Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon Review


It’s been a hot minute since the last time we were able to pile bunker an enemy mech in the face, but the team at From Software has finally returned to their roots with Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon. It certainly looks and feels the part of a modern mecha action game, with gorgeous graphics, a rock-solid 60fps frame rate that never falters, and an intuitive control scheme that dramatically reduces the learning curve we had to deal with in prior Armored Core games. At the same time, its bland mission briefings and a few elements of its design feel a bit stuck in their old ways. But Armored Core 6 scores direct hits in the spots it matters the most: specifically the highly customizable, intense, and frantic mecha battles.

If there’s one area where Armored Core 6 could have benefited from more modernization, it’s in its storytelling. The five-chapter campaign plays out almost entirely over radio conversations, PowerPoint presentation-style mission briefings, and combat chatter that is nearly impossible to pay attention to while you’re fighting for your life on the mining planet of Rubicon. It doesn’t help that our character is a blank slate who just does whatever they’re told, fighting on behalf of corporations, resistance forces, arms dealers, or the enigmatic Walter and his personal agenda. As a result, despite an interesting setting and premise with plenty of teases of ulterior motives and questionable loyalties, I found it hard to really connect with the story on anything beyond a pure surface level, which is a shame because one of the major ideas of Armored Core 6 is a branching storyline that has you making decisions on which faction you want to take on missions for. I just didn’t really care one way or the other.

The Puzzle of Combat

However, one of the benefits of this mission structure is that it’s able to allow for a wide variety of objectives that each favor a different style of play, which then feeds into the excellent customization elements that make up the heart of Armored Core 6. Before you sortie into a mission, you’re able to equip your mech with four weapons — one for each arm and one attached to each shoulder — a unique head, body, legs, generator, booster, and Fire Control System. And oh boy, are there a ton of different factors to consider beyond simply what to spend your limited money on.

There are a ton of different factors to consider beyond simply what to spend your limited money on.

The external parts of your mech all have their own weight, defensive value, AP (health), and what’s known as Attitude Stability, which affects how quickly you get staggered from consecutive hits. Parts with higher defensive stats naturally weigh a lot more and require sturdier but slower leg parts in order to carry the burden, and weapons that weigh a lot require larger, stronger, and heavier arm parts.

But that’s not all! Certain weapons also take a ton of energy to wield, and thus require generators that have large EN (energy) capacities in order to even equip them. But then you have to balance that with the fact that your energy regeneration could suffer, which means energy management gets much more difficult once you’re actually in the mission. Before you even start making those decisions you should consider what range you expect your mech to be fighting at so you can optimize your internal parts for that role… and the list just goes on and on.

That may sound like a lot, and I’m not gonna lie: it is. But still, I felt like Armored Core 6 did a great job guiding me with its sorting tools and descriptive text, which made it easy enough for me to discern what parts were good for what. As long as I had the idea in my head of what kind of mech I wanted to make, it was fairly easy to bring that idea to life. Over the course of the campaign I piloted a lightweight scout with fast boosts that excelled at evasion, a medium-sized destroyer that could wield heavier weaponry without sacrificing too much mobility, and a mobile fortress outfitted with the heaviest and most devastating weapons money could buy – and several in between.

What all of this customization amounts to is making every mission feel like a satisfying combat puzzle. Even though there are certainly loadouts that felt stronger than others (hello dual kinetic shotguns on a medium sized bipedal mech), there was never a one-size-fits-all solution to every mission, which is a testament to the stellar design and variety of the missions themselves. You’ll never do the same thing twice. One mission had me investigating a seemingly abandoned outpost, only to be ambushed by stealth ACs that I needed to scan in order to target; another had me dropping down into an underground facility, carefully descending from platform to platform so as to avoid getting disintegrated by the laser cannon at the bottom; and another still had me infiltrating a cave to destroy a generator, which I did, and then had to book it out of there to avoid getting caught up in the resulting explosion. It kept the action fresh throughout the entirety of the 15-hour campaign and beyond.

There was never a one-size-fits-all solution to every mission.

Failing missions is part of the process, and it’s something that will very likely happen to you a lot. But fortunately the checkpoint system is fairly generous, and you’re given an opportunity to change the assembly of your mech after every death. This made it so that every failure came with an opportunity to assess what went wrong, and think about how I could fix it. Coming back with the right answer, whether that was simply by switching out my weapon or a more drastic revamp involving changing up my AC archetype, was always satisfying. That said, I really wish that you could also access the shop as well when you die. If you don’t already have the thing you need to beat whatever you’re stuck on, you have to back out of the mission, buy it, and then restart from the beginning.

Get in the Robot

One of the things that I appreciated right out of the gate in Armored Core 6 is that I was able to pick up the controls extremely quickly. It’s all very intuitive: Right and left triggers fire your right and left arm weapons, right and left bumpers fire your right and left shoulder weapons, X jumps, square dodges, circle toggles your booster jets, clicking in the left stick makes you go into a sprint-like assault burst mode, and clicking in the right stick changes your lock-on mode.

I’ve seen a lot of discussion from longtime Armored Core fans who are not happy about there being a hard lock-on system, with the argument that it lowers the skill ceiling, but I think From Software has found a really delicate balance with it. If you turn on the targeting-assist mode you gain the advantage of keeping the camera fixed on a specific target, but you’re less accurate with your shots. As a result, I found myself switching between the two modes frequently – using the targeting-assist mode so I wouldn’t lose track of a fast-moving boss, and then switching it off and manually keeping it in my sights when I felt like It was time to counter-attack. Having the hard-lock also allows for some really dynamic and intense boss fights that would’ve been much more frustrating to deal with if I didn’t have a way to always keep the boss in my sights.

More than anything, though, combat in Armored Core 6 just feels good. The wide assortment of weapons all feel satisfying in their own way, whether that’s using a charged shot from a linear rifle on an unaware enemy to kill them in one shot, nimbly dashing around with dual shotguns and laying waste to a whole military base, or juggling quad rocket launchers between your arms and shoulders. Things can feel downright anime-like at times with how many missiles you’re able to fire at once – and with how many missiles get fired at you.

In addition to the regular missions, there’s an arena mode that pits you against steadily increasingly difficult one-on-one fights against named ACs, each with their own unique loadout and assembly. You’ll definitely want to go through them too, as completing arena fights rewards you with currency you can use to strengthen your mech and further customize your playstyle. You could increase your damage with a specific type of weapon, increase your defense, unlock core abilities like a super-satisfying kick out of your assault boost, and much more. Better still, you can respec at any point for a fairly modest fee. If you wanna test your arena skills against actual humans, you can do that as well, in both 1-on-1 and 3-on-3 online matches. I didn’t get to test out the netcode extensively in my review period, but the few matches that I did play were super smooth and a ton of fun.

And of course, if cosmetic customization is your thing, there’s a ton of options to paint your mech whatever color combination you desire, place a variety of decals you unlock through arena fights, create your own custom decals, then save and share your creation with the rest of the world.

Beating Fires of Rubicon’s campaign unlocks a New Game+ mode that allows you to take all of your unlocked parts through the story missions again from the very beginning. There’s also a lot of incentive to play through NG+ in the form of multiple endings, new story branching points, entirely new and more difficult missions, and even a whole new set of arena matches to fight through. Needless to say, you’ll definitely want to go through this more than once to get everything that AC6 has to offer.



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