Wednesday, August 23, 2023.
by Brent Roberts

ARMORED CORE VI FIRES OF RUBICON Box art When you combine the long-standing quality of a company like From Software with customizable mechs, more firepower that exists on the planet today, and a strategic methodology, you get one of the most anticipated games of 2023. You get Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon. Imagine playing chess with your opponents where the right or wrong combination of skills and firepower make all the determination to succeeding and/or failure. Thankfully though, From Software has not only worked to deliver the same quality challenge you've come to expect from them, but do so in a way that encourages playthroughs, customization, and a dedication or pursuit to finishing the job. Time to take this to new heights as we look into the details of From Software's newest entry into their classic mech series, Armored Core VI: Fire of Rubicon.

With a history of games where dying is frequent, Armored Core VI: Fire of Rubicon (ACVI) lives up to that same moniker but in a colossal mech that has enough firepower to put a crater into the planet. This game's enemy encounters can be summed up in a soul crushing manner. Fight through the map with enemies that pose no significant threat so long as you use some maneuverability, then you get to resupply right before a boss fight that will make you question the sadistic tendencies of the game developers. Maps where you'll fly about encountering enemies and then the developers say "OK, enough fun, here's where the game begins." and then you're crushed. Oh, and make no mistake, this fun begins from the very first mission of the game.

As the story opens up, you have been one of the few survivors of your human augmentation armored core project and are reactivated above the planet Rubicon 3. You realize that you have been reactivated to serve as a mercenary under your handler called "Walter". This opening mission is to get you used to the controls, which will be talked about here momentarily, but also combat and a taste of what you can expect from a game like this. You initially start off trying to find some type of identity so that your handler can start getting you jobs to get paid. You will go between several interactive points until ultimately coming upon the identification you need which will trigger the first boss fight.

As you hear over your radio of an incoming ship you find out that it's from a faction calling themselves the PCA or Planetary Closure Administration, or massively powerful space government. This jet has several absolutely crippling attacks and will quite rapidly get you acclimated to the movement style of ACVI because it is here that you will get just a sample of what to expect moving forward. It's about here that you would naturally see a training montage but there's an actual method to the strategy within ACVI and learning to adapt will ultimately decide whether or not you're cheering for your success or clicking restart from checkpoint in controller shattering frustration. Let me explain.

Armored Core VI is nothing but chess in a multi-directional format that relies on your tactics and weaponry to come out on top. Let's take this first boss as an example. With it flying around, you have several options. You can fly around and chase it and shoot ranged shots on it, or you get fly right at this thing and unload everything in point blank range. What do you think I did? If I'm literally standing on the cockpit of the craft, then the ranged weapons can't hit me. I can't stay here long because it will move, but it allows me to get in close and do some serious damage. Once enough damage is done the craft is staggered and is vulnerable, and this is when you have to fire everything you can. It doesn't last long but if you can time it, you can utterly demolish bosses in a few runs if you're lucky.

That means that you can, as an example, have 2 laser cannons on your shoulders that you can charge up, plus a hand laser rifle that can be charged as well. Swing your sword, stagger the enemy, release everything and watch at least 40% of your enemy’s health instantly vaporized. Remember though, we are talking an opening window of mere seconds, so plan your methods wisely. There is nothing worse than using everything you have to stagger an enemy, only to have nothing to shoot at it with because everything is reloading. If the time window wasn't challenging enough, imagine trying to do this while constantly strafing to the sides, dodging, jumping, flying and maneuvering in a 3-dimensional space at high speeds while trying to survive. Thus enters the main challenge of ACVI.

This produces the natural cycle of "trial and error" because your strategy may not work in certain areas, but adapting to it and your environment will help increase your odds on a dramatic scale. A simple, yet great example would be this: You have an enemy controlled AC (armored core) that is fighting you and has a shield in one hand. Frontal attacks will help stagger, but attacks from above will have more impact. Now picture this question while circling around like some DBZ meets Gundam hybrid while trying to stay alive and create an opening that will allow you to deliver devastating damage. Now you ask yourself, would you go with 2 missile pods that did 10 missiles each in a frontal attack, or 2 missile pods that have 8 missiles each that attack vertically from above?

This is where your tactics are absolutely vital to your success. While speed is important in a lateral axis, having vertical superiority can and will may a dynamic contribution to your survival. Imagine your mech walking normally, while this is very slow, it uses no energy. Should you wish to move around quicker you can engage your thrusters which also require no energy. Then by pressing in the Left Stick, you can engage in a boost that is directed by your reticle, which means you can start from the ground and take to the skies while locking onto targets below you. Now while the boost is engaged and you're flying ahead, you can use that to get close to bosses, or even setup some of your biggest weapons because don't forget, if you're flying towards your opponent, they can be trying to back up which means they're right in front of you to fire any weapon you want. Again, this is weaponized chess.

There have been times when I've charged up some shoulder cannons, dashed towards the enemy, they backed up so I let lose my cannons and they hit, then I fired up my grenade cannon as an instant round to connect. Another hit registered and now he's staggered. Finally, going in with an energy sword style weapon and melee like crazy while in close to really give some damage, and after the swings, my shoulder cannons are refilled so I quickly snap off 2 shots. Then my grenade cannon is cooled down and ready, I let one shoot off quickly before the stagger wears off and the damage just broke the enemy. There are many ways to achieve victory over your opponent, but sometimes you just have to go in and literally don't stop firing.

This was how I decided to also use my 2 miniguns. Imagine having a minigun on each shoulder AND on each arm. Dashing in and just nonstop unloading it can become absolutely savage in attacking, but you have to get them staggered and have to have all weapons ready to fully fire and not partially cooled down. One boss I literally just walked right up to it and never stopped firing and it just got wrecked almost instantly. That fight actually surprised me and that's when it hit me, don't waste time on ranged attacks, focus on getting in close and staggering an enemy, because when you do, they don't attack. Why try to avoid a boss attack when you can stagger it and prevent it from even occurring?

If it seems like I'm focusing now more on the play style and mechanical controls of the game rather than the story, that's because there really isn't much of one to be focused upon in the beginning. On the planet Rubicon there is a substance called Coral and this red substance is sought by governments, corporations and even scavenger/raider type entities. Each one of these wishes to use Coral in a different way, and for different reasons. While each one has a unique reason for its development and use, your character's sole focus is that of money. There will be missions though that are choice points and will set the game moving forward based off your own choices, so the replayability of ACVI just went up tenfold.

This is when ACVI boils down the story to having you use your acquired funds to build up your mech how you see fit for your playstyle. Personally, I preferred to switch between some shoulder mounted vertical missile pods, laser cannons, or forward directional missile pods with a hand laser cannon and a sword. I would use some charged attacks from my hand weapon to build up the stagger meter quickly, then rush in, unload 20 rockets at point blank, swing twice with my blade and then fire again with my laser cannon. This damage made me a wrecking ball... when I could survive long enough to get in position to deal that kind of damage. This is because the type of enemy you will face will determine your strategy.

Most of the game you'll fight some mechs mixed with light vehicles such as helicopters and tanks. Some of the earlier classes you'll face will be either the generic weaponry class where you have a basic missile or laser pod on 2 legs, or a light MT which is a very basic and lightly armored mech that is easily disposed of. Then the game ramps up a bit by delivering some artillery weaponry. These things are no joke if they hit you and are usually set up in a grid covering position, so while you may be thinking of taking one down, just remember in doing so, you'll be the target of at least three other cannons. Finally, you get to the elite of the "standard" enemies, the other AC (Armored Cores), the Light Calvary (LC), the Heavy Calvary (HC) and the big brother of the light MT, the Heavy MT.

These later enemies are not to be taken lightly because they not only possess the tactics and speed to outmaneuver and flank you, but possess tremendous firepower that if you don't dodge, will completely wreck your mech. Outside of the bosses, the HC are ones to be legitimately feared. Their weaponry varies, like all other enemy classes, and what may work with one may not work with another. But after all this, the Bosses are the ones that will leave you absolutely in pieces in the blink of an eye.

There was a boss at the end of Chapter 1, and I thought, hey I'll go in there close, hit him with my sword and my shoulder and hand cannon, then go in for the sword attack again and just keep the cycle of damage going. Turns out this boss has an energy shield that needs to be taken down before any damage can be dealt. It took some damage but tried to keep as close to it as possible and not let off my attack. I ended up staggering it and unloaded everything I had. A nice 15% of the health down, and I keep that up till we get around 50%, only for it to do this attack to switch modes that creates an energy pulse that instantly staggers you if you're too close and get hit by it.

This second phase I thought I'd repeat what I did in the first and then it whips out these multiple flaming swords that form on the ring around the boss. Nothing like speeding into an enemy who is swinging these weapons. OK, time to think where I went wrong here. Restart from last checkpoint. Repeat until this phase and then use ranged attacks until AFTER the flame sword attacks are done then rush in and go to town. I found an opening and then proceeded to dash and dodge my way under or over it, avoided the attacks, then immediately switch to my sword and start attacking from behind at its weak spot. Now it's staggered again.

Unleash hell.

Now down to about 20% health left, I use my last repair kit and make a decision; either stay inside and fight, or try to pick apart from the distance. I reload and I stay inside and fight. I get right on this thing and never stop firing. Dodging constantly but while turning so I can keep my weapons focused on the inside I never... Stop... Firing. Right shoulder cannon empty... Left shoulder cannon empty. 30% ammo in hand weapon and I've got my sword. I charge my hand weapon, use my dashing and boosting to stay as close as I can, use the homing feature of the sword to lock in and dive right into it, hit it twice, then unloaded the hand weapon and it staggered it again. I'm swinging like crazy and shooting my hand weapon as fast as I can and BOOM. It drops and I'm barely alive... but I AM alive.

These are the experiences that you'll come across, and how you decide to handle them will be up to you, however, there is more to ACVI than just the story missions. You will have the opportunity to partake in a combat challenge based on your class that will enable you to get OST chips, and it's these chips that you can use to upgrade and unlock various elements of your mech. From damage mitigation, to shield technology, increase damage output, to even unlocking new movement abilities. Upgrading your OS is going to be vital. There are limited resources though, so invest to where it will help you the most. For me it was damage mitigation and melee damage increase, but now I'm on a quest for a shield. The arena is set up so it's a 1v1 mech fight, and as you continue on, the challenges get progressively harder, but the payouts increase as well.

What the Arena has in common with the main story progression is the ability to alter your mech after death and pick up where you left off. This quality allowed me to switch between various weaponry and tactics, however, to acquire these choices I had to replay several missions trying to get an "S" rank to maximize the payouts. After grinding out several missions I'm sitting at just over 500K and now can go into the shop and start spending. I have to point out that not all weaponry and gear has to be bought at the shop. In fact, going through some of the main story and the arena will also automatically unlock some items for your mech without you having to spend a dime. However, if you really want all the gear in the game you’ll have to find the combat logs which come through combat. While you have the option to avoid enemies if you wish throughout the mission, should you choose that, then you lose the opportunity to gain access to weapons and gear that cannot be unlocked any other way.

While some may scoff at the ability to go into a boss fight, lose, then adjust your mech and retry right from that boss fight checkpoint, it goes a long way to keeping the determination value high to completing the fight. One boss fight took me several days of attempts, but when I finally killed it and felt such an accomplishment rush which lasted all the way to the next boss fight. It's little nuances like this that go a very long way to not only attracting new gamers to the series, but keeping them entertained. If you said to someone up front, "Hey here's a game that will make you frustrated to a level you never knew existed and keep you there until you figure a way out of it." then you may get a lot of gamers turned off by that.

Graphically, ACVI has its moments. While some of the larger and more dynamic interactions are entertaining, the actual landscape of the game is relatively mundane which, when you're focused on your combat, means very little in the long run. But with such a fluid game you can easily see why they made the choice to focus on speed rather than high graphic fidelity that would eat up resources which could cause disruptions and latency, impacting impact combat and throw off the entire game. Where the graphics really shine is the customization options of the mech itself. Outside of the appearance that will change based off your legs, torso, arms and head, you have the ability to really develop some stunning paint and design schemes to truly customize your mech. Not only can you adjust the paint though, but you can also create your own decals and apply them to your own mech.

This uniqueness will carry with you throughout the game, and you can create multiple profiles so you can really get creative with your design process which will make you stand out in the NEST. If the Arena was you vs another computer opponent mech, the NEST is you vs another player. Sadly, at the time of this review there was no way to test this mode as there were no rooms created/hosted and traffic was limited. However, having said that, the NEST is where you go to fight for who's the best. You can create your own rooms, set your rules and standards, and even spectate other rooms as well. With everything that ACVI has to offer, you can expect some incredibly epic fights taking place within the NEST.

When I talk about the uniqueness of your mech, I'm not just talking about your paint job, but your loadout(s) as well. The weapon categories essentially break down into kinetic, explosive, energy and melee. Inside these categories are a wealth of weaponry options from grenade launchers, laser cannons, miniguns, rifles, shotguns and more. Each weapon has its pros and cons and should be based off the situation you find yourself fighting in. I mentioned earlier the types of weaponry, well let me break it down to you in greater detail.

Kinetic - Think of this as your "bullet" weapons. Your shotguns, rifles, miniguns, SMGs and others. These allow more rounds to be fired in quick succession than other forms of weaponry, but their damage is mitigated against it because of that very reason, except when it comes to staggered enemies when it really opens up because of the quick firing of the weapon itself. Better to be used in close range than long range, this weaponry if used improperly will actually ricochet off your opponent.

Energy - These are your "laser" style weapons and while the kinetic weapons fire quickly, these do not. While the speed of the firing may be slower, these weapons are vastly more powerful and can even be charged to create even more damaging shots. These are broken into different categories: Laser - your standard energy beam rifle that deals moderate damage in the class. Plasma - takes even longer in between shots but creates a small plasma explosion when the beam makes impact causing damage. Hands down the highest damage output in the class.

Pulse - Finally it's the Pulse weapons which fire these orb shaped projectiles which do wonders when trying to shut down any type of pulse armor or shields in lightning-fast succession. The key here is not to deliver single devastating shots, but to get in close, unload an entire clip and watch the shields melt away, exposing your target for direct attacks.

Now let's get into the crowd pleasers or explosive weaponry. These are VERY high damage but VERY high risk. These types of weapons range from bazookas to grenade launchers and even missiles. If you save these weapons for a staggered enemy then nothing will stand in your way as they utterly destroy everything in their path. But should you miss, there is an incredibly long reload time for your next shot.

ACVI also sports some incredibly powerful melee weapons for the in close fighting. These weapons are brutally fast and lethal in close range, and the lock-on effect can draw you into an enemy even while they are strafing. On top of this, some bladed weapons can string together a multiple run of attacks. So if you have a blade that does 1700 damage, but you have a blade that does 980 and has 2 swings you have a chance of doing 1960 with a 2-swing weapon vs 1700 from one swing. Some of these bladed weapons can even be charged up for other devastating moves that deliver far more power.

Protecting you outside of your skills and maneuverability are your shields. ACVI offers quite an extensive shield list that grants damage mitigation at the cost of one of your slots, unless you start talking about your core shield capabilities that you can unlock via the Arena and OS upgrades. While the OS shields do not require you to take away a hand weapon, the manual shields do require a shoulder to mount them on and their benefits are determined by the type of shield, the damage it can absorb and the time frame that they stay active for.

Now before you start picking your loadout and going to town, there are a few things you need to concern yourself with. Let's start with weight. It goes without saying that a grenade launcher weighs more than an SMG, but it doesn't stop there. The legs of your mech will help determine how much weight your mech can carry. Some lightweight legs may allow you to have greater time in the air and more maneuverability, but will prevent you from fully outfitting your mech with some heavy hitting firepower. Same thing if you decide to make your lower body a tank platform. You'll max out your weight capacity but have very limited air maneuverability and therefore spend most of your time on the ground.

Your arms will also take and share some of the load bearing, but you must remember that should your mech weigh too much, then you will have to get rid of things such as weapons. This is why I opted for my first build to be a heavier mech build because I wanted to fight in close. I wanted to just fly in there, rip the mech open and just unload heavy ammunition into the vulnerable mech. So, styling your mech is going to be up to you, but if you go light and opt for a more maneuverable mech then you should get really familiar with AP or Armor Points. Think of this like your health bar. The heavier arms, legs, and torso will give you more AP because you'll naturally be slower.

The other factor to pay attention to is your EN load/output meters. If you require more power than your generator can produce then you enter what is called an EN Shortfall and there's no bypass to fix it other than reconfigure the weapons, loadout and build of your mech. There are generators that you can buy in the shop to increase your EN output and allow you to really put on some heavy destructive toys to your mech. This is why the balance of the mech is totally in your control and based on how you play, can determine the outcome of many matches.

From Software has always strived to develop quality games that not only are some of the most challenging around, but also some of the most rewarding. While the learning curve is steep, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon delivers a remarkably in-depth mech customization game that is less mindless combat and shooting and more tactics, strategy and adapting to hostile situations in order to survive. Every challenging moment will leave you on the edge of your seat, and should you persevere and succeed in your mission, Armored Core VI will deliver a euphoric sense of accomplishment and skill rarely found in gaming today. Think you have what it takes to take your mech combat skills to the next level? Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon awaits you. See you on the field of battle.

**ARMORED CORE VI FIRES OF RUBICON was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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