Armored Core 6 review: More than just Dark Souls with robots 

Armored Core 6 Fires of Rubicon is easily one of FromSoftware
Armored Core 6 Fires of Rubicon is easily one of FromSoftware's crowning achievements (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)

Armored Core 6 Fires of Rubicon was among my most anticipated games of 2023, alongside the likes of Final Fantasy 16 and Marvel's Spider-Man 2. Being a massive FromSoftware fan who has been playing and enjoying each and every one of their games (yes, even Dark Souls 2) for years, naturally, I had very high expectations from Armored Core 6.

And honestly, the game has surpassed my expectations and delivered what I'd consider one of the best gaming experiences of 2023. To be fair, I was initially a bit skeptical going into it. This was partly due to my lack of experience with the Armored Core series and the game not being directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki himself.

I was in the same camp as many other players who might be fans of the "Souls" series but do not think Armored Core is going to scratch that FromSoftware itch. However, all my doubts and worries quickly dissolved once I got my hands on the title. Let me be perfectly clear, Armored Core 6 IS a FromSoftware game, through-and-thorugh.

However, do not expect a "Souls-like" experience from it only because it's a FromSoftware offering. Armored Core 6 Fires of Rubicon is much, much more than just Dark Souls with robots. It's an excellent take on what is essentially a dead and mostly forgotten video game genre - "mech-action."


"Welcome back, Raven!" an intuitive opening chapter, with some really challenging boss fights, sets the tone just right for Armored Core 6

Intuitive controls and general gameplay systems

One of the biggest concerns I had in regard to Armored Core 6 was my lack of experience with the decade-old series. Having seen the gameplay of the previous AC titles, especially the PvP stuff in Armored Core For Answer and Armored Core Verdict Day, I was a tad bit worried that the controls and the combat system would feel alien.

It feels a bit weird to see waypoint marker and control input pop-ups in a FromSoftware game (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)
It feels a bit weird to see waypoint marker and control input pop-ups in a FromSoftware game (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)

However, I was taken aback by how intuitive the game is in terms of its general progression systems, combat, and even the controls. Don't get it twisted, Armored Core 6 is hard, probably even more so than Elden Ring. However, it features an extensive first chapter, which is essentially an extended onboarding section for new players.

I'll admit, it does take a while to get adjusted to the controls, especially coming fresh off the heels of FromSoftware's other titles. However, once you do get in grips with it, the general gameplay loop, and the customization system, Armored Core 6 becomes equally as addicting as the Souls games.

The controls are also fairly easy to understand. With a few hours of practice, it should sit well with your muscle memory. I played the game on PC with an Xbox Series controller and found the layout perfect for the fast-paced mech-action. However, Armored Core 6 does feature support for mouse and keyboard.

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The general gameplay controls are quite simple. You move using the left stick, rotate the camera using the right stick, fire your weapons using the shoulder and trigger buttons, and perform special actions such as boosting, dashing, jumping, and activating your "Core Expansions" using the face buttons.

You are free to fire your weapons independently, which adds a lot of depth to general combat, as you can choose weapons you want to use to stagger and those you want to keep in reserve in order to deal damage. While it might seem a bit overwhelming at first, the controls are quite easy to get in grips with.


Progression structure and challenging boss fights

Armored Core 6 follows a linear mission-based structure. As you complete each mission, you're rewarded with new parts and currency for upgrading your AC.

While the general premise of each mission stays the same, i.e., assemble your mech, and use it to destroy other NPC mechs, the premise and narrative stakes are what differentiates them from others.

The first boss fight of Armored Core 6 is a great test of players' understanding of the game's combat basics (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)
The first boss fight of Armored Core 6 is a great test of players' understanding of the game's combat basics (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)

While the first few missions of Armored Core 6's chapter 1 lay the groundwork for new players to get a hang of the game, the final mission does not hold back on delivering an action-packed and challenging finale. The first chapter's last mission features what I'd consider one of the most challenging boss fights FromSoftware has ever designed - Balteus.

It took me almost a day to figure out an optimal build to use against Balteus and ultimately defeat the boss. This is exactly what I look for in a FromSoftware game. Defeating Balteus after so many tries evoked the same sense of satisfaction and pride that I've previously felt after vanquishing bosses like Malenia, Godfrey, Gael, Midir, Orphan of Kos, Owl, and Isshin.

This exact moment made me realize Armored Core 6 might look like a massive departure from what I've known the developer for, but at its core, it's still a FromSoftware game, through and through.

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The only minor gripe I have with Armored Core 6 is its relentless difficulty and somewhat complex build optimization. This can end up overwhelming new players, especially those who might not be that familiar with FromSoftware's games and are only looking for a simple mech game.


A story that lets you unwrap its layers at your own pace

FromSoftware's indirect approach to storytelling and its merits

While I do enjoy story-driven experiences a lot, I prefer games that deliver a rather vague narrative, letting me piece together the plot without outright giving me all the answers right from the get-go.

This is exactly why I adore the games FromSoftware makes. They might not be too heavy on their storytelling side of things. Yet they provide enough breadcrumbs to piece together my own narrative based on how I experienced the game.

Armored Core 6's story might feel linear at first, but it branches out once you get past the opening few chapters (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)
Armored Core 6's story might feel linear at first, but it branches out once you get past the opening few chapters (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)

Don't get me wrong, as I mentioned earlier, I enjoy titles like the Uncharted series, God of War, and Final Fantasy. However, I mostly prefer and enjoy games that let me do the thinking when it comes to story.

Games like the Dark Souls Trilogy, Bloodborne, and most recently, Returnal are the type of experiences that really stick with me. This is not only because of their gameplay but also because of their intriguing premise and emphasis on indirect storytelling. And Armored Core 6, much like FromSoftware's previous titles, is yet another feather in that "vague and cryptic" storytelling collection.

I won't go into spoiler territory since Armored Core 6's story is something that I really want everyone to experience for themselves. The premise revolves around human augmentation and a dystopian future. Intergalactic traversal is not a means of exploration of new uncharted galaxies there but a desperate last resort for the survival of the human race.


Armored Core 6's lore is equally as intriguing as the themes it taps into

One thing that I'd like to mention before going into surface-level details regarding Armored Core 6's story is that you don't need to have any prior knowledge of the previous games in the series in order to understand or enjoy the latest one.

You even get to go to outer space and fight fleets of massive spaceships in Armored Core 6 (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)
You even get to go to outer space and fight fleets of massive spaceships in Armored Core 6 (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)

Much like mainline Final Fantasy games, the Armored Core series has always featured a unique story and setting for each of their mainline entries. As such, you won't have to worry too much about missing any significant lore revelations if you aren't up-to-date with the series' mythos.

That being said, the story of Armored Core 6 is set on an alien planet called the Rubicon 3. This used to be home to one of the most precious resources known to mankind, the Coral. However, the extensive use of the substance resulted in a cataclysmic event called the Fires of Ibis.

Following the devastating event, humanity withdrew from Rubicon 3, thinking the Coral to have extinguished alongside the flames of Ibis. However, almost half a century later, the unique resource was discovered to have survived the cataclysm.

This revelation resulted in multiple Corporations flocking to the planet in search of the resource. They are unaware of the harm they're causing not only to the planet but also to its native inhabitants - the Rubiconians.

Some of Armored Core 6's early-game missions take you to breathtaking locales, such as an ice-covered military base or an abandoned construction site hanging in midair (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)
Some of Armored Core 6's early-game missions take you to breathtaking locales, such as an ice-covered military base or an abandoned construction site hanging in midair (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)

As more and more humans perish in the war for the Coral, new augmented humans are sent to the battlefield to aid corporations in their heedless pursuit of the resource.

The player character (in typical FromSoftware fashion) is an unnamed augmented human only known by his serial number - C4-621. They are an Armored Core pilot and a mercenary who crash lands on Rubicon 3.

After arriving at Rubicon, you are tasked with completing multiple missions sanctioned by your handler, Walter. As you complete each of these missions, the story slowly unravels, piece by piece. I would stop right here since speaking on anything beyond this point will be well within the spoiler territory.

However, Armored Core 6's story is going to subvert your expectations at every step of the way. The game does not feature cutscenes, not in the traditional form, at least. While there are some cinematic set-piece moments in the game, those are very few and far between, with most of the story being driven by radio conversations.

The radio conversations were one of the highlights of Armored Core 6 for me, mostly due to the absolutely stellar voice work from the game's VA cast (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)
The radio conversations were one of the highlights of Armored Core 6 for me, mostly due to the absolutely stellar voice work from the game's VA cast (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)

Honestly, I loved that. This is partly due to the stellar presentation of these expository moments and also the fantastic voice work from the game's English voice cast.


An in-depth customization system that drives Armored Core 6's combat and moment-to-moment gameplay

Mech customization and build optimization are the pillars of Armored Core 6's gameplay

One of the very first things that really impressed me about Armored Core 6 Fires of Rubicon was the amount of options the game gives you when it comes to customization and mech-building.

From changing different weapons and frame parts of your mech to the cosmetics that you can apply to them, there are plenty of options for everything.

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I must've spent more than 10 hours simply customizing my builds, optimizing the loadout, and getting the right shade of paint to make them unique. What's even better is that you can upload and share your custom creation online with your friends and others, adding a social aspect to the game's customization system.

Unlike FromSoftware's previous games, there is no leveling system in Armored Core 6 Fires of Rubicon. Instead, your choice of weapons, frames, and other components are the deciding factor of your build and playstyle.

Let's say you want to go for a tankier, strength build, then the Tank or Tetrapod leg types, along with heavy weaponry, are your go-to options.

And if you want a fast and balanced build, then the Biped or Reverse Joint leg types with weapons like assault or pulse rifles are the ones you'd want to choose. You can also mix and match different weapons and balance their energy requirement out by using a suitable generator and FCS module.

You also have the option to add OST modules to your AC. This adds passive or active perks like a temporary energy shield or a boost kick.

You can create some really impressive mech builds pretty early in the game (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)
You can create some really impressive mech builds pretty early in the game (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)

The build creation can get a tad bit complicated, especially when it comes to managing your build's (EN) energy and weight limit. However, once you invest some time in understanding how to optimize your builds and select the perfect loadout for different encounters, the game gets exponentially more enjoyable.


In-depth combat system that focuses more on players' skill than traditional number crunching

Once you have your Gundam, I mean Armored Core, assembled, you're ready to take on missions from the Sortie list and test your build's combat efficiency. However, if you want to test out the weapons and how your build might feel during combat, you can head to the training simulator via the "Test AC" option in the Sortie menu.

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The combat in Armored Core 6 is much more akin to that of Sekiro's than Dark Souls or Elden Ring, in my opinion. It's much more reliant on player skill than your AC's stats or the weapons you choose.

While your arsenal does have an impact on how the combat scenarios will play out, it's often down to your own ingenuity and skill that will earn you an upper hand against the enemy.

I love this skill-based approach to combat in games. It encourages players to think out of the box and make use of every single tool provided instead of relying on artificial number crunching to gain victory.

Much like how Sekiro's combat takes a bit of time before it opens up, Armored Core 6's combat and gameplay loop takes a while before it gets interesting.

To make use of this skill-based mech combat system, there's plenty of content for you to delve into. From the very engaging main story missions to the brief yet exhilarating Arena Battles, there are plenty of things to do in Armored Core 6.

You can save your mech builds and even share them online (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)
You can save your mech builds and even share them online (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)

If you were the least bit concerned about the game being potentially short and not being worth the premium $60 asking price, let me ease any and all of your concerns.

Armored Core 6's main missions will last you roughly 35-40 hours. This includes unlocking all main story missions and going through all the endings. You should want to do this to get the full narrative context of the game.

Add about 10-15 hours more if you're going to find all the hidden collectibles and mech parts across missions and fully upgrade all the OST modules.

Furthermore, if you like to go for the completionist route and the Platinum trophy, you're looking at no less than 70-80 hours of playtime. That's more than enough to justify the game's price tag, in my opinion.

Armored Core 6 is also highly replayable, similar to any other FromSoftware offerings. While you might think completing your first playthrough is the end, I highly encourage you to dive into a New Game+ cycle.

Even after completing the game twice, I'm still discovering new missions, even new Arena Battles, story beats, and more, on my third playthrough.

As you complete missions, you're rewarded with new and improved mech parts, giving you more options to customize and craft the mech of your dreams (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)
As you complete missions, you're rewarded with new and improved mech parts, giving you more options to customize and craft the mech of your dreams (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)

The game also has online PvP. I really wanted to give it a shot, especially with some of my late-game mech builds. However, given it currently does not feature a matchmaking system, I was unable to find a match and hence try out the 1v1 and 3v3 modes.

I feel this is something that will easily get addressed post-launch, when you should be able to find plenty of dedicated PvP lobbies to test out your mechs against other players.


Mesmerizing visuals with incredible attention to detail

Armored Core 6's art style is impeccable

Armored Core 6 Fires of Rubicon is the first Armored Core game that's built for PC as well as current-gen consoles. The series has skipped the eighth generation of consoles (PS4/Xbox One). While the original Armored Core games still hold up to this day, they have started to somewhat show their age in terms of visuals and even general gameplay.

Armored Core 6's visuals and art style are easily one of the most impressive aspects of the game, besides its combat system (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)
Armored Core 6's visuals and art style are easily one of the most impressive aspects of the game, besides its combat system (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)

FromSoftware's latest game is built on the same engine that powered the mesmerizing visuals of Elden Ring. As such, it's only obvious that Armored Core 6 is bound to look absolutely stunning.

While the game isn't going for photorealistic esthetics, it can oftentimes produce visuals that look quite realistic. This is a testament to FromSoftware's excellent art style.

The early few missions do feature levels that look somewhat flat and, dare I say, unimpressive from a visual standpoint. The latter missions, which unlock as you progress through the story, feature what are easily some of the best-looking environments FromSoftware has ever created.

From ruined cityscapes to colossal underground caverns, there's plenty of variety in Armored Core 6's missions. This not only keeps it fresh in terms of gameplay but also makes each mission stand out in terms of its visuals and presentation. Additionally, Armored Core 6 is the very first FromSoftware title to feature a dedicated photo mode.

Armored Core 6 is the very first FromSoftware game to feature a dedicated "photo mode" (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)
Armored Core 6 is the very first FromSoftware game to feature a dedicated "photo mode" (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)

Honestly, that says a lot about the confidence the developers have in the game's visuals. Also, did I mention Armored Core 6 supports real-time ray tracing as well?


Amazing audio design and a fantastic PC port

Finally, I'd like to talk a bit about the game's fantastic score and OST by the amazingly talented Kota Hoshino. From the game's official soundtrack to the ambient score that plays in the background whenever you're tinkering with your mech in the garage or sorting through missions to replay, Hoshino-san's music never failed to impress me.

Even the garage looks absolutely stunning (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)
Even the garage looks absolutely stunning (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)

The real highlights for me were the boss fight OSTs, especially the ones that played during the finale of certain chapters.

I should also mention that I played the entire game on PC. Apart from some minor framerate issues in the first few missions, it was a smooth and entirely bug-free experience from start to finish. This is really impressive for a PC port in 2023.

There were a handful of stuttering instances that did crop up from time to time. But they were very few and far between and definitely do not take you out of the experience. I was really skeptical about the PC port, considering the sub-par technical state of FromSoftware's previous title, Elden Ring on PC.

However, I'm really happy to say that Armored Core 6 does not exhibit any of the issues that were present in FromSoftware's previous release. It is easily one of the better-optimized PC ports of this year, right alongside the likes of Resident Evil 4 Remake.


Is Armored Core 6 Fires of Rubicon a souls-like?

Now to answer the million-dollar question, should you pick up Armored Core if you're looking for a "souls-like" experience akin to FromSoftware's previous titles? I would say yes, but there's a catch.

See, I feel that the definition of souls-like has diluted over the years. Back in the early 2010s, souls-like was a niche sub-genre, very much limited to games structurally similar to Dark Souls.

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However, it's now evolved into a very broad sub-genre of action RPGs. While Dark Souls and other FromSoftware titles like Bloodborne and Elden Ring still reign as the capstone of the souls-likes, the sub-genre also includes games like the Nioh series, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, Hollow Knight, Remnant series, The Surge series, and more.

These games are considered souls-likes, despite most of them being structurally quite different from what one would perceive as souls-like in the early 2010s. Even Sekiro, a game that's fundamentally different from a traditional souls-like experience, is considered by many as part of the genre.

Hence, if souls-like is described as a genre that has tough boss fights as well as a fun and engaging combat system, then yeah, Armored Core 6 is one, after all.

However, if you're looking for the traditional experience of a souls-like, then Armored Core 6 just might not be for you.

If tough boss fights are what you're looking for, Armored Core 6 has you covered (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)
If tough boss fights are what you're looking for, Armored Core 6 has you covered (Image via FromSoftware, Sportskeeda)

Don't get me wrong, Armord Core 6 isn't a walk in the park. In fact, in many ways, it is probably one of the most challenging FromSoftware games to date, going toe-to-toe with Sekiro in that department.

However, fundamentally, Armored Core 6 is, well, an Armored Core game first, i.e., focusing more on the mech-action part than the traditional RPG aspects.

Souls-like or not, I really loved every second of my time with the title. Honestly, at the end of the day, it's all that matters, doesn't it?


In conclusion

Armored Core 6 Fires of Rubicon is a fantastic game that not only revitalizes a decade-old franchise but does so while also evolving the core tenets of a FromSoftware experience.

From a robust mech customization system and the massive variety of missions to its skill-focused combat system and visuals, Armored Core 6 is a spectacular showcase of FromSoftware's prowess when it comes to game design.

While the game's systems can be a bit too overwhelming for newcomers, it only takes a bit of practice and perseverance to overcome that. As a newcomer to the Armored Core series myself, I'm really impressed at what FromSoftware has delivered with their latest mech-action title.

Whether you're a fan of their games or are just looking for a fun, engaging, challenging, and satisfying mech-action game, it doesn't matter. I think I can easily recommend Armored Core 6 Fires of Rubicon to anyone without any hesitation.


Armored Core 6 Fires of Rubicon

The scorecard (Image via Sportskeeda)
The scorecard (Image via Sportskeeda)

Reviewed on: Windows PC (Review copy provided by Bandai Namco)

Platform(s): PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and Windows PC (Steam)

Developer(s): FromSoftware

Publisher(s): Bandai Namco Entertainment

Release date: August 25, 2023