Armored Core 6 looks like the exact opposite of Elden Ring in so many ways I didn't expect

Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon
(Image credit: FromSoftware)

Much has been made of what Armored Core 6 isn't – namely, a Souls game, or even a Soulslike, let alone the next Elden Ring. FromSoftware's been busy swimming against the river of its own reputation, setting expectations and entreating fans ahead of a series revival a decade in the making. We know we made Elden Ring, the studio seems to say, but we make other things too. So what is Armored Core 6? It's a third-person action game about mechs. Yeah, that works. But after seeing gameplay in a hands-off Armored Core 6 preview, I'd say FromSoftware didn't go far enough in its messaging. Nearest I can tell, not only is Armored Core 6 not like Elden Ring, it's the opposite of Elden Ring. 

Armored Core 6 is linear and mission-based rather than open-ended. Combat looks much more breakneck than deliberate, but still tactical and not spammy. It prefers the industrial over the fantastical, and it seems to opt for vertical depth over a sprawling world. It proudly presents itself as a compact game rather than an unbelievably large one. There's clearly depth and challenge to be had, but there's an arcade, almost bullet hell charisma to it that actually makes it seem easy to understand – three words that wouldn't get within miles of most FromSoftware games. At the same time, just as players can use dozens of parts to make their dream mech, it's clear that bits and pieces of various Souls games were grafted on here. FromSoftware just can't help itself.

Old-school charm

Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon

(Image credit: From Software)

Here's something I never expected to write going into this: the first game that came to my mind during my Armored Core 6 preview was Vanquish. It avoids that so-silly-it's-serious tone, but the aggression and precision of combat quickly alerted the part of my brain permanently dedicated to remembering Platinum Games' 2010 banger. It's the little things, too, like the way you're ushered into the mission by a soft-spoken narrator explaining why the Bad Guys want The Stuff – in this case, a coveted resource called Coral. Even parts of the UI – prompts to repair your mech, scan your surroundings, and use your expansion (more on this later) – remind me of a bygone era of action games that's hard to explain. 

For so many wonderful reasons, Armored Core 6 strikes me as the kind of game we just don't get enough of anymore. It feels like an old soul in this era of live services, lizard-brain loot tiers, and forgettable gear affixes like +2.7% to poison damage, and I say that as someone who plays Destiny 2 and two gacha games. I suppose this is fitting given the series' long hibernation, but Armored Core 6 looks 10 years old in the best possible way. 

It truly feels as if FromSoftware started this thing in 2013, got sidetracked and accidentally defined third-person dark fantasy RPGs for a decade, and recently remembered that mech game it put on the stove. It's not the visuals, which looked smooth and detailed during the demo, and with some impressive draw distance to boot, but the sensibilities. I hesitate to use the word retro, so let's go with simple and clean. Honest and straightforward. Delicious

When you die, you start at an honest-to-goodness checkpoint a ways back. There's no bonfire woven into the level design, and no thoughts of reclaiming dropped Souls weighing on your mind. You can even adjust your mech loadout after you die to counter whatever killed you. I love that there's a Resident Evil-style quick-turn, and I about squealed upon seeing the boss at the end of the demo mission: a nuclear tower zamboni with two giant chainsaws for arms. It even had a big-ol' glowing weak spot on top that you have to fly up to attack. This might be FromSoftware at its most video game-y, and it just feels right. 

Partway through some lengthier missions, you'll apparently find supply points that top off your repair (health) packs and ammo. Imagine that: a straight-up, from-a-menu, start-and-end mission! How delightful. And here's a treat for my fellow Destiny 2 degenerates: at one point you hold a button to hack a gate and some dudes spawn in behind you. I'm home, folks. And this is just my gut talking, but – whisper it – I think this might be a refreshingly short game, which would certainly fit with the Armored Core standard.

Mettle to the metal 

Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon

(Image credit: FromSoftware)

"There are familiar twinkles in the sky, but we're looking at a new constellation."

Absence makes the heart grow fonder I suppose. This stuff is charming but decidedly not new, yet it feels novel in a FromSoftware sandbox, and Armored Core 6 offers much to play with here. Combat promises a revitalized hybrid of Armored Core tradition with some new blood from the Souls games. 

This brief demo brought on flashes of muscle memory from several of those games. The stagger system initially feels akin to Sekiro, but rather than one big critical hit, staggering enemies lets you deal extra damage over a longer stunned period. At one point, our demo pilot crept up on a group of droids only for the ceiling to collapse and pummel them with oil tanks like an industrialized Sen's Fortress. Sekiro comes to mind again when one laser sword-wielding mech lunges in with different swings. Fly over the horizontal slash and side-step the diagonals, my Sekiro memories advised me.

There are familiar twinkles in the sky, but we're looking at a new constellation. The defined Soulsborne rhythm is swiftly obliterated by machine guns, missiles, and energy shields, none of which would be very fair in a Souls game. That's not a bad way to sum up the flow of combat, actually: a Souls game where you and the enemies are all cheating. The nastiest cheat code may be the ability to scan for enemies, even through walls. Now that's a feature I could've used in Elden Ring.  

Continuing that trend, you are incredibly fast on your little mech feet, especially when you swap them for faster feet with a lower weight. (Oh yeah, weight limits are back, baby, though I'm not entirely sure what they mean for builds just yet.) Our demo pilot was dodging incoming missiles at fairly close-range with relative ease, and closing hundreds of meters in a matter of seconds without running out of that all-important boost energy. The freeform 3D movement almost reminds me of Gravity Rush at times, particularly in the way you effortlessly hover and skate through the air, but your mech is much more level and controlled. Good thing, too, because FromSoftware wasn't kidding when it said levels would be vertical. This might not be an open world, but maps are big and layered, with multiple paths toward objectives.


Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon

(Image credit: From Software)

Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon

(Image credit: FromSoftware / Bandai Namco)

Armored Core 6 Collector's Edition is $230 and comes with your own mech, but the premium "garage" costs $220 extra

That bit about swapping to lighter legs wasn't a random anecdote, either. That's actually one of the changes our demo pilot made to their mech after dying to a miniboss, and to my delight, there was an immediate and pronounced difference in their mobility on their second attempt. Gliding and dodging were noticeably faster, so they were able to outpace a beefy opponent. 

I counted 12 different slots for mech assembly, including an expansion port which I gather is some kind of active ability. If they're all as impactful as your legs, tuning the perfect machine could be hugely engrossing. I can easily see different builds and combinations adding a lot of replay value to levels and bosses. From the variety described, I also get the impression we'll be adjusting our builds on the fly, and likely more tactically than in Souls games which you can often beat with the tactic of "press R1 until the thing dies." I'm especially intrigued by slotting in weapons specifically to stagger or damage enemies, but exactly how you build your mech is something we still need to see learn much more about. 

Not having played the series, I went into this preview knowing little about Armored Core beyond its reputation and the basic research I did to prepare. I wanted to target the question that many modern FromSoftware fans are likely asking themselves: if I've never played Armored Core, but I love games like Dark Souls and Elden Ring, will I like Armored Core 6? 

It's too early to answer that question definitively, but after going through this gameplay and behind-closed-doors presentation with that same mindset, I can tell you one thing: I absolutely want to play Armored Core 6. It is so many things I didn't expect it to be and seems to offer fresh takes on the things I remember. It moves like a Souls game in moments, but with the attitude of a different time. The hum of FromSoftware combat harmonizes perfectly with the roar of a mech. It's almost like they've been doing this for years. 

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Austin Wood

Austin freelanced for the likes of PC Gamer, Eurogamer, IGN, Sports Illustrated, and more while finishing his journalism degree, and he's been with GamesRadar+ since 2019. They've yet to realize that his position as a senior writer is just a cover up for his career-spanning Destiny column, and he's kept the ruse going with a focus on news and the occasional feature, all while playing as many roguelikes as possible.