Review – Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon
Over the past ten years, no game developer has impressed me more than FromSoftware. Dark Souls was released in 2011, and whilst it was a masterpiece, it did have some issues. Namely, around the technical and polishing side, whilst excelling at tough, well-designed gameplay. Ever since then, their games have significantly improved, with Dark Souls 3, Bloodborne, and Sekiro all being incredibly strong games, that pushed the genre to its limits. This all lead up to the release of Elden Ring, which proved a complete and polished experience. The soulslike genre has changed the gaming landscape forever, and FromSoft has become a safe bet; you know to expect quality.
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is the return of one of its earliest franchises. One that has had a long hiatus since its last release ten years ago. Fans of the franchise have been awaiting its return with the level of polish and detail FromSoft has become known for. Unfortunately, I am not a fan of the Armored Core franchise, only briefly playing the fourth game. So with Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon finally out, it’s time to delve into a cult classic franchise for the first time and see FromSoft do something a little bit different.
Set in the far future humanity has mastered interstellar travel. Using a resource known as Coral to further advance technology. However, Coral is also very unstable and caused a chain reaction that destroyed an entire solar system in an event known as the Fires of Ibis. On Rubicon 3, another Coral vein has erupted and mercenary groups scramble to war to gain control over this powerful substance. You play as Pilot-216; a mercenary looking to make a name for himself on Rubicon in the upcoming war.
Whilst the story does have some interesting aspects, it’s told in a not-so-engaging way. Missions will often start and end with PowerPoint slideshows that fill you into what’s happening. It’s not that is necessarily bad; it’s not. Some of the characters you meet are genuinely interesting with their own motives for being on Rubicon-3. It’s just the way it has been told that makes it unengaging.
However, that’s not why we want to play Armored Core. It’s the mech-on-mech gameplay and goddamn does it deliver. Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is a fast-paced, mech bullet hell. It gives you full control over a mech with high mobility. You are able to dodge around with full freedom and even take to the skies for extended periods of aerial combat. Much like Sekiro, Armored Core VI has a stagger mechanic. Keeping up attacks on the enemy will eventually stagger them, making them open for critical hits. It’s a great mechanic that encourages much more hyper-aggressive gameplay, but this also applies to you as well. You need to keep a balance open.
There’s an incredibly fun, deep and rewarding combat system that is easy to pick up but rather difficult to master. Very soon though you will dash your way through huge battles to flying kick an enemy AC (Armored Core) in the face, then proceed to onslaught him with even more bullets. There’s a hard-lock-on system that will make it easier to keep track of fast-moving enemies, but accuracy may take a hit as your weapon will lag behind so don’t overuse it.
Your mech is fully customisable. In-between missions you will be spending time in the garage, performing upgrades and customising your AC, and there’s a hell of a lot to dig into here. Opening the arsenal menu, you can see just how much customisation is on display here, with weapons for each of your hands as well as your shoulders. Hand weapons are typically your main source of damage, with your standard shooter variety of weapons and some melee on top of that. On the shoulders, you can have things like a variety of lock-on rockets, laser canons, shields, and much more. There’s no shortage of weapon types here, and there are some interesting synergies to be had.
Pretty much every single option here has significant changes. On top of the four weapon slots, you have four frame slots, which will determine the the type of mech you are building. Legs are your biggest choice here. Not by only dramatically changing the look of your AC, but how it controls.
Reverse-jointed legs will allow you to launch yourself with great mobility, but won’t be able to support large amounts of heavy weapons. Tank treads are very limited in mobility but allow you to build your mech to absorb insane amounts of damage. All of this is run by a generator which you will need to swap out based on your energy needs. It sounds like a lot, but the Armored Core VI user interface is very friendly. Yet, if you like going into intricate detail whilst building your mech, there are a lot of stats to keep an eye on.
That’s not to mention the level of cosmetic customisation on display here. A lot of games now are locking simple colour combinations behind shader systems and microtransactions (looking at your Destiny 2 and Halo Infinite). Not here though, every single part of every single component is fully customisable. Down from the colour, reflectiveness of the material and wear and tear. You have full control to make your AC your own.
Being a FromSoft game, you should also expect this to be tough, and it’s really tough. At the end of Chapter 1, the boss fight against Balteus is an absolute beast. It took me several hours, going back and forth from building my mech, to going back on previous levels to get more money. I’ll admit, that this initial wall hit me hard. Really hard, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Finally conquering this fight gave me more pride and accomplishment than the launch of Battlefront 2. Boss fights as a whole provide some of the game’s best encounters with some crazy designs and mechanics that get better as the game goes on.
It’s this level of difficulty that FromSoft has become very much known for, and whilst the difficulty curve could be better, with rampant spikes larger than anything they’ve done before, it’s still manageable. Checkpoints and resupplies are placed before every tough encounter, meaning you won’t be losing a lot of progress if you die. When you do die though, you will be able to rebuild your entire mech for what is required. However, you won’t be able to purchase new parts. It’s tough, but also forgiving at the same time. If you are having trouble in a mission go back to the Assembly and try something new. Consider the strengths of the enemies you are facing and counter them. Armored Core VI is about adapting to the situations.
Not every encounter is incredibly tough, and the game will ease off in key moments to allow you to go wild with your builds, and really just have fun with being an absolute badass before bringing in tougher encounters again. There’s a surprising amount of variety in the level design as well. There are assault sections, which are comprised of a few defense missions and escape sections scattered throughout, with a surprising amount of enemy variety. The smaller drone enemies are often just cannon fodder, but enemy ACs, cloaking enemies, warships, helicopters, and much more, keep the game feeling fresh and exciting.
Throughout the roughly fifteen to twenty hour main story, you will occasionally need to make some narrative decisions. Siding with different factions opens up different missions and boss fights that make repeat playthroughs worthwhile. This is helped by an incredibly strong New Game+ offering. Allowing you to carry over all your gear NG+ much like NieR Automata and Replicant has some epic changes. New missions open up once again with extra story beats, boss fights and endings. Then outside of the main modes, you also have 1v1 Arena fights against pre-made ACs, which reward you with OS upgrades that further make you more powerful. There’s also PvP modes of up to 3v3, allowing you to test your builds and skills against real players.
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is a game that looks simultaneously both impressive and somewhat underwhelming. As you fly around massive battlegrounds in a highly detailed mech, blowing up enemies in spectacularly violent fashion, the screen fills with all sorts of explosives and particles. The animations on display here are awesome. Where it does disappoint slightly, is some inconsistent environmental details. Sometimes they are great, with some stunning vistas and interesting designs. Other times they can just look a little flat and uninspired. For the most part, you won’t notice when gunning down mechs at high speed, but once the action slows down it can be noticeable.
Playing on PC with an RTX 4070, FromSoft has delivered their best PC version. With 120FPS and even ultrawide support which is a first for them. It runs superbly well and I saw performance in excess of 90fps pretty much all the time, with it never dropping below that 60fps mark. As for the ray tracing, this is limited to the Garage, which may be disappointing to some, but trust me, the extra framerate makes AC a delight to play.
Armoured Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is my introduction to the series, and I’m thoroughly impressed. FromSoft has delivered an ultra-fast-paced and challenging mech combat game. The deep customisation, great replay value, and level design will keep me coming back for more. If you love FromSoft games and like action-packed mech gameplay, then Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is a must-play.
Occasionally lacking in the environments, but pulls together for highly detailed mech battles.
Fast paced mecha combat, with some of the most insane customisations I’ve seen.
The soundtrack is fantastic and voice acting is solid.
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is an absolute joy to play.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is available now on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.
Reviewed on PC with an RTX 4070, Ryzen 5 3600X and 16GB RAM. Game installed on SSD.