I understand why some folks are struggling to get excited about a new Armored Core finally releasing for the first time since the Xbox 360 days. At first glance, you might think Armored Core is just some anime-flavored, dull-gray mech shooter that simply happens to be from the developers of Dark Souls, but there’s a lot more going on than that.
The elevator pitch is actually fairly unique: take the mech customization of MechWarrior, the high-risk, rapid-fire mission design of Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, and throw in surprisingly deep yet intuitive combat. It might not be Souls-style pitched one-on-one fights between a swordsman and a giant mass of teeth and dragon wings, but the core From Software design philosophy still holds true. Practice, skill, and careful character development will always win out over cheap tricks, rewarding brains as much as reflexes.
The shift to action is explored to full effect as well. Missions can be in-depth battles against large armies or bite-sized black ops that pay the bills to keep your mech’s AC in good condition. Like Darkest Dungeon, the goal isn’t some idyllic end, but to exploit just enough of this world to make it through to the other side.
Yes it might not always have looked the prettiest, though I am partial to the original’s chunky PS1 aesthetic that just doesn’t look like it could be possibly running on the hardware of its day. Every entry afterward honed in on remarkable performance, with lightning-fast playstyles at the highest skill levels, pairing wonderfully with frantic rock tracks in the heat of battle. Whether you were someone who charged in with energy blades or fired from afar at mobile artillery, you could find the parts to make your dream mech.
This has come at the cost of less detailed environments, but given how combat-focused everything is, the lack of visual distraction can be a major benefit in the heat of the moment. With that said, Armored Core 6 looks to be aiming to shake that up going by its first trailer, so that should address the concerns of those wanting a bit more texture to their boost-shooting.
Regardless, Armored Core has always been an experience-first sort of game, with a player-driven progression curve as you carve out a life as a mercenary amid endless war. While certain entries have tried to give a bit more story for players to chew on, the reality is you aren’t playing Armored Core for some Evangelion (or Elden Ring, for that matter) high-concept storytelling. Instead, all Armored Core wants is for you to “get in the mech, Shinji!”
When it all comes together, it just feels like nothing else on the market – which shouldn’t be a surprise, as From Software did the same with Dark Souls’ approach to third-person melee combat. If your only experience with Mech games are the slower titles from Western developers, like MechWarrior or MechAssault, then you’re in for a rush. The de-emphasis on precision aiming is great for this as well, letting your mech’s targeting computer handle the finer points while you’re busy not becoming a grease stain.
Even the shorter nature of certain combat engagements works better than it should, granting the player the freedom to pace things to their liking. Given you have to pay for your AC’s repairs and ammo, calculated risks are important, even if the biggest paydays are always the riskiest. It’s a sort of campaign structure you usually only see in flight sims, and it’s great to see it explored with mechs.
It’s also for all these reasons that, despite being a hit in Japan, Armored Core never really broke through in the West. A player-driven, gameplay-first experience with a priority on performance over pure spectacle at a time when console audiences were praising more scripted, cinematic experiences? Yeah, the Western console market wasn’t exactly fertile ground for this sort of series. It’s a shame Armored Core never officially released on PC, or it might’ve had a better chance. But hey, better late than never, as Armored Core 6 is finally dropping on PC as well as current-gen hardware later this year.
If you can’t stand the wait, and have the hardware setup to play the originals, I highly endorse it. Even the original plays like a dream as a PS Classic on PS3/PS Vita, and there’s even been a few spiritual homages like Daemon X Machina – a more visually evocative twist on the formula if you prefer your dystopian futures a tad more colorful. That said, for some of us, the return of From Software to the mech realm is the most exciting news in ages. It’s a damn good year to be a mech enthusiast.
NEXT: Signalis Is More Old-School Than Old-School Survival Horror