During Summer Game Fest last month, I took part in a hands-off preview of Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon. Even then, the game looked fantastic, and FromSoftware looked to be on the cusp of producing another banger right after Elden Ring.
Just earlier this month, Bandai Namco Entertainment Asia graciously invited me to test out an actual playable build of Armored Core VI, and I got to try out nearly 4 hours of the game which gave me a first-hand look at almost all of the features that it had to offer – from customization, the main campaign, and even the arena. Needless to say, my thirst for a series return has been satisfied, even for just a bit.
During the session, I felt frustrated, relieved, ecstatic, and the full range of emotions that come with a FromSoftware game. There was a difficulty check boss that took a couple of tries to get past, along with another boss that beat me up so bad I had to sit back and ponder on life for a bit.
I love it, and I think that Armored Core VI is another supremely promising outing from the wizards over at FromSoftware, proving once again that they simply don’t miss.
Armored Core VI is a sort of culmination of many years of learning for FromSoftware. Although their most recent outings were more focused on Soulslike titles, it allowed them to almost perfect the formula that this certainly benefits from. It’s easy to call this game, as most might do, the “Dark Souls” of Armored Core titles, but I’d probably say that this is as Armored Core as you can get with some Souls sprinkles here and there.
Players familiar with the series will be glad (or not) to know that the sortie-based progression is back. There’s no open world here, but players will progress through the game via a series of missions that will feature a number of objectives to fulfill. While each mission will reward players with currency or even parts to improve their mech, there’s still the factor of expenses like repair and ammunition costs being deducted from the total. It worked before, and it still works now.
Replayability is a big part of a playthrough in Armored Core VI. During missions, players will encounter optional targets that will appear, and killing these targets will reward players with some parts once a certain number of them are eliminated. Think of these as “bounties” that gives players an extra incentive to blast everything they see.
Players will also want to be efficient, as it is possible to run out of ammo during a crucial moment. While this is easily solved by the occasional supply stations or just by simply “dying” and trying again, ammo management is part of the whole assembly process and it’s a wrinkle that perfectionists and challenge runners will have to deal with. I didn’t feel the need to factor ammo during my limited time with it but I’m guessing it’ll rear its head in the later levels.
As mentioned, the Arena also makes a return, and while I only got to make my way through 3 opponents, the classic 1v1 format felt fantastic, tense, and is easily my favorite feature out of previous Armored Core titles. Winning these matches will reward players with chips that can be used to purchase more specialized equipment that will allow players to focus on certain aspects of their play style. There will be 30 ranks in total, so the climb to the top will be grueling. I remember how Pale Horse and Tiamat kicked my ass years ago in the arena, so I’ll be out to take revenge soon!
From the starting mission alone, the levels feel vast and visually impressive, looking artistically sublime and oozing with style. There’s enough horizontal space to go through, but FromSoftware has put a premium on verticality this time around, and it is evident in every aspect of the game down to the interesting level design, offering players multiple ways to reach their objective via layers upon layers of structures. The sense of scale is quite staggering and piloting a mech puts things into perspective at just how big and explorable the levels are.
Most importantly, controlling your Armored Core is pure bliss, with responsive and intuitive controls that allow players to easily zig and zag through enemies. Playing a PC build using an Xbox controller, the game never felt tough to control nor did my less dexterous hands struggle at any point, which was certainly a relief. I didn’t notice any performance dips during my time with the game, which could be unfair since we played on a powerful PC that I assumed was equipped with RTX 40-series cards, so it remains to be seen how the PS and Xbox versions fare in comparison.
There are three levels of movement in Armored Core VI – normal walking, a sustained boost that lets you glide, and a quick boost, allowing instantaneous acceleration in any direction that depletes your boost gauge (effectively a sidestep). A feature called Assault Boost is also present, allowing players to zoom toward a chosen target at the expense of the boost gauge. Mastery of movement is crucial to the game, as the boss battles here will test your piloting capabilities, posing a challenge to players as early as the first boss.
One more thing I liked about Armored Core VI is its minimalist HUD that shows critical details such as the ammo count of each weapon, HP, and a limited amount of consumable health packs for repairs, among others. The HUD is super informative while remaining sleek, and it’s a great way to clear players of any distractions because some battles can get hectic, and since bosses will have tells a la Souls games, there’s a premium in allowing players to put full focus into actual gameplay.
Complimenting the flawless controls is the fast-paced combat of Armored Core VI, which is probably as good as any installment in the series both in feel and satisfaction. Veterans of the series will immediately recognize that the game has shifted away from a fully free-aiming affair to incorporating varying degrees of lock-on, including a full “hard” lock-on mode. Oldheads may not like this particular change, but they are free to disable it should they want to. This may be a controversial decision but it shouldn’t take away from the excellent gameplay, and I didn’t feel that it took away from the overall identity of the series.
Armored Core VI will also feature a stagger mechanic that will give players an opening to deal massive amounts of damage. It’s represented by a yellow bar above the foe that slowly fills up when they take damage, forcing the players to pour on the heat so that the gauge doesn’t reset back to zero. Think of it as something like the posture system in Sekiro where calculated aggression is rewarded and is something that will be crucial to success in the later levels.
Most enemy mechs during normal missions are pushovers that can perish in just a few hits, but based on the levels that I played, the variety amps up as you go along. At some point, there are camouflaged enemies that you’ll need to hunt down, along with an enemy mech with a whip-like weapon that can deal immense damage with a few hits. There are snipers and shielded opponents as well that will require players to think about how they engage against them.
As with any FromSoftware game, the boss battles in Armored Core VI are an epic spectacle and a measure of skill at that point in the game. Armored Core VI provides a similar yet vastly different experience from Souls games due to the fact that players can fully utilize the 3D space provided while firing all four weapons, but so can the enemies. The first boss was a helicopter that required me to get up close to neutralize its constant rain of bullets while using the many structures to take a breather and allowing me to get the jump in when it swooped over.
An even tougher and shielded “Juggernaut” boss awaited me halfway through the session, requiring me to go up and over to hit its exposed weak spot from behind. One boss that I reached but didn’t get to play against due to time restraints has Returnal-like projectiles that filled the screen, as did its fiery attacks with sweeping motions that almost felt impossible to dodge. The challenge was indeed there and very reminiscent of how Souls titles will require players to study the attack tells and understand how these foes operate. I can’t say I’m looking forward to the many deaths, but the satisfaction of conquest in Armored Core VI will feel definitely glorious.
The core, so to speak, of Armored Core games is its extensive customization suite, and Armored Core VI has more than enough to give players an avenue to express themselves through their creations. Players will not only get to choose from a myriad of parts but also a vast array of options like paint, patterns, decals, and much more.
Series veterans will be familiar with all of the values that Armored Core VI will offer when customizing their parts. Balancing energy output with the total weight is something that will always pose a challenge, and will be an integral part of the experience. Should players feel the need to switch up parts to better deal with a boss, that can be done too.
During the aforementioned Juggernaut boss, I had to change parts of my assembly to make myself lighter, allowing my boost to accelerate me at a faster pace that would get me behind the boss faster before it got to turn around. The lighter frame made me rethink the weapons I brought to the fight, and I had to let go of my double-bazooka loadout for a more agile setup with upward-firing shoulder missiles that would ignore head-on protection.
There are a total of 12 assembly slots per mech (4 weapons – L-arm, L-back, R-arm, R-back, 4 frame parts – head, core, arms, legs, 3 inner parts – booster, FCS, Generator, and 1 expansion), and the weapon and frame sections will be fully customizable. Each of these can be painted or patterned, but if the stock options don’t suffice, there is also an image creator for a full display of creativity.
One impressive aspect of Armored Core VI’s design suite is that each frame and weapon part has multiple sections that can be individually customized. Casual customizers can opt to just splash a block of paint of a full pattern on, but master crafters can go into insane detail, personalizing each part down to its main and sub-sections for a fully custom part. There’s a LOT to do here, and it’s not hard to imagine how much time will be spent in this section as players share their anime-ridden creations over social media.
Check out what sorts of options you can choose from in the video below:
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is poised to make a triumphant return after almost 10 years, and is another highly anticipated title that makes 2023 such a banner year for gaming. If this hands-on is any indication of what players can expect when it launches next month, I can say for certain that it will be another feather in the cap of FromSoftware as they’ve been absolutely killing all of their releases for as long as anyone can remember.
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is launching on August 25, 2023, for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and PC.