The fires of war are burning; mechs speed across ruined cities, clashing with missiles and energy blades. With Fires of Rubicon, it's clear that developer FromSoftware and publisher Bandai Namco are bringing back the Armored Core franchise in a big way.
At a recent preview event, I had the chance to go hands-on with the first few hours of gameplay from Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon. I walked away incredibly impressed at how this semi-reboot of the Armored Core franchise brings back heavy mech combat in a way not seen in the last decade of FromSoftware's work, while still providing challenging combat that pushed me to think carefully.
Disclaimer: Accommodations for this preview event were paid for by Bandai Namco. The company did not see the contents of this preview before publishing.
1. Gameplay feels great
Over the last decade, FromSoftware has built a reputation for designing games that are tough but fair, encouraging players to rethink their approach towards powerful foes after inevitably being clobbered upon first contact. That is largely still true here, but that doesn't mean it's anything like Dark Souls or Elden Ring.
Far from being a ground-bound heavy warrior, the mechs of Armored Core 6 practically dance, zipping through the air and dashing along the ground with speed and ferocity. It feels fantastic to stun enemies and maneuver around impossibly large foes. You still take heavy damage if you're not careful, but the freedom here practically begs for experimentation in ways FromSoftware's prior games simply couldn't.
2. Boss fights have checkpoints
An important quality-of-life feature like this deserves its own breakout point. Whenever you're fighting a major boss, you have a checkpoint so if you die, you're not losing a ridiculous amount of progress. Your repair kits are even topped off, meaning you'll be as prepped as possible for whatever mechanical monstrosity you need to take out.
You'll even have the option to change out your current kit with any other parts in your collection, although you can't buy new parts, you have to do that before embarking on a mission. Depending on your setup and how you've been playing so far, this system isn't just neat to have, it's absolutely critical in order to progress.
3. Mission length doesn't drag
Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon lets players select missions to go on instead of roaming an open world. Many of these are bite-sized, only lasting a short while, so if you're only able to play for a short bit, you don't need to worry about not being able to make meaningful progress.
While a handful of the missions I played took around 20 minutes to complete, many were much shorter, with one taking less than four minutes to finish. I know personally I don't always have three hours of free time to throw myself against a difficult section, so having the game broken up in chunks like this makes it much easier to approach.
4. Customization is incredible
In Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon, you can customize literally everything on your mech. If you want to go bulkier, there's heavy armor reminiscent of Pacific Rim's Jaegers to choose from. If you need to be nimbler and faster in the air, then you can choose more streamlined, Gundam-esque parts. Weapons range from missile pods and homing rockets to energy blades and machine guns of every type. Finding the right balance that works to keep you protected and dangerous on the battlefield will be a challenge, but there's plenty to choose from.
The customization doesn't stop there, with plenty of cosmetic details to tweak. If you want to change the paint scheme, add decals, or just rough up the metal to make it look more worn, you can do that. I'm looking forward to seeing all the designs players come up with as they emulate iconic robots from across the history of the genre.
5. Adapting to survive is mandatory
In the majority of FromSoftware's recent titles, players are encouraged to experiment, but you generally want to be going for a specific build, working towards the right combination to wield specific equipment and eschewing stats of tertiary importance. That is decidedly not the case here.
In Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon, you not only are not going for one particular build, but doing so can actually greatly hinder you. It's a great change of pace, and combined with the checkpoint system, it's greatly encouraging to hold onto all the different parts and weapons you acquire, because you never know what combination might be needed for the next boss fight.
6. Stunning, crisp art direction
While the visual detail in the chapter I played was fine, the art direction elevates the game's look to a completely new level. Whether I was watching silhouettes of distant machinery in the middle of the desert or dueling another mech on a frozen lake, the visual language always seemed interesting, with a cold and foreboding look that sold the idea of how many times Rubicon 3 has been fought over.
7. Colossal scale that's staggering in scope
If the art direction of this game is halfway responsible for selling its look, the sheer scale of everything handles the other half. Everything in Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon is constantly reframing the player to understand how small they are. You see your mech next to a human-sized walkway in the hangar. You use skyscrapers for cover against enemy attacks while dashing over roads.
As missions continue, you'll find yourself climbing miles-high tall mining equipment, man-made colossi scraping the ground and the heavens. Fortified walls stretch thousands of feet up, with scattered defenses lining the barricades that seem fit to repel planetary invasions. In just a few hours of playtime, Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon seemed to ask me to gaze upon the impossible, then to conquer it.
Not long to go
Playing through this first chapter provided just a taste of what's in store, and I can't wait to dive back in when the full game arrives. Fortunately, Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon is not far away. The game is currently set to launch across Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Windows PC, PS5, and PS4 on Aug. 25, 2023, and preorders are live right now.
If you want a more in-depth preview of what awaits, I highly recommend reading the thoughts of managing editor Jez Corden, who also got to play through this early section of the game.
Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon
New brutal combat is on the way, with FromSoftware returning to the Armored Core franchise. Everything we've learned so far points to this being a glorious return for the franchise, with incredible customization options and a bevy of features to aid newcomers in becoming ace pilots.
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