After blowing up as one of gaming’s most consistent and successful development studios From Software triumphantly returns to their roots with Armored Core VI. It has been a decade since the last installment of their long-running mecha action series. Fans of the studio coming from Elden Ring or Dark Souls may not know what to expect stepping into this fairly niche genre. Suffice to say if you’re expecting another ‘Soulslike’ experience, you will be disappointed. However if you are looking for some challenging giant robot action with a memorable story and deep customization, than AC6 is right up your alley.
You play as a mercenary named C4–621 taking jobs for corporations and revolutionaries on the planet Rubicon III. The different factions are battling over a mysterious new energy source called ‘coral’, basically the game’s MacGuffin. The game is mission-based with many levels lasting only a few minutes. There is some great dark humor in the early game from the fact that your character will take a job fighting a specific faction in one mission, then in the very next mission take a job from the faction you just attacked and go after your previous employer. However over time the plot thickens into an intriguing sci-fi epic replete with twists, turns, betrayals, and three unique endings that determine the fate of not just Rubicon but all humanity.
Though the story concept is neat the way it is told will not be for everyone. You literally never see a single human in Armored Core games — just disembodied voices and text. It’s in keeping with From Software’s preference for subtle storytelling via implication. It’s neat but not always the most engaging approach.
The gameplay is really where the AC6 shines. The combat is fast-paced, challenging, and deeply satisfying. Having four weapons equipped at a time for immediate use is super fun as is the ability to mix in kicks, rams, energy shields, and boosting. The speed and verticality of air combat is a blast. The difficulty for me is just right though your mileage may vary. In general regular enemies throughout stages will be easy to deal with but bosses will likely give you a hard time. Here is where AC6 is very much a ‘Soulslike’ game. You can expect to die a lot on boss fights. Thankfully the game is pretty generous about checkpoints. You can almost always quickly retry and even rebuild your mech in between attempts to see if different gear will make the difference.
The importance of customization is a core part of the Armored Core franchise. If you don’t embrace this and refuse to experiment with different builds you will struggle. This is especially important to the newer players coming from Elden Ring. This isn’t an RPG; you’re not meant to create a single character to roleplay with their set build and backstory as a mage or rogue or whatever. I understand the instinct to want to have your one fixed mech build with its neat colors and decals and specific weapons and run that for the whole game. However you will struggle if you try to do this.
AC6 is otherwise pretty welcoming to newcomers. As with other Armored Core games, the story stands alone in its own world; you don’t need to play the old games to understand what is happening. The OG fans will recognize many callbacks. They will also note some core gameplay mechanic changes, such as AC6’s stagger system in battles. I happen to like it. Given the success of Sekiro it makes sense to me that From Software would incorporate some of their new ideas from their last decade of game development into their latest Armored Core game. As mentioned the mech customization is also really amazing. I loved trying out new boosters, tank treads, arms, legs, heads, shoulder weapons, laser blades, etc. Whether it is plasma cannons and tetrapod spider legs or flamethrowers with reverse joints you are guaranteed to find a combination you enjoy.
Just like Street Fighter’s sixth installment AC6 flirts with greatness but comes up just shy of an ‘A’ grade due to two flaws. Firstly, weapon and build balance are not great. Heavy builds are way easier to steamroll the main campaign with and the shotguns and gatling guns basically put the game on easy mode. Secondly AC6 just doesn’t offer that much content for a triple A release. The main story takes about 15 hours. NG+ and NG++ will net you maybe another ten hours to see the other endings, but after that all you have is a pretty bare bones PVP and the opportunity to replay missions for higher rankings or to find hidden parts.
The replay value isn’t amazing unless you just fall in love with PVP. The good news is that it is almost certain From Software will add expansions and DLC as was the case with every single previous Armored Core game. The foundation laid here with AC6 on current gen consoles could serve as the basis for lots of great mech action for years to come. But even in its current form AC6 is a lot of fun for any fan of action games unafraid of a challenge.