Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon Review - Let Slip the Dogs of War
You are the mech pilot, C4-621, a fourth-generation augmented human piloting a mech known as an Armored Core (AC). You break into orbit around the planet Rubicon but things go awry almost instantly. You crash and start looking for a license, which will allow you to act as an independent mercenary for the myriad companies on Rubicon that aim to use the limited resource ‘Coral’ for their own gain. You’re not well-liked and you’re on an unfamiliar planet with no contacts other than your handler Walter, to speak of. It’s a rough road ahead but with skill and a lot of ingenuity, you’ll make it work.
I was absolutely pumped to see Armored Core return. The last entry in the series was ten years ago and more of a multiplayer fare which felt like a hard turn for the series, where it had previously been aggressively solo-oriented. Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon returns again to the single-player focus, with only a PVP component. It’s a niche series, but I think this has the chance to bring the series to the focus of more people with Sekiro’s designer, Masaru Yamamura taking the reins as the director. The pedigree shows too.
One of the first things you’ll notice if you’ve played previous games is the verticality and open nature of most of the maps. There’s an objective you need to achieve but in the majority of missions, how you get there is up to you. If you want to fight more enemies, take a certain path. If you want to skip enemies and conserve ammo, take a different path. Exploration is not well rewarded, but there are chests with gear in them to unlock, as well as combat logs for certain enemies, but that’s not the point. Instead, it’s a strategic choice to make.
Your AC is your mech but you can customise it heavily. Everything works in balance here and at least for me, I spent as much time in the garage changing up my mech as I did in missions. Admittedly, this is made a bit easier with the ability to change your mech or its parts when you die at a checkpoint. You’ll learn to be quite a bit familiar with all the numbers of your mech, as well as what certain parts can handle what. There’s an AC Test function too, to try out the new build and see if it fits.
You never get quite attached to a single mech though, you’ll need to be keeping a few builds in your garage for specific missions, but even your old faithful will have parts stripped and rebuilt as you make small adjustments for your current mission. These adjustments though, as I said before, all happen in balance. Those big new rocket launchers you got will require stronger arms, but that might mean you need stronger legs, but then you’re pulling in too much power so you get a bigger generator. This then means that maybe your mech will be too slow and can’t dodge, and so the system repeats. Adjustments, then adjustments to those adjustments. The benefit of this is that your AC feels like it’s yours.
Combat with your AC is fast and hectic. You’ve got four weapons (one in each hand, one on each shoulder) that all have their own ammo counts and cooldowns. Movement consists of quick boosts (strafe), jumping and assault boosts (forward boost). You’re constantly watching the enemy’s movement, flicking between targeting styles to enable better movement. On top of that, you’re pushing hard for damage on the enemies’ ACS gauge, which will stun them and start doing direct damage to them when broken. It sounds like a lot but quickly it’ll become second nature because it has to. You’ll do this dance so much that an altered grip on your controller (or keyboard) will become normal.
You really get the feeling of being an independent mercenary during the game. Missions are done for whomever is paying, and your enemies and even companions will have a lot to say about your constantly shifting allegiances. Where ‘souls’ games focus on environmental storytelling, AC6 uses the banter between people to give you an idea of what’s at stake and that they’re only begrudgingly working with you.
The work with these companies varies greatly too, more than I thought it would. Sometimes you’re collecting logs, or defending a point, others you’re taking out an enemy AC or squad, or a strategic target. In the missions you fight bosses, these are so often large epic enemies. More than once my mouth dropped as a boss dropped onto my screen, and it took all of my resources to beat them down. There are some truly awesome moments during boss fights that had me mentally cheering. There is no doubting that there are some really amazing moments in this game.
The UI too is very clean, but gives so much information. Your energy, ammo, lock-on status, armour points, weapon heat and reload status to name but a few. It’s extremely well designed for how much info it gives, and it really gives that nice feeling of a mech’s HUD. I adore it, even if the damage done to the enemy by specific damage types and range can be difficult to spot.
In my eyes, this is a new era for not only Armored Core, but I also hope for mech games. The combat is tight, the differences in your builds feel meaningful and have an impact. Hell, even the narrative is great here. I hope people give this a shot, because to me, this is a great game that I think might be seminal for future games in the genre.
Armored Core VI was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by Bandai Namco