Armored Core was thought to be a long forgotten From Software series, not getting an entry for nearly ten years. But Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is the latest entry to the franchise that’s been on the PlayStation since 1997, and it does a lot to modernize the look and feel of the series and stand out among other mecha action games. Armored Core is a series you play when you want something challenging, heavily customizable, and action-packed. Does Armored Core VI stand up to its pedigree? Let’s find out.
Much of Armored Core VI’s storyline dialogue is delivered to players through mission briefings or messages in the cockpit between missions, which means that it heavily relies on the quality of the voice acting to make an impact. Thankfully, the radio communication is all superbly voice acted, and players will experience the story of the planet Rubicon through the visor of a mercenary who takes on odd jobs for the corporations that are attempting to ransack or rule the planet. Armored Core VI’s story is actually a lot more than it seems from the surface, and the best part is that if story dialogue isn’t being presented between missions, it’s being relayed to players while they’re right in the action- this actually does a lot toward making story moments more impactful when you’re dropping right in on a hundreds-year old robot reactivating for the sole purpose of kicking your ass.
Armored Core VI has a pretty intuitive default control scheme- the weapons in your hands and shoulders are controlled by your shoulder buttons and triggers. Your dodge, referred to in-game as quick boost, is handled by a single button and tilt of the analog stick, which depletes your energy gauge that you also use for flying in the air with your AC. You’ll use these controls as you select your missions to complete, which could range from routing an enemy, destroying a sensitive piece of hardware, or even to sneak into a heavily fortified location to assassinate a mercenary leader. The mission variety is actually pretty decent, and many of the missions cap off with bombastic boss fights that will test your skills.
Armored Core VI is heavy on customization and has dozens upon dozens of stats governing what your AC will be good at depending on the composition of parts you’ve used. Making your AC too heavy, for example, can make your dodges travel a shorter distance, but increase your attitude stability to prevent you from getting staggered. The most important thing about Armored Core VI is to be flexible in how you approach a variety of enemies. If you like to settle on one build, one particular composition of parts and then never move away from that build for the rest of the title, you’re going to be giving yourself a considerably harder time in completing this.
For example, one of the first big walls a player needs to overcome is the boss of the first chapter, an autonomous mech who has missiles for days and can set you ablaze. This is actually the first enemy worth anything that also has an energy barrier that resists both kinetic and explosive weapons, which makes up the majority of the weaponry you would have unlocked by this point of the game. What makes the first chapter boss so troubling is that you have to bring down the aforementioned shield in order to even damage them, and the shield comes back after a short time. This means the boss doesn’t care that your kinetic handguns are your favorite weapons. This boss encounter is effectively a tutorial that teaches you to switch up mech’s loadout because if you don’t equip a way to quickly strip the boss’s shield, you’re effectively giving it multiple free health bars. Armored Core VI demands that you be flexible, and it showers you with new parts for a reason: if you need them, use them.
There is a build that can easily handle every boss in the title, and the worse you play, the more you’re going to have to experiment until you figure it out. A boss that’s effectively an excavator with a giant smokestack, for example, has a glaring weak point in the smokestack and a much harder to hit one on the front of the machine that puts you in danger constantly. You could, reasonably, dodge in and out of the robot’s attacks to strike the much harder to hit weak point, or you could use tetrapod legs which allow you to freely hover over the smokestack weakness and blow the boss away. Having the right loadout will make a large number of bosses considerably easier.
The boss of chapter one took me four tries until I finally remembered a tutorial tip that the game showed me the day prior, so I swapped out my bazookas and missile launchers for pulse guns and shoulder mounted laser cannons, and finished the fight without even using a single repair kit because quickly stripping that pulse shield every time it regenerated was more important for my skill level than being able to create the funny explosions. The large amounts of customization can turn a difficult boss fight into an easy one, and an easy battle into a trivial encounter, so you should always be on the lookout for new and exciting weaponry as you progress through Armored Core VI and try out everything you can, since there’s no downside to buying and selling parts.
Build diversity is high in Armored Core VI, at least when it comes to the PvE story content, and the title does its best to force you into situations where you need to leave your comfort zone and try something different. Armored Core VI is really big on forcing you to learn by failing, which is fine since there’s always checkpoints before bosses to let you quickly get back into the action. There’s so many different weapons and body parts to swap out for your Dollar Store Gundam that just trying new things should take up at least a little bit of your playthrough time, and if you ever run out of cash you can simply sell parts you aren’t using for their full monetary value- depreciation doesn’t exist in Armored Core VI’s universe.
If you were a fan of previous entries of the Armored Core series, you’re most likely already aware of how this game plays. Aside from the increased emphasis on boss encounters, how you zip through destroyed cities, snowfields, and mines to annihilate opposing corporate forces should be instantly familiar to you. There are quite a number of things that were dropped in this entry, however, such as projectile velocity as a statistic for weaponry. Long range firearms were largely gutted, with even gatling guns being effective a mere 130 meters or closer to your target; any further away will cause the bullets to ricochet.
Bullet ricochet when you’re out of your effective range has been in previous entries of Armored Core, but it seems as if many weapons have had their ranges reduced, resulting in much more up close and personal combat. One on hand, it’s invigorating to perform two quick dodges to the side around enemy attacks, then dodging inward and blowing your foes away with a shotgun, but as someone who actually enjoyed using long-range firearms in previous Armored Cores, it’s sad to see that not a single sniper rifle was included in its sixth numbered entry.
Of course, you can still make longer range weapons work with missiles since they have big lock-on ranges and don’t ricochet at all, but the few weapons with larger effective ranges suffer from bullet projectile speeds being noticeably slower than previous titles in the series. This means it’s significantly harder to make long-range combat work in this entry, but the upside is that Armored Core VI has the best melee and close quarters combat in the entire series. The weapons with larger effective ranges tend to also have poor impact, which means using them makes it much harder to stagger enemy ACs, which is a core mechanic of Armored Core VI’s combat.
Combat in Armored Core VI also revolves around staggering enemy combatants a fair deal more than previous entries. While previous Armored Core games had a stagger mechanic, this title has one-upped its previous entries by giving a damage multiplier to staggered targets. This generally means that your primary method of dealing with a lot of advanced mechs is simply to fire your highest impact weapons to inflict the most stagger damage, then fire away during that brief second the staggered opponent is unable to move so you can watch their health bars disappear due to the damage multipliers. It’s fun, and kind of like the Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice posture gauge, in a way, but that’s precisely where the comparison to other From Software games ends.
The bosses of Armored Core VI are dramatic, spectacle filled challenges that will require you change your build if you fail. The stages themselves can pose some challenge, especially if you haven’t yet learned when you’re going to be blindsided by lasers from the sky, or something, but the bosses are clearly where a lot of development time went to make challenging encounters. As you start experimenting with your ACs weaponry and overall build, you should start getting a handle on how to approach a variety of the bosses. You’ll become more confident, and then you’ll hit the end boss of chapter five and get your confidence broken all over again. It’s great.
On top of the numerous campaign missions, which will likely take you 20 or so hours for a full playthrough, you also have Arena battles to clear that award you with emblems and AC parts. There are parts hidden throughout some stages of Armored Core VI, and there’s even new content in your next two playthroughs of it that you couldn’t have experienced in your first playthrough (including a new ending). Replaying it also unlocks even more parts, and you can take all these parts you’ve collected from the various game modes and play online PvP multiplayer against other pilots in the Nest multiplayer mode.
The visuals of Armored Core VI look superb, even on dated hardware. It runs just fine on a Steam Deck, running at a consistent 40fps at low settings, or 30fps on a mixture of medium and high, though I actually preferred playing on my desktop computer because I wanted to experience the brilliance of Armored Core’s sound design with my 5.1 speaker setup. Armored Core has good music, but incredible sound design. There are moments where the music, sound effects, and everything else mutes gently during dialogue, which really enhanced an NPC’s statement just before a spectacular explosion of red particles and screeching metal from a giant mechanical worm. Even though every character in Armored Core VI is just a disembodied voice, the developer used music and sound effects to their utmost to really give you impactful scenes.
Armored Core VI is a demanding mecha title, though it lost some features that I really valued in previous entries in the series, like long-range combat with sniper rifles. However, it’s undeniable that Armored Core VI is an excellently polished entry that will be very appealing to the new generation of From Software fans, and it’s very exciting to see where this series could go from here considering that melee and close-range combat has never quite felt this good in the entirety of the Armored Core series. Players who don’t like changing up their loadout and strategies regularly, or who don’t like difficult boss fights may not enjoy this particular entry in the franchise. For those who enjoy the freedom to customize your mech as you see fit, however, will see that’s precisely what the Raven’s wings are for, which makes Armored Core VI an easy recommendation to anyone who enjoys frenetic mech combat.