FromSoftware’s Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon is a series reboot that marries the unique quirks of mech combat with the studio’s game design philosophy: smoothness of controls, expansive and dynamic maps, and original, challenging action that demands player ingenuity.
Now, ahead of the game’s release in August, we’ve watched a hands-off gameplay presentation from lead producer Yasunori Ogura to see how its mix of mech assembly and tactical combat looks in motion.
The demo was a single mission from an early part of the game, but gave a clear sense of how combat and exploration will unfold – and the importance of customisation.
What impressed most from the gameplay presentation was the sense of verticality. Making use of the unique mobility of a mech, players can jump and fly around huge exterior environments (as long as boost allows) that stretch upwards as much as outwards. Vertical catapults are also in place to launch players up great distances.
This verticality also lends itself to a variety of approaches to each mission, depending on the mech loadout. Players can fly to an objective or approach via a bridge on foot, for instance, and scan environments for enemies in advance. The vast, open level design also contrasts with intricate, claustrophobic interiors offering linear, winding corridors of pipes, steam and metal.
The lighting system also impresses. Environments consist of both man-made and natural terrain combined, though the colour palette throughout is predominantly an industrial grey. The lighting, however, brings these stark, cold environments to life, and shows off the small intricacies of the player’s mech.
On to combat, then, the core of any FromSoftware game. The studio had promised smooth controls and tactical battles, and both are present and correct. Combat is quick and fluid, with mechs dashing and boosting up, around and side to side while locked on to insect-like robotic enemies. Attacks range from machine guns to multi-lock missiles and explosive attacks.
Melee looks particularly powerful – and satisfying – as mechs lurch forwards to close the gap on enemies and slash with laser swords. Enemies can also, hilariously, be punched off ledges into oblivion.
Added complexity comes from the stagger system. The impact of enemy attacks can compromise the player mech’s altitude control system, grounding it and putting it in a stagger state where hits do critical damage. The same is true of enemies, though, with consecutive attacks from the player filling a stagger gauge. It’s a refined system and a clear influence of more recent FromSoftware games.
Combat demands players learn attack patterns and approach battles tactically. The hands-off demo ended with a boss battle against a giant lava-spouting tank with enormous rotating white hot blades. Bosses are perhaps the biggest addition to the series to test the player’s skills in dodging and pattern learning as, again, you fly up and over enemy attacks.
This is also where assembly comes into play. Death won’t result in a loss of currency, and players can restart from checkpoints in the middle of a mission. Here, as well as before missions, players can tinker with their loadout and freely change frame parts like head, core, arms and legs, as well as internal parts for weapons and power. Four weapons can be equipped across hands and shoulders (as well as shields), while leg parts will have the greatest influence on mobility. The amount of parts, gauges and numbers to consider seems overwhelming, but customisation is a huge draw of the series and Fires of Rubicon looks like it may well deliver.
While just a brief glimpse at a single mission, it’s clear FromSoftware has balanced the best of the series’ past with refined combat from the studio’s present. It looks fast, ferocious, fair, and a thoroughly modern Armored Core experience.
Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon will release on 25th August across PlayStation consoles (with a free upgrade from PS4 to PS5), Xbox consoles (with Smart Delivery) and PC (via Steam).