I approach every From Software game with a high level of caution and Armoured Core 6 was no different.
I am not a Dark Souls player, nor am I a massive fan of their other IPs, like Bloodbourne or Sekiro. I certainly respect the vision and dedication to their craft. But their seemingly single-minded focus on making punishingly hard games has never been endearing in my mind. Admittedly, I was swayed to the ways of From Software by the stunning Elden Ring, but my positivity was less about the game’s combat systems being approachable, and more due to the wonderful open world and true exploration at its heart. Certainly not for the bosses, thats for sure. I still hated them.
What I am dancing around here, is when I heard “AC6” (Armoured Core 6: Fires of Rubicon) was getting the From Software treatment, I instantly dismissed the prospect of a mech-souls-like, as “not my jam”! BUT….wow, I was wrong in my initial dissmissal. AC6 is not a souls game in a mech skin. From Software have remembered their roots in the series and created a unique, approachable, and importantly fun title that encourages trial and error, without the soul crushing punishment for just giving something a go.
Armoured Core 6: the narrative
The story focused on me being a disposable genetically engineered pilot, working as a mercenary on planet Rubicon. Carrying out various contracts for competing corprate interests. All sporting for the natural resources found on the planet. Aside for the intro and the odd action sequence, there are no cutscenes of characters to speak off. Any and all exposition is delivered via radio chatter or pre and post mission briefings. That’s it! I hated that. I wanted a sweeping story about Mechs, Pilots and Politics, but that is not AC6’s goal. Granted for those who have the discipline to stick with it, the underlying story is interesting, but the reliance on radio chatter for 99% of narrative delivery made the whole thing feel like an after thought.
So, story is not a reason to be here. But the gameplay and mission design certainly is! Unlike the Souls games, Armoured Core 6 missions are fast! The first time I ran one it could be a 30min exercise. But they are designed to be run over and over to grind for money to buy better mech parts. I could run some of the early game missions in less than 4 mins with my levelled up mech and the correct strategy.
Armoured Core 6: Trial and Error
My pre-conceived view of “what a From Software game will look and feel like” was miles off. Armoured Core 6 is more of a classic video game, with checkpoints, forgiving health systems and a general respect for gamers time and efforts. In contrast, I loved Sekiros ideas, world and mechanics. But despised the lack of respect for my time and efforts. I’m all for artistic vision, but personally think the lack of difficulty adjustment in Souls-like games is arrogance wrapped up in a weird superiority complex. But, that’s just me…maybe I should just get gud.
So, AC6 is a mech building game with fine tuned combat. The combat is the testing ground for my design ideas. If my ideas were shit, no panic, there is a checkpoint and parts can be swapped out. Or if I wanted to go away, grind for cash and buy better parts for my mech, I can be back at this ‘difficult bit’ in only a few minutes. Playing on PS5, I thought the game didn’t look as good as everyone else on the internet. The missions are set in semi-open world areas or arenas. Primarily set in industrial complexes. The colour palate is brown and grey, with little detail or set dressing. Nothing I saw was massively impressive.
The speed and verticality were not what I expected in a mech game. A heavy tank, with tracks and armour is a very different proposition to an agile mech that has no armour, but can flit around with a sword, dodging incoming fire. Bot both are viable options, but experimentation is crucial as From Software have designed each mission, or boss with a best approach in mind.
Armoured Core 6: Big Boss Battles
I hate Boss Battles. Always have. Armoured Core 6 though, has some of the best boss battles (except one) that I have faced in recent times. That is because they are designed to be mastered by not only skill, but by having the right design of Mech. The “except one” is called BALTEUS and it sucks. In fact its difficulty has just been patched, which is unheard of in a From Software game.
One boss fight I loved had such a massive scale, I got Shadow of the Colossus vibes. A huge walking robot I had to approach and move around like a flea on a dog. When I first tried, I died as my mech was too slow and couldn’t fly long enough tp be of any use. After a re-design, I found a super-fast, light weight frame with a sword was the best. In fact, I did it first go without taking hardly any damage.
So officially, my frustrations with the game (aside from the BALTEUS fight) are limited to just the lack of a ‘AAA’ level story and characters, and the average graphical detail. But these are minor gripes and are honestly “nice to haves” in this genre. The key element to any action game is the gameplay mechanics…. and AC6 is super solid.
Armoured Core 6: In Summary
Armoured Core 6 gameplay is sublime, rewarding and importantly NOT built around a souls-like model. It is its own beast. I think From Software have a hard core following of fans, and rightly so. But I suspect there are a lot of gamers out there who will see ‘From Software’ on the box and dismiss AC6 as another frustrating as hell souls game. That is totally understandable and a shame. As AC6 has a lot to offer.
To call Armoured Core 6 a ‘AAA’ game, is perhaps over stating the volume of content on offer. It feels more like a passion side project from a major studio, that is a great proof of concept. Hopefully, the next AC game introduces some western narrative sensibilities to the tight Japanese mecha gameplay. AC6 is great fun and will certainly be in the mix for many when GOTY discussions kick off in December.