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Armored Core 6 review: FromSoftware’s most exciting return to form

Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon is a strong return for FromSoftware's prodigal mech action game
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Thrusters burn at my back hot enough to exit the atmosphere, and the air is cut as thousands of tons of metal slice through the clouds. Thrusters deactivate, the steel behemoth crashes to the ground, and nearby armored trucks, which only come up to the creation’s ankles, skid to a halt. Despite the size, a pulse of the boosters has the entire thing spring forward hundreds of meters in an instant, before the whirring of slick gears pulls up what just might be the world’s largest working assault rifle. Missiles spray from shoulder mounts and the beast pounces around Rubicon’s surface like a jaguar. It seems like this death machine is indestructible, invincible, all the way up until another one, with even bigger guns, touches down.

Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon is the most impressive game since Xenoblade Chronicles in terms of scale, only instead of being a tiny being living on the body of a giant, you are the giant, storming through cities using large buildings as walls and platforms as you strafe and fly around your foes. This is an action game in its purest form: mission-based, with a variety of challenges, and it wants you to go back for S ranks.

You are 621, callsign Raven, another one of the metal hounds working under Handler Walter, and seemingly the last one left. Wars are raging on Rubicon as a variety of megacorps fight for control of Coral deposits – an alien energy source that can power entire cities with only tiny amounts. You are just an unknown mercenary, and in order to make some cash from all of this, you’ll need to make a name for yourself.

Use a Pulse weapon against this boss.

Use a Pulse weapon against this boss.

That’s where Armored Core 6 kicks off, with you taking Walter’s standard AC unit into battle while following the orders of an open contract from the corps. You quickly make a name for yourself from there, and before you know it, corps are coming directly for Raven, having you work alongside their own AC armada.

As a mercenary, your allies and enemies switch from mission to mission. RaD is usually a bit more friendly than the likes of Arquebus or Balam, but a select handful of decision mission sprinkled throughout the game mean that you can turn yesterday’s friends into today’s targets. Mercenaries also shouldn’t think too hard about which targets they’re up against, whether they’re fellow AC pilots, corps, the Rubicon Liberation Front, and the Planetary Closure Administration.

Rubicon’s future is in your hands, but you’ll have to fight your way to the end by crafting an array of powerful and diverse AC builds. Armored Core 6 thrives on letting players find their own ways of taking down tough challenges, though most of the time, you can smash through the main missions by focusing on overwhelming firepower and just enough mobility to dodge big attacks. Most enemies can’t handle one gatling gun, but two? Game over.

AC6 can be visually breathtaking.

AC6 can be visually breathtaking.

To dissuade you from gatling gunning your way through every mission in the game, you’ll be hit with penalties at the end of each mission. Non-replenishable ammo will cost you, and any damage your AC takes needs to be repaired. If you take a lot of hits and use the biggest guns available to you, you’re going to burn up a lot of your profits. New AC parts are expensive, after all, and you really need to save every penny in order to expand your mech-building horizons.

But once the main missions and 29 Arena battles are down, the game isn’t over. It’s only when replaying missions do you get ranks for your performance, and suddenly building an optimised AC unit is more important than ever. You might’ve scraped by with brute strength before, but S rank missions ask you to streamline every aspect, take minimal damage, use as little ammo as possible, and in the shortest time. You have to build and embody an efficient, devastating killing machine.

That’s where the real meat of these missions is. Bosses are intimidating when you first fight them, sure, but with a few smart build tweaks you can overcome any obstacle. It’s far more interesting to go back to a boss after unlocking dozens of AC parts and taking them apart as quickly as possible, while taking minimal damage. They’re not seemingly insurmountable walls to be fought once and forgotten about over the course of your adventure: they’re challenges to be perfected.

Some foes in AC6 need to be mastered.

Some foes in AC6 need to be mastered.

Armored Core 6’s main story isn’t too long, clocking in at around 20 hours for a first time run, though you can easily put more than double that time into the game if you get S rank on each mission, as the developers clearly intend. Armored Core 6 isn’t a one-and-done journey across Rubicon, it’s one to be savored, dissected, and mastered – I’m looking at you, PVP players.

The flip side to that is that Rubicon’s cities, caverns, corp facilities, and icy wastelands are pretty one-note. There are a few moments where Armored Core 6 looks truly beautiful, but it’s in need of environmental diversity. The mech fodder you’ll be shooting down in each mission pop up far too often, and when you’re already used to aesthetically similar cityscapes, it makes each blend into one another. Boss encounters and cheeky rival AC pilots can prove to be an exception, but otherwise, Armored Core 6 can end up feeling a bit familiar throughout its run.

Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon is a fantastic return for a classic franchise, though it can feel a bit thin on the ground in terms of content. It’s in dire need of a .5 entry, like For Answer or Verdict Day. Don’t take that as a condemnation though – it needs a .5 entry because we need more Armored Core 6. This is a fantastic base for the future of Armored Core, and after playing this I need to see that future as soon as possible.

Score: 8/10

Version tested: PS5

Armored Core 6 screenshot

Quadrapeds can float. Scientific fact.

  • Story: 6/10
  • Visuals: 9/10
  • Audio: 9/10
  • Gameplay: 10/10

Armored Core 6 technical breakdown

Armored Core 6 manages to look incredibly impressive despite my gripes about familiar scenery. When rushing overhead and firing all thrusters, you will not notice that you’ve seen the same buildings a handful of times. Performance is mostly very solid too – as long as you’re using a VRR-capable display. If you’re not, you might see some frame stutters while playing, and bigger drops in select cutscenes. Despite that though, laser fire and missiles flying around the stage make AC6 a visual feast that shouldn’t be missed.