Countless wars have blighted the history of humanity. Scarcity has always been a source of conflict, and Coral could have been the spark that humanity needs to put it on a path towards unlimited energy. That is, until the Fires of Ibis – a cataclysmic event that engulfed an entire star system in righteous fire and death. Rather than a path towards peace, it left behind a horrifying contaminant and was believed to be the end of Coral. Fifty years later, Coral has been detected on Rubicon 3, and once again the struggle to control the powerful substance has led to outright conflict. As corporations flock to control the mysterious substance, who’s to say you can’t make a righteous buck serving each and every one of them?
In Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon, you are a shell of a deceased, augmented human grafted into the shell of an Armored Core and given the callsign C4-621. Your first mission for your handler, Walter, is to land on Rubicon, and get yourself into the mercenary system so you can start to make money. Scavenging the dead, you find a license on the corpse of somebody with similar ambitions, callsign “Raven”. An auspicious start thanks to their ignominious end – fitting for what lies ahead…
Positioned as a bit of a reboot for the series, Fires of Rubicon is as much a re-introduction for returning players as well as a primer for newcomers for which this is their first Armored Core game. 2013 was the last entry on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, so you’d be excused if you missed it last time around. The good news is that you don’t have to have any prior knowledge with the previous games to get rolling here, the game is pretty good about filling in the gaps. Much of that will come from Walter, albeit with the help of a few friends along the way.
The Pilot’s License we picked up gave us our “in” for exploiting all of these mega-corps, resistance groups, and various factions operating in the region of their cold hard COAM. Working as a mercenary means not particularly caring about who wants to control what – you’re here to make money. And wow will you be working for it…
In terms of storyline, I’m immediately reminded of Mechwarrior II: Mercenaries. Various groups like Arquibis, Dafeng, Balang, and others are eager to have you eliminate their rivals, disrupt their trade and research, and destabilize the region. The problem, of course, is that the other side is happily paying you to do the same, but for them.
Graphically, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon has had a massive visual upgrade. Most of the fights take place in bombed out ruins and dense cityscapes, packed with the burning hulks of other mechs and accumulated debris. Each mech is unique, clearly assembled with similar parts as you can equip on your own AC. These parts are often tied to the specific manufacturer in the region, giving them a specific visual look, which is an awesome attention to detail. On your own mech, you can get very up close and personal. Every part shows scratches, dents, and overall wear and tear on each. Explosions spray particle effects everywhere on impact, and you really feel the overall momentum of these behemoth mechs hurtling through the air – doubly so when you roar across the battlefield with a rocket-powered kick or sword strike. Thankfully, it’s also well–optimized for PC, which is important when you are moving at the speed some of these fights occur.
I’m very happy to say that this is some of Kota Hoshino’s best work as a composer. His direction from game Director Masaru Yamamura was to build tracks that evoke loneliness and nostalgia, and by all accounts he’s succeeded. For all the voices in his ear, ultimately C4-621 is alone on the battlefield. The music is larger than life when you face off against larger than life objectives, and it tucks into the background during the quieter moments. The extra $10 spot gets you a handful of parts that will give you a leg up for the first chapter of the game, though it won’t help you at the end of that chapter, as well as the entire soundtrack and a digital artbook. If you are a fan of Hoshino’s work, this is an easy upgrade.
It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is a tough game. It’s a FromSoftware title, so you can expect a fair bit of challenge, with some solid boss battle checkpoints to see if you are learning what the game has to teach. It doesn’t take long before the game settles into the sort of punishment the team is known to deliver in spades. Leaning on their experience from recent titles like the Dark Souls series, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and Elden Ring, the game may not be semi-open world like Elden Ring, but it settles into three pillars cleanly. First, engage the enemy, then observe their strengths and weaknesses, then head back to the garage to build something that can exploit the gaps in between. If you’re wrong, then correct your observations, re-run some missions to earn some COAM, hit the store and buy some new gear, and hit em hard all over again. The best demonstration of this came early in the game for me – The Wall.
Near the end of the first chapter you’ll face a boss called “The Juggernaut” in a mission assaulting a dam wall. At the top, an armored beast with a massive forward-facing plate awaits you, and since my hands-on time with the game over a month ago, I couldn’t wait to solve this problem.
Hitting The Juggernaut head on is an exercise in futility. Looking at my weapon compliment, most of my weapons are forward-focused, including my missiles. Saving a bit would solve this problem, as I have access to missile pods that fire upwards. I also can pick up a bazooka – something I didn’t have last time. Sure enough, observation, learning, properly equipping, and re-engaging did the trick. Not only did I crush this boss in record time, I did it without taking a single hit. There are moments in Armored Core VI when everything comes together and makes you feel like a complete and total badass, and this is one of them. You’ll want to savor these, because tougher fights lie ahead.
It’s easy to look at the high-speed omni-directional mech-on-mech combat and expect that this is a game where pure adrenaline and the right gear will get you through, but that’s not the case. Many levels are about those white-knuckle moments where you are whipping through the air, pumping missiles into the sky and rattling off machine-gun rounds, or going toe-to-toe with a bulwark shield and sword in a heated battle against other ACs. These moments in between the boss battles, and the large-scale epic fights, are easily my favorite parts, with the “dead in your tracks till you figure it out” fights being my least favorite. Let’s talk about the latter.
At the end of Chapter 1 I’d face my next tough fight – two in a row, in fact, but despite failing repeatedly and for more time than I’d like to admit, finding the right combination of gear, weapons, and tactics once again wins the day. It always does, but that’s where you need to make a choice.
All the moments in between these boss battles are an absolute blast for beginners or rookies, and they are somewhat misleading on what lies ahead. These boss battles can suck the fun out completely, at least until you figure out what you’re doing wrong. I’m sure some joker will figure out how to speedrun all the boss fights using nothing but a pool noodle and a banana taped to their ass cheeks for buttons, but that’s not me. I’m like most of you and I have to figure it out, grind out the money for gear, and “get gud” until I finally clear it. The frustration gives way to either elation at overcoming the massive hurdle, or relief that you’ll never have to see this boss again. This will directly correlate with either a desire to push to the next seemingly-insurmountable challenge, or throwing your hands up and opting out of the frustration entirely. If you like soulslike games, you’ll be at home, but if you are a newcomer you might find that this is all too much. I’m in the latter group, but stick with me here…
After spending literally days getting my teeth kicked in by one particular boss I came at it with a different approach. Instead of trying to stay ultra-mobile and launching vertical missiles from afar, I switched it up, strapped on a pair of very slow tank treads, mounted two bazookas and as much armor as I could pile on, and just stood my ground. Missiles blitzed my position while I just unloaded round after round, trundling out of the way for his larger attacks. By the time you read this, there will be guides and videos to help you figure out all of these bosses, so you get to have your moment in the sun (albeit once you get the timing and movement – there’s still a great deal of skill involved here) without having to grind out all the seemingly endless “observation” loop. In short, what I’m saying is that Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon will reward you, if you put in the work and stick with it. I know that’s a little like saying “This book gets good half way through”, but for me I’m happy to read the guides. I’m sure some of you are dying to insult me in various ways for my approach, but if games are not for enjoying on our own terms, I don’t know what purpose they serve. Engage this game in whatever way suits your taste.
I mentioned that this game is omni-directional, and that’s a very big part of what’s different from any other FromSoftware game. Being able to attack a foe from nearly any angle makes it feel very different from the likes of Sekiro or Dark Souls. It also means those same foes can attack you in similar ways. Taking to the skies is not a cure-all, and you’ll find some foes can stay airborne the entire time. Sometimes the answer is “take to the skies” and sometimes the problem is that enemies have the same idea. Frankly, I enjoyed this gameplay in a way I never did with their ground-level games. Dodging and rolling just doesn’t have the same impact as rocketing through the skies and then juking with high-powered rockets. I suspect I’m not alone.
Occasionally you’ll run into situations that aren’t dictated by preparation, luck, or skill – the enemy being complete cowards. Even the very first boss, a PCA helicopter, likes to run outside of the boundaries. You’ll not be able to race towards them with a blade because you’ll run into a red virtual tape boundary that says “sorry, I’m gonna hide back here and hit you and you can’t do anything about it”. It’s poor design in an otherwise great game full of engaging moment to moment visceral combat. You feel the “gaminess” at that moment and you wonder why FromSoft couldn’t have put the boundaries out a little further or forced the boss to color inside the lines.
One of my favorite parts is the AC Assembly Bay. Your Armored Cores are split into Inner, Frame, and Unit. These are subdivided into arms, legs, head, core, booster parts, generators, and more. A total of a dozen slots await your customization, and each makes a world of difference in terms of gameplay. Thin reverse-hinged legs are great for jumping and speed, but they are too thin to take many hits. Stockier humanoid-like legs are slower and use more thrust to get airborne, but can take more damage. All of it interplays into an energy utilization and weight balance. You can also paint every single part, or the AC as a whole. Adding decals to your head, core, arms and legs is also possible, but I’m more excited to see what players come up with the custom emblem system. Similar to something we’ve seen in games like Forza or Gran Turismo, you are provided layers and basic shapes to make whatever magic you can imagine. An Image system also lets you upload your own decals, or download those of other players. There is a depth here that I’m sure creative folks will turn into virtual works of art to paint onto your Armored Core – I look forward to the waifu parade that will inevitably appear on this marketplace.
There’s another way you can engage with Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon, if you are into the PVP aspects of the game. Once you’ve proven your worth by downing three AI opponents (I only wish one of which would be G1 Michigan – the dumbest caricature of a military officer I’ve ever heard, and I’ve served with some real oxygen thieves in my own time in the military. I’d love to be able to shut him up with bullets) you’ll unlock the multiplayer Arena. Here you can face off against your fellow meat puppet players, testing your mettle based on the rankings of other players. In the beginning this is going to be rough as everyone establishes their initial rank, but it should shake out in a few days post launch so you can fight similarly matched meatbags. I wish you the best of luck in the Arena, but there’s a reason you’ll want to fight with your fellow humans – OST Chips.
OS Tuning is split into several sections – System Unlocks, Core Expansions, Attack Control, and Damage Control. You gain all of these unlocks with OST Chips by fighting in the arena. Doing well earns you chips, and each upgrade costs between 1 and 5 of them. Assault Armor, for example, unlocks an armor that creates a pulse explosion centered on your AC, canceling out enemy fire and creating an area of effect shockwave. If there was a boss that, perhaps, launched a massive amount of missiles in all directions, this could be helpful. The first update lets you install it, while subsequent upgrades lets you unleash it more often with additional charges. Most of the Core Expansions provide new tricks up your sleeve, where System Unlocks are more tweaks to the formula. Manual Aiming is exactly what it says on the tin, allowing you to aim more precisely. This requires a great deal more skill, but if you’ve got the chops, you can shoot the wings off a fly, so to speak. Weapon Bay unlocks the ability to swap out your shoulder-mounted weapons with additional hand weapons. Weight Control allows you to launch a mech when it’s overburdened. Each of these are useful in their own right, as are the ones that make your repair kits more effective, mitigate damage, or increase yours. You’ll have to fight for those chips, so choose wisely. You can spend a small bit of COAM to revert your choices, so retrofitting never feels like too much of a penalty.
It’s hard to estimate how long Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon really is, but FromSoftware estimates somewhere between 50 and 60 hours of game time. That time estimate is largely dependent on your overall skill level.
If you bounced off of the various Souls games for difficulty, I have some good news and some bad news. You will die, and that’s just a fact. That said, when you do, you’ll likely be restarting at one of the various checkpoints throughout the level. Better still, you’ll come back with your three repair kits, no matter how many you had when you hit said checkpoint. The fights are tough, yes,they can be downright overwhelming. You’ll die, a lot, and that’s also part of the loop. Every boss has a weakness, and finding it could be exactly the fun you’re looking for. That said, if that loop of observing, tweaking, and re-engaging over and over doesn’t intrigue you, then the move to omni-directional combat isn’t going to change your mind. That said, if you’ve enjoyed other FromSoftware games and their challenge, this is a whole new way to engage with that style.
Ultimately, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is, at its core, a Souls game, with all that implies. The twists on the gameplay loop with omni-directional movement and the upgrade system creates a new dynamic that is enough to keep me locked in, but it’s not without a great deal of swearing and gritting of teeth. If you aren’t a Soulsborne fan, Fires of Rubicon is unlikely to convert you, but if you are into mech games like I am it could be enough to pull you across the line. That said, if you’re a fan of previous FromSoftware games, this game is magnificent. It’s the culmination of every game the team has made in the last decade, and a brilliant reinvention of the series. While it may be very hit and miss for me, the hit parts hit in a way you won’t find anywhere else. Now I’ve just gotta figure out whatever magical combination I need to get past the miss parts so I can get back to the fun…
Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming.
Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter.
Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 27 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
Armored Core VI Fires of Rubicon
White-knuckle brilliant Soulslike action, coupled with a movement style not seen in this genre for an entire generation, resurrects a blast from the past in a whole new way. If you are a fan of the genre, this game is pure punishing fun with all that implies. If not, it’s unlikely to convert you. In either case, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is a brilliant title that breaks the mold on the genre in a whole new way.