Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon Review – Dream Machine

The mecha genre is a gift that keeps on giving. It has enabled explorations of depression draped in fantastic colourways. It inspired one of the greatest first-person shooter campaigns of all time. It’s even given us a drill that can pierce the heavens. The common thread tying all of these stories together is an honest-to-goodness power fantasy. There’s nothing quite like piloting a giant robot and fighting other giant robots. Lucky for us, there’s a team out there who feels the same way.

From famed developer FromSoftware, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon puts players in the role of Raven, a hired mercenary caught up in a corporate war for the mysterious energy resource, Coral. This story framework grows into a delightfully more complex web of connections and relationships, but we’ll get there. To begin, the most pressing fact: this is not Dark Souls.

Looks like Patches to me.

The Soulsborne genre has placed FromSoftware on a firm pedestal throughout the past decade. From Demon’s Souls to Elden Ring, the developers’ methodical combat, punishing difficulty, and obscurely told stories are a joy to many. Elements of what makes those games special are definitely present in Armored Core VI. Boss battles here are brilliant spectacles, and there are a few notable skill-check fights. Resource management with a stamina bar (or Energy in this case) is still crucial. There’s even the stagger bar from Sekiro—unsurprising given the same developer team is behind this entry in the long-running mecha series.

Yet, Armored Core VI is still an entirely different beast. For one, gameplay is much faster paced. Dodges can be rapidly chained together, Assault Boost allows for rapid forward movement on a whim, and there’s generally a lot more verticality than the Soulsborne games. Most prominently, you inhabit a giant robot with a wide array of guns instead of blades (though those are here, too). Throughout my playthroughs, I grew increasingly comfortable with traversal and gunplay. What started out feeling a little unwieldy now feels like second nature, and that’s testament to how intuitive a lot of Armored Core VI is to play.

Handles a lot better than you might think.

Armored Core VI plays out in a series of missions, and none of them overstay their welcome. They’re short, snappy, and very fun to take on. This comes with obvious benefits where difficulty is concerned. Yet, rapid-fire missions have their drawbacks as well. While there is absolutely room for exploration and discovery in classic FromSoftware fashion, the shorter length means most interesting level designs and gimmicks don’t really get much room to shine. In the latter half of the first playthrough, for example, there’s a mission that takes place in a series of underground tunnels and caves. It’s exciting to explore, and the architecture is well-used by enemies to make encounters more dynamic. It’s also all over far too soon. What starts as a fun spelunking session ends up feeling a little brusque in how it winds down.

This ebb and flow extends to combat. Gunplay is incredibly satisfying, and there’s a wide variety of weapons to suit most playstyles. Stay ranged with laser rifles, get up close and personal with shotguns and blades, or rain down hell with the Songbirds. All the while, customise your Armored Core to look and feel exactly how you like it. Customisation is extensive, with a robust paint suite and emblem creator tool, and even shareable codes for unique builds and artwork. It’s incredibly fun, and easy to lose hours just to the garage.

Almost ready for some mass destruction.

Even with options, however, it’s hard to find much reason to play around outside of curiosity. Armored Core VI makes it very easy to find what works for you and stick with some variation of it for an entire playthrough. Experimentation is always welcome, as customising your AC is a huge part of the fun. Even so, certain builds are definitely favoured over others. Specifically, the intensely aggressive, up-close-and-personal types.

Once again echoing Sekiro, the stagger bar in Armored Core VI is the crux of most of the combat. Much like the shinobi’s sojourn, hesitation is defeat. You can easily handle most standard enemies however you please, but hostile ACs and named bosses are only going down if you stagger them and deal Direct Damage. It’s absolutely possible to stagger foes from range, but given the need of lategame weapons to effectively do so, you’re better off staying in pile bunker range. This did impact how willing I was to try different builds. Halfway through my new game plus playthrough, my AC parts have changed and impacted my movement style, but I’m still mostly using the same weapons to even greater effect.

Found this one on Mercury.

Also used to great effect are the locales of Rubicon, the titular planet on which the story takes place. While not quite as intricately designed as their Soulsborne counterparts, the levels of Armored Core VI are spectacular. Battling through deserts and snowfields exemplifies the battered look of the world, while zooming through cities really gives a sense of scale and Raven’s place in it. There are giant showcases of verticality, arenas truly designed around omnidirectional locomotion, and some of the most spectacular set piece moments of the year. Even with a grimier, more industrial look, the aesthetic of Armored Core VI is nothing short of spectacular.

Similarly sensational is the story. In typical FromSoftware fashion, Armored Core VI has three endings to achieve in as many playthroughs. However, chasing each conclusion is not the rote affair it seems on paper. The first playthrough offers a few decisions that have significant consequences for the ending. The second and third of course let you make the opposite choices, but that’s not all. Both NG+ and NG++ also offer not only entirely new missions, they even add decisions into certain existing missions as well, further diverging the paths before you. After establishing my relationships in the first run, it’s amazing to see how they’re transformed by minor twists here and there.

They should hire me for the Photos of Rubicon.

The more explicit form of storytelling that Armored Core VI employs is a rarity for the FromSoftware of the past ten years. At this point, we’re used to tantalising tidbits of lore hidden in item descriptions and secret areas. Here, however, mission briefings, more frequent cutscenes, and direct calls with major characters make things easier to follow. The writing is tight, characters are delightfully well voiced, and the plot charges on without much lull. FromSoftware handles this about-turn to narrative clarity well, managing to deliver a story that has me emotionally invested and excited to discuss with peers.

“Rubicon” is, both fittingly and ironically, defined as a point of no return. Ironic because all I wanted to do after rolling credits was return to continue the story in new game plus. Fitting as after stepping into the shoes of Raven, I am most definitely in for the long haul. Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon lives up to its name, deftly setting my heart ablaze one mission at a time.

Sarim reviewed Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon on PlayStation 5 with his own purchased copy. Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is available on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC via Steam.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments