Jun 24, 2023

Armored Core 6 Preview: Not Nearly As Intimidating As I Expected

FromSoftware has worked wonders to make Fires of Rubicon more approachable than its predecessors.

The Armored Core Legendary DualShock Grip is not a real thing. I know, I was disappointed when I found out too. The urban legend of Armored Core players holding their PlayStation controllers backwards was just a meme, and not a legitimate method used by the hardcore community. A joke that only works because Armored Core has traditionally been such a difficult and unapproachable game, so even though I know it isn’t real, it was still on my mind when I arrived at the Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon hands-on preview event earlier this month.

I’ve never played any Armored Core games. In fact, I realized during the event that I had been long confusing it with Steel Battalion, a different mech game from the OG Xbox that required a monstrous 44-button tabletop controller to play. Armored Core was never that kind of hyperrealistic simulation game, but it has always had a reputation for being incredibly difficult, not unlike FromSoft’s other games like Dark Souls and Elden Ring - more games I never play. There probably wasn’t a single person at the event less qualified to climb into the cockpit of a mech than me - and I mean that literally.

Related: Armored Core 6: Fires Of Rubicon Pre-Order Guide

Luckily, Armored Core 6 isn’t nearly as intimidating as I expected it to be. While there’s a lot of lore to catch up on and terminology for new players to learn (pro-tip: missions are called ‘sorties’, so you don’t get lost in the menus like me) but when it comes to actually piloting a mech, it’s a lot more intuitive that you might think. It controls like any other modern third-person shooter. You strafe, you aim, you press the triggers to shoot. All four shoulder buttons fire different weapons and can be reloaded individually, but there isn’t much management to deal with at all. You’ve got ammo, health, and stamina - no different from games like Remnant, Returnal, or Monster Hunter.

You don’t even really have to aim. There’s two different targeting modes you can switch between, one that locks onto targets you move your camera towards, and one that more or less picks targets for you as long as they’re somewhere sort of near the middle of your screen. This streamlining of systems management and targeting allows you to focus on the game’s core mechanical discipline: movement.

Armored Core 6 is all about momentum, control, and positioning. You have incredible freedom of movement across the various maps and arenas each sortie takes place in, but you’re always going to be under pressure from threats in all directions. The skill gap in this game is all about how well you can move, anticipate attacks, and avoid incoming damage. It takes after Soulslike games in this way, but instead of dodge rolling away from a guy with a broadsword, you’re leaping from the top of one skyscraper to another to dodge a barrage of stinger missiles fired from 14 artillery cannons mounted on the back of a combat walker the size of a strip mall.

Sliding around on the ground feels incredible. You can turn on a dime and dash in any direction without losing any momentum. Flying feels even better. Most weapons are just as effective in the air as they are on the ground, and the way you can fly circles around your enemies while peppering them with machine gun fire is incredible. If Anthem had aerial combat like this it probably would have survived, and I’d love to play an Iron Man game with controls that feel this tight and slick.

There’s a variety of sorties that task you with all kinds of different objectives. Some are showdowns with other mechs, while others will have you clearing out stationary weapons dotted across a sizable map. The run-of-the-mill sorties never take more than five minutes to complete, but there are big story missions that come along about every six regular missions. These are the major set pieces and boss battles that challenge your skills and force you to adapt your loadout. As soon as you start feeling confident in your abilities, these roadblocks will tear you down and set you straight.

I struggled a lot with a handful of boss fights I encountered in the first few hours. Occasionally the problem was my loadout - there’s a vast assortment of weapons and armor pieces you can use to customize your mech, and you need to make frequent changes depending on the situation. It’s partly a matter of playstyle. I prefer to stay airborne as much as possible, so I started investing in part that increases my stamina and reduces how quickly it drains. But you also have to equip the right weapon for the job, and this was a challenge for me as a new Armored Core player.

A handful of times, one of the Bandai Namco reps at the event had to come tell me which weapon was best suited for the boss I was fighting, and once I made the switch it completely changed the dynamic of the fight. Someone who knows the series might have an easier time seeing those opportunities, but the customization options were the one thing about Armored Core 6 that made me feel completely out of my depth.

Mostly, I came away thinking this is the kind of game I’ll probably use a guide for. I want to see all the imaginative machines and unique boss fights it has to offer, even if I need a little help getting through some of it. The sense of scale in a few of the missions I played was incredible. My favorite one I’ve seen so far is a massive six-legged walker the size of a football stadium that you have to disable by taking out one of its legs, then slowly ascend to the top of it, destroying its engines to deactivate its shield, then fight a boss battle against a laser beam-shooting eye at the top. When you finally take it down, the way it collapses in an earth-shaking pile of machine rubble is awe-inspiring.

Rest assured, you’re not going to have to learn how to hold your controller backwards to play this one. It’s challenging, as all of FromSoft’s games are, but even as a novice to the series I walked away feeling like it was a challenge I could learn to overcome, and enjoy doing it.

Next: Armored Core Devs Explain How Dark Souls Inspired AC6

Eric Switzer is Features Editor that specializes in Pokemon, VR, and tech coverage. He is also the host of TheGamer Podcast, now entering its second year. Eric loves board games, fan conventions, new technology, and his sweet sweet kitties Bruce and Babs. Favorite games include Destiny 2, Kingdom Hearts, Super Metroid, and Prey...but mostly Prey. His favorite Pokémon is Umbreon.