Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon (Xbox Series X/S) Review

By Justin Prinsloo 02.09.2023

Review for Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon on Xbox Series X/S

Armored Core may not be the series that put FromSoftware on the map — we have the latest Dark Souls titles and Elden Ring to thank for that — but it's nevertheless a franchise that's accrued a cult following over the years. It's been over a decade since Armored Core 5 was released, and the wait has proven to be the perfect incubation period for the series. Now, it aims to find success with a wider audience.

From the get-go, Armored Core 6 makes clear that it's not trying to reinvent the series' classic formula. It doesn't need to; FromSoftware has become a globally recognised brand. So, while AC6 might feel like a departure from the usual Souls-like fare, it's not uncharted territory for the developer. It's just a bigger-budget and harder-hitting refreshment of the mech combat that Armored Core is known for.

Truthfully, that combat is a joy to experience in the modern era. Movement is unbelievably smooth, thanks in large part to a versatile boost mechanic that can act as a dodge or a quick way to close in on idle enemies. Every facet of Armored Core 6's combat is well-oiled: a remarkable achievement for an experience that boasts a mind-numbingly expansive arsenal of available weapons. From shotguns to rifles, energy swords to laser missiles, each weapon can be leveraged to great effect when partnered with an appropriately built mech. For those who love a bit of build tinkering and high-level destructive gameplay, AC6 is the definition of a power fantasy.

Screenshot for Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon on Xbox Series X/S

The gameplay loop consists of two core pillars: fast-paced and incredibly immersive levels that see the player's mech sortie on a variety of bite-sized missions, and mech customisation between each sortie. Tinkering and tuning of this mech — or 'AC' as it's canonically referred to — is at once both varied and accessible. There's a range of stats and restrictions to keep in mind when swapping out parts and weapons but it never feels overwhelming. The majority of players will likely be entirely new to the franchise, so from a design perspective, this is a must.

Truly, Armored Core 6 feels like an industrialised Build-a-Bear for mech enthusiasts. The mech's head, core, arms and legs — of which there are 4 different types, each with unique properties — can all be tinkered with, alongside the machine's booster, operating chip and generator. There are what feels like hundreds of parts to choose from, and that's not even considering the fully-customisable colour schemes that can be ascribed to each player's creations. What's most impressive here is that every build feels distinct; while aesthetically they differ wildly, they're also very unique in function, bringing joy to the act of experimenting with new parts to find that sweet spot that belies the player's play style.

Mission structure is also a bit of a departure from more recent FromSoftware titles. Each mission is set on a very contained battlefield, with isolated and varied objectives. After each sortie, the player returns to the garage to buy new parts and customise their mech, upgrade its operating system for permanent buffs and new abilities, before setting out to do it all again. The missions themselves, while seldom running longer than ten minutes, are full of generous checkpoints and occasionally resupply points should ammo be exhausted on the battlefield. Players expecting a Souls-esque gameplay loop should temper their expectations; AC6 is very much a linear action experience.

Screenshot for Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon on Xbox Series X/S

One thing that has carried over from From's recent titles is the difficulty curve, particularly when it comes to the excellently designed boss battles. The combat of Armored Core 6 can be extremely punishing for unoptimised ACs but with the right setup, any encounter can be made significantly easier. It helps that mechs can be tuned upon dying to swap out parts and weapons that might be better suited for the encounter at hand, before hopping back into the fray via the latest checkpoint.

The inherent polish is also evident in the level design. In a word, it's exceptional. Even though the environments of Rubicon are isolated by each mission, there are some masterfully crafted levels here that hold nooks and crannies aplenty for the AC that strays from the beaten path. Even though Rubicon as a setting is home to a muted colour palette of greys, browns, reds and whites, the environments never grow tiresome. That is an achievement that likely won't be applauded enough, but it's one that deserves attention. To that end, there are echoes of the design sentiments and production prowess of the developer's other titles.

The missions themselves, despite the simple concept, don't grow tiresome either. There's enough variety in objectives to keep things fresh, with unique conditions ranging from stealth or recon missions to maps that must be navigated without reliable radar or the AC's targeting systems. Amidst the variety, the classic "go there, kill that" missions feel all the more enjoyable for the fact that they aren't over-relied upon.

Regardless of a given mission's objectives, the necessity of building a strong mech makes every victory feel earned, but there is still a lot of leeway when coming up with a unique build. Any playstyle is viable, whether opting for a traditionally well-balanced mech, a bona fide tank build or a high risk, high reward glass cannon. So long as players understand their own mech's capabilities — and perform due diligence on the meatier bosses at the end of each chapter — anything is possible.

Screenshot for Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon on Xbox Series X/S

So, the gameplay is fantastic, but where does that leave the story? In truth, Armored Core 6's plot is held hostage by the archaic gameplay loop, with the story playing out almost entirely via dialogue menus. Naturally, this can grow tiresome, even if the events that unfold do pick up pace in the latter half of the title's five story chapters. Still, this isn't likely to be a title many players dive into for the story alone, so it's more forgivable than it might be elsewhere.

Less forgivable is the console performance, which can be disappointing at times. The Xbox Series X and PS5 both struggle to maintain a consistent 60fps amidst the mayhem, even in the frame-rate favouring performance mode. The quality mode is all over the place; the frame-rate seems to be unlocked, causing it to fluctuate between 30-50fps most of the time. Hopefully this will be patched, but until then, performance mode is certainly the way to go for those playing on 60hz-and-up displays.

Nevertheless, this is merely a nitpick. On the whole, Armored Core 6 is satisfyingly polished. In fact, it makes a case for being the best playable mech experience of all time, proving that FromSoftware is anything but a one-trick pony. For anyone favouring some machine-powered mayhem of planetary proportions, this is one not to be missed.

Screenshot for Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon on Xbox Series X/S

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Armored Core 6 manages to refresh a dated gameplay loop and make it feel like something entirely new. It excels in both its high-octane gameplay and dizzying variety of customisation options. Whether opting for speed or brute force — or something that notches its own point on the spectrum — AC6 offers personalised action gameplay the likes of which has seldom been seen before. Don't go in expecting a Souls-like, and it will surely be a satisfying time.

Developer

From Software

Publisher

Bandai Namco

Genre

Action

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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