In the heart of a war-torn city, two mechs clash. One, a bulky machine, unleashes a missile barrage that lights the sky with fiery streaks. The other, a sleek and agile frame, outfitted with a menacing pulse gun and a devastating beam sword. The lighter mech returns fire, dancing through the barrage of incoming fire. As the thunderous clash continues, a symphony of destruction and chaos echoes through the ruins. A wheel of fire twirls down from the sky, and only a single mech is left standing. I sigh, redesign my mech once again, and reload my save.
This is the heart of Armored Core VI, and I love it for the most part. It’s been several decades since I last played an entry in this franchise. When life was simpler, a friend had a copy of Armored Core 2 that we would play endlessly into the night. I loved the game but just never followed up with the series. Coming precisely a decade after the last entry, Verdict Day, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is everything I’ve wanted in a mech game since I got back into the genre.
Got A Job for You, 621
Armored Core VI pulls no punches. Ever. The introductory mission boss has been ruining players left and right. You may notice I didn’t use the phrase “tutorial boss” there. That’s because to even get a chance to learn the game beyond the basic controls, you have to beat the first boss with the starting loadout. Compared to the rest of the game, it’s easy pickings. For someone just now trying the franchise or not playing it for a long time, it will force you to learn or die. This is the first of a few strange decisions with the game that bring it down a tiny bit.
The game is set up much like the old ones. You tweak the mech, pick a mission from a menu, and then some voices talk at you for a while as you head out. Some are over in less than five minutes, while others are so long you get a mid-mission resupply of ammo and health. There are cutscenes and worldbuilding, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t taken aback by the lack of illustrated character portraits. That’s not necessarily a negative thing, but it’s just odd to see in an age of games where storytellers rely on showing every last detail. Everything else is positive. The music hits hard where it matters, the graphics are amazing, and the voice acting carries these characters. There’s nothing wasted on the extraneous here.
The Bucket of LEGO Hidden in Armored Core VI
You have near-total control of the customization of your mech here. Want to skate around with a tank for legs? How about a quadrupedal, aerial menace? You can do all that or just a standard bulky biped. Whether or not that works in the field is a different story, but the game will certainly let you try (and fail). Weapon choices are also numerous. You’ll be running four separate weapons/accessories, and building for your mission is essential. For those seeking depth, there’s a lot here. Numbers everywhere! But that comes to my second issue with the game.
None of these numbers are explained well, in typical From Software fashion. To see exactly how some of these work, expect to spend some time looking at a wiki. I got stuck on the Chapter 1 boss for about a solid hour until I finally broke down and looked at the builds others used. I swapped out my shoulder missiles for the ability to run two more full-sized weapons and prevailed. While it’s fantastic to have this much freedom, I still wish the flavor text would, at least, have said something about effectiveness. All this aside, there’s an incredibly addicting gameplay loop here. It’s fun to replay missions with new builds to see if you do better or get reduced to a smoldering mess in seconds.
The Thrill of Combat
Going from my recent playing of Dark Souls 2 was a kick in the teeth. Armored Core VI demands pure concentration and wild reflexes. You will cross an entire city in seconds while dancing through sniper beams, missiles, and grunt units. I’ll save you some frustration: the default camera speed is too low. For the first chapter, I found myself frequently losing enemies and dying from it. After tweaking it, I can keep up with even the fastest units as I chase them down and blast away other mechs foolish enough to get in my way. You’ll have to pay careful attention to your resources, as they are finite. It’s possible to use all your ammo and be forced to punch the enemy to submission. Fortunately, you can refit your mech from the “Game Over” screen without playing the whole level again.
From Software has also added some mechanics from their Souls series here. You now have limited-use repair kits to recover some health during combat, much like the Flasks in the Souls games. There’s a new stagger mechanic, where increased fire will overload the mechs’ balance, opening them up for a barrage of ordinance or a heavy melee blow. Staggering a quick unit and rushing in to slash with a beam sword is satisfying. Talking about the gameplay in-depth is difficult, as each player can run a unique setup. The boss encounters are full of all the delight and difficulty you would expect. You’ll fight city-sized mechs, ace pilots, and others I dare not spoil. I’ve always wondered when a game would accurately show a missile barrage worthy of Macross, and this is it. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is the mech game I’ve dreamed of.
The Story and Cosmetics
While the story in Armored Core VI is told through old-school means, it’s pretty engaging. I wouldn’t say it’s groundbreaking, but I wondered how all these elements would come together. It takes a minute for the story to get going, but once it does, it is relentless. They have multiple endings, and even “new game+” adds more to the plot, essentially new campaigns. If you end up liking the game, the content amount is staggering. I can’t discuss much, as I fully believe this is worth experiencing for yourself.
Finally, I want to talk about what I wasted many hours on — cosmetic customization. I spent the first few hours with the game designing mech color schemes to match my own favorites. I made a Unit-02 from Evangelion and a generic Gundam color scheme in just a few minutes. Some people have gone insane with how in-depth the options are. Have you ever wanted to be what is essentially a Transformer version of the Nintendo 64 Control Deck? I didn’t until I saw it. If you’re a mech fan who likes spending time doing custom emblems and paint jobs, this is almost worth it for that alone. When I mentioned LEGO earlier, I wasn’t kidding in the slightest.
The Last Cinders of Armored Core VI
Make no mistake, the game is not perfect. In typical From Software fashion, there are some baffling design decisions. But the game burns bright when it’s just you, another Armored Core, and a battle of pure reflexes and equipment optimization. Any fan of mechs should at least check it out. The gameplay is fun, smooth, and full of spectacle. If you tire of that, making a mech build to pay homage to your favorite units is relaxing and way more fun than it has any right to be. I highly recommend it.
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and 5, and modern Xbox systems for an MSRP of USD$60.
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