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Why Armored Core VI: Fires Of Rubicon Is Going To Blow Everyone Away

"Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon" released its first full gameplay preview on July 25, 2023, and it has the internet buzzing – and for good reason. The newest release from prestigious game studio FromSoftware, known for masterpieces such as "Dark Souls" and "Elden Ring," finally showed off some exciting raw gameplay for fans of the series to sink their teeth into.

Fans of more recent FromSoftware titles may not be familiar with the "Armored Core" franchise, but its first installment came out all the way back in 1997, and it was FromSoftware's original flagship series. For many hardcore fans, however, "Armored Core" still stands out as the quintessential mecha-shooter. Its ultra-deep customization options for player-built mechs, paired with FromSoftware's unforgiving game design, nudged this action-packed series into cult classic territory.

After not releasing a title in over a decade — laying dormant since 2013's "Armored Core: Verdict Day" — the series is finally getting a well-deserved follow-up. Much has changed for FromSoftware in the past several years, so how much should fans expect the "Armored Core" franchise to change? Let's break down the new game's exciting features and their implications for all types of players. Strap in!

FromSoftware is on a roll

Simply put, FromSoftware has reached the pinnacle of game development. Its more recent releases have all won highly prestigious awards. "Bloodborne" won "Best Original Game" at the Golden Joystick Awards in 2015. In 2016, "Dark Souls 3" won "Game of the Year" at the Golden Joysticks. "Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice," released in 2019, won "Game of the Year" at the Game Awards. And of course, 2022's "Elden Ring" took home more than 300+ "Game of the Year" awards. Even "Dark Souls," which released in 2011, was consummately chosen as the "Ultimate Game of All Time" in a public vote at the Golden Joystick Awards in 2021.

There is no denying that FromSoftware is in a golden era. Its dark and atmospheric games have redefined the Action RPG genre. The "Soulsborne" sub-genre and "Soulslike" moniker are now an industry shorthand used to describe challenging action games, and everything FromSoftware touches nowadays reaches massive audiences.

In other words, there is no better time for FromSoftware to dust off "Armored Core." However, with great power comes great responsibility, so expectations for the newest "Armored Core" are through the roof following FromSoftware's recent hot streak. Fans are going to expect a similar level of polish to that seen in "Elden Ring."

The rebirth of a renowned franchise

To date, FromSoftware has produced 15 total "Armored Core" games, spread across multiple platforms and console generations. But what was it about the "Armored Core" games that encouraged so many sequels and spin-offs? Well, right from the get-go, the first game had some of that FromSoftware magic wrapped up in a bullet-hell mech-shooter. Notably, "Armored Core" games demand a lot of their players. Those memorable sequences from "Soulsborne" games where players finally carve out a victory over an impossible boss — only to learn that it was phase one of a larger fight — are also characteristic of the "Armored Core" games.

"Armored Core" throws daunting challenges at the player, but also gives them the tools to adapt to those challenges through mech customization. Ever considered which leg design structure best supports heavy rocket artillery on an omnidirectional flying craft? Or how to best vent the heat from energy weapons so the AC mech can stay flying during battle? All that and far more is asked of players designing the specs of their own custom ACs.

More hardcore mechanics (like debt following a failed mission) paired alongside an understated but compelling series of campaigns made "Armored Core" a niche fan favorite. "Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon" looks to take the series' best elements to the next level. Also, its development was first hinted at as far back as 2016, so it sounds like FromSoftware has had plenty of time to polish another stellar entry in the franchise.

Player-friendly choices

The "Armored Core" franchise's biggest problem has always been its accessibility. The main hurdle in that regard, especially in the series' earlier titles, is its Byzantine control system. "Armored Core" first released on the PS1 before dual joystick controllers were standard, so trigger inputs were used to control the camera. But even into the PS2 era, the "Armored Core 2" control scheme still prohibited controlling the camera with the right joystick. "Armored Core: Nexus," released in 2004, was the first title in the series to make camera controls mappable to the right joystick.

"Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon" offers new mechanics that significantly simplify controlling the camera. A soft lock-on system will automatically target the enemy nearest to the player, allowing for free camera controls. For players who don't want to adjust the camera at all (which makes sense considering how many buttons need pressing), "Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon" will also have a hard-lock system that keeps the camera centered on a targeted enemy.

Another franchise staple that "Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon" is changing in service of broader accessibility is the aforementioned debt mechanic. In previous "Armored Core" games, players could lose Credits if they failed missions and took too much damage. Entering the Arena or completing a mission felt a bit like "Escape from Tarkov" does now, as players risk losing their hard-earned gear. These more punishing mechanics earned the franchise a hardcore fanbase, but wider audiences will likely appreciate the upgraded camera system and less cutthroat resource management.

Soulsborne familiarity

Throughout the marketing cycle for "Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon," game director Masaru Yamamura has insisted that it will not be a "Soulslike" title. Still, it looks like the new game is taking some cues from FromSoftware's more recent output.

Unlike its predecessors in the series, "Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon" will have an automatic camera system, whip-like turning speeds, checkpoints throughout missions, consumable healing, bosses with heavily telegraphed attacks, visual stagger meters, and more quality of life changes. Fans of the "Soulsborne" games are familiar with checkpoints and consumable-based level progression, but in "Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon," there will not be healing potions and bonfires. Instead, players can find repair kits for healing and checkpoints before bosses that allow for build resets.

The stagger system in "Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon" promotes aggressive tempo-based gameplay, similar to that of "Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice." In fact, fans may be excited to note that Masaru Yamamura also directed "Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice." Speaking on the influence the "Soulsborne" games' success has had on "Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon," the director told TheGamer that the developers "place a lot of importance on being able to observe the enemy and read the action on the screen." Undoubtedly, FromSoftware is evolving the "Armored Core" series with lessons learned from its latest and greatest titles.

Customization is king

What is an "Armored Core" game if not the ultimate mech-shooter fantasy? And how could it achieve that ultimate fantasy without allowing players to build their ideal vehicle? Many games play around with the idea of letting players overcome obstacles in different ways, but arguably none allow for such radically different playstyles as "Armored Core."

"Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon" promises to take the series' renowned customization options to the next level. Throughout the franchise, movement and firepower have been inextricably linked. Picking out a mech's lower chassis dictates which weapons it can use, and vice-versa. "Armored Core VI" will have the broadest range of available options. From an earthbound, tank tread chassis that enables heavy artillery fire on the move to quadrupedal hover-crafts that can fly indefinitely, just about any gameplay style is achievable.

The new game's customization mechanic goes above and beyond by introducing OST Chips and the Loghunt mechanics. OST Chips are a currency that unlocks special offensive or defensive abilities, like shield pulses or additional weapon slots. They can also permanently improve the base stats of an AC. The Loghunt mechanic rewards players for finding and taking down specific bonus enemies, which then grant access to unique AC parts. 

"Armored VI: Fires of Rubicon" even has a "Decals" page in the Garage Menu, so it looks like the aesthetics of ACs are up for further customization this time around.

Massive stages

Gameplay across "Armored Core" titles, for the most part, plays out in linear sequences or 1v1 Arenas. Breaking from the norm, "Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon" will feature more extended missions and maps capable of facilitating different types of gameplay. In previews of Missions 1, 6, 7, 8, and 11, fans of the series have gleaned that "Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon" will offer a wide variety of environments to battle through. Giant industrial cityscapes, barren deserts, and fortified snow bunkers all populate the world of Rubicon 3.

Most importantly, however, the larger scaled maps drastically change how this "Armored Core" installment will play. Movement is officially one of the most important aspects of gameplay, as players must fly, jump, drive, or hover through different sections of each multilayered map.

Similarly, line of sight becomes incredibly important and dictates stealth, assault, and defense mechanics throughout differing levels. Vertical Catapults that launch ACs into the sky are new additions that add to the verticality of the game's level design, while the previously discussed checkpoint system helps FromSoftware break apart these huge maps into digestible chunks. "Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon" is nothing close to an open world, but it at least opens up its missions in whole new ways.

Bigger bosses

FromSoftware knows how to seamlessly blend story, atmosphere, and gameplay mechanics into an exciting crescendo, and boss fights are the studio's bread and butter. Over time, said bosses have grown to gargantuan sizes. "Elden Ring" was sometimes even criticized for featuring bosses that are hard to keep an eye on, sometimes forcing the player to make rapid adjustments while half the enemy's body is offscreen. 

Following that road, "Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon" appears to keep ramping up the size of its battles. It seems this game's bosses will match the larger levels. Full-scale base assaults are not unheard of in the "Armored Core" series, but none stack up to the previewed Mission 7 assault on the Strider, an AT-AT lookalike. Here, players take down four power generators while getting sniped at by a giant laser eye the whole time. Whether shooting the generators from a long distance with heavy artillery or getting up close and personal with flight, players can decide upon the best strategy.

Fans of FromSoftware's most epic boss battles will likely be in for a treat.

A colorful campaign

The story of the "Armored Core" franchise is about as dystopian as it gets: Humanity destroys Earth's surface and goes underground, where mega-corporations develop mechs to reclaim resources. Players take on the role of a mercenary AC pilot, working for whoever has an available dollar within a larger power struggle. Each generation of "Armored Core" pushes the story further into the future and shows the advancement or decline of civilization.

"Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon" offers a fresh narrative in this universe, even as players once again assume the role of a mercenary pilot. As confirmed in the Story Preview for "Armored VI: Fires of Rubicon," the player is mercenary Pilot 621, controlled by another voice named Handler Walker. Whether the player character has any agency or Handler Walker completely orders them around is unclear.

Rubicon 3 is the setting for "Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon," a world rich with a resource called Coral. The corporations are eager to control Coral, even though its mismanagement had caused a devastating event called "The Fires of Ibis," during which the entire planet and surrounding star system were engulfed in flames. In true FromSoftware fashion, it appears the player will be a tiny pawn set against other smaller players, alone in a world with unimaginably large powers at play.

Built with replayability in mind

Games like "Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon" are inherently replayable due to the number of options and builds available to players. One round with a speedy, frog-legged assault mech with melee attacks is like playing a totally different game from a playthrough as a tank-treaded, long-range heavy gunner. However, the replayability of the upcoming sequel does not end there.

Completionists looking for a challenge will be happy that ranking systems are back, but with an added twist. At any point, players can go back and play any completed mission and attempt to earn an S rank for quick completion. S ranks are only achievable if players do not die or use checkpoints during a level. Therefore, only the most optimized and specifically adapted ACs (and skillful pilots) can earn this honor.

"Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon" also boasts multiple endings. The campaign's choices will feel meaningful, and the many endings generate questions that only multiple playthroughs will satisfy. Previous "Armored Core" titles had multiple endings locked behind New Game Plus paths, but it's unclear if that will be the case in "Fires of Rubicon." Regardless, the struggle for Coral on Rubicon 3 promises to take the players through unexpected twists and turns — most likely down a depressingly dystopian path that players, full of multiple perspectives that can be viewed through subsequent playthroughs.

Brand new PVP modes

The "Armored Core" franchise has almost exclusively been a solitary single-player experience. Only 2012's "Armored Core 5" made multiplayer a cornerstone of its experience by offering 5v5 team-based battles. Battlefield tactics were encouraged in "Armored Core V," which designated one player on a team as the Operator providing battlefield-wide communications and strategy for the team. While that was a novel concept, "Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon" will align more with its single-player-focused predecessors and focus mainly on the campaign. However, it will still offer some basic Player vs. Player online functionality at launch.

Instead of objective-based modes, "Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon" will offer more basic duels and team-based deathmatches. According to info that has leaked ahead of release, multiplayer lobbies will allow for up to 9 people, with up to 6 players and 3 spectator slots. Unfortunately, no campaign co-op will be available. 

It's unclear at this time if 1v1, 2v2, and 3v3 modes will be available. What is certain, however, is that balancing "Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon" around PvP would be almost impossible. The sheer number of different armor and weapon combinations ensures that something will be always be out of balance. Despite those concerns, "Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon" looks to have something for just about everyone, and its hype is only heating up.

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