It’s been a heated moment since the last time we were able to barricade an enemy mech against him, but the team from Software has finally returned to its roots with Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon. It sure feels like the part of a modern mecha action game, with great graphics, a solid 60fps frame rate that never stutters, and an intuitive control system that greatly reduces the learning curve we had to deal with in previous Armored Core games. Meanwhile, the simple task summaries and some of its design elements feel a bit stuck in their old ways. But Armored Core 6 scores direct hits where it matters most: specifically the highly customizable, intense, and frantic mecha battles.
If there’s one area where the Armored Core 6 could benefit from a bit more refresh, it’s in its storytelling. The five-chapter campaign takes place almost entirely through radio talks, PowerPoint-style mission briefings, and combat chatter that’s nearly impossible to pay attention to while fighting for your life on the mining planet Rubicon. What doesn’t help is that our character is a do-whatever blank slate, fighting on behalf of corporations, resistance forces, arms dealers, or the mysterious Walter and his personal agenda. As a result, despite an interesting setup and a premise with plenty of ulterior motives and questionable loyalties, I found it hard to really connect with the story on anything beyond a pure superficial level, which is unfortunate because one of the main ideas of Armored Core 6 is Its a branching story that has you making decisions about which faction you want to do missions for. I just didn’t really care one way or the other.
However, one of the benefits of this mission structure is that it is able to allow for a wide range of objectives that each favor a different style of play, which then feeds into the excellent customization elements that are the heart of Armored Core 6. If you go on a mission, you’ll be able to outfit your mech With four weapons – one for each arm and one attached to each shoulder – a unique head, body, legs, generator, booster and fire control system. And boy, are there a lot of different factors to consider other than what you spend your limited money on.
All of the external parts of your mech have their own weight, defense value, AP (health), and what’s known as “situational stability,” which affects how quickly you’re affected by chain hits. Fragments with higher defense stats naturally weigh a lot more and require sturdier but slower leg parts in order to carry the load, and weapons that weigh a lot require larger, stronger, heavier arm parts.
but this is not all! Some weapons also require a large amount of energy to be used, thus requiring generators with large EN (energy) capabilities in order to be equipped. But then you have to balance that Combined with the fact that your energy regeneration process may be affected, energy management becomes more difficult once you’re really on the job. Before you even start making those decisions, you should think about the range at which you expect your mech to fight so you can improve your inner parts for the role…the list goes on and on.
That may sound like a lot, and I’m not going to lie: it really is. But still, I felt Armored Core 6 did a great job of guiding me with the sorting tools and descriptive text, making it easy for me to select the right parts for any purpose. As long as I had an idea of what kind of mechanical machine I wanted to make, it was very easy to make that idea come true. Over the course of the campaign, you command a lightweight Scout with fast and evasive reinforcements, a Medium Destroyer that can wield heavier weapons without sacrificing much mobility, a Mobile Fortress equipped with the heaviest and most devastating weapons money can buy – and lots in between.
What all this customization amounts to is making each mission feel like a satisfying combat puzzle. While there’s certainly loadouts that feel stronger than the others (hello dual action rifles on a mid-sized bipedal mech), there’s never been a one-size-fits-all solution to every mission, which is a testament to the great design and variety of the missions themselves. You will never do the same thing twice. On one mission, I investigate a seemingly deserted location, but am ambushed by stealth air conditioners that I need to scan to target; another had me lowered into an underground facility, carefully lowering me from platform to platform to avoid being disintegrated by the laser cannon below; Another had me sneak into a cave to destroy a generator, which I did, and then had to trap it to get out of there to avoid being caught in the resulting explosion. He kept the action fresh throughout the 15-hour campaign and beyond.
Failing tasks is part of the process, and something that is very likely to happen to you a lot. But fortunately, the checkpoint system is rather generous, and you’re given the chance to change the assembly of your mech after each death. This made every failure come with an opportunity to assess what went wrong and think about how to fix it. Coming back with the right answer, whether it was simply by switching my weapon or a more radical revamp involving altering the AC archetype, was always satisfying. That said, I truly I hope you can also access the store too when you die. If you don’t already have the thing you need to beat everything you’re stuck with, you’ll have to back out of the mission, buy it, and restart from the beginning.
Get into the bot
One of the things I appreciate right out of the Armored Core 6 is that I was able to pick up the controls pretty quickly. It’s all very intuitive: left and right triggers fire your left and right stick weapons, right and left bumpers fire your left and right shoulder weapons, X jumps and square dribbles, circle switches your boost jets, flicking the left stick gets you into a sprint-like attack burst mode, flick On the right stick changes your lock position.
I’ve seen a lot of discussion from longtime Armored Core fans who weren’t happy with having a hard lock-up system, arguing that it lowers the skill ceiling, but I think From Software has found a really delicate balance with it. If you turn on aim assist mode, you will get the advantage of keeping the camera fixed on a specific target, but you will be less accurate in your shots. As a result, I found myself switching between the two modes frequently – using the targeting assist mode so as not to lose track of a fast-moving boss, then turning it off and manually keeping it in my sights when I felt it was time to counterattack. Having the solid lock also allows for some dynamic and intense boss fights that would have been much more frustrating to deal with if I didn’t have a way to always keep the boss in my sights.
Sixth core armored screenshots
But more than anything, the combat in Armored Core 6 looks good. The wide array of weapons feels satisfying in its own way, whether it’s using a charged shot from a line rifle at an unaware enemy to kill them in a single shot, nimbly rushing in dual shotguns and destroying an entire military base, or juggling quadruple rocket launchers between your arms and shoulders. Things can feel quite cartoonish at times with how many missiles you can fire at once – and how many missiles are fired upon you.
In addition to the normal missions, there is an arena mode that pits you in increasingly difficult one-on-one battles against specific ACs, each with their own unique gear and grouping. You’ll definitely want to battle it out too, as completing arena battles rewards you with currency that you can use to power up your mech and further customize your playstyle. You can increase the damage you deal with a certain type of weapon, increase your defense, unlock basic abilities like a very satisfying kick from boosting your attack, and much more. Even better, you can access the service at any time for a fairly modest fee. If you want to test your skills in the arena against real humans, you can do that too, in both 1v1 and 3v3 online matches. I didn’t get to extensively test the network code during my review period, but the few matches I played were very smooth and fun.
And of course, if cosmetic customization is your thing, there are plenty of options to paint your machine in whatever color combination you want, apply a variety of stickers that you unlock through arena battles, create your own custom stickers, then save and share your creation with the rest of the world.
The Beating Fires of Rubicon campaign unlocks the New Game+ mode which allows you to take all unlocked parts through the story missions all over again from the start. There are also plenty of incentives to play through NG+ in the form of multiple endings, new branching points to the story, all-new and more challenging missions, and even a whole new set of arena matches to fight through. It goes without saying that you will definitely need to try this out more than once to get all that AC6 has to offer.