Armored Core 6 Fires of Rubicon is a third-person shooter mecha game developed by FromSoftware and published by Bandai Namco. The game is the latest entry in the long-running mecha series from the 1990s. It’s been 10 years since the last entry of the franchise, and I can safely say that it’s been worth the wait.
Note – A Steam key was provided for the purpose of this review.
Developer & Publisher // FromSoftware Inc., Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platforms // PlayStation 4|5, PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
MSRP & Release Date // $59.99, Aug 24, 2023
Reviewed On // PC
A Simple Plot
Armored Core 6 takes place in a future where humanity has achieved interstellar civilization. The game’s story unfolds on the planet Rubicon 3. It is a frontier planet where a valuable natural resource known as Coral has been discovered.
The use of the resource was initially hailed as a breakthrough for technological progress. However, instead of advancement, the planet is consumed by the catastrophic event called the Fires of Ibis. This calamity engulfed the planet and its surrounding star system in flames, leaving behind a dangerous contaminant. It was believed that all Coral had been destroyed in this disaster.
A Corpo Rush for Coral
However, 50 years later, traces of Coral were detected once again on Rubicon 3. This leads to competing corporations rushing to exploit the resource, disregarding the harm it may cause to the inhabitants.
Mercenaries also flock to the planet, seeking to profit from the escalating conflicts. The player assumes the role of an augmented human known as “C4-621,” serving under an infamous handler named Walter. As an Armored Core (AC) pilot, the player takes on mercenary jobs in the hopes of earning a fresh start. By illegally landing on Rubicon 3, C4-621 assumes the identity of a deceased mercenary, adopting their callsign: “Raven.”
My first impressions of Armored Core 6’s plot were that it was thin and lacking. This is due to all of the story beats being provided in mission briefings and voice messages. It didn’t help that 621 is a silent protagonist and feels more like a vessel than a character.
As you progress in the game, the narrative opens up and becomes more intriguing. In certain chapters, players can select deviating paths that ultimately impact the storyline. By the end, the story was captivating enough to warrant my attention. But I wouldn’t consider it a fundamental part of the game’s experience. The same applies to the game’s humanless cast.
The Lack of Human Characters Destorys Connections
The characters are uninteresting for the most part, but they maintain their purpose in moving the narrative forward. Characters such as Walker and Ayre are just voices and for the most part one-dimensional and predictable.
The lack of visible human characters creates a wedge and dissolves any connection to the characters. Despite the decent voiceovers, Armored Core 6 fails to provide any emotional connections to its figure-less characters.
Armored Core 6 Understands Mecha Combat
Similar to other Fromsoftware games, Armored Core 6 shines the most in its intricate combat system. Each AC can equip up to four weapons, one in each hand and one in each shoulder.
There are also three damage types weapons can dish out: impact, kinetic, and energy. Enemies and bosses have specific damage-type weaknesses that players can exploit.
Your AC can jump, hover, and attack boost (dash) that will alter damage output while providing strategic opportunities to get the upper hand against enemies. These movements are governed by the energy bar which operates similarly to the tried-and-true stamina bar. Push your AC too far and there will be a short delay before it recharges. It’s a wonderful system that works well and demands players’ attention during intense combat sequences.
Armored Core 6 also sports one of the most highly intuitive reticle systems I have seen in a while. The reticle will display cooldowns for each equipped weapon.
Target-locked weapons, such as missile launchers, will display a smaller inner yellow arch which indicates that the targeted enemy will receive a direct hit from missiles. Direct hits deal out more damage and are imperative to honing your efficiency during combat.
The number right next to the yellow arch indicates how many missiles will be launched on the target enemy. It’s also easy to target-lock multiple enemies with a simple flick of the right stick. If you prefer to hard lock to a target that option is available to you by pressing in the right stick.
In essence, the functionality of the reticle reflects Fromsoftware’s subtle attention to detail that their fans enjoy. It’s been incredible discovering these nuances and how they can help you get the edge over enemies and bosses.
Dynamic Controls Bring Armored Core 6 to Life
Armored Core 6 nails the controls setup. ACs moved with weight and heft to them. This was especially noticeable when you assembled a heavier Armored Core. It was immediately reflected in the controls. For instance, if you installed the tank legs, you’ll notice that the controls are immediately different when compared to equipping traditional legs. Even when you boost donning the tank feet, it feels distinctive and different compared to a regular setup. the small things make a big difference in making each AC feel unique.
However, I openly admit that I did cheat a bit to make things easier for myself. I cranked up the Camera Sensitivity in the options menu so I could quickly turn in my AC. Quick movement is not only an advantage, but necessary if you want to survive during combat.
Weapons are mapped to the triggers and shoulder buttons. The triggers are reserved for on-hand weapons, while your two shoulder weapons/gear can be activated via the shoulder buttons. The setup works incredibly well, but there was one glaring issue that is hardware-related that cannot be overlooked.
Back Buttons Are a Must
I reviewed the game on PC but opted to play with the Hyper X Clutch Gladiate controller, and I’m glad I did. The two back buttons were critical and turned the tide during combat. Your thumbs always had to be on the analog sticks so you could quickly turn and stay on your target. So, I programmed the back buttons for boosting and jumping respectively.
However, I felt that playing the game with a controller that didn’t have back buttons was an immense handicap. No doubt, it makes life much harder than it had to be. Moving your thumbs away from the sticks essentially renders you vulnerable for a moment. For a challenging game like Armored Core 6, that could be the difference between victory and death.
Plenty of Weapons, Gear, and Customization Options
Armored Core 6 has a vast array of weapons at your disposal. From ballistic weapons to missiles, lasers, and plasma weapons, the game has a use for each type of weapon given the enemy/boss you’re facing.
Missiles target and travel directly towards targets. While different launchers operate more akin to mortars that launch up in the air before descending onto targets. Your AC is also fully customizable. Players can purchase new AC heads, arms, legs, generators, and other parts to create a variety of builds. This gives an immense amount of customization options, which players will need to overcome challenging scenarios and boss fights the game will throw at you. Fortunately, you can save your AC load-outs and can easily switch between them. However, there is a major caveat worth noting.
Certain builds can absolutely decimate most enemies and bosses. These builds can quickly stagger bosses or deplete their shields. Despite these OP builds, some bosses will still prove challenging. While it might seem like these builds “break” the game, I feel that it adds to the power fantasy that Armored Core 6.
Legendary Boss Fights
The true stars of the Armored Core 6 are undoubtedly the challenging bosses you will face across the planet Rubicon. From the get-go, the AH12 HC attack helicopter in the very first mission is a stark reminder that this is a FromSoftware game. You will get punished if you don’t learn from your mistakes and adjust your AC build to exploit bosses’s weaknesses.
My favorite boss was Balteus who is the final boss fight of Chapter 1. The lead-up to the boss was perfectly set up. A mini-boss fight appears right before your main mission objective. Once you reach and destroy the item that is your primary objective, a mysterious voice calls to you and before you know it, the voice lets you know that you have to be destroyed.
Enter Balteus, a large gracefully floating AC that showers you with missiles. There are so many missiles that they could potentially fill up your screen. Of course, it is a multi-phase boss battle and will likely cause you to reconsider your loadout.
Another stand-out boss is the very last boss in Chapter 5. But for the purpose of avoiding spoilers, all I will say is that the boss was the toughest encounter and the stage was by far the grandest in terms of scale. Like the tried-and-true Fromsoftware formula, most boss fights were epic and memorable, as they should be. Best of all you don’t have to worry about backtracking to reach bosses.
Boss Checkpoints Are a Saving Grace
Fromsoftware incorporated many of the quality-of-life (QoL) features found in their previous titles. Right before every boss fight, there is a checkpoint and if you die you will return to the checkpoint. However, the checkpoint also allows you to reconfigure your loadout and experiment with your build.
Though you can’t purchase new AC parts from checkpoints, which is a fair trade-off, it seems to be a QoL design choice that Fromsoftware learned from Elden Ring with Stakes of Marika available before every boss fight. I appreciated it and helps prevent unnecessary backtracking that could spoil the Armored Core 6 experience.
Mission Structure Did Not Leave a Good First Impression
When I first booted up Armored Core 6 I was not a fan of the mission structure. I am very aware of the fact that the franchise has always had this structure, though I couldn’t help but feel like I was going back in time, playing a game from the PS2/PS3 era. But this feeling didn’t last long. By the time I encountered the very first boss, the infamous AH12 HC attack helicopter, I was rudely reminded that this is a Fromsoftware game through and through.
However as I progressed further in the game, I came to appreciate the mission structure. This is because Fromsoftware was able to maintain the traditional Armored Core structure while incorporating all of the gameplay and design experience they’ve accumulated over the years. For the most part, missions are straightforward events and will ask you to destroy certain targets or defend an area.
Some of the missions will incorporate stealth elements, and being spotted will result in mission failure. Another mission that stood out to me involved traversing a floating platform. However, going out in the open means your AC could be disintegrated by a massive laser beam, so you have to travel under platforms to reach your objective. These missions did enough to change the formula up a bit, which is something I appreciated.
Armored Core 6 is divided into 5 chapters and my playthrough took me around 20 hours to reach end credits. But the game features multiple endings based on the certain mission choices that you make. This adds a lot to the replayability.
Plenty to Do In Between Missions
Between missions, players can select different types of activities to engage in. There are training missions that will help better explain the game’s mechanics. I highly recommend completing them so you get a better understanding of the game’s mechanics that the tutorial doesn’t fully explain.
Arena fights are one-on-one AC encounters. Completing them nets you OS points that you can collect to unlock perks and passive abilities. In other words, completing Arena fights should be high on your list and wrapped up as soon as they’re available.
There’s also the Nest Battle Simulator Network which is the game’s online mode. However, this mode is made available right at the start of Chapter 3, so keep that in mind. Players can select either 1v1 or 3v3 PVP matches. You only get one life and heals are not allowed during matches. The best out of 3 wins the match.
As of writing, the multiplayer player base on Steam is decently populated and matches are fun and frantic. It was a nice change of pace to play against other players and to see their unique AC load-outs and impressive paint jobs. I did not experience any major lag issues. Matches were usually fast and fluid and occurred without any hitches to note. It was a nice change of pace and added value to Armored Core 6’s offering.
Armored Core 6 Has Uneven Graphics
When it comes to the graphics, Armored Core 6 left an uneven impression. My first impression is that the graphics looked like something from the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 era. It doesn’t help when some of the environments are industrial military complex settings, not exactly captivating scenery. But the environment looked clean for the most part. However, a closer examination of some of the building textures did look flat and generic. Once again these textures looked as if they were ripped straight from the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 generation. But other aspects of Armored Core 6’s graphics did stand out.
The ACs are all well-detailed, this is especially noticeable when you are between missions and your Armored Core is parked behind the menu selection. But because fights can be fast and hectic, and you might be targeting enemies from some distance, it is a bit difficult to appreciate the game’s up-and-close graphics during missions.
Where the game shines when it comes to the graphics are the sprawling vistas. Sometimes during missions, I just stopped and basked in awe of the beautiful backdrops. Seeing massive star ships and mammoth floating stations always left me with my jaw open. But deep down I wasn’t surprised, impressive distant backdrops are staples of Fromsoftware. Albeit now we get more industrial and military-focused backdrops.
Consistent Armored Core Art Style
The art style remains consistent with previous Armored Core entries. There’s a heavy emphasis on industrial and desolate landscapes that comprise the game’s art style. You’d be hard-pressed to pick out Armored Core 6 if it was in a line-up with previous entries from the franchise.
The ACs found in Armored Core 6 are essentially the same ones found throughout the franchise. Albeit with a somewhat fresh coat of paint on top of them. While the industrial and open desolate landscapes are classic franchise callbacks. It’s that consistency that I enjoy seeing when it comes to a game’s art style.
One of Fromsoftware’s Better Performing Games
I reviewed Armored Core 6 on an AMD Ryzen 3 3300x (temporary CPU) paired with a Radeon 5700XT GPU. I was getting above 70 FPS on high settings with shadows on medium. The game was very consistent at this rate and even during hectic battles the performance kept up.
However, I did experience multiple system restarts (approximately 5 times). Thankfully none of the restarts occurred mid-mission, which would have been frustrating.
The game does feature a 120 FPS cap on PC. While console players will be happy to hear that AC6 is locked at 60 FPS on current-gen consoles. Overall, Armored Core 6 is one of FromSoftware’s better-optimized titles.
Phenomenal Sound Design and Soundtrack
When it comes to the audio department, Armored Core 6 does an impeccable job. The mecha and weapons sound effects are incredibly convincing. Ballistic and energy weapons produced thunderous and resonating sound effects. Missiles and launchers sounded impactful. Slight movements produced beautifully created hissing hydraulics while activating boost sounds produced an impact sound. In addition, the warning beep of incoming attacks added to the game’s immersion.
The soundtrack conveys solitude and desolation. Low-end heavy industrial synths take center stage and beautifully complement the game’s sci-fi corpo and cold atmosphere.
Final Thoughts on Armored Core 6
Despite having an entirely different gameplay setup and sci-fi setting, Armored Core 6 is a Fromsoftware title through and through. The intricate mecha combat mechanics and challenging boss fights make for an incredible experience. Though there are some missed opportunities in terms of the graphics and story beats, it’s easy to proclaim that Armored Core VI is the best game in the long-running franchise.
Note – A Steam key was provided for the purpose of this review