Armored Core fans have waited a long time to see From Software’s mech battling series return, and the wait has been worth it for Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon. Where the legacy of this franchise was once the bitter taste left by AC 5 and Verdict Day, Fires of Rubicon offers exactly what was needed to rejuvenate it. This title is a return to form, a breath of fresh air, and a carefully composed melody of the lessons the studio has learnt during the intervening years.
The premise of Armored Core 6 will be well known to fans who’ve been following the game’s progress. Corporate and rebellious native forces clash across titanic battlefields on the planet Rubicon for control of Coral – a powerful substance with the potential to further humanity or destroy it. With the memories of a solar-system-wide firestorm caused by the last Coral exploitation subsided in collective consciousness, you, a merc with a number for a name, are deployed by your handler to track down Coral on Rubicon and buy back your life, often at the expense of the lives of others. The missions reflect this in striking form.
You’ll start out taking on odd jobs for corporations. These escalate from petty sabotage missions against each other to full assaults against the Rubiconian Liberation Front. You’ll carry out missions for every faction without mercy or compassion – there’s no room for either on Rubicon. It’s a perfect and on-brand capture of the tone and themes that uphold Armored Core’s identity.
Enemy dialogue humanises opponents in a way that better personifies the brutal, dystopian attitude that undercuts this world. It reminds you that while your AC makes you stronger, you’re still as powerless as them within the grander scheme of things. The main direction of the story as it unfolds mission by mission carries this tone forward, exploring the familiar world of corporate colonialism, greed, and hardship that plagues humanity’s rise into the stars. Yet it never feels repetitive of older titles – Fires of Rubicon is very much its own narrative, with twists, turns, mystery, and powerful messaging.
The world of AC 6 isn’t upheld by a gold-standard story alone. Soundtrack and visuals fire at full capacity in Armored Core 6, having somehow only improved upon the gorgeous spectacle of Elden Ring.
The soundtrack in this game is phenomenal. Boss fights are punctuated by distinct music which borders on the alien or supernatural at the best of times. Quiet moments make room for sombre, reflective tones reminiscent of For Answer. Every weapon discharge and HUD warning is electrifying, and builds a grounded sensation of the levels you’re experiencing.
The visual style is no less profound. Brutalism and futurism collide. Everything from the mass produced MTs you’ll carve through to the half-abandoned superstructures that you’ll scale all reflect this. Complaints about graphical fidelity feel small in light of the gorgeous balance of colour, greyscale, and purposeful design on display.
Mechanics are where the game’s heart lies though, and fans won’t be disappointed. There’s a clear and expert understanding of what made these games great from the developers at From Soft. You’ll find the speed of AC 4 and the challenge of Last Raven here. Things move quickly, but with modern game design, AC’s are easier to handle than ever – even on mouse and keyboard. Doding, assault boosting, assault armor, and flight all return, to name just a few features. Every one of them is well integrated into the core gameplay, and this provides better flexibility than ever when playing. AC 6 continues the proud series’ legacy of polishing the core mechanics from previous iterations. Only minor issues – like the poor balance of missiles due to no minimum range requirements – stand out as complaints.
Just as important as mech building is mech fighting. That returns in top form, too. You can choose your legs, arms, head, core, generator, right and left arm weapons, shoulder weapons, boosters, guidance system, and even fine-tune your operating system. Everything from reverse joint legs and treads to pile drivers and plasma rifles are unlockable and purchasable, giving you exceptional input in your build design. It’s a shame that this wasn’t more abitious; while it might have been less ergonomic, having even greater control over modification of components might have really made Armored Core 6’s mech building stand out from the rest of the series. Nonetheless what we have is still excellent, and players will still likely find themselves well satisfied with what’s on offer.
You’ll need to unlock parts and try new builds if you want to compete against the standout feature of AC 6’s identity. Bosses have become a staple in From Software IP. The developer brings that design renaissance to the series in gloriously brutal fashion with thrilling, brutal battles.
Balteus is a great example of this – a boss you’ll encounter at the end of Chapter 1. Much like Margit the Fell Omen, he’s a skill check, blocking your path to the next stage of the game. That’s the one and only similarity, because Balteus is blindingly fast, highly aggressive, and boasts an absurdly large arsenal. Just like a perfect Souls boss, I began with an impression of overwhelming hopelessness at the challenge. I tried over and over, and started to learn counters to his moves. The challenge shifted, a potential for victory manifesting. And on one long, difficult attempt, I beat him. It’s the first time since tackling the Twin Princes during my very first run of a Dark Souls game that I’ve felt a sense of satisfaction that profound.
Not every boss is like Balteus – some in shorter missions are disappointingly non-threatening. The Arena – at least at its lowest ranks – has yet to produce any truly worthy opponents, though it remains engaging and extremely satisfying to participate in. But where it counts, where a boss fight needs to be big or important, there is always a stunning delivery. As mentioned, some fights will encourage a redesign or workaround to find feasible paths to victory. This never feels poorly balanced against the need to learn a boss and stay persistent though. AC 6 brings the energised, addicting combat of its predecessors and folds in bosses with modern studio design philosophy. Many deserve places in From Software’s boss hall of fame.
Armored Core 6 Fires of Rubicon is nothing short of a masterpiece. Every positive lesson From Software has learnt since the series’ long hiatus has led to an experience that returns the series to form, and brings something new. Tone, aesthetic, story and gameplay all synergise to form an experience that could uplift Armored Core to the prestige of Souls and Elden Ring, as it has long deserved. If this is the quality to expect for the franchise going forward, then despite its dark dystopian setting, Armored Core has a bright future ahead of it.