Advertisement

Title: ARMORED CORE VI: FIRES OF RUBICON
Genre: Action
Platform: PS4, PS5, XB1, XBS/X, PC
Developer: FromSoftware
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment (WW) / FromSoftware (JP)
Release date: 25 Aug 2023 (WW)

Though FromSoftware has become far more famous in recent years due to Dark Souls and other games in its vicinity such as Elden Ring, Bloodborne and Sekiro, fans who have been following them for longer know that they also have a long history of working on mecha games: Both original works like Metal Wolf Chaos, MURAKUMO and Chrome Hounds, as well as licensed titles such as Another Century’s Episode, an action series featuring a Super Robot Wars-esque crossover lineup. But what FromSoftware was really known for before the Souls series came along was the Armored Core series.

Mecha action generally comes in two forms: Games that use predetermined mecha, and ones that allow the player to mix and match parts and paint and customize them, making their own unique robot, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that Armored Core single-handedly defined an entire genre formed by the latter sort of mecha games, which continues to spawn other works inspired by it such as Daemon X Machina or MachineClad.

Advertisement

ARMORED CORE VI FIRES OF RUBICON

With the last Armored Core game being Verdict Day in 2013, many fans had been left starved for more for the longest time, and so the announcement of Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon was met with extreme enthusiasm from a fanbase that had been waiting for a decade.

But at the same time, FromSoftware had become very different in the past ten years: While From had been previously known as a minor developer that worked mostly on niche games, the runaway success of the Souls series and its adjacent titles had turned them into a major player in the industry, and there was a lot of talk of how Armored Core VI might have Souls-like influences, stoked by wave after wave of disingenuous clickbait and baseless speculation from the western gaming media.

ARMORED CORE VI FIRES OF RUBICON

In the end, any worries that Armored Core VI would actually turn out to be “Armored Souls I” were utterly unnecessary – Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is, without a doubt, first and foremost an Armored Core game.

First things first: Many reviews are written by people who barely played the game they are ostensibly reviewing, which leaves fans skeptical about the contents of their reviews. Frontline Gaming Japan’s reviews are done exclusively by reviewers who have cleared the game they are reviewing, and in the case of ACVI, this reviewer has cleared and S-ranked all the missions, as well as collected all parts and logs.

In Armored Core VI, players take on the role of augmented human “C4-621”, sent to planet Rubicon 3 to do the bidding of a master with hidden motivations, stealing the identity of an independent mercenary known as “Raven” in the process. 621 takes on missions from different warring corporations who are after an energy resource found on the planet known as “Coral” as well as from locals who oppose them, and in doing so uncovers the history of Coral research on Rubicon and the secrets of the Fires of Ibis, a massive disaster which burned the entire star system half a century ago.

ARMORED CORE VI FIRES OF RUBICON

While each numbered title in the Armored Core series revamps gameplay significantly, and VI is no exception to this, the core gameplay should nevertheless be very familiar to anyone who’s played an Armored Core game before. The player builds their own robot out of a selection of parts and two arm and two back weapons and can boost and jump around, with the games divided into individual missions (stages).

Assault Armor from Armored Core For Answer returns as an equippable, and comes alongside other options like a temporary barrier. The most notable changes are the addition of a Sekiro-esque stagger system (detached from certain attacks staggering enemies based on how stable they are regardless) where all robots have a constantly-depleting stagger bar that will temporarily disable them and make them take increased damage when filled out, and a hard lock-on which can be toggled on which does its best to automatically keep the targeted enemy on the screen, which makes controlling your AC and keeping track of the enemy in one-on-one fights far easier.

One of the most important things a mecha game has to do is feel right. This is not something that can be easily quantified or described, but it generally adds up to balancing the right feeling of weight and inertia with speed. Failure to do this results in games that have giant robots with no feeling of weight to them at all floating around, or conversely, needlessly cumbersome hunks of metal clunking around that feel horrid to play as. Armored Core VI strikes a perfect balance and absolutely succeeds in this area.

ARMORED CORE VI FIRES OF RUBICON

When compared to previous games in the series, this reviewer felt that Armored Core VI generally felt the most like Armored Core 4. Though it never reaches the peak speeds of 4 (let alone those of For Answer), however, weapons having shorter ranges in general mean that the games feels just as fast if not faster, and the addition of a hard lock-on means that such speeds are far more manageable.

While the hard lock-on makes one-on-one fights more about actual skills than fighting against the controls, it would have been horrible to have it as a default when going against large numbers of enemies, especially in a series which encourages you to not waste ammo on minor enemies and just ignore them, and so the hard lock-on being something that the player can toggle at will is simply ingenuous: The player can easily toggle between how they want to handle an encounter with the press of a button. That being said, some button customization to suit the player might still be appropriate: This reviewer ended up using a custom control scheme based on Armored Core 4/For Answer’s Regular-B setup, allocating L2 and R2 to jump and quick boost respectively, which made it easier to fight with hard lock-on off.

ARMORED CORE VI FIRES OF RUBICON

One cannot discuss Armored Core VI, or really any other FromSoftware game these days, without addressing the elephant in the room which is the difficulty. Due to the Dark Souls series, FromSoftware has gotten a reputation of making games with challenging, punishing, and sometimes even masochistic difficulty levels, and Armored Core VI’s difficulty had been played up even before release.

This reviewer, however, found all of this talk about Armore Core VI’s difficulty level to be severely exaggerated, defeating bosses being described as “filters” on social media without any problems, often on the first try. If anything, the game as a whole feels easier than many of the previous entries in the series, and improved UX through the addition of checkpoints, the ability to heal and resupply before some bosses, and change your loadout on a game over also alleviates what difficulty there is. That is not to say that the bosses are at all easy: There are no bosses that look threatening but turn out to be pushovers like many in previous games – Rather, they are balanced to be challenging enough to not be pushovers, while not feeling like unreasonable roadblocks.

A good way to show ACVI’s approach to difficulty is to take a look at how it handles the series staple of boss fights against multiple ACs. While previous games would at times throw the player into 1-on-4 or even 1-on-5 (technically 2-on-5, but the speed at which your companion gets defeated made that basically 1-on-5) battles, ACVI never really goes past 1-on-2, and even when it does pit you against two bosses the game often provides a competent companion. There is only one stage that comes close, which could potentially turn into a 1-on-3 fight, but the game gives you ample time to take the bosses out on that stage individually, making it far more manageable than suddenly having multiple bosses attack you at the same time.

ARMORED CORE VI FIRES OF RUBICON

It should be noted that there are also certain weapons, namely the Zimmerman shotguns and stun needles, that as of the time of writing of this review (5th September 2023) are extremely overpowered, and could thus potentially be used as crutches for players who do have trouble with the difficulty. This reviewer did not use these weapons until after clearing the game, and only tested them out after hearing about them online, and found their ability to simply remove any and all difficulty from the game to be nothing short of unbelievable: Some bosses that are supposed to be challenging went down in as little as 10 seconds. If someone needs an “easy mode”, these weapons are it.

Unfortunately, the existence of these weapons are also the indication of a pretty big problem with the game, which is the balance. When it comes to weapons in ACVI, there are some clear winners and losers, a problem exacerbated by an unfortunate lack of variety in parts. While a rifle may come in multiple varieties to fit specific needs, many weapons such as gatling guns get no variations at all. Builds are further limited by how shields and melee weapons can only be equipped on the left side of the AC. The limited range of options thus makes players gravitate towards similar loadouts, and while this may not be too much of a problem in single player, going into a multiplayer room to see that every single person is using twin Zimmermans and stun needles is nothing short of miserable.

Now, while the selection of parts might feel somewhat lacking to fans of previous games, such fans are often comparing the selection to later releases in a generation such as Verdict Day (the sequel to V), For Answer (the sequel to 4), or Last Raven (the last of many sequels to 3), all of which built up from earlier releases in the generation. It would thus not be entirely fair to compare ACVI, the first release in its generation, to them – ACVI does in fact have more parts than AC4 and AC3 (if not ACV). Unfortunately, though, the fact does remain that it feels lacking nonetheless: One can only hope that the game will get updates or DLC to add more parts. This reviewer would also personally like to see the return of stabilizers.

ARMORED CORE VI FIRES OF RUBICON

And also in regards to customization, it bears mentioning that image editing has been massively improved with the addition of functions that allow the player to group shapes together, turn shapes into masks, and use gradations. That being said, there are still a number of limitations that get in the way of creativity there, namely the parts count and the inability to upsize things above a certain limit or to upsize grouped parts at all. More options to move the AC’s parts around or zoom in while applying decals would have also been nice.

Balance-wise, there are also other issues with the game. The OS tuning feature feels superfluous and unnecessary given how it is incremental and results in the player eventually unlocking everything, and while tuning in previous games might have felt underwhelming, OS tuning somehow manages to be even more so. It’s also very odd how assault armor and other core expansions are unlocked via OS tuning: It feels like they ought to have been just purchased from the store like other parts, especially since you cannot equip more than one at once making it simply wasteful to spend OS tuning points on more than one at a time, and having to reset the OS tuning each time you want to change the core expansion is absurd.

Another problem suffering from balance issues is the way S ranks are judged. The game gives you no indication as to what constitutes an S rank, and while one can generally assume that doing stages quickly while taking as little as damage as possible are requirements, there seems to be more than that involved, with stages where a no damage speedrun still gets you an A: It seems that the player is required to also at least destroy a certain number of enemies (or perhaps get a certain amount of money) as well, but the threshold for getting an S rank is completely opaque. Not to mention how some of the stages (such as the BAWS Arsenal mission) have requirements that seem to be simply unreasonable: The stage is not particularly difficult, and one can easily clear it quickly while taking little damage, but the requirements are so tight that it feels like nothing short of an absolutely perfect run will get an S rank. Conversely, some stages have extremely lenient S rank requirements, where the player can easily get one even when it feels that they really should not.

ARMORED CORE VI FIRES OF RUBICON

Armored Core stories have always been cryptic and obtuse, and ACVI is no different. While the game does introduce the idea of collecting text logs that elaborate on the background of the story, these only elaborate on the backstory, and the actual story is not very different from those presented in other games in the series. This is not to say this is a bad thing – The dry stories in Armored Core give the games a unique feel to them which fans love. But this reviewer did nevertheless feel that none of the routes really had a satisfying conclusion to the story and setting, each either feeling not right in some way or having too many loose ends, which is something that does not really apply to many entries in the series barring a few; V and Verdict Day certainly did feel like their stories were left incomplete, but most games from before that did end with a better sense of closure. That being said, ACVI puts a lot more effort into the cutscenes that constitute the story, so that the presentation itself is leagues above previous games’.

Speaking of collecting text logs, the way collectibles are handled in ACVI also leave quite a bit to be desired. While the game does tell the player if all of the battle logs have been collected from a stage, there is no such indication in regards to text logs and parts. Additionally, while the game might tell you if a stage has uncollected battle logs, it does not tell you where they are, and so completionists either have to look everything up online, or, if this is not an option (such as if the player is playing the game right after release before such information is readily available), simply scour every stage thoroughly, which can get pretty dull at times, and also frustrating when one scours a huge stage only to find that it had nothing new to offer.

Thankfully, none of these shortcoming are major enough to hurt the game as a whole too much. Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon remains a faithful return to the series’ essence. The game is not just unmistakably an Armored Core game, but also one of the best entries in the series. It offers that familiar blend of robot customization, intense combat, and cryptic storytelling with leeway for speculation that fans have cherished over the years. And most importantly, when you play it it just feels good.

 

The Good: Fantastic gameplay, controls that feel perfect, and fun boss battles that feel challenging but while never really being too hard. Lots of UX improvements like the ability to change your AC on game over before continuing from a checkpoint and being able to change your loadout inside the simulator without leaving it.

The Bad: Balance issues with certain weapons make multiplayer miserable when you get nothing but players with identical builds abusing them. The story, despite having a better presentation, feels a bit lacking.

Conclusion: Despite its flaws, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon delivers a triumphant return to the series’ identity. The game strikes a perfect balance between accessibility and challenge, making it appealing to both long-time fans and newcomers.

Score: 95/100

Advertisement

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here