After years of ruthless dark fantasy action games, Fromsoftware is returning to its robot-y roots and releasing a new Armored Core game. I could not be more excited.
The Armored Core games drop you into the cockpit of a big stompy mech on the frontlines of a war between rival corporations in a far-flung dystopian future. Rather than a card-carrying corpo recruit, you’re fighting in a guns-for-hire mercenary outfit. So your paymaster in one mission may be your enemy in the next. Armored Core 6 will pick up where the previous games left off, and after years of Fromsoftware’s fantasy titles, I’m glad they’re returning to sci-fi.
If you aren’t familiar with the Armored Core series, you shouldn’t look at them as Dark Souls with robots. For a start, they aren’t open-world games; you take on individual missions that take place in their own levels. Nor are Armored Core games RPGs, in that you don’t level up a character and spend skill points. You improve your mech by installing more powerful gear onto its chassis.
However, the Armored core series and the soulsborne games, while different animals in many respects, are two sides of the same coin. In all its games, FromSoftware offers high-concept stories and granular, punishing combat that plays on your ‘risk-reward’ mentality. This common DNA not only explains where the soulsborne titles came from but also helps us guess where Armored Core might be going.
Light a fire
The soulsborne and Armored Core games have very different aesthetic sensibilities and gameplay flavors. For instance, Elden Ring's ponderous, measured combat, where you must duck and weave around your enemies, waiting for the precise moment to engage, is a significant contrast to the rapid, high-octane mech fights of Armored Core.
Yet, despite these differences, both the Armored Core and soulsborne games have remarkably similar gameplay loops. In Dark Souls, you venture from bonfire to bonfire, using each point of light as an anchor on your journey. Only at bonfires can you recuperate and spend skill points to develop your character. It’s also where you respawn should you die.
Armored Core doesn’t need bonfires, as the games don’t take place in an open world, but there’s a similar break in the action between missions. In Armored Core 3, for instance, the Global Cortex menu acts as its own kind of sanctuary. Armored Cores 4 and Armored Core 5 also present you with a calming inter-mission menu that takes the guise of an in-setting computer terminal.
You use this menu to manage your mech between missions, take on new contracts, challenge other pilots in the arena, and even read emails. After a frantic mission spent fighting for one of the game’s sinister megacorporations, I always feel a sense of safety and security scrolling through Armored Core’s immersive menus.
Worlds you can feel
This contrast between moments of sanctuary and moments of risk is not only a common denominator for both the soulsborne and Armored Core games, but suggests how the success of Elden Ring and the Dark Souls games is likely to inform Armored Core 6.
FromSoftware has been developing its light-touch approach to storytelling since it first released Demon’s Souls back in 2009, refining its narrative tools with each new game. Though Elden Ring has a range of iconic bosses, the moments between battles are just as impactful. The melancholy environments ooze with narrative richness. To walk amongst ruins in The Lands Between is to contemplate what these places might have once been like, and what happened to make them the way they are. It is in the moments of sanctuary, however, that this sort of environmental storytelling has the most profound effect.
As satisfying as I once found the Armored cores of yesteryear, returning to them today, I can’t ignore the abundance of monotonous gray corridors and generic environments.
I’m excited to see what stories FromSoftware will tell in the environments of Armored Core 6. Using everything it’s learned across seven soulsborne games and the power of modern hardware, FromSoftware is poised to create what could be the richest Armored Core game yet