The credits roll in front of my monitor. Exactly 23 hours have passed since I started Armored Core 6 on my Xbox Series X. Almost an entire day to complete the first run of the new game from From Software (to be able to see all three endings, you have to complete the main campaign two more times by varying your choices during each one): I had never tried a chapter of Armore Core and Fires of Rubicon was my wonderful baptism of fire, a bit like what happened with Final Fantasy XVI (our review of Final Fantasy XVI). I want to put my hands out straight away: there could not have been a better way to approach this saga.
I was destroyed over and over again by the bosses of Armored Core 6; I have taken so many missiles in the face that I have often wondered, in retrospect, where I found the strength to go all the way, I learnt from my mistakesI adapted to the enemies by first finding a way to introduce sand between their gears and then the right build to overpower them; I bided my time and fired. An explosion, that’s what I remember of all those behemoths who didn’t want me to continue my adventure: the moral is that in Armored Core 6 you can fall over and over again but the important thing is to get back up and be aware that in the end there will always be a fighting stance that will help to get the better of the enemy..
Short and intense levels
Before proceeding with the new mission, I take a look at the mech: I can buy new legs, stronger than the ones I am currently using, which would allow me to carry more weight and thus carry better weapons and armour. It is a purchase that I am forced to evaluate because in the construction of one’s virtual alter ego everything passes through the joints, our foundations. However, I’m not sure about mounting them right away: the more armoured I become, the slower I am in the game and, at the moment, my build seems quite balanced, being at the same time sufficiently tough but also agile and snappy, with the thrusters that allow me to lift off the ground in seconds and annihilate any threat from above.
Nevertheless, I still want to buy those legs because it’s not certain that I won’t have to face a new, difficult challenge and, therefore, they might come in handy. I can always replace those in use during my assignmentin the event that he needs to inflict more damage at the expense of quicker movement both vertically and horizontally (the level of customisation in Fires of Rubicon is impressive and opens up a range of options for the player so extensive that it blows his mind).
In Armored Core 6 the stages are short, this is a very Playstation 2 video game aspect, and you have no idea how happy I was to discover it the first time around: fifteen minutes maximum with two or three save points in which one must destroy specific targets, retrieve information, escape within a time limit, defend outposts – even in the company of other A.I. controlled mechs – and much more. There are a total of fifty-nine missions in Fires of Rubicon, all different from each other and full of twists and turns. I make the final adjustments to my war machine and am ready to start the level.
I lift myself into the air and take off at top speed with a flawless control of the mecha. The on-board computer identifies three enemies. I drop a shower of bullets that reduces them to mush in a few moments and continue towards the target. In front of me are three armoured robots that do not seem to feel the bullets of my two heavy machine guns. No problem, I switch to the twin rocket launchers on both shoulders: the first two missiles half-fill their stun bar, the second ones complete the job. Now that they are stunned, it is time to riddle them with lead, as the damage is temporarily amplified. Everything seems to be going well; I download the data I needed before returning to base. I thought I had got away with it, but instead, here comes a cutscene.
The Boss Fights of Armored Core 6
The Armored Core 6 Fires of Rubicon boss fights are the production’s finest hour (find our guide to Armored Core 6’s most difficult bosses here). The director does a great job of introducing you to what is likely to be the real challenge in the next hour of play (when the going gets good). The first attempts are often a study, moments in which we try to work out whether we are actually harming the boss or whether our blows are tickling him.
The first, real, boss of the game, Balteus, is particularly weak to plasma and laser: against him, for instance, I had to change my build, forgoing the standard firepower (heavy machine guns) altogether to mount, instead, a laser cannon on my shoulders and a plasma rocket launcher. In short, in order to get the better of your opponent and continue Armored Core 6’s excellent storytelling, it is vital to understand the enemy’s weaknesses and the best set-up to minimise damage, which, whether you like it or not, will always be there.
Balteus is the big initial hurdle to overcome and, to tell the truth, also the last headache until the mech at the end of chapter four. Even in the latter case, the challenge required me to take a new approach to combat: CEL 240 is very fast, he fires searching shots that I can hardly ever dodge with my current legs, and to damage him, I need to stick to him as much as possible, not caring about the damage done. It is almost a paradox: the enemy is really strong and instead of thinking about how to avoid his attacks, I have to go under him and leave him no breathing space, favouring an offensive approach over a defensive one.
There is only one way I have found to put the strategy into practice: to mount tracks that allow one to be very fast on the ground, giving up the ability to fly completely or almost completely. Those legs that I had never wanted to test because they limited my aerial movements, turned out to be crucial in this case. Getting outside the score, that’s the key to Armored Core 6. Never even think that a single set-up, the one that has proved successful so far, can be enough to overcome the pitfalls devilishly planned by From Software: experimenting with equipment you would never have thought of in order to win yet another choreographed battle.
The Fires of Rubicon Arena
Before closing, I think it’s only fair to point out how the 1vs1 clashes between mechs are the best Armored Core 6 has to offer, along with the boss fights. You line up opposite each other and shoot wildly as you climb the Arena rankings and also obtain the important OST chips that allow you to upgrade your mech with additional abilities, increased damage and so on. The rules are always the same: there is a classic build that you can always use, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t try something new, because maybe the rival mech has a devastating shotgun from short range and the only way to survive is to maintain a space between you such that its strongest attacks cannot even scratch you.
Armored Core 6 bewitched me despite its brutality: there is no shortage of moments when the challenge suddenly rises, and I think it is fair to speak of an unbalance in difficulty, as is often the case in From Software titles. Balteus is a boss – in which the gameplay also becomes that of a bullet hell – maybe harder than CEL 240 but not because of a complex moveset to memorise, but because at the time of his encounter one is not well equipped and knowledge of the mechanics of Fires of Rubicon is far less than when you reach the end of Chapter 4. The invitation, however, is not to get discouraged because there is always a light at the end of the tunnel and when you reach it, the satisfaction will be much greater than the blows you have received.