Title: Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon
Release Date: August 24, 2023
Reviewed On: PS5
Publisher: Bandai Namco
“Wake the dog up.” This is one of the first words spoken during the campaign of Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon. It acts as a way to instantly tell you that whoever you are, you are expendable. However, the war for rare materials rages, and you have a job to do. After ten years, I’m back in the cockpit of an AC, and I couldn’t be more excited. The advancements made within the gaming space during that time make Armored Core VI a true spectacle of mech greatness, but what I’m mostly happy to report is that under the hood, this is the same Armored Core you remember, only much, much better.
Over the years, developer FromSoftware has made a name for themselves by releasing some of the most challenging action games to date. Coming hot off the heels of the insanely successful Elden Ring, the developer is returning to the Armored Core series. As far as new gamers are concerned, I’m sure many are confused about what this series even is. Well, this is a review, and there are accessible Wikipedia pages available to you if you want to know more about the series’ past. So let’s move past this setup and get to talking about the game.
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is a mech action game that you’d assume would look past its story to instead focus solely on gameplay. However, that’s not the case here, and although it lacks cinematic scenarios, much of the story is delivered before and after each mission. As new characters are introduced, the narrative becomes more complicated to follow. Thankfully, the voice actors are each distinct in portraying their personalities without the need to see their faces. Even outside of story scenes, the voices can be heard clearly over the action, but they don’t intrude on your experience.
You wake up as an augmented human pilot inside of an AC mech. A voice from Handler Walter instructs you to infiltrate the planet of Rubicon as a mercenary. The planet is undergoing several large-scale confrontations in search of a precious substance known as Coral. As you take on paid missions, you discover more about this planet and its inhabitants. However, you should expect several twists that really push themes of freedom and understanding the big picture. I had such a great time with the narrative that excellently immersed me in this world more than I ever thought it would.
Gameplay consists of accepting missions from the Sortie, which progress the campaign. These missions also provide monetary rewards used to buy new weapons and equipment. Being an augmented human, you have the upper hand during most enemy encounters. However, the enemy units can be ruthless in their attempts to take you out. Many missions allow you to tackle objectives as you see fit, which encourages exploration. For example, you can take a path where you must avoid lasers firing at you, or you can opt to go underneath and use the safe route. However, the game never explicitly tells you which route to take.
Further, some areas have hidden chests full of equipment to find, but you’ll need to utilize your AC’s scan ability to find them. This Scan system also reveals hidden enemies and can be used to lock onto unseen enemies for a quick takedown. The game also features a tutorial that becomes more robust over time. Even if you think you’re an Ace pilot, I recommend completing these as they unlock to get free weapons.
Mission objectives vary, with some last anywhere from a minute to 30 minutes. Sometimes you’ll need to collect data, investigate an area, or take out an enemy-controlled area. Interestingly, there are sometimes sub-objectives that creep up, which are optional but do provide additional rewards if you’re up for the task. These usually revolve around taking down a powerful enemy.
However, you’ll eventually have to face off against a boss. And if I’m being honest, my attempts at these boss battles probably made up 20 hours of my 54-hour playtime. Simply put, they are ruthless. We know the developer knows how to make a memorable boss battle, but they really pulled out all of the stops here. The thing about Armored Core is that you aren’t only fighting on the ground. There’s a verticality about every situation where you need to consider all aspects of your mech. Whether that be the weight, boost strength, ammo, or armor, you need to be aware of everything all at once to be victorious. That said, how you take on these incredibly challenging trials is up to you and your playstyle.
So let’s break from gameplay to talk about the other significant system of Armored Core VI, customization. As you purchase new weapons and parts, you’ll be able to completely change the performance and appearance of your AC unit. As far as weapons go, you can equip up to four weapons, two of which are connected to the AC’s back. Thankfully, you’re allowed to watch a preview of each weapon before purchasing, but the variety of weapons is quite vast. Equipment is similar, where you can alter the legs, arms, core, and head, which will affect the AC’s performance.
Each player will have a different approach to their preferred loadout, but bosses generally seem to have some weapon or another that they’re weaker against. This doesn’t make them easier, but it does make them more manageable. If a boss has an extremely fast laser shot that is causing massive damage, you can either equip parts that make you fast to avoid damage or use up one of your four weapon slots for a shield.
Suffice it to say; you’ll be in these menus a lot, which makes me wish they made it easier to navigate from the shop to the equipment screen without having to purchase something, and then back out of the shop to the equipment screen. There isn’t even a prompt to equip now after purchasing something. Thankfully, there’s an option to edit your loadout after dying during a mission, which allows you to start at the nearest checkpoint and try a new strategy. I wish they had the option in the pause menu to customize the loadout when you want to but still return to the checkpoint. This is only because the dying animation can be lengthy if you’re wanting to edit some parts. Outside of that, you can restart at the checkpoint whenever you want. I should also mention that you can’t buy new equipment while on a mission. So if you haven’t purchased a weapon you need for a particular fight, you’ll have to restart the mission.
Armored Core VI remains consistently fun thanks to this gameloop of constantly changing around your gear while trying to stay under burdened. There are plenty of nerdy stats and numbers to mow over if that’s your thing, or you can just pay attention to the surface-level stats of the equipment. The AC can be further customized using chips earned from Arena battles. These unlock throughout the campaign, with the chips providing options to add extra damage to weapons, more health potions, along with other buffs. It’s something that you shouldn’t overlook and will likely be your saving grace during some of the tougher fights.
Following the end of Chapter 2, multiplayer opens up, and you can take on other players from around the world. There seems to be some sense of balancing as I was faced against others of the same rank, but this could be due to the early environement. The battles are exhilarating and resemble the Arena fights against AI. I really enjoyed the variety of AC units encountered here. It gave me a chance to see how other players customized their units and put together their loadout to help me during the campaign. Still, I do miss the local co-op modes.
The environments are all very detailed. In the earlier stages, your AC units tower over cars parked, which provides a sense of scale. There’s variety in the environments, too, with stages that take place in closed quarters and big open areas. Graphically, I find Armored Core VI to be a gorgeous action experience. The explosions and fast action provide a tense gaming environement to immerse yourself in. You will constantly be using every button on the controller, but I think tying an action to Triangle + L3 was a bit overkill. Still, your fingers begin to adapt, and you become one with the AC. On that note, the camera can be a bitch sometimes because it’s tough to stay locked onto an enemy with R3 only to accidentally lock off the enemy when you manually move the camera with the Right Analog-stick.
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon might be a return to form for FromSoftware, but the series is brand new for players who only recently discovered them within the Souls-like genre. Armored Core VI has everything to stand on its own within the developer’s current lineup of titles and the other entries of this series. It excels in fast-paced mecha action by providing an experience only Armored Core can deliver. Similar to the intricate ACs you’ll surely create, this game is refined to its core offering highly challenging action with plenty of options to fit your playstyle. Armored Core VI is a must-play mecha action game, no matter your knowledge of the series.
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