If you're here to learn one thing and one thing only, which is "does Armored Core 6 rip tremendous amounts of ass," I can save you reading the next 992 words. Yes. Yes it does.
After a decade focused on making games about fragile human flesh, FromSoftware is reveling in putting you in control of 10 tons of steel loaded for bear with 200 missiles. During a presentation at Summer Game Fest, producer Yasunori Ogura said that the degree of mobility you'll have traversing these large, vertical environments "is an experience unique to mech action games and cannot be reproduced with a human character."
It's kind of an adorable way to describe an action game. "You can only do this with mechs" has big "14-year-old showing you their model Gundam" energy, or, like, "70-year-old bachelor explaining why building model trains is the last pure hobby left to modern men." I was delighted.
Could you make a game like this with Superman or something? Sure, he even used some big guns one time. But would Armored Core be even 1% as cool with a guy flying around instead of a mech? C'mon.
The mech's boosters are by themselves already my favorite graphical flourish of the year, with pairs of white hot flames flickering on its back and ankles as it moves. Smaller jets burst to life on the shoulders as it strafes left or right. Smoke hisses out of each nozzle during a moment's pause. If only a mech could star in the kind of game FromSoftware has created, then only an army of absolute mecha nerds could have created suits that look and move like these do.
"Our aim is to create a new mech action game by the current FromSoftware, which combines the fundamental fun aspects of the Armored Core series with the design philosophy of recent FromSoftware action games," Ogura said via translator. "That is the tactile feel of the action, map and situation design, and battle design where there's room for ingenuity and a sense of challenge."
The maps in Armored Core 6 really are the most immediate differentiator from past games in the series: in the Armored Cores of old, missions would typically only last 2-3 minutes, throwing you straight into combat from beginning to end. Here they're clearly longer, though still nothing like the hours-long fortresses and zones of the Souls games. Missions now have checkpoints, and your mech is equipped with an Estus flask-like repair item that makes taking damage slightly more forgiving. Individual battles can be skill checks without missions in their totality turning into grueling all-or-nothing endurance runs.
The factory FromSoftware showed us in its Summer Game Fest demo was dense with trusses and cranes and spewing smokestacks. I'd praise the verticality of the area, but honestly the place just sprawled in all directions, making me wonder whether missions will still be linear in environments of this size, or if we can expect as many hidden and alternate paths as a typical Souls level. Even if it's mostly just window dressing, the screenshot community is going to lose its mind cranking this game to 8K on PC and capturing it from every angle.
There is at least opportunity now to choose your angle of attack. In the old games enemies would immediately know where you were and start firing when you came into range, but Armored Core 6 is bringing in a bit of stealth. I do not want to oversell how sneaky you can be in 10 tons of steel with rockets attached to it: there is no crouching in tall grass, but you can jet up to a high perch, survey a half dozen enemy mechs puttering around beneath you, and launch a surprise missile volley before you dive in for a finishing blow with your energy blade.
Sekiro is by far the closest analog of any modern FromSoftware game: there's an intense speed here, an emphasis on precisely timed dodges (of missiles and lasers rather than swords and spears) and the ability to stagger enemy mechs by building up their "impact gauge" with successive hits. They'll take more damage while staggered, presenting an opening to swoop in and slash them in half.
Assuming you even have an energy blade equipped to your mech. You're never without a sword in Sekiro, but in Armored Core 6 you could be running around with dual rifles or forgo hand weapons entirely for the heaviest rocket and missile launchers your shoulders can bear. Customization looks just as deep as it's traditionally been in the series, letting you swap out weapons, arms and legs and cores and other modules. If you're as much of a tinkerer as I am, you may be thrilled to hear that if you die mid-mission, you can swap out parts before starting again at a checkpoint. If the battle ahead clearly calls for a different type of build, you can react to that without having to scrap the whole mission.
A year after the open-ended roleplaying of Elden Ring and three years after the precision of Sekiro's swordplay, games we awarded scores of 90 and 92, it feels almost silly to fixate on whether the action in Armored Core 6 will deliver. That would be like asking whether Miles Davis will nail his solo. Who's left doubting, at this point?
Anyway, I can already tell Armored Core 6 has the goods. In the hands of FromSoftware's demo player it was just as exciting in real time as it was in that April trailer. More, actually, because with the camera locked to a player's real perspective, you could tell just how much control he had over his mech as it dodged in all directions, jetted along the ground and danced between missiles, bullets and sword swipes within seconds.
There's a lot I still want to know—how long and open-ended missions will really be, whether we'll see a return of classic Armored Core's 1v1 battle arena as a side activity, and if FromSoftware is going to sneak in a twist, like Souls-style multiplayer invasions. But the robots, as expected, rip tremendous amounts of ass. Armored Core is back.