Glossing over the fact that “armoured” is spelt incorrectly, what we have here is a FromSoftware game, which for a long time in my gaming life has been a seal of quality. I have waxed lyrical many times about how much I loved Elden Ring and the Dark Souls games. Hell, I even bought a PS4 to play Bloodbourne. But until now I have never played any of the previous Armored Core games.
Luckily, the story doesn’t seem to depend on in-depth knowledge of the series, and I was able to dive straight in and shoot things with the sixth installment, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon. Is this a FromSoftware hit or a rare miss? Well, strap on your AC, and I’ll tell you!
A little bit of story first of all. We are 621, an augmented human with a fried brain. We are strapped into our Armored Core, and sent down to Rubicon by our handler, Walter. We have to find a valid ID chip from a wrecked AC as soon as we land, and then proceed to get to work as an independent contractor, taking various dirty jobs for money that regular AC pilots don’t want to touch.
And from there, the world is the mollusc of your choice, as new missions follow on from completed missions. We get to make friends and enemies along the way, all in hope of making waves towards one of the three endings. However, as always, no spoilers here!
Presentation wise and Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is splendid. It isn’t an open world game like many others, and instead runs a mission area that is set in stone; it is literally impossible to go outside of it as red barriers appear and block your way. Perhaps that is not so ideal when running for your life from a boss, but hey ho!
The mission areas can be quite large, or they can be tights arenas where big bosses appear, but either way they look the part. Stomping (or rolling, or sliding, you get the picture) in your Armored Core is an amazing feeling, and the levels are truly three dimensional – the enemies can appear and shoot from literally anywhere, so keeping your head on a swivel, looking up and down and behind and sideways, all at once, soon becomes second nature.
Every enemy that you spot will appear in your HUD with a reticle around it, and staying locked and shooting while dodging in three dimensions is what makes this game look so breathtaking. The sheer amount of ordinance being thrown around, especially by some of the bigger bosses, is one another level, but even then Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon has never stuttered or slowed down once in all my time playing. Top marks go out to the developers.
The sound is all very good as well. There are fully voiced conversations with the various parties who contact you, and properly brutal sounding weapons and impacts as you fight. All in all, it’s all nothing less than I would expect from FromSoftware.
Now, how about the gameplay, how does that work? In short, brilliantly. The traditional FromSoftware cycle of “fight, win, get better gear, fight some more” is perfectly realised here. In fact, the two sides of Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon complement each other perfectly; the combat and the Armored Core development side.
Let’s look at the combat side of things first. As we accept missions, they have various different criteria that we have to fulfill. A perfect example is a mission called Operation Wallclimber, where we have to make our way up a wall to the top, and then take out a massive armoured boss at the top. Once we achieve this, one of the next missions we can take on is gathering intel on how the boss was defeated for the other side, where we have to follow the route we took to the top, and scan and retrieve logs from destroyed AC’s along the way. And we’re doing that while taking out enemies who were our allies a few moments ago. If that sounds confusing, welcome to Armored Core!
The main thing that takes some getting used to is that of the combat systems. Dashing and dodging upwards or downwards is equally as valid as side to side. When I started the game I was in my Darks Souls mindset – lock on and strafe until an opening presented itself, then attack. However, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon can do so much more. The dodge move sees you firing the AC’s boosters and sliding sideways, but you can jump and hover and even fly a short way, depending on the gear you have equipped. Boosting into the air, slipping sideways and then landing a massive energy sword swipe on a boss weak spot is an amazing feeling.
The big show pieces are undeniably impressive, but the smaller enemies can appear in such numbers as to cause you problems before you even reach the boss, so stay on your toes. The sheer variety of types of weapons is amazing, and trying them all out, finding a loadout that suits, is great fun. Not every loadout will be best for every mission, however, and learning to be adaptable and becoming familiar with all the weapon archetypes will pay dividends in the long run.
And then we get to the part of Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon that takes place in the AC hanger, resting between missions. There is a shop where we can buy new parts for the AC; from arms and legs through to OS upgrades and new weapons. Each mission we complete sees us take home a decent chunk of currency, which is then spent on new gear. And as certain milestones are hit, new items are added to the shop; staying as upgraded as possible is usually a good idea. Of course, there’s also the chance to utilise parts in order to assemble an Armored Core to a specific specification – and this is where the game really starts to open up.
Each bit of an Armored Core can be modified and changed, with mixing and matching different parts providing good results. Legs or caterpillar tracks? Which arms does sir require? Head? Core? And so on and on, right down to different boosters and generators which can be swapped around.
There are also points where weapons can be attached to your rig, both hands and both shoulders. Hand held weapons tend to be along the range of standard weapons, in so far as they are scaled up to suit a massive mech. Shotguns, assault rifles, even pistols and swords can be used in either hand, and dual wielding is always a good plan. A favourite combo is a fast firing weapon like an assault rifle in the left hand, and a massive bazooka in the right.
On the shoulders, the majority of systems are types of rocket launcher, being either straightforward lock-on ones, or maybe a battery that fires upwards, hitting foes behind cover. Maybe you’d prefer a shield that can block a certain number of hits, or perhaps an enormous laser cannon? All this and more is possible, and there must be thousands of combinations to try out. Oh, and while you are there, why not paint your AC? The paint system is pretty cool, allowing the chance to slap emblems on rigs.
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is a superb game. In fact, there’s hardly a thing to complain about. Granted there are some difficulty spikes, but they can normally be addressed by respeccing your system in some way, as each enemy does seem to have a weakness. Learning from mistakes is a good way to tackle things here.
And so what this means is that Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is another FromSoftware triumph that is hard to fault. And that’s without even mentioning the PvP arena or the VR training sections. But then, I don’t get paid by the word…