Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon preview - FromSoft goes sci-fi and loses none of its challenge
Has there ever been a game launching under the same weight of expectation as Armored Core 6? Sure, there have been games more anticipated by the general populous (when is GTA 6 out?), but Armored Core 6 feels like it stands alone as something wholly unique thanks to its complex origin story and much more famous FromSoft siblings.
With no mainline entry in over a decade, its developers found a “secret sauce” for challenging titles and built a name on Soulsborne games, culminating in Elden Ring - one of gaming’s all-time greats.
How do you follow that up, and with a franchise so thematically different? If our hands-on preview with Armored Core 6 is anything to go by, the answer is to rub a little Souls on it.
Bucket of bolts
Still, it would be reductive to say that FromSoft has just grabbed elements of the subgenre it pioneered and bolted them onto the hulking chassis that is Armored Core.
Instead, it smartly borrows concepts and jettisons much of the nuts and bolts of what remains. There are no Bonfires, for example, and levels are back to being mostly linear affairs.
In some ways, this made the game’s initial hours feel a little like a big, robotic step back - picking missions from a menu, watching a briefing and then completing the mission. How quaint (FromSoft did confirm multiple paths and endings later in the game, while there are arena combat opportunities, too).
Armored Core 6 may not share Elden Ring’s grand open world, but it does retain much of its flexibility in combat, shifting to a more three-dimensional movement model thanks to its mechs being able to fly and boost.
Early skirmishes with cheap, mass-produced robot suits and the occasional helicopter felt easy, but it didn’t take long for the possibilities to reveal themselves. Before I got to my first boss encounter, I was dancing between gunfire, unleashing multiple weapons at once, and bursting in with a sword.
That initial boss, however, initially felt insurmountable. A hulking gunship capable of raining rockets felt nigh-on impossible for my first few attempts.
It was only once I’d considered closing the gap with Armored Core 6’s Assault Boost, a way to lock on and speed towards an enemy, that I realised a few well-timed sword swipes would do the trick. It also looked stylish as hell to see my metal behemoth clashing, anime style, with an even bigger opponent in mid-air.
That feeling of trying, failing, learning, and retrying is something that’ll certainly be familiar to anyone that’s put time into a FromSoft game before, but there’s a more aggressive tinge to proceedings here - something the devs confirmed was inspired by Bloodborne.
With limited repair kits, it’s not always possible to keep dodging or, with the shield option, blocking.
Thankfully, it’s always possible to switch up your approach but at least in this early build, the process wasn’t quite as smooth as I’d have liked. While you can access the garage, you can’t return to the same checkpoint once you’ve been to the store, meaning it’s not quite as flexible a system as I’d hoped.
That means that you can switch between weapons and parts you already own, but not those you don’t. Given how expensive parts are, at least in the preview portion, you’re unlikely to own more than one option in any slot.
That’s something that could be smoother later in the game when players build up an abundance of funds, but it made The Juggernaut, a wheeled death machine capable of charging and dropping proximity mines, a tough boss to tackle.
While the idea is to get behind it, my AC’s weight made it tricky to sufficiently manoeuvre around its vast arsenal.
Instead, I found myself relying on plasma missiles, able to deal damage to even its shielded components. It likely took twice as long this way, but it does hint at there being multiple ways to tackle each encounter.
That’s good, too, because while I can’t discuss a certain boss that could be considered a spoiler, it offered the most frenetic encounter of my playtime - feeling closer to a third-person bullet hell like Returnal.
And yet, after attempting it plenty of times, I never felt discouraged, achieving that “flow state” of instinctively pressing buttons on the controller before I’d even had a chance to think about what I was doing.
All the right parts
Playing on PC, I was impressed by Armored Core 6’s performance. Even with a dazzling light show darting through the sky (usually on its way to try and open my armour like a can opener), it felt consistent in framerate - making those dashes and dodges all the more accurate.
While much of my experience of Rubicon was in industrial bases, snowy peaks, and a blend of the two, FromSoft confirmed that there’s more to see - and I’m excited to do so. Armored Core 6’s world isn’t unlike a Dark Souls setting in that regard, showcasing a moment in time that’s been battered by age and decay.
With the planet being decimated by a cataclysm, many of its installations remain standing but empty, with hints of prior events found in scannable items in the environment.
This preview offered a series of missions in a linear fashion, but FromSoft confirmed that players will be able to pick the factions they choose to support, and the end of our preview hinted at some very interesting story threads to untangle.
For all of its undeniable Soulsborne influence, Armored Core 6 stands on its own two mechanical feet as an excellent action game in its own right - at least so far.
I look forward to seeing how the mission structure and in-game economy evolve at launch, but from what I’ve played so far, FromSoft’s streak looks likely to continue.