FromSoftware and Bandai Namco made waves at the Game Awards 2022 when they unveiled the long-rumoured Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon. After over 10 years of developing various fantasy-based action games such as Dark Souls, Sekiro and 2022’s excellent Elden Ring, a game about mechs may seem like a sudden sharp turn. However, Armored Core actually has a long and rich history, as the second IP FromSoftware ever made.
A lot of fans of the SoulsBorne games may be feeling a little lost with this announcement. It might also be a little daunting at the prospect of this being the sixth numbered title in a long-running series. But don’t worry: this article is here to help explain the series, story, and gameplay ahead of the next exciting entry.
If you hadn’t gathered from the trailer for Armored Core VI or the opening paragraph, it is a series of action games focusing on giant robots, battling in a post-apocalyptic world. As a mercenary known as a Raven, you accept missions from various organisations. The proceeds gained from those go into buying parts for your mech, one of the titular Armored Cores. Rather than an open world, gameplay takes place in separate, linear missions.
Mech customisation is the highlight here, with thousands of possible combinations each game. Every part counts: your head can contain vital radar functionality, for instance. Arms can be thin and light to save weight, or bulky to support heavy weapons. The legs are one of the most crucial parts, determining your mobility and maximum weight allowance. Internal parts such as generators and boosters give you a vital edge in the field too.
Every good AC unit needs a good weapon too, and there are a lot of types to consider. From shoulder-mounted lock-on missiles, to standard guns or energy blasters, you can pick to suit what is asked of you each mission. Optimising builds is half the game alone, and almost no two ACs are truly the same.
There are a few elements that should feel familiar to Souls veterans. ACs have a stamina bar of sorts, tied to boosting and energy weapons. Melee is de-emphasised, but you have the choice to equip a deadly laser blade. The key difference, though, is that you’ll likely be tanking more hits than you dodge – you are, after all, inside a giant robot.
If you’re worried about catching up on story for Armored Core VI, don’t be. Armored Core has had several continuity reboots, and it’s been confirmed that Fires of Rubicon will mark yet another. FromSoftware are very aware that this will be the first most are hearing of the franchise, and this will be a good place to start.
That being said, while the stories differ from game to game, the overall context remains very similar. The world has been ravaged by war, and mega-corporations control everything. As the player, and a mercenary, you simply take jobs from them. While you may not be fighting for a specific cause, the actions you take may prove decisive in the overall conflict.
Almost every game has this same standard setup, and it’s looking very likely that VI will follow suit. Taking place on the planet Rubicon 3, mega-corporations have rediscovered an energy source that once swept away the surface of the planet in a fiery disaster. They seek to harvest it, while resistance groups oppose it, and you can once again expect to fight both sides.
The Armored Core Series So Far
While it may be called “Armored Core VI”, it’s far from the sixth game. Fires of Rubicon is in fact the 16th game in the series – not counting mobile games and ports. One unfortunate thing about the series is a general lack of availability; none of the games are playable on current-gen hardware. As mentioned before, VI is a story reboot, so no prior experience is necessary. But for those who want a history lesson, or some practice, here’s everything you need to know.
The first generation of Armored Core encompasses the 3 games released on the PlayStation 1: Armored Core, Armored Core: Project Phantasma, and Armored Core: Master of Arena. They share the same general engine and gameplay – to the point that save data carries across all 3 games. Even your AC, and all parts acquired transfer over.
Unsurprisingly, they are the most archaic of the bunch. Analog control is not present, resulting in a control scheme that’d be laughed out of the room these days. The D-pad moves your AC forwards, backwards, and turns it left and right – classic tank controls. L1 and R1 strafe, while L2 and R2 are what let you aim up and down. The face buttons are reserved for jumping and weaponry.
While the controls may be tough to get to grips with, the beauty of these games is that you can customise your AC however you’d like to compensate for whatever difficulties you take with the controls. Fast and mobile, or slow and tanky, it’s up to you. These games also started another long -standing tradition – parts sell for the same price you bought them. Want to replace a part with an upgrade but can’t afford it? Sell the old one – you won’t be using it after all!
Handling money is actually very important – not only are you buying parts, but also servicing your AC. Every hit taken and bullet fired actually adds to a bill after each mission, taken from your savings. Once you hit debt, you get locked out of the shop until you get out of the red. If your debt exceeds 50k, it’s game over – you start again from the beginning, but it’s not all bad! You receive permanent enhancements that should make your next attempt a little easier.
A lot of the groundwork laid down in this first generation would define almost every successive entry. The original Armored Core follows the mercenary style seen in almost every future game. Project Phantasma differs in that it has a shorter, more linear campaign, while Master of Arena focuses on AC-on-AC combat. All 3 are hard to recommend today, but might at least be fun to watch footage of online.
Consisting of Armored Core 2 and Armored Core 2: Another Age, the second generation was short and sweet, but primarily paved the way for the third. Armored Core 2 was actually a launch title for the PlayStation 2 in North America, and it admittedly shows. The improved resolution and lighting were a huge deal at the time, but they have obviously been outclassed since.
Armored Core 2 simply takes more of Generation 1 and refines it a little. And I really do mean “a little”, because against all possible odds, the analog sticks remain incompatible. It wasn’t until Armored Core 2: Another Age that you could finally use the left analog stick for movement. And only the left. Just bear with them, they figure it out eventually.
It made for a good tech demo to showcase what the PS2 could do at launch, but it wasn’t the step forward the series needed. Another Age added even more to do: over 100 new missions, the most of any entry. Unfortunately, the arena mode was cut out of this, which was a turn-off for fans. Generation 2 is probably the most unimportant of the series, though not outright bad at all.
The biggest of the five generations (so far), Generation 3 is the one generally discussed the most by fans. Consisting of 6 games for the PS2, it marked the first truly big step forward for the series. With big changes also came the first, and obviously not the last, story reboot. FromSoftware had big plans on how to change things up, though it didn’t go exactly to plan.
Armored Core 3 nevertheless added a couple of new features, while heavily tweaking the existing ones. The result is what’s considered the peak of the classic formula that began in the original, although at the time critics were beginning to bore of the minimal changes over the years. The follow-up, Silent Line: Armored Core, added more small features such as destructible weaponry, and even a first person mode. After these two games, going into excessive debt no longer restarts you with upgrades – you’re simply fired.
Armored Core Nexus marked a total rework of the series, to the point that you couldn’t even bring your AC from the prior games across anymore. For the first time, the right analog stick was used to aim, playing with more conventional controls. The weapon damage was removed almost as quickly as it was introduced, but it wasn’t all subtraction. Tons of new weapon types and rebalancing shook the game up fiercely, particularly in PVP. Nexus even included a special bonus campaign that remade key missions from past games, as a generous nod to the series’ legacy, and one that would be appreciated to see more of in Armored Core VI.
The third generation was capped off with 3 more games, Nine Breaker, Formula Front and Last Raven. Nine Breaker is condemned as the worst of the bunch, with FromSoftware controversially omitting the story entirely. It’s based purely around the Arena feature, and offers very little else. Formula Front is also strikingly different, focusing on ACs as a team-based sport. ACs are primarily AI-controlled, with the focus being on build optimisation. These games make for decent distractions, but were not big with the fans. Last Raven, on the other hand, made for an excellent send-off for the generation.
Last Raven finished adding in everything FromSoftware wanted to add with Armored Core 3. Its most notable addition, individual body part damage, finally added that layer of realism that was so desired. Testing ACs has never been easier due to streamlined menus, and adjustable testing parameters. Boundaries are further pushed with the story, featuring multiple endings as a franchise first. It’s a debatable entry among fans due to how harshly parts and weapons were rebalanced. This, coupled with an even harder than usual difficulty, means it’s not a game for beginners, but nonetheless a substantial finale to the biggest generation so far.
With a new generation of consoles came a new generation of Armored Core. Hot on the heels of the Japanese launch of the PlayStation 3, FromSoftware once again kicked off with a bang. Another full story reboot, Armored Core 4 was geared towards a new audience. With that came a then-new director: Hidetaka Miyazaki. If the name isn’t familiar to you, perhaps his subsequent works are: Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Sekiro, Elden Ring. And yes, he directed the initial stage of Armored Core VI’s development too.
Under Miyazaki’s direction came huge changes – ACs were now incredibly fast and agile, and the controls generally tuned to be more conventional and accessible for a wider audience. Fortunately, customisation remains just as in-depth as before, as is tradition. Parts can even be tested without the need to pay for them. Online multiplayer also took the competitive PVP to a new level, and would become a key part of future entries.
Armored Core: For Answer is, for many, the pinnacle of the franchise as a whole. While few direct gameplay changes were made from 4, it’s all in the presentation. Multiple endings make their return, in what is a highly lauded campaign among fans. If you want a taste of the scale this game has to offer, here’s one of the bosses you’ll end up fighting:
A high speed battle against a larger-than-life walking fortress… and this is one of the earliest missions! For Answer doesn’t pull its punches – neither should you, melee was significantly buffed for this entry. I wholeheartedly recommend this game (and 4) to newcomers, though sadly it was never ported to modern platforms, nor is it backwards compatible. You’ll just have to fish up a PS3 or Xbox 360 and a physical copy, but it is worth the hunt.
The most recent generation of Armored Core, and the one unfortunately sullied with burying the franchise for a decade. Armored Core V is controversial for back-pedalling on a lot of the changes introduced over the years. ACs are now slower, and gameplay more tactical. The big focus of V is utilising the terrain to gain the advantage. This, coupled with far smaller mechs, is a callback to the design of the PS1 games. It’s a more realistic and oppressive entry that might’ve scared off a lot of the new fans gained from the more beginner-friendly Generation 4. There’s even an emphasis on stealth!
Armored Core: Verdict Day would follow it up in 2013 to be the last main instalment until 2023’s Armored Core VI. Armored Core V began to shift emphasis towards online multiplayer, but for Verdict Day this became the main feature. Both games have several bosses locked behind multiplayer, and the campaigns are far shorter. To make matters worse, Armored Core V’s servers shut down back in 2014. Fortunately, against all possible odds, Verdict Day’s servers are still online to this day; though who knows for how long.
Generation 5 was an awkward one, not necessarily bad but perhaps not the right direction. The series has always been niche, particularly outside of Japan, so making a multiplayer focused pair of games didn’t work out so well. That said, for anyone interested in multiplayer, Verdict Day is clearly the game for you.
The Future of Armored Core
When interviewed by IGN, FromSoftware made it clear that Armored Core VI would be a single player experience first and foremost.
The main focus in AC6 – on the story mode at least – is having that story develop and play out. We’ve concentrated on single-player for the story mode. Please stay tuned for more multiplayer details at a later date.
Multiplayer PVP is also in the works, but not necessarily missions such as in Generation 5. This is probably the best way to approach such a belated sequel, and it’s clear that a lot of lessons have been learnt – both from Generation 5, and from their last 10 years of SoulsBorne games.
The idea would appear to be to strike a perfect balance – enticing new fans, while embracing the old. FromSoftware fans who have only played Souls won’t have to do much required reading to appreciate VI and beyond. As for veterans, it’ll be exactly like visiting an old neighbourhood, just with one heck of a face lift. The future looks bright for Armored Core and its fans, and FromSoftware might even be getting their third Game of the Year award when Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon launches in 2023.