably draw mixed opinions for its storytelling. The game has a basic cutscene framework involving static screens of faceless characters chatting. FromSoftware has done this before in games like Murakumo: Renegade Mech Pursuit and presumably older games in the Armored Core series as well. It is a more detached and economical format, for sure.

Where this game succeeds is the excellent voice acting of the main characters. Players never see a human face, yet figures like the mysterious Handler Walter, Rubicon native and rebel leader, “Cinder” Carla, and rival mercenary captains like V.IV Rusty and G1 Michigan, are all fun to listen to. Environmental storytelling is handled well, with a morally dubious plot feeling faithful to the developer’s favourite motifs of historical anguish and things being burnt to a crisp. Players embody the mercenary lifestyle to its fullest, resisting the invading corporations one moment, then destroying civilian transport helicopters and murdering trainees the next. There are no heroes on this rock.

My one big criticism of Armored Core VI is the absence of cooperative multiplayer. This is a shame because several missions team you with CPU-controlled characters from different factions, creating an exciting glimpse of what could have been a sweet cooperative mode. A competitive multiplayer mode supporting up to six players is included, but with no chat function and limited gameplay options, it feels like an undercooked feature at present.

Be thankful then that the story features multiple paths and endings that beckon repeat plays. Players must finish the campaign three times to see the true ending, with new missions and new stories sprinkled in alongside more of the same action-packed thrills.

Overall, Armored Core VI is a fantastic video game which maintains the incredible run of form FromSoftware is on, while reinvigorating one of their most renowned titles in the process. Like the titular flames of Rubicon’s legend, the future of this franchise looks very bright indeed. If we can hope for more superb action games like this in the future, long may those fires burn.

Armoured Core VI: Fires of Rubicon on Steam »