Armored Core VI: Fires Of Rubicon Hands-Off Preview - A Poser's Perspective
Let’s get the full disclosure out of the way early, I’m neither a Souls fan, nor a veteran of Armored Core. So why preview this title? Because we’re in something of a FromSoftware echo chamber in 2023. In no way am I casting ill thoughts towards Elden Ring, nor any other Sousborne title, however, we’re in an environment where those who gravitate towards those games are the same ones who sing their praises, and then fall hook, line, and sinker for the next game off the conveyer belt, and so the cycle continues. With all of the change that has come to FromSoftware in the lead-up to the studios return to Armored Core, I wanted to bring a fresh take, as someone who lacks both Armored Core history, and the patience to indulge in the Soulsborne gameplay loop. So with all of that said, can Armored Core VI win me over?
There were two key design pillars that instantly caught my attention when FromSoftware and publisher Bandai-Namco were presenting to us, firstly the “Tactical combat system further expanded by parts assembly”, and “the satisfaction of overcoming challenging situations and earning hard-won victories.” I’ll admit, I became uneasy when these words were uttered early in the piece, but it was the third of the key pillars, “Massive and three-dimensional level design” that didn’t catch my eye initially, but became one of the most interesting facets of the presentation to me upon seeing the game in action.
The demo sees the player launching their mech following a request from Balam Industries to capture a facility called Grid 086, seizing it from a group called the RaD. After a quick in-game briefing you’re let loose to complete your objective in a vast space filled with interconnect buildings whose size is intimidating at first, but can be quite quickly traversed thanks to the various boosting systems available to your mech. The player can take advantage of those boosts for as long as the energy supply allows, a relatively brief duration that did leave me to think of the number of opportunities that I will inevitably plunge to my death simply due to misjudging the distance I can cover with a boosted leap. The environment is large but not unwieldy while platforms feel simultaneously close, and just far enough away to leave you paranoid about biting off more than you can chew – but then finally, there was some combat, and my questions about yet another design pillar could now be answered.
Naturally people come to Armored Core VI: Fires Of Rubicon, looking at the franchise through an extremely different lens that what they did with prior entries. Since Armored Core V launched we’ve seen Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls 1-3, Bloodborne, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and of course Elden RIng, and so a particular design philosophy when it comes to combat was become prolific within the studio. Elements of that Soulsborne brutality can be seen in moments of the gameplay demo for Armored Core VI, but it feels like the mech is far more empowered than any poor sucker stepping into a Souls world. The action is fast, and bullets are being sprayed at you regularly, so the player will need to utilise quickly devised strategy to progress, rather than rely on parry timing. Players will still want to absorb the attacking patterns of enemies to work out how to best exploit weaknesses, but you’ve got a great combination of ranged and melee attacks at your disposal to get the job done.
As well as wider, more open areas, Armored Core VI does still position you in some cramped, narrower environments that will necessitate the implementation of differing strategies to those you might apply when facing a similar foe in an open space with greater breathing room. Eventually, while in those tighter confines, our player bites off too much and is destroyed. Thankfully there were two systems that impressed the most here. The first was a lack of Souls-equivalent objects left behind after dying, but also the Assembly feature, the third and final of the Armored Core VI pillars that was demonstrated next. Every component of your mech can be switched out in favour of more appropriate tools for the job at hand, but there is of course a balancing act that must be considered when swapping parts in or out as Attack Power, Impact, and the number of Consecutive Hits (to name but a few) can all vary dependent upon the parts you’ve socketed into your unit. Importantly the parts look as cool as they are effective.
Mechs are unarguably cool, and the world of Armored Core VI has me hooked through this lens, but, pleasingly, it appears as though while difficulty is still a factor in this game, some of the elements that leave you in a state of constant living in dread, things that make Soulsborne games so unapproachable for any outside of the primary targeted audience are seemingly absent here. Armored Core VI looks firm, but fair in its combat, challenging the player, without breaking them, and that’s a balance that is far more appealing than any Souls game I’ve seen and tried. Maybe, just maybe, this is the FromSoftware game for Soulsborne fans… and the rest of us too!