Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon exists in two worlds, awkwardly jostling against each other. One is the big stompy robot mercenary fantasy. The other, tough boss fights that require agility and skill to get through, straight out of Fromsoft’s more recent works.
These worlds don’t quite mesh together. It’s easy to enjoy the bit where you tool around in a heavily armed mech, obliterating whoever your paymaster tells you to do in short missions. This will feel like Armored Core to series fans who have been waiting since 2013 for a new entry in the series. The customization is pleasingly nerdy, the different parts available all feel interesting and if you want to strap a bazooka to each arm and a huge cannon on each shoulder and refer to yourself as Bazooka Steve, you can do so. Just remember that I did it first.
The other side of the Armored Core 6 coin offers up some intense boss fights that will satisfy Fromsoft fans, but feel brutal and unfair. Many of these boss fights can be made easier or harder with certain weapons, but each time they appeared they still felt like a huge frustrating roadblock, at odds with how chill the rest of my Armored Core 6 preview actually felt.
Don’t trust me entirely on this though. I famously couldn’t beat Father Gascoigne in Bloodborne, and I died on Armored Core 6’s tutorial boss — a gigantic dropship that needs you to jetpack into its big stupid dropship face and started hacking away with your mechsword — 15 or so times before I had to ask one of the watching PRs to do it for me. They also died once, which did make me feel better about my ineptitude.
Not every boss fight is quite that agonising. One mission involved me surfing across the sand avoiding a laser cannon and then climbing up an off-brand AT-AT to blow the cannon to pieces myself, all while automated defenses bristled and attacked me with all the ruthlessness of an immune system trying to defend a body.
Sadly, every boss fight I experienced was against something the same size as my towering mech or bigger. These brawls felt so impossibly vast you don’t get to actually enjoy the fact you’re a giant stompy robot. Throw in the brutal difficulty and it really felt like the antithesis of the mecha fantasy that Armored Core was built around. All in all, it definitely amounts to the time when I enjoyed Armored Core 6 the least. This comes, of course, with the caveat that this upcoming game is perhaps not made for me, an Armored Core fan of the old school, from all the way back in the days of the original PlayStation.
Away from the boss fights that I’ll definitely have to ask someone else to do for me, I was amazed at how much Armored Core 6 feels like it always has. Those quick-turnaround missions offer just the right amount of challenge, and customizing your mech provides a pleasing amount of freedom and scope for personalization. One group of freedom fighters wiped off the board could be a new engine, and a destroyed convoy might buy you a new set of missiles, or get you a cool decal to slap on your giant mech torso.
These missions are when Armored Core 6 feels like a game I could pour hours into. My hands-on started me off with a sword and a puny assault rifle, but the game quickly expands to offer a much wider selection. I’m not a melee combat guy so I swapped out every loadout slot I could for heavy artillery and found that the game reacted well to this.
Some missions would have been easier with the ability to leather opponents up close, but other tasks actually got easier because I could destroy things at long range, obliterating entire platoons of enemies from half a kilometer away. There is a rhythm to this, a slow thudding as your slow-firing, low-ammunition cannons aim, acquire, and then evaporate your target.
Meanwhile, I can imagine a different universe where I was packing close-range plasma cannons and a sword, equipped with double-jointed legs to leap around like some sort of… mecha death frog.
I didn’t get to try that out. But I’m hoping that I’ll be able to give it a go when Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon releases for PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC on August 25, 2023. Assuming I can get past the tutorial boss, that is.
Armored Core 6 may turn out to be one of the best RPGs of recent years, but did you know that there's also a PvP mode? Perhaps this exciting feature will earn it a spot on our list of the best multiplayer PC games list.
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Jake Tucker is the editor in chief of TechRadar Gaming and has worked at sites like NME, MCV, Trusted Reviews and many more. He collects vinyl, likes first-person shooters and turn-based tactics titles, but hates writing bios. Jake currently lives in London, and is bouncing around the city trying to eat at all of the nice restaurants.