Despite having created games since the mid 90’s, developers FromSoftware really shot into mainstream popularity and became a household name amongst gamers during the 2010’s primarily from the success of their Souls series of games. You may or may not know though, that alongside the grim dark high fantasy titles the company are most known for, they’ve also released many many entries in the mech action genre with their Armored Core series. Now just around the corner, we’re about to get Armored Core 6 Fires Of Rubicon and I was recently able to play around 5 hours of the game and can definitely confirm that it’s definitely an Armored Core title, but the team have definitely taken some of the DNA of the Souls series to inject what they’re the best at when it comes to level design, detailed art direction and enemy & boss design to really highlight how far they’ve come as developers since the last Armored Core title, while also honouring the legacy of Armored Core and what existing fans of the series will be wanting to play.
For those that may not be familiar, Armored Core 6 is a 3rd person action mech shooter that has you pilot a fully customisable mech as you play through mission based encounters which upon completion grant you credits that you can use to upgrade pieces of your mech or purchase new components to then be prepared for your next assigned mission. It’s an incredibly addicting gameplay loop and primarily so because it provides constant progression and encourages tweaking and perfecting your mech. While Armored Core is very much it’s own series, I can’t help but compare some aspects to the Souls series of games during this preview as it not only helps convey where things are now similar or very different, but also because this entry highlights how far FromSoftware has come in the 10 years since the last Armored Core game released.
I didn’t get to experience a whole lot of the story of the game during the opening act but without spoilers, the game is set on a planet known as Rubicon 3. A new source of energy has been discovered there which is referred to as Coral and is highly sought after because of its technological and destructive capabilities. You play as a mercenary Armored Core pilot that takes on jobs from various corporations and resistance groups that are fighting over the Coral that’s been rediscovered on Rubicon. It’s very early days, but i’m sure in true FromSoftware fashion, the story and lore is going to get so much deeper the more I play.
As touched on before, the structure of the game is mission based, and so far based on what I’ve played is very linear in design. Which for this style of gameplay loop, I found to be perfect. Each mission begins with a fully voiced mission brief that gives some context for what you’re being ordered to do. Then you’re tasked with preparing your load out to the best of your ability at first and then head off into the mission. If you’re successful in completing the main objective, the mission ends and you’re brought back to the rewards screen to see the spoils of the quest before being presented the next mission. If you’re not successful, this is where the next core aspect of the game comes in. Tweak and try again. The missions typically consist of checkpoints, that upon death you’re able to revert to, re-equip yourself from your other purchased parts and try again with a different load out. I appreciated that this aspect of the game is a little more forgiving than what some previous FromSoftware titles have been as you won’t have to start the full mission over again, unless you didn’t make it to a checkpoint, and reviving also restores your health kits which only have a fixed amount of uses that can be used throughout a whole mission, which for the section I played was limited to 3 applications. Making it overall far more approachable for new players compared to what some people may expect from games from this developer.
Because the gameplay loop is completing mission after mission, I appreciated that based on what I played, the missions offer a lot of variety in both design of the environments and also the objectives to keep things really fresh and interesting. Taking you to various biomes but also having many of the missions be multi phased. What may begin as a fairly simple objective to retrieve an item can quickly turn into an ambush encounter. There are missions that contain a boss encounter at the end, some that contain a sub-boss, enemies and a final boss and even one that I played that was solely just a boss encounter and it contained one of the biggest enemies I’ve ever come across in a game.
The customisation aspect of the game surprised me with just how crucial it is and also how deep its options were to be able to tweak just about every component of your mech. Each component changing things such as your movement speed, overall weight, durability, weapon capacity etc. And then there’s a whole section based more on the cosmetic side where you can tweak the colours of each individual piece, place or create custom emblems and logos and even add things like weathering to your mech to really make it your own. Your mech can have up to 4 equipped weapons or main slots which make up the arms and shoulder add ons and as touched on before, there isn’t a one size fits all for the loadout, it’s something you will need to adjust as you play but there is so much customisation available. Just for the arms and shoulders alone there are varying guns which each have their own fire rate and type, energy shields, melee weapons and missile launchers that can be purchased and equipped each of which along with your chosen mech design will offer drastically different gameplay experiences when it comes to the missions.
I got the impression that the boss encounters in the game can certainly be brute forced with any loadout and skill as many high end players have shown with some amazing feats in the Souls games. But this game will provide a more well paced and welcoming experience for many players if you change up your load out as you play to best suit the mission ahead of you. Failing to complete a mission, or dying time after time to a boos shouldn’t be seen as failure, but as a learning experience and an opportunity to take what you’ve learned, tweak your loadout and head back in and try again. Because the feeling of accomplishment that’s gained when you do manage to succeed just can’t be beaten. It’s so rewarding.
While Armored Core 6 does a lot to make it approachable to new players, it’s certainly challenging. But as with previous FromSoftware games it does still feel very fair. You can analyse the enemy, get obliterated, go back in with a changed load out and learn the enemy abilities and patterns and eventually come out on top. Which is exactly what it’s been designed to have you do. Making the wrong move in combat can definitely take you from full health to dead almost instantly, so knowing your enemy and mastering when you dodge vs when to rush in to attack is going to be a constant risk/reward component to the game, but when you die, you know where you messed up.
From a gameplay perspective, the game plays very well based on what I played. The mechs feel great to pilot and it didn’t have the learning curve I was expecting before being able to unleash some devastating attacks and come out successful in the missions. Don’t get complacent though because the difficulty curve definitely comes, but I think it will be a game that is approachable for a much wider audience.
Visually it looks amazing and is certainly very flashy and chaotic with particle effects and weapons going off all over the place but the visual chaos really plays hand in hand with the style of game this is. Where the Souls titles are more about slow methodical combat and precision, Armored Core is far more action based, fast paced franticness where everything moves at such a rapid pace, and where a single mess up can still equal instant death.
Overall, I came away from my hand’s on time with the game knowing two main things. This game is the next big step in FromSoftware’s development journey honouring where they have come from and what they’ve learned since the last AC game, containing a lot of the FromSoftware DNA when it comes to enemy and level design but is definitely a very different beast to the Souls games and Elden Ring. And secondly, I wanted to spend so many more hours with the game, with a lot of that probably invested in getting my mech to be completely customised all the way down to the individual components and colour I’m after. But mainly to chase down that feeling of accomplishment that just can’t be beat once getting the upper hand on a really tough boss. Thankfully the game will be out in just 1 month so we don’t have too much longer to wait.
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