Every FromSoftware game seems manageable at first. Players figure out the gameplay and overcome a few tough encounters, but then they run into a boss that’s a brick wall. No matter how hard they try, the dangerous foe beats them down and turns joy into frustration. It becomes a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.
In “Elden Ring,” that boss is Margit the Fell Omen. Going up against him a few times left plenty of players frustrated. With “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice,” that boss was Lady Butterfly, who seemingly got harder the more one fought her. In “Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon,” that boss, for me, was Balteus, an autonomous mech that has a shield, shoots out dozens of missiles and spews out fire when it’s damaged.
I suffered through two agonizing nights trying to beat the mech. It haunted my dreams, but when I finally beat it, that’s when I realized that I learned how to play the game. I mean really play it, not just mash buttons and hope for the best. I learned how to dodge attacks, track enemies’ darting movements, memorize their attack patterns and adapt my fighting style to each opponent. I even had to learn how to hold the controller a new way.
FromSoftware titles have these challenging walls so that players can not only appreciate the depth of gameplay but also gain confidence. They realize that once they scale this wall, the next one won’t be as hard.
THE STORY SO FAR
Still, the first challenge is always the most brutal, and that will determine how much players enjoy “Armored Core VI.” The five-chapter campaign follow the exploits an augmented human called 621, who sneaks onto the planet of Rubicon 3. The planet is home to a potent energy source and data conduit called Coral that was thought to have been destroyed when the planet was set aflame, contaminating the star system.
But the tantalizing substance has been detected again, and as a mercenary under the command of Handler Walter, players have to infiltrate the planet and make a name as an ace armored core pilot. Doing well attracts the attention of the corporations that are searching for the energy source.
Fans of anime such as “Gundam” or films such as “Pacific Rim” will love the setting and premise. “Armored Core VI” is the closest the medium has come to giving players the feeling of piloting a mech since “Zone of Enders” or “Lost Planet.” The mechs, which are called armored cores, are outfitted with up to four weapons and they have quick short-range burst movements that act as dodges while longer-range flights can chew up real estate on the expansive maps.
Lastly, players have three repair kits that act as heals. They can upgrade kits to heal more damage but the machines don’t get more than that. Thankfully in each mission, players will run across checkpoints that refill ammo and health when players die. In other areas, usually before bosses, they’ll have an opportunity to resupply.
WELL-CRAFTED LEVEL DESIGN
These are the basic elements, but what’s fantastic about “Armored Core VI” is that FromSoftware creates a diverse set of scenarios and gives players plenty of tools to tackle them. Players will encounter moments where they’ll have to take down enormous land carriers the size of buildings. In other areas, the mech lands on battleships and players can take them out with several well-placed shots.
Elsewhere, FromSoftware creates stealth missions that aren’t as well-designed but do enough to change the pace from all-out action to sneaking missions. Whatever the case, “Armored Core” has moments where players will be amazed at how the team put together playable levels that would have been cut-scenes or quick-time events in any other game a decade ago. Every stage feels like a playable episode of a giant robot cartoon.
CUSTOMIZATION IS KEY
On the other end of the formula are the customization options. Players will find plenty of them and they’re encouraged to experiment with different parts. If players don’t like a gun or a leg piece, they can sell it back for full credit. By going through the Arena, which consist of simulated VR-like battles against the game’s heavy hitters, they’ll earn OST Chips that let players tweak perks on their mechs such as creating a force field or upgrading a weapon damage type.
In “Armored Core VI,” players won’t stick to one design. Some boss fights call for long-range fighting. Others require players to be bulkier to absorb damage while fighting in the midrange. Others require players to be lighter so that they can dodge attacks and not strain their energy output, which acts almost like a stamina bar.
If players are having trouble with a boss, it’s best to reconfigure the armored core and try a new tack. With so many parts and weapons to mix and match, players can find multiple builds to overcome a troublesome mission.
What’s more is that “Armored Core VI” has multiple endings, depending on which missions players take on. Certain inflection points in the campaign force players to make a choice and that alters how the finale unfolds, though the storytelling doesn’t always fit together cohesively.
Despite that, “Armored Core VI” is a brilliant chapter in the series. It’s an entry that has the challenge of other FromSoftware titles, but it also stays true to the other games in the series. It’s the closest fans will get to piloting a giant robot in our lifetimes.
‘Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon’
Four stars out of four
Platform: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox One, PC