It has been a very long time since we had a good Armored Core game. I really couldn't have guessed FromSoftware would go back to the franchise because they’ve been doing so well with the Soulsborne games and formula, and they’re even working on major Elden Ring DLC now. That said, here we are. Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon isn’t just real. It’s real good. In fact, it's everything I wanted a 2023 Armored Core game to be. The sheer level of personalization is back, the missions are quick but rich, and the explosive set pieces are bigger than ever. Like any FromSoftware game, Armored Core 6 doesn’t always play nice in its difficulty, but it’s still something altogether incredible, deep, and satisfying.
They called it the Fires of Ibis
Armored Core 6 takes place in the wake of a tremendous disaster on a planet known as Rubicon. At one point, humanity discovered Coral: a valuable conductive energy source that also allowed transfer of data streams. With it, humanity embarked on a technological golden age, that is, until the largely gathered Coral erupted in a cataclysmic explosion that scorched the surface of Rubicon and even stretched throughout its star system, igniting other planetary bodies. All Coral was thought to have burned out in what came to be known as the Fires of Ibis.
That is, until corporations picked up traces of Coral once again appearing on Rubicon 50 years later. And with the discovery, a gold rush of sorts began with corporations swooping in to attempt to secure whatever Coral they could claim. That makes way for you, an augmented human mercenary known only as 621, and your coordinator, Handler Walter, to also swoop into the planet and attempt to profit in the chaos. I didn’t expect Armored Core 6 to have a very compelling story, but it takes some twists and turns to pull players in. I came to know friendly and rival pilots and handlers. I came to see the politics and backstabbing of corporations and their personal military units, and I ended up caring about more than just building a cool mech and taking it out into combat.
A part of the pull of Armored Core 6 is the sheer beauty of the game. Like many of its predecessors, Armored Core 6 is played in missions, and in each sortie, players are presented with absolutely vast stretches of icy land, mountainous terrain, and twisted technology strewn throughout them. If things weren’t pristine and shining, they were rusted, broken, and on fire. From the small city outside of a dam-turned-defensive fortresses of one mission to the massive mountainside foundry, factory, and cargo catapult of another, this game’s battlefields are incredible even for the often-short time that you’re in them.
The mechs are cool as all get-out, too, and there’s a lot you can do cosmetically with your own. Between paint tools, emblem creators, decal placements, and more, I got to create a custom mech paint job and player emblem that took hours to craft. By the end, I felt satisfied that all of my equipment had my signature. You don’t have to spend hours on that, though. There are tons of preset cosmetic options that you can apply to your mechs whenever you feel like it, as well as shine, rust, and other weathering options. Simply put, if you don’t like the way your mech looks, the game gives you nearly every tool you need to change it whether you want to go the involved route or just choose a preset the game already has.
Mech management sim
If it wasn’t enough to be able to make your mech cosmetically your own, Armored Core 6 is also filled to the brim with parts and weaponry to make any mech functionally your own as well. You start out with a paltry few options to kit out your mechs, but as you go through Armored Core 6, complete its missions, battle in the Arena, and discover secret encounters and logs in missions, you’ll either unlock parts outright or gain access to buy them in the AC Parts Shop. By the time you reach the end of Chapter 2, you should have a formidable array of options to choose from, and the game just continues to give you more bristling armaments as you push through its campaign.
The weapons are incredibly fun and varied. Between kinetic (regular bullets), energy, explosive, and impact styles of damage, you’ll find a wide assortment of gear to fit nearly any style you want. Want a double machinegun build with missile launchers? Go for it. Want to strap your tank with all of the strongest explosives possible? If you have the money, it’s possible. I think one of my favorites was a pile bunker melee weapon on my agile build. If I was able to stun an enemy, I’d swoop in and ram it into their side, doing massive damage and often blowing their torso right off their legs. Delightful.
Body parts remain at the core of the building process, where you choose legs, a torso, arms, and a head that provide you with a mixed array of mech health (Armor Points), speed, maneuverability, targeting ease, weight, weapon carrying capacity, and more. You can build light for hit-and-run tactics with close-combat weaponry, heavy with tank treads or spider legs to allow you to tank hits and utilize massive artillery without flinching, or anywhere in between. You can even do weird builds once you unlock a certain limit override that allows you to pack on as much weight as you want and still go on missions while overburdened.
The real limiter in Armored Core 6 is the context of the missions and what you’ll be fighting. I would say that this game is often very light in its difficulty when it comes to encounters, but when it does get hard, it’s usually because your mech isn’t equipped for the situation. If you’re coming up against a boss with huge attacks, a slow tank might not cut it if you can’t deliver damage fast enough. Likewise, a light mech doesn’t mean much if you don’t have the firepower you need to finish a job. Thankfully, Armored Core 6 also has lots of ways to test your mechs and make sure your build works. There are both PVE and PVP arenas to explore, allowing you to match up against a list of AI opponents or human enemies to see how your mech stacks up. You can even save builds you like and load them as you see fit.
I won’t say FromSoftware went easy on this game. The bosses are where you really find out if what you’ve been building is worth its weight in credits. This is also where the game’s difficulty would often go from manageable to absurd. I had several encounters where I had a tough time, but I could grind it out or figure out which of my varied builds were capable of doing the job. However, occasionally, I came across enemies that just wiped everything I had frequently and felt ridiculously hard to crack.
The problem with Armored Core 6 being FromSoftware hard is that it’s not built in such an open-ended way as a game like Elden Ring or Dark Souls. If the boss at the end of the mission keeps wiping the deck with your mech, you can’t go play another mission to advance the story. You have to beat that one, and if you can’t, that means going back and replaying previous missions to gain enough credits to buy more parts. This felt like padding to me, and grindy at that, and was one of the few times where I felt Armored Core 6 was abusing my time. That said, Armored Core 6 also has that FromSoftware level of triumph when you defeat a particularly hard boss. I cheered out loud when I took down one of my biggest adversaries, and because it’s all mechs here, I was treated to a deliciously satisfying explosion of fire and metal as Handler Walter congratulated me on turning my foe into scrap.
Lock and load
Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon truly feels like a surprise treat this year. I’ve played a lot of good mech games, but few have ever given me the sheer depth of customization in both cosmetics and functionality that we have here. It’s like a dream come true. Certainly, it’s not the easiest game to beat and there are bosses that turn that dream into a temporary nightmare. However, when the answer is always just build a cooler, stronger mech, there’s little I can complain about beyond replaying missions to get there. It took a long time for Armored Core to come back and show a new generation why we loved these games back in the 90s and 2000s, but I couldn’t be happier it’s here. Maybe I’ll see you in the field and we’ll see who’s the real ace. I look forward to it.
This review is based on an early PlayStation 5 digital copy provided by the publisher. Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon releases on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC on August 25, 2023.
Armored Core 6 Fires of Rubicon
- Deep and satisfying mech customization
- Tons of weapons and parts to explore
- An enormous variety of options to play your way
- Missions are mostly short and sweet
- Tough bosses are satisfying to destroy
- A surprisingly compelling story
- Some intense difficulty spikes
- Having to replay missions feels grindy
TJ Denzer posted a new article, Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon review: Burns so good
Looks good! Only negative I read was that if you are stuck on a boss, you basically have to either git gud, or go back and replay missions to grind for more money and purchase upgrades.
But..that's just like Souls. If you are stuck on a boss, you go and grind some known zones for souls, then upgrade your levels and/or gear. Elden Ring is the only game that offers true freedom in that respect.
Yeah...I can't get past that, unfortunately. I just don't have the time nor inclination. Probably not for me.
I will add that many of the missions outside of boss encounters (and even some of the boss missions) are fairly short. You can grind enough credits to substantially change your kit in about an hour. It's just a bit of a stick in my craw that I have to grind in the first place. The end result is a better, stronger mech though.
I'm...easily hungup on choke points like this in games. It's a huge, huge turn off for me. I'll try a few times and then stop. I don't really get a sense of satisfaction from defeating any kind of boss encounters in *any* game so it's a tactic that just doesn't impact me much.
Totally understood, and that's why I included it as a pain point. I wouldn't lead anyone into this game under the misconception that it won't do typical FromSoftware hard-as-nails shenanigans.
Personally I am 100% good with this and was sort of hoping that would be the case. I am really looking forward to it!
I am 100% good with this and honestly I expected and wanted it. If any game has upgrades and progression that is just how it is designed, either you need to LVL up or you have crazy skillz, and it has always been this way.
Sort of insane some reviews are complaining about the bosses in my opinion.
Totally agree with your last part, weird that those reviewers don't get after all the Souls games we all played over the years.
Yeah, I played Armored Core 1 through 4. I know it's always been that way. I just kind of wish it wasn't to a small degree. Only in the way that I wish there were branching missions where I could go after one path if I'm struggling in another. Small qualm, but I was talking to Sam Chandler and I think I'm just a bit spoiled by Elden Ring giving me the freedom of being able to take a different path for a bit if I'm struggling on one.
https://www.eurogamer.net/armored-core-6-fires-of-rubicon-review - five stars
https://kotaku.com/armored-core-6-review-elden-ring-souls-rpg-fromsoftware-1850765780 - extremely positive
https://www.ign.com/articles/armored-core-6-fires-of-rubicon-review - positive, mentions bland storytelling
https://www.pcgamer.com/armored-core-6-fires-of-rubicon-review/ - 87
https://www.polygon.com/reviews/23842706/armored-core-6-review-fromsoftware - recommended
Folks, looks like this is gonna be a good one
Still not seeing any reviews detailing how it controls/plays with mouse and keyboard. It’s all console so far and maybe one Steamdeck (which is console again). Anyone seen or heard anything specific?
Awesome! I am pre loading it right now on my PC, this is how I feel right now knowing I am going to be playing it later in the day https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-BkrwO_Dck
Today is going to be a good day!
Thanks for the write up.