Swapping swords and spells for mechs and missiles probably wasn't the first thing a FromSoftware accountant suggested following the absurd success of Elden Ring, but then the Japanese developer doesn't do things by the books. Having sold more than 20 million copies of the open world masterpiece, the studio has returned to a series it made primarily before Demon's Souls put its name on the map: Armored Core. A continuation rather than a reboot, an army of new fans is sure to make Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon the most popular entry in the mech franchise to date. What they'll need to accept, though, is this isn't the sort of FromSoftware experience they're used to — it's far from Elden Ring with robots.

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Gone are the vast, labyrinthine environments of Anor Londo or Yharnam, replaced by short, linear missions hardly worth exploring beyond the main objective. Gone are bonfires and a persistent online world, replaced by traditional checkpoints and a pause screen. This is FromSoftware returning to its roots; an Armored Core title of old.

It's a game about getting the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible, and then getting the hell out — there's little time for secrets, additional lore, or side quests. With a campaign roughly 25 hours in length, it gives the experience a sort of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain feel: you'll select a mission from a menu, complete your tasks, and then return to home base all in the space of five to 10 minutes. The Armored Core series has always been this way, but given the developer's reputation has reached dizzying heights since the PS3's Armored Core V, an end-of-mission results screen so soon after deployment may come as a frustrating surprise to some. Still, what's in those levels will scratch some of the FromSoftware itch.

Objectives generally revolve around destroying enemy mechs, defending a point, and working your way through a mission to take down a boss. On the whole, the fight to those final encounters is much easier than a Dark Souls, but masochists can source a good degree of difficulty from the boss battles. With some unique, extravagant designs to boot, these are the sort of encounters that'll push your skills, loadout, and abilities to the limit — the perfect dopamine hit for devotees when you succeed.

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If you don't, though, then it's back to the Garage for a rethink. The other side to Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon is customising and upgrading your mech, which is done by fitting new weapons and parts to it. Four firearms can be slotted onto your arms and back, and then you can pick new pieces of armour for your head, arms, core, and legs. There are also internal parts to choose from and permanent OS upgrades that give your mech the edge over the enemy. New gear is unlocked for purchase at a fairly consistent rate, and it's this feature in tandem with the brief missions that gives the title its core gameplay loop.

You'll be routinely loading in and out of levels to find the right build, experimenting with different weapon set-ups and finding the right set of armour pieces to satisfy your needs. With so many cosmetic options to make your mech your own on top, this is a really rewarding aspect of the experience. After struggling with a boss encounter for a few too many rounds, it's extremely fulfilling to return with a better build and make mincemeat of your nemesis.

This is where the short missions actually become a boon as you can quickly test whether a new weapon is right for you or not. There are lots of different types — assault rifles, shotguns, missile launchers, swords, laser rifles, and stun needles just to name a few — so having to commit to finishing a longer level would probably deter you from testing other options too much. As such, the game provides reason to try all it has to offer even if your overall stats are affected negatively. Since you can switch weapons and parts in and out on the pause screen, the only investment on your end is a couple of seconds for another chance at victory.

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What makes this even more satisfying is the game's commitment to making the traditionally trepid duty of operating a mech a breeze. It's easy to learn and master the controls alongside the automatic aiming mechanics, handing you more time to enjoy the combat. No matter what's attached to your arms and back, there's a pleasing feeling to landing your shots and staggering an enemy mech, giving you the chance to close in with shotgun blasts or melee swipes. A boost mechanic and responsive dodges on top allow you to be nimble as well as devastating at close range.

You're able to work up a gratifying sweat, charging from one mech to the other and downing them in seconds while completing objectives. But then, all of a sudden, the mission's over. When you've figured out your optimal setup — which is doable roughly halfway through the game — the game's short levels become just as much of a hindrance as the aforementioned opportunity to trial other guns. Just as you get back into the swing of things, the mission concludes and you have to work that momentum up again in a different place with other tasks to complete. You're hardly ever given the chance to embed yourself in a particular location, to the point where it can all feel a little mindless. You try and finish the mission as quickly as possible because you know there's nothing else there worth your time. It has its perks, but the mission structure has some undeniably frustrating elements that only hold you back when you know what you're doing.

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That said, even if each level did pack in a few extra objectives to lengthen their playtime, it's not like the environments would provide any eye candy. While the game's visuals are perfectly acceptable, the locations each chapter takes you to are exceedingly boring. From factories to grey, ruined cities, the graphical splendour that made some of the places FromSoftware has crafted over the past decade so memorable isn't on show here. This disappointment only further propels you to make for the objective and move on to the next mission.

Away from the campaign, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon also packs in some training missions and arena battles. These provide you with more sources of cash and new parts for your mech. The title also has an online PvP multiplayer mode, but it wasn't available for testing during the review process.

One thing that won't need examining post-launch, though, is the game's frame rate and overall performance. Unlike Elden Ring, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon runs incredibly smoothly at launch, with no signs of bugs or glitches whatsoever. We didn’t encounter a single technical issue during our playthrough, and only the slightest frame rate drops could be noticed right after a load into an action-heavy scene. Otherwise, on the PS5's Performance Mode, the title runs flawlessly at 60fps. There's also a Quality Mode that introduces ray tracing (when in the Garage), but the frame rate will take a hit to accommodate. Given the rapid speed at which the game is played, the Performance Mode works best.


Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon admirably weds satisfying combat with extensive mech customisation, with short missions letting you quickly experiment with new ideas and builds. However, once you've settled on an optimal loadout, it's those same quick-fire levels that begin to blunt the fun. The result is a game that can be just as enjoyable as it is frustrating. A littering of good boss fights and rock-solid performance on PS5 make it a worthwhile experience as a whole, but Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon won't go down as a classic in the same way other FromSoftware titles have for the past decade.