Ever since FromSoftware revealed the coming of Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon at The Game Awards 2022, the excitement for its 25 August release has only been building. Glimpses over the last few months have only made the first sequel in a decade feel more tantalising, and given the opportunity to get some hands-on time, you couldn’t get us in a giant mech any sooner. And as expected, our preview of Armored Core VI delivered hours of mechanised bliss.
From getting our feet wet in the confines of an Armored Core, assembling our machine of destruction, to watching it all go wrong against the tough and challenging enemies that FromSoftrware has promised players, this is not exactly the old games fans of the series have come to know and love. Instead, it has evolved, coloured by the Japanese studio’s recent and impressive success, to create a product that appeals to veterans and newcomers alike.
“We feel like it was important to try to cater to both audiences with Armored Core VI. Of course, we wanted something new and exciting for players who have not played an Armored Core game before and who might not be familiar with the series. But this is also restoring the series after a 10-year hiatus. So we wanted to keep the fun and the appeal of Armoured Core, but we do feel like this is a title that will appeal to both groups,” explained Director Masaru Yamamura.
To that end, both “the story and setting are brand new,” so players need not dive into the annals of history to catch up. And for combat, the system is meant to be “more intuitive” so that players can enjoy the “simple pleasures of taking your customised mech out into combat and flying it around freely in three dimensions.” That was essentially the core of the preview experience for us with Armored Core VI.
It helps that the level design work in the game is top-notch, ensuring that even in its confined nature, there is a sense of scale and scope for players to explore.
“We wanted to focus on an overwhelming scale,” shared Producer Yasunori Ogura. “You can maybe see an element of this with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. And how this took the playfield and the combat plane to another dimension.”
“You’re no longer just traversing and fighting on the 2D plane, you use the grappling hook to get to elevated areas and then observe and attack from there. We wanted to take that as an extension and apply it to mechs. You can do these impossible feats that can’t be performed by humans, you can fly around freely in every dimension, full control of your mech and all these weapons. So this played a big part and how we approach the level design in Armored Core VI.”
As for why the game forgoes an open-world design for a more structured, linear approach, Yamamura added that the team “did consider Armored Core in the open-world style in the early stages of development,” but ultimately went for their current direction to allow “players the freedom to assemble their mechs in the way they wanted” in relation to their mobility and space traversal.
Making impossible jumps look easy and canvassing a large area in just a few seconds definitely showed off the power of the mechs in our preview of Armored Core VI, but the real test comes when it’s time for robotic combat. And this game delivers it in spades.
Fellow Armored Cores, smaller battalions of war machines, and hulking, mega-platforms of destruction are but the tip of the iceberg. While the inferior MTs are usually dispatched with ease, their sheer numbers will always pose a problem for those that lack tact, and even more so when players match up with other Armored Cores.
“The ACs are supposed to be, in terms of lore and gameplay, these very powerful machines. So we wanted them to feel powerful on certain missions where you’re up against MTs. So we wanted these missions to feel like you have that exhilarating power, able to wipe out large numbers of these MTs,” Yammura said.
“At the same time, we wanted to incorporate these elements of challenging boss battles and tough mid-bosses that we’ve become known for in our recent titles. So we had to design some of these mid and end-stage bosses to really pose a challenge to the player and represent something that’s potentially even more powerful than the AC. And so we have these missions as well where you’re up against just enormous weapons platforms and extremely powerful mechs and things.”
This is where assembly comes into play, a section we had the pleasure of testing out as well in the preview, and there are tons of parts to consider in Armored Core VI. Starting with the base of the AC, there are weapons, generators, and other additional components that can go into a build, leading to various playstyles and approaches in combat. And yes, players will likely develop a liking for a certain type of AC, but the challenge of the game dictates certain tweaks must be made for an effective build in different situations.
Parts can be unlocked via mission progress or credits, and as far as we are concerned, the progression feels just about right, at least in these early stages, to keep players eager and excited to embark on missions and play with the deep assembly system. It always felt good to swap out a component for an improved part, and the difference can almost always be felt immediately.
“The player is expected to observe the enemy and learn from the attack patterns and animations, look out for tells and then respond accordingly, and then update and assemble their build as well. So we feel like this is a nice marriage between both what makes Armored Core fun and special and what we’ve learned over the past 10 years of game design as well.”
The developers were not kidding about the power fantasy that Armored Core VI could realise, and they were also not playing around when it comes to the big fights, like the Juggernaut and Balteus in the preview. Each foe is capable of dealing a significant amount of damage in one fell swoop, not giving an inch to the unprepared pilot.
Only by being patient and smart, learning the intricacies of what makes them dangerous, can a player hope to come out on top. Add to that the pressing need to manage your ammo and repair kits, and this dance of death becomes even more exhilarating.
At the conclusion of the preview, we walked away feeling both impressed by what FromSoftware has done to update a legacy series for a modern audience and also tentative about the hours that we’ll spend just kitting out builds for our ACs and hoping not to fall to the next boss. It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination that Armored Core VI becomes the latest feather in the cap of the studio, and for fans of giant battling mechs, the wait is all going to be worth it when the game launches this 25 August.