The newest Armored Core game charges into consoles and PC ten years after the previous entry in the franchise (Verdict Day). In that amount of time, we’ve seen two switches in console generations, five Assassin’s Creed games (and a movie), the entire run of the DCEU (Man of Steel was released a few months before Verdict Day), and eight FromSoftware games (some of which are counted among the greatest games ever). It is, quite literally, a whole console generation ago, as Verdict Day was released for the PS3, and if this game went current-gen exclusive, folks still gaming on the PS4 and XBox One would have missed out on the fun,
It is also well worth the long wait: FromSoftware has applied to Armored Core their years of experience in making challenging but engaging games and the result is probably the best mecha game so far, uniting not only long-suffering fans of the series and fans of other mecha properties as well especially Mobile Suit Gundam, in enjoying this awesome game.
The Armored Core series has always been niche within gaming. Despite the mecha genre being an enormous market, the series wasn’t exactly mainstream, partly because of the complexity and difficulty of its missions. You don’t just come in and blast away your opponents like most other games. FromSoftware games are built differently in that you need to watch out patterns while determining and exploiting weaknesses. Although this kind of gameplay is considered “great” today, you have to understand that in the days of the PlayStation, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation 3, that wasn’t exactly a crowd drawer. But, FromSoftware is also coming from multiple critically acclaimed titles and that is more than enough to draw people in.
Armored Core VI Fires of Rubicon is set in the desolate world of Rubicon where different factions are fighting for control of a substance called Coral which can be used both as an energy source and a data conduit. Like previous installments, you play as an augmented human designated “C4-621” taking (or stealing) the callsign “Raven”. As a mercenary, you play for and against various corporations, earning credits and improving your Armored Core or “AC”. A great feature within the game is adding new campaign options in both the New Game plus, and the New Game plus plus, giving a better context to the overall story, more ending options and adding more replayability in an already replayable game.
Without revealing much story spoilers (the Wikipedia article already has a summary), I’d say that I love how “mecha anime” the story feels especially if you use Japanese Voice Overs (although the English VAs did a pretty good job overall), but at the same time, it feels like something we’ve already seen somewhere in the genre. I don’t think that drags my score down because I’m a huge Mobile Suit Gundam fan and I am used to seeing these types of stories, but if you’re looking for some ground-breaking narrative with deep philosophical ruminations, then I’m telling you know, you won’t find it in this game. There’s even one sub-plot that uses that old Japanese mecha anime trope of “understanding” and “co-existence” but nothing actually deeper than that.
That’s not to say the story isn’t solid. If you are looking for a good mecha story with a few pleasant twists here and there backed up by superb game mechanics, then you’ll have a great time. The game doesn’t require you knowing the lore which makes it easy for franchise newbies to get in.
My only gripe about Armored Core VI is the storytelling. FromSoftware eschewed story cut scenes for just voice overs. It would have been better to see conversations taking place, character faces and expressions, and the like, to make things a bit more immersive. I understand that this is how the series has always been, and this style has worked, but a little more cinematic oomph to the story wouldn’t hurt either.
A FromSoftware Game through and through….
As with other From Software games, it is the gameplay that puts Armored Core VI Fires of Rubicon on the list as one of the top games of 2023. Not only does it retain the look and feel of previous installments, but it plays much better. FromSoftware’s years’ worth of experience making challenging, critically successful games have been used to great effect. Like their other games, you need to watch out for patterns and weaknesses amidst the chaos of the battlefield. You must know when to attack and when to spam that dodge button. You must know how to close in for a melee without ending up with a plasma blade to the face.
The first boss of the tutorial mission was aptly made difficult. I encourage you not to rage quit on the tenth try, because it is a good learning experience. For example, certain missiles can only be dodged if you boost yourself into the air, and knowing the distance in which to initiate a melee attack is crucial, as is getting used to the alarms that are an indication that you probably need to dodge. This is a game that makes you try again and again every time you fail and then learn from your mistakes. By doing so, you eventually figure out the best way to approach bosses, which in turn, prepares you against later missions.
Luckily, each boss fight also comes with a fast save option before, so that you don’t have to start from the beginning if you die (and you will die a lot). Every death also allows you to reconfigure your AC to improve your chances, since your initial loadout might not be the best fit against that boss.
Armored Core Customs
This would not be an Armored Core game without the healthy array of customization options like parts and modifications that you can use to complete your missions, all with their own strengths and drawbacks. There is no single set-up for all kinds of situations, and an advantage in one stat can mean a disadvantage in another. So, while you can create an AC that fits your play style, you’ll also have to be mindful of the stats. You can build a fast-attacking raid AC that can dish out a lot of damage, but which, unfortunately cannot take damage well and get staggered pretty easily. Or you can make a tank, but find yourself lacking in speed, mobility, and vertical thrust.
The options offered in the Parts Shop become better as you progress, allowing you to do so much more in the battlefield. You have four possible load outs ever mission: one for each arm, and one for each shoulder, each assigned to a trigger in you controller. Each part of your AC can also be updated: the Core, the legs, the arms, and the head unit, plus boosters, generator, and Fire Control System or FCS.
You can mix and match whatever you want but be mindful of the most important stats: the AP (your health), Attitude Stability (your resistance to being staggered), the EN (energy) load, and your weight. Even advanced parts would force you to prioritize one over the other, but you should still try to keep a healthy balance.
Just as important are your AC’s internal parts. The FCS affects stats for Close-range Assist, Mid-range Assist, and Long-range Assist. An FCS for Long-range Assist makes it quicker for your missiles to lock on one enemy or multi-lock for multiple targets. Close-range Assist is for those who want to get up close and personal. Then we have the Boosters and Generator, both governing your AC’s thrust capabilities and energy respectively.
Just imagine this: you need to lookout for your energy meter which necessitates having a powerful generator. Having a powerful generator lets you use more energy-based armaments, but their weight will force you to upgrade your arms, legs, and core. But upgrading those requires you to have better boosters, which require a powerful generator. You get where I am going? And that’s just one angle, if you’re quickly getting killed, there might be a problem with your AP points. If your AC is moving too slow, then it might be an issue with the boosters and the generator. Not doing enough damage? You are probably not bringing the right weapons to the fight.
You can buy parts and weapons in the Parts Shop, but you can also use LOGHUNT to find more. LOGHUNT are special designated enemies that you need to defeat in a mission to get Combat Logs. Accumulating Logs ranks you up within the LOGHUNT program allowing you to unlock new parts.
You can get also get OST chips to to tune your AC and unlock incremental upgrades to damage output, incoming damage reduction, and other buffs. You can collect OST Chips if you enter the Arena from within the Garage.
Oh, I also failed to mention that the game allows you to customize your AC’s colors down to decals. You can either use the preset decals, or create your own or download any decal as long you as you have the Share ID. That’s why my AC is sporting a Titans logo (from Mobile Suit Gundam Zeta), while sporting Hajime Katoki-style decals. For anyone starved of a serious Gundam game, Armored Core VI is more than a capable substitute.
New Game Plus
While the game does make you do delicate balancing act with your AC’s stats for most of your first playthrough, the game does fulfill any dreams of being a Gundam ace pilot. The catch is, for most people, that would have to wait until the New Game Plus where you carry over any money and parts you have to a new game, thereby giving you and end-of-game level AC from the start.
I cannot stress how appreciative I, whose gaming reflexes and dedication has mellowed with age and responsibilities, am towards the New Game Plus and the New Game Plus Plus (yeah, they’re actually called that). Not only has the modes have you flying with your overpowered AC against the mooks that used to give your underpowered starting AC a lot of difficulty, and you are also rewarded with new parts and new missions that unlock new endings.
In an age where game companies think that micro-transactions and paid loot boxes bring a sense of accomplishment, FromSoftware rewards players who actually finish the game and then some, with actual, tangible rewards that further extend the game’s considerable replayability.
Hopefully the start of a new dawn…
FromSoftware improves their resume with another winner in Armored Core VI Fires of Rubicon. The gameplay is just too refined, too polished for it to be otherwise. Sure, the story is just normal mecha anime fare, but it works, and coupled with the best gameplay the mecha genre had in years, there’s simply no other mech game that comes close.
My hope is that the success of this game is a portent to more quality mecha games. Hopefully we won’t wait for another ten years for the next Armored Core title. Or perhaps, FromSoft is given another go at a Universal Century Gundam game like they did for Gundam Unicorn for the PS3 (and the Another Century games). Or maybe a different developer takes inspiration and makes a good mecha game. It is amazing what difference an actual effort makes at game development, where the goal isn’t a quick cash grab.
Whatever it is, and now that the current console generation is up and running, I really hope it’s a sign of good things to come for the mecha genre.