Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon Review – Simplicity Done Right

Title – Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon

Platforms – PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC

Release Date – August 25, 2023

Developer – From Software Inc

Publisher – Bandai Namco

MSRP – $59.99

ESRB – T for Teen

Disclaimer – This product is being reviewed on the PlayStation 5.

I am new to the broader mech genre, and I’ve only scratched the surface of From Software (beating BloodBorne and Elden Ring), so I did not know what to expect from Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon. As soon as I got my hands on the controller and started boosting around in a clunky mech, I realized that the game’s structure was tailor-made for my sensibilities, and it steadily climbed the ranks of my favorite gaming experiences this generation. Here is our review of Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon.

The Story – Captivating Minimalism

From Software’s storytelling is traditionally cryptic, opaque, and incredibly deep. Likewise, Armored Core 6 falls outside modern-day storytelling conventions, but it is far less opaque than From Sofware’s most famous outings.

The game starts with your character launching from space onto the planet of Rubicon. You arise from the dust, embodying a rusty and crude mech. You are a mech for hire amidst several corporations fighting over a precious material on the planet of Rubicon. Your handler, Walter, finds jobs that help you raise the ranks as a guns-for-hire mercenary.

The story is presented primarily through mission briefings where the hirer explains your upcoming sortie. While this sounds bland, and it is on the surface, I was shocked by how much depth and intrigue came from this simple storytelling method. As you go about missions, you start to realize the lack of morality in your position – rigged by the system to undergo questionable missions without an ounce of free will. Once, when I killed a fellow mech, he agonizingly said: “I just wanted a dog tag of my own.” Small things like this shake your morality by highlighting a world brainwashed by corrupt corporations. The feeling settles in when you realize you are taking jobs from opposing companies, often back to back. All of which, are fighting to steal material from a planet that is not theirs.

Without major spoilers, the game toys with the idea of free will and starts to give your character more urgency in both storytelling and player choices. Surprisingly, despite the minimalist presentation, there are still memorable characters, thanks to both the briefings and in-game dialogue. V.IV Rusty, for instance, is an objectively cool character who occasionally appears throughout the story. He is a mercenary like you, and his friendliness is welcoming and somewhat uneasy. Handler Walter, beneath his straightforward, down-to-business attitude, had more depth than I expected. It’s weird, but Armored Core 6 might be the most intriguing story of the year.

Take it from me. I entered Armored Core 6 thinking it would not appeal to me, but it told a compelling story without in-person, face-to-face dialogue, which should be applauded.

Gameplay – Simple Levels With A Learning Curve

Armored Core

Before we get into the gameplay specifics, I wanted to note the structure of Armored Core 6. Instead of following the open-world formula that plaques blockbuster games, From Software scaled Armored Core back. It has five chapters, each one featuring several levels. You go on a mission, finish the mission, enter the games menu, choose your next mission, and so on. It’s old school in that you do one level after another. Everything is centered around the fun of combat without unnecessary bloat. Armored Core 6 hones in on what it does well and doubles down.

Each mission has a different objective and different obstacles to overcome. The first chapter is the most boring, featuring few variations or nuances to the missions. One mission has you taking down a group of mechs in a hanger, which takes about two minutes. Another mission pits you against a mech that gets annihilated within minutes. The levels in chapter one are filled with these small experiences that could be off-putting to some, but they do their job. They get you comfortable with the controls, like a prolonged tutorial. Everything in Armored Core is meticulously developed to prime you for what’s to come.

Most of Chapter One’s missions are short, but a few serve as harbingers for what’s to come. One tasks you with destroying a giant, four-legged mining rig. As you approach the rig, a blue light shines through the walls of dust. Then, a giant laser fires from its source, and only a perfectly timed dodge will save your life. As you approach the rig, you fight mechs on the ground while avoiding the menacing laser blasts. Once in range, you must destroy one of its legs to cripple it and get on board. What follows are intense battles while climbing a giant machine. In another mission, you must infiltrate a wall while artillery fire bombards you from ahead.

These missions are special. They paint an exhilarating and breathtaking picture no matter the type of level and objective. As you progress through the story, more and more missions are like this. It could be a simple assassination, a gigantic set piece, or an incredibly challenging boss. The surprises and unexpected turns kept Armored Core from getting boring or repetitive.

The moment-to-moment gameplay also helped to avoid burnout. Despite controlling a clunky machine, you never feel slow. Armored Core 6 could almost be categorized as a skating game because you are gliding across the map and rarely need to slow down or walk. In addition to gliding, you can dash in any direction to avoid enemy fire or boost into the air. Lastly, the sprint launches you forward at incredible speed, covering ground instantly. The omnidirectional movement is fast without being disorienting, allowing you to swerve around the incoming fire or close the distance in the blink of an eye. You will spend equal time in the air as you do on the ground. It’s this fluid combat that makes Armored Core feel so good.

You have two hand weapons and two shoulder weapons. The game utilizes an auto-lock to tear down enemies without much need for precise aiming. It’s important to note that you can click down the stick to stay locked onto a specific enemy, a helpful tool I found near the end of my playthrough. Armored Core boasts several weapons that can be bought between matches. Each corporation manufactures its weapons, some specializing in ballistics, lasers, and plasma. The joy of Armored Core comes from customizing your own weapon set. Unlike most From Software games where you pick a class and stick with it, in Armored Core, you are constantly encouraged to change your build to adapt to different challenges.

Armored Core 6

You can do all sorts of things, such as equipping two Gatling guns and two bazookas. The combinations are limitless. I enjoyed the plasma weapons because of their large area of effect. I also liked using two VP-60LCS laser cannons. Hitting an enemy with both will stagger them immensely (sometimes instantly), leaving them open to increased damage. Lastly, you can install melee weapons, which always look flashy. Nothing is as satisfying as boosting close to an enemy and slashing them with an energy sword.

Mech customization is just as important as your loadout. You can install different heads, bodies, arms, legs, and engines. Installing components will increase your weight or energy consumption, changing the way you play. My favorite mech focused on speed. With a speed build, you can do a double dash at high speed, but you don’t have much health. Heavy builds are slower, but they have increased health and can carry heavier weapons. The legs will also change your playstyle immensely. You can install bipedal legs or quad legs. The latter lets you scramble around the field like a spider and have a hover capability. Another leg type is double-jointed, which jumps higher like a rabbit. Lastly, you can install tank legs, which work exactly as they sound. Your top half is a torso and arms, and your bottom half is a tank. This build offers the most health; however, the movement is widely inferior to everything else. The tank constantly gets stuck on objects in the environment, making them needlessly frustrating. Besides that, all the different builds work well, depending on your playstyle.

You buy these components by gaining money through levels and the arena. When you replay a sortie, it gives a score based on the amount of deaths, amount of ammo wasted, and other factors. A small detail, but the first time you complete a level, you are not scored, encouraging you to complete it without worries of a final grade. Usually, I’m not one to replay missions, but it was enthralling to master an outing, especially when it gave me so much trouble the first time.  The arena pits you against another mech in a one-on-one battle. It serves as a way to farm since they are short and can be replied to several times without much sweat. Ultimately, I was more excited to play the campaign than the arena, which is unfortunate because it grants you exclusive upgrades.

Gaining revenue through these avenues is essential because bosses will force you to try different builds. For instance, one boss’s weak point was facing up, so the best way to hit it was to install the quad legs and hover above. In From Software fashion, most bosses are difficult; however, you will find a build that works for the occasion. If you die, you can change your build right in the “Restart Checkpoint” screen, inviting ease of experimentation. Because of checkpoints right before the boss, Armored Core is much more forgiving than other games from the developer. That doesn’t mean the bosses are easier. They will challenge you as you learn their attack patterns and react accordingly. Often you will hit your head against a boss, but that will make victory so much sweeter. Most boss fights end with a sliver of your health left, making for an exhilaratingly stressful experience that only From Software can deliver. Also, unlike other difficult games of this ilk, not every enemy is difficult. You will also mow down grunts, granting a power trip that diversifies the types of experience you will have in Armored Core 6.

The chapter one final boss, named Balteus, a large flying drone with spheres circling it, is a skill check after a surprisingly easy set of sorties. I spent a day trying to beat him, but it never got too frustrating. I watched as I dashed to the side, barely avoiding a dozen missiles before boosting forward for an attack of my own. It looked impressive, and I was proud of the precious timing that brought me out unscathed. It was these small victories that kept me going again and again. Eventually, I settled on the correct class and fired the final shot. Balteus exploded in slow motion, and I basked in the victory. Armored Core constantly delivers moments like this. Moments of adrenaline and sweet, laborious victory.

Along with practicality, customization also serves a visual aesthetic. You can change the color of every individual part down to the hex code. I designed one of my mechs based on Bumblebee from Transformers and made another one white and grey with hints of green. It’s truly amazing how deep the customization goes, and I foresee fans sharing their creations long into the future.

Graphics and Design – Smooth to the Core

Armored Core 6

Armored Core 6 doesn’t disappoint from a technical standpoint either. It ran at 60 FPS on the PlayStation 5, keeping up with the frantic action on screen. I rarely saw any bugs and generally had a solid experience all the way through. Visually, the game does not match up to other big-budget games of 2023, but it is nowhere near bad. Similar to how Elden Ring looked best when you veered over an expansive view, Armored Core looks good when you stand still and observe the more creative surroundings.

Some environments are barren, grey-toned cities or empty snowy mountains, but later on, you explore some environments reminiscent of the more fantastical elements of From Software design. Like in most of their games, the art team shines brightest with enemy designs. The bosses, in particular, are a sight to see, often a huge flying drone that shoots tons of missiles at you or a smaller, faster mech with an almost alien-like look. The boss design and the onslaught of projectiles they send your way are a sight to behold. One of my favorite designs was a wheel with spikes that rolled toward you at an alarming speed.

Final Verdict

Armored Core 6’s short missions, lack of an open world, and difficulty may not be for everyone. However, from my perspective, it was difficult to find anything negative to say about it. As someone who loves compact experiences with excellent gameplay, Armored Core checked all the right boxes. Not to mention the surprisingly compelling story. Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon gets a 9.5 out of 10.

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Smooth combat that never gets boring


Not as good as other Triple A games in 2023 but no where near bad


The atmospheric music captures the melancholic sci-fi tone


Extremely high with incentive to start a new game plus