After experiencing the Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon reveal trailer in December 2022, I knew I needed to play this game. I’ve never played an Armored Core game before and I’ve honestly never heard of the franchise, but after witnessing the reveal trailer that looked like a blend of Yoshiyuki Tomino and Hayao Miyazaki’s work, with an obvious FromSoftware’s flair, I knew Armored Core 6 was going to be special.
And special it absolutely is. If you’re a longtime fan of Armored Core, then I’m here to soothe your anxious hearts — Armored Core 6 is incredible. If you’re like me, new to Armored Core, and are here because Elden Ring was really good, you’re in for a treat.
While Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon is far from the slow-paced hallowed horrors of FromSoftware’s illustrious fantasy entries like Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Elden Ring, FromSoftware proves that it can take its winning formula, speed it up, and let it soar. Armored Core 6 is rocket power — high-octane action, adrenaline-pumping propulsion, riveting ramifications all retrofitted to a world and a story that set the stage for greed and humanity to fight to the brink of total annihilation… and see what lies beyond.
Fires (bullets, explosions, laser swords, etc.) of Rubicon – The combat
Let’s dive right into what everybody’s most interested in; there’s no use in making you wait. How’s the combat in Armored Core 6? Amazing. The art design and graphical fidelity work in tandem to set the tone and backdrop for this breathtaking game. Against this rich tapestry, the combat glides. It’s fast, it’s crunchy, and, as you’d expect from a FromSoftware game, it’s incredibly challenging. It does take some getting used to since the cluttered HUD can be very overwhelming at first. Still, once you know what you’re looking at, the cluttered HUD works to submerge you into the mecha fantasy, and after every mission, you’ll feel like you’re becoming more of an ace mecha pilot.
AC and bosses
In the first few missions, I was timid, not wanting to engage in combat that I wasn’t prepared for since I was learning the ropes. Then, against my wishes, you get thrown into a boss battle against HC Helicopter at the end of the first mission. With each failed attempt, I learned something about my own combat capabilities and the enemy’s attack patterns. I found a winning strategy, blew up the HC Helicopter, and was hungry for more. Now, the mechanical fodder I faced in every mission going forward was just target practice as I hunted for enemy AC and bosses because the real fun of Armored Core 6 is the intense AC and boss battles.
Almost every mission has an enemy AC hidden somewhere in the level. Finding them is nice, but fighting them is a blast. Plus, you get more OS Tuning upgrades with every enemy AC destroyed, so they are important to seek out. But the boss fights in Armored Core 6 are the main event. There are about a dozen boss fights in Armored Core 6. All of them showcase their own brand of dazzling visuals and painful (fun painful) attacks. My only “but” with the AC6 bosses is that the early bosses were much harder than the later bosses. Whether it was my personal skill increasing, finding a rock-solid mecha build, or the bosses actually not being as hard as you progress, that was the only slight bummer experienced there. Everything else AC and boss-wise is incredibly addictive and satisfying.
Another early-game, yet very enjoyable AC6 feature I was sad lost relevance was the need to use completely different builds for different missions and bosses. In the first half of the game, I had three mechas saved: a reverse joint mecha that was extremely lightweight and mobile, a tetrapod mecha that could hover in the air and pack a punch, and a tank mecha that didn’t have much verticality but could take and deal tons of damage. Losing a mission to try out a different saved mecha was awesome, but it was short-lived. I loved that experimentation, but once I found a game-breaking build that could take on every mission and boss, I didn’t have to look back.
While every build is fun and surprisingly different, one of my biggest gripes with Armored Core 6 is the lack of viable builds. I started Armored Core 6 enjoying my bipedal and reverse joint mecha builds but quickly hit a difficulty wall that I was not able to traverse. I decided to try something else — the tank mecha build. The moment I built my tank mecha, one that was extremely heavy, had very high health, and could carry the biggest and highest damage-dealing weapons in the game, I didn’t struggle nearly as much with difficulty for the rest of the game. I continued to upgrade to bigger and more destructive explosive weapons that continued to decimate enemy ACs in minutes without taking more than a few minor scratches.
This could definitely be a skill issue on my part; it takes a lot more skill to be successful using the lightweight, low-health bipedal and reverse joint mechas. But regardless if it’s a skill issue or not, that’s an unfortunate flaw. While I had a lot of fun as a tank mecha, the feeling of playing the fast-flying, sharp-shooting, laser sword-wielding bipedal mecha is a much cooler fantasy that I, unfortunately, didn’t get to experience much of because the tank build was much stronger and more successful in nearly every aspect.
AC6‘s combat is also one of the most physically taxing games I’ve ever played on controller. Unlike FromSoftware’s Soulsborne games, Armored Core 6 welcomes button mashing. In fact, it requires it at times. While there are of course many moments that require precision in battle, the goal of every fight in AC6 is to keep the pressure on by spamming your automatic weapons. And this is where it sucks to be on controller. All four fingers need to be rapidly firing R1, R2, L1, and L2 at almost all times while your thumbs go into overdrive to jump, dodge, hover, drift, and heal. My advice? As someone who always prefers controller to mouse and keyboard, if you can, play Armored Core 6 on mouse and keyboard.
In a world… – The setting and story
As impressive, delightfully difficult, and addictive as the combat is in Armored Core 6, I was shocked at how much I liked the setting and the story. I’m not the biggest fan of FromSoftware’s storytelling and worldbuilding, but Armored Core 6 is sufficiently digestible and coherent. The environments are cold and devoid of life; the arenas sometimes dense with buildings and, at other times, detailed spacious slates. There’s just enough scenic variety to make the missions feel fresh and exciting.
The story of Armored Core 6 quite literally starts at the sound of a cannon. There’s no explanation as to who you are or who Handler Walter, your boss, is — you’re plummeting from outer space to Rubicon and you’ll learn as you go. Basically, there are two corporations fighting for Coral, a valuable resource unique to Rubicon. The cast also features a planetary defense military organization and a rag-tag group of rebels. You play as an independent mercenary that works for all sides until you inevitably decide which door to walk through and which ones to close for good.
Overall, the stakes, relationships, and decisions in Armored Core 6 are well done. Side note pertaining to the story: two major wins in my book are that the game is around 20 hours long and, after the credits roll, you immediately start new game plus. Like the beauty of a firework, Armored Core 6 explodes in an all-consuming frenzy that is short-lived and something you want to experience over and over again.
However, as cohesive as the story of AC6 is, there were one or two incomprehensible story moments, and I didn’t skip any dialogue or cutscenes. It felt like I missed a crucial detail even though I tried my best to digest every part of the story. I kinda chalk it up to every single FromSoftware game’s storytelling being lost on me, but I was earnestly following the jist of Armored Core 6‘s story until one or two key moments happened that left me asking why. That said, I’m sure a second playthrough or a Reddit discussion could help me understand what I missed.
What’ll it be, Raven? – The missions and decisions
Enjoyable combat and the perfectly bleak setting aside, the missions in Armored Core 6 offer good variety and even some grace. One mission might have you sneaking through enemy lines to sneak attack a boss at the end while another will have you avoiding laser blasts from space to then fight a boss at the end. There seems to always be a boss at the end — but that’s okay because that’s the best part! Suffice it to say, I was pleasantly surprised at the diverse mission objectives and found the slight switch-ups beneficial in the constant crafting of a meaningful story. As far as the grace goes, there are checkpoints in missions that help you get repeatedly pummelled by a boss much easier than if you had to start at the beginning of the mission after every death.
Armored Core 6 features many missions with big decisions attached, which makes for a great excuse to play NG+, but the decisions themselves are a bit vague. In my first playthrough, I accidentally picked the bad ending because it wasn’t clear to me what the result would be based on the decision mission I chose. After you select a mission, a character talks you through the briefing of the mission, but the outcomes of the missions themselves, including the relationships you’re about to sever, aren’t particularly clear.
Build a mecha – The customization
The customization in Armored Core 6 is top-notch. There are two aspects to it: you mix and match heads, cores, legs, shoulder weapons, arm weapons, and generators to create an economical mecha that must pass a few checks and you have hundreds of options to customize your mecha’s paint job.
When creating a mecha in AC6, the number one factor is weight. If you create a lightweight mecha, you’re limited to lower health and the inability to carry heavy weapons, but you sacrifice for greater mobility and verticality. If you create a heavy mecha, you’ll have more health and be able to carry heavier weapons but your dash, jump, and boost endurance will be much lower. It’s a delicate dance and a beautiful art to create an optimized mecha. That said, the infamous convoluted FromSoftware stats are front and center in AC6. As someone who generally understood what every stat meant but didn’t dive too deep with min/maxing builds, I have to say that, like the overcomplicated HUD, this maximal presentation of information works with the mecha vibe. Die-hard fans are going to love this, but even casual players like me will enjoy learning and abiding by the stat requirements.
The part casual players might love the most is the myriad of external mecha customization options. You can pick from great preset color palettes or open RGB and color every individual piece on your mecha. You can pick patterns or make your own by using the Image Editor to slap stickers (that can be custom-made) onto your mecha. The options feel endless which is a warm welcome back to how games used to (and still should) include cosmetic options (I’m looking at you Halo Infinite and Apex Legends. The rest of you greedy live-service games aren’t safe either. You know who you are).
Armored Core 6 is a phenomenal soulslike that succeeds in putting FromSoftware’s quintessential formula on its head. It’s a fast-paced thrill ride that has a few bumps when it comes to consistent boss difficulty, viable builds, and clear storytelling, but when you’re blazing at breakneck speed, you hover right over the divots.
I love the brevity of this game, I love everything about the combat, I love the customization, I love the world of Rubicon. FromSoftware, unsurprisingly, does it again with Armored Core 6, and new and old fans alike will really enjoy this one.