It feels like it’s been over a decade since I played an Armoured Core game last; well, that’s because it has been. Armoured Core 5 might have been released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 way back in 2012, but the team at FromSoftware have decided it’s about time to suit up and deliver, providing one of the densest and most satisfying third-person action experiences of 2023. While I wish Armoured Core 6: Fires of Rubicon’s story got a little more time in the spotlight, there’s no mistaking the solid combat mechanics and deep customisation constantly carry the weight of its runtime.
The Fire Rages
Armored Core 6 takes place on the fictional planet Rubicon-3, where corporations have not only discovered interstellar travel but are locked in a war to obtain a rare material known as Coral, which has the capability to provide unlimited sources of energy. Unfortunately, the war for Coral inadvertently sets the material alight, essentially destroying the valuable planet. Working for a company known as “The Hounds”, you are sent to Rubicon-3 by a mysterious Handler, known only as Walter. Your mission as a mercenary, is to obtain the newly discovered Coral depsosts and make it out of Rubicon-3 alive.
It’s a shame that Armored Core 6 is told through a bunch of text-based conversations and slide shows, as the overarching lore is so unique and intriguing. From the lore of the planet itself to the hints of previous wars and catastrophic events, the game does a great job of uncovering new and elusive layers, new twists and uneasy alliances, which only deepen as you progress. But with the lack of any cutscenes and emotional voice performances, many of these impressive story beats are masked by the bland storytelling format.
Storylines and events can even branch based on the order you choose to undertake and complete missions, which would be an interesting take if it was explored through exclusive cutscenes and conversations. But for as interesting as the story is, Armored Core 6 is clearly focused on getting you back out into the field to wreak havoc.
The Thrill of the Hunt
Armored Core 6 simply knocks it out of the park when it comes to gameplay. The third-person actions feel consistently smooth, punchy and responsive, balancing a considerable level of challenge with the feeling of true destructive power. You control a weaponised mech suit that is equipped with weapons for both your left and right hands, along with shoulder-mounted accessories that can either be offensive or defensive in nature.
You’ll also get the chance to boost and fly about through open hub areas, each outfitted with its own objectives and targets. But the gameplay only feels as good as your ability and willingness to customise and adapt. Each mission will earn you a certain amount of credits for you to spend on upgrading your suit with new weapons and gear. As the missions are generally straightforward, you’ll never lose that sense of progression as you head back to the armoury to suit up with a new strategy.
Each customisable option, be it new weapons, armour or even legs, affects the way you move and fight. For example, larger and more devastating weapons like launchers and shotguns are generally heavier to wield, meaning you’ll need to prepare for slower movement and traversal. Lighter weapons like pistols and rifles will restore the freedom of movement, at the cost of your effectiveness in combat. Each of these pieces alters your overall weight and health (known as AP) values, encouraging you to tinker and experience.
I personally found it more satisfying to pack light and focus on dodges and quick offensive bursts but also found that my Attitude Stability, otherwise known as a stagger meter, caused me to constantly tap out after only a few hits.
While Armored Core 6 feels nowhere near as difficult as something like Elden Ring, for example, the true challenge lies in mastering your loadout for maximum efficiency, as steering too far in one direction can lead to frustrating results. Boss battles, while infrequent, do provide the toughest challenge, and feel more like a puzzle that’s based on trial and error, in order to find the right combat strategy, balanced with the most effective loadout.
But between zipping about through layered levels packed with scope and verticality, missions consistently prioritise combat in a way that feels both fresh and satisfying, even if it relies equally on the effort you put into customisation.
Striving for Success
The main campaign’s 59 missions are spread across 5 chapters and clocks in at around 12-15 hours, with the ability to jump into a New Game+ mode when completed. They” see you taking out rogue AC units, artillery installations and factories while reducing prisoners and escorting a range of allied vehicles. While it all seems diverse, you’ll generally be facing off the same artillery and AC units in between those more varied objectives.
Thankfully, most of what Armored Core 6 does well can also be attributed to solid performance. I wish that the game made some of the environments pop a little more with an extensive colour palette, Rubicon-3 tends to blend into itself with snowy hills, rocky mountains and a generally grey tone. Thankfully, the frame rate keeps up with almost anything you can throw at it, dishing out a 4K 60fps experience, with little to no frame rate drops of any kind. Considering the action gets consistently chaotic, this is definitely impressive.
Be it satisfying combat or deep customisation, Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon feels consistent compelling and rewarding. The strong performance makes up for its visual shortcomings, rarely dropping below that 60fps target. While I wish the story was given the depth and cinematic nature it deserves, there’s no doubt that it excels in its consistently rewarding combat, making it a strong contender for one of the best action games of the year.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Incredible and rewarding combat; Strong performance; Intriguing narrative; Deep customisation
Lowlights: Bland storytelling structure; Rubicon-3 can look a little dull at times
Developer: FromSoftware Inc.
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Windows PC
Review conducted on PlayStation 5 with a pre-release code provided by the publisher.