It’s been 10 years since the last Armored Core game, and in that time it’s fair to say that FromSoftware has become synonymous with a very particular type of game. Some caution should be exhibited, then, when approaching Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon. This may be the studio’s follow-up to Elden Ring, but only in terms of this being the game it’s releasing next. There are no open world elements here, nor do you level up. This is a game that sticks to its roots, providing an intense single-player campaign where you must build badass mechs and use them to complete missions that are somewhat bite-sized.
Truth be told, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon has nearly nothing in common with FromSoftware’s magnum opus, Elden Ring. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game or that you shouldn’t give it your time of day. On the contrary, it’s actually very good – just in a different way. One is an epic high-fantasy adventure that rewards exploration; the other is an objective-focused sci-fi jaunt where you need to think and act fast. The only thing that really connects them is their difficulty levels. Like Elden Ring or Dark Souls, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon can be extremely difficult at times.
Cast as a mercenary, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon finds you illegally stepping foot on planet Rubicon 3. In exchange for completing missions given to you by your mysterious handler, Walter, you’re promised a new life, but something seems a little fishy. In any case, it doesn’t take long for you to make a name for yourself, given your skills in the field. We’d like to say that the story is gripping, but it didn’t take long for us to simply stop caring about it. For us, it quickly played third fiddle behind the game’s mech building and intense bouts of action.
Spread across numerous chapters, the missions here are generally short and sweet. Most can be completed in mere minutes. Of course, you’re generally tasked with simply wiping out enemy mechs (or ACs as they’re known here), but sometimes you have other objectives such as destroying specific structures or gathering data. In any case, keeping your wits about you and staying on the move is essential; enemy fire will cut through your armor with little fuss, and with only three repair packs available, you can soon find your mech beyond repair with a mission failed message on the screen.
Some missions in Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon, however, are a little more meaty. Or at least they feel it thanks to their epic scale. There’s one mission fairly early into the game, for example, that tasks you with taking down a mining ship. It’s only as you approach it that you realise that it’s actually a walking mech as big as a city. Cue boosting from one platform to another as you take down its energy cores before finally combatting its eye-like laser defense system. It’s moments like this, and the many smaller but equally impressive boss battles, that keep you coming back for more.
Boss battles can be terribly frustrating, though. They’re typically much harder than your typical encounter, but at least you generally get to resupply before them, replenishing your ammo and repair kits. And if you do find your mech being taken out of action, a checkpoint system means you can have another go without having to replay large parts of the mission. Having skills to take down a boss is often only part of emerging victorious, however; sometimes having certain equipment also feels necessary. Thankfully you can change the assembly of your mech between deaths. But you can only equip things you already own.
There will be times, then, where you’ll reach the boss of a mission only to have to quit to totally rethink the build of your mech. It’s not too bad, thanks to missions being on the short side, but it can still be a bit of a pain. We were having a really tough time with a boss that made use of an energy shield, for example. After trying multiple approaches with the parts we had available, we quit to see what the parts store had to offer that might help. It paid off. Returning to the fight with a Pulse Gun equipped, the boss’ shield proved much less effective at protecting his dastardly hide.
While the difficulty of its bosses is the most frustrating thing about Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon, it also makes it ever-so rewarding to overcome one by studying its attacks and general traits, then building your own mech to effectively cut it down. It pays to build up a large assortment of mech parts, perhaps replaying missions to earn valuable credits and seek out hidden parts. You can engage in Arena battles, too, going one-on-one against a range of adversaries to earn OCTs that allow you to unlock new abilities and more.
In terms of content, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon should keep players occupied for a long time to come. Playing through the campaign, players will eventually be able to make choices as to who they affiliate themselves with, leading to multiple endings to be discovered. Also, when replaying missions, your performance is ranked, which will lead to some aiming for the coveted S rank on each. And while we weren’t able to test it before launch thanks to the game’s servers not being active, there’s a competitive online multiplayer mode, letting players show off their skills against others across the globe.
For those that don’t mind that its story is passable, and that its difficulty wildly varies from mission to mission, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is likely to be a bit of a treat. It looks great, the action is lighting fast and always remains smooth, and there’s genuine joy to be had in amassing a wide range of parts and then using them to create builds that allow you to much more effectively complete missions. This is a far cry from FromSoftware’s popular output in recent years, but can be just as engrossing – providing you have an open mind.