It’s been ten years since the latest release in the Armored Core series, and in that time, developer FromSoftware has made a name for themselves with Dark Souls series and, most recently, Elden Ring. However, the company is returning to their roots to deliver the mech action game that they’ve been wanting to create since 2016. The timing couldn’t be better. Even gamers who have zero experience with the series are eager to play after spending many hours dying in the Souls series.
Interestingly, even after so many years away from the series, stepping into the cockpit of an Armored Core mech felt natural during my time playing the first Chapter of the campaign. The game has a way of making you feel like an ace pilot while also challenging your adaptability to various mission objectives. Every moment of the experience comes with strategic planning and an understanding of the capabilities of your created mech. Still, I found the overall systems to be approachable to new players, but let’s just get this out of the way now; this isn’t a Souls-like.
In Armored Core VI Fires of Rubicon, you are a mercenary tasked with infiltrating Rubicon 3 to investigate and recover a powerful new substance. However, you aren’t the only one who wants it, and other corporations have also arrived to gain control over the substance. This ends up creating a few different enemies that stand in the way of your objectives, but given your mercenary status, you simply do what you’re told for the right price.
I was able to play through the first chapter of the campaign, and a few twists are already creeping up. I’m not going to spoil these moments in this preview, but the narrative has some depth to it. Players can easily skip these interactions, but I felt like they added just the right amount of context to every mission you went on. It really does wonders for the objectives, which have some variety to them.
Mission objects can be as straightforward as taking down an enemy base, destroying a special enemy type, recovering intel, or fighting a boss. There’s a decent amount of mission types, but its the briefing and optional messages following the event that keep you grounded in this world and what you’re fighting for.
You play as a highly skilled pilot, so you expect some missions to be easier than others. After speaking with the developers, this was intentional, given the veteran status of the pilot. There was one fight in the game where I overpowered the enemy, but actually felt bad because the enemy pilot didn’t stand a chance against me. Hearing his determination over the radio after he failed was a pretty emotional moment, which added weight to the mission at hand.
Mech loadouts will be the most important gameplay system throughout the entire game. While piecing together your mech, there’s plenty of data available to refine your creation and get the most out of battle. You can just as easily create a low-defense build that is extremely fast versus a high-defense build that can take plenty of damage, but the option is yours to make. There are surface-level data provided around each part and weapon, but there are also additional screens that provide highly detailed information about your build.
As you take down enemies and complete objectives, you’ll earn money to buy new parts. Other ways to customize your mech have you add chips to the build that require you to take on side missions. The only thing you should take from this is there’s a lot to do, and it’s possible to get better scores and find hidden items upon replaying missions. Yes, we confirmed you can find items on the field; they’re just well-hidden.
During missions, maneuvering around the field requires the use of your boosters and energy. When in a fight, everything just feels natural. You have access to all your attack via the shoulder buttons, and the HUD properly displays your health and ammunition. There is a lock-on option, but I wasn’t able to get comfortable with it. Instead, I learned to fight without it and was almost thankful it was limited because some of these bosses like to zoom around you, and that could be a bit disorienting.
The level designs are amazing and fit the mission objectives perfectly. However, one mission where you need to fight hidden enemies did frustrate me a bit, but that was mostly because I wasn’t dealing with them properly. The tougher enemies have weaknesses that you must learn to lower the amount of damage.
Thankfully, after you die by them, you can customize your mech before returning to a checkpoint. However, there is no option to purchase new materials while on a mission, so if you don’t own something, you’ll need to back out completely. Still, each weapon shows you a preview of the attack so you can see if it works for you. Certain weapons do make some encounters easier, so experimentation is encouraged.
Even with the multiple hours I spent playing Armored Core VI Fires of Rubicon, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. This is the mech action game you’ve been waiting for. Every system and mechanic is mastered naturally across each mission, delivering a balanced and challenging experience to players. I was impressed by the high level of detail that caters to new and old fans while also not limiting the core features of the series.
Armored Core VI Fires of Rubicon is coming to PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC via Steam on August 24, 2023.
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