Bandai Namco and From Software have continued to generate a growing sense of excitement for the upcoming return to the Armored Core series. Last week, Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon got its first story trailer, giving players an idea of the narrative that will put them in the pilot seat of their personal mech suits. With a month to go to before release, Shacknews recently got to try the game out for ourselves. While Armored Core 6 is structured differently than the Soulsbourne titles that the more recent gaming generation may be used to, it will not be any easier to complete. That becomes apparent almost out of the gate.

Armored Core 6’s story starts with the aftermath of a group mission gone horribly awry. Only one survivor remains with no memory of what happened before. He is only identified as Augmented Human 621. Directed by the voice of Handler Walter, the opening tutorial sets the stage for what players can expect. A series of objectives tasks 621 with finding an ID that will allow him to operate as a mercenary. This is where players can familiarize themselves with the standard mech’s abilities. They can maneuver across a 3D space with rocket boosters, attack enemies with shoulder cannons, aim at multiple targets with missiles, and inflict heavy damage with a powerful melee strike. As the game’s opening minutes unfold, players will learn the importance of balancing an offensive barrage with strafing and dodging incoming fire.

Source: Bandai Namco

However, lest anyone get the impression that From Software is about to set aside its reputation for tough-as-nails encounters, the tutorial mission ends with an assault from a powerful attack helicopter. For the uninitiated, this is a brutal fight. The helicopter only has a few weak spots, but it doesn’t let up with its barrage, so players that try to go toe-to-toe with it will take more damage than they inflict. The enemy copter will also veer close to the stage’s out-of-bounds area and will keep its distance if it senses an abundance of danger.

The idea is to master the melee strike and dish out heavy damage. Openings won’t always present themselves, though, making this a tough fight from the get-go. While players will have three repair kits to heal, once those are gone, they’re gone for the rest of the level, and the attack copter will ensure they get used up quickly. After I died for about the 12th time, I looked around and saw that other members of the press were also having a tough time with this opening fight. However, this is a From Soft game. It’s difficult, but it’s not impossible, and the idea is to ultimately learn from previous mistakes, master the abilities available, and exercise quicker reflexes to eventually win the day. When the helicopter was finally destroyed, I felt like I had earned that victory.

After that tutorial program, Armored Core 6’s campaign kicks off proper. Again, it’s different than what most Soulsbourne players may be used to. Players will engage in bite-sized missions. They’re often contracts taken up by Handler Walter and will see 621 assisting competing mercenary corps. While the attack helicopter was there to set an expectation, once it has been set, the subsequent missions get easier. They’re basic objectives that allow players to learn more of the fundamentals of mech battles, earn credits, and put them towards improving their mech build or buying different parts to construct a totally different build. Advanced tutorials are available outside of missions to show players how to build new mechs, such as the reverse-jointed AC, and also what components can assist them over the course of the game.

Source: Bandai Namco

While most Armored Core 6 missions are short, many of them offer players a handful of ways to approach them. Bonuses are offered for completing certain side bounties, for example, which will put them in the path of additional hostiles. Some players may feel so confident with their build that they’ll go scorched earth on certain missions. Others may focus more on speed and stealth for missions that allow them to proceed directly to the main objective without drawing unnecessary attention beforehand. During a chat with Armored Core 6 director Masaru Yamamura and producer Yasunori Ogura, they made sure to note that any mission could be completed with just about any build, including the most basic one. Of course, some builds will make certain missions easier than others, which I’ll touch on momentarily.

After getting used to the fundamentals of mech battles, missions began to intensify again. A later mission required the takedown of a giant mining ship called the STRIDER. Even in a mech suit, this was a massive colossus of a machine, requiring the destruction of several power sources. This was as much a platforming challenge as it was a combat one because if the boost meter ran out or if I missed any of my jumps and took the long fall to the desert below, the STRIDER would escape, and the mission would be a failure. The radar would point to the weak points, and some were fairly easy to find, including the one near the top of the ship with its powerful weapons systems. The radar’s 2D layout sometimes made it hard to tell if targets were above or below, but after struggling to find the last weak spot, Handler Walter came in over the comms and pointed out where the final spot was. It was refreshing to have this kind of assistance at the ready, not for combat, but for other tasks like finding a target.

Of course, From Soft wanted to send everyone off on a high note, so one of the last challenges of our time with Armored Core 6 involved infiltrating a dam facility and reaching the boss that awaited inside. Freedom of approach was once again prevalent in the preliminary portion of this mission, allowing players to destroy the outside cannons in whatever order they wished, taking any route they pleased. Given that some of those cannons had sniper capabilities, I veered close to the walls and took out the farthest targets first.

The final confrontation was with a hulking mobile tank called the Juggernaut. Capable of shooting missiles and charging straight at foes with debilitating speed, taking out the Juggernaut would be a tough task. For the start of the battle, I had an AI assistant loaned out by the hiring merc company. He was able to create a diversion while I aimed for the Juggernaut’s weak point on his back. This made it fairly easy to get him down to half HP, but then my partner got called away to deal with an ambush close by. That left me one-on-one with the Juggernaut, and this is where the big brute figuratively dribbled my mech like a basketball. Finding the weak spot on the Juggernaut’s back is a thousand times more difficult without a diversion, so anytime I attempted to boost behind him, he’d turn on a dime and immediately shield himself with his bulky exterior. Several charges and missile barrages later and my mech was down for the count. Then it was down again. And again. And again!

As noted earlier, Yamamura and Ogura said that each mission was doable with just about any mech, including the standard one. Unfortunately, “doable” and “easy” are two very different things. Bandai Namco reps tried advising me to use a different build, using the quick leap of the reverse-jointed AC as opposed to the slower boost of the standard mech. Unfortunately for me, I had already blown through my credits budget and couldn’t buy any more parts. Other players will likely find themselves in a similar jam, so it should be noted that previous missions are replayable.

While I was never able to defeat the Juggernaut, I got a good idea of what to expect out of Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon. It’s a different kind of back-breakingly difficult From Software game than people may be used to, but it is soul-crushing (in a good way) nonetheless. The journey begins exactly one month from today when Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon comes to PC, PlayStation, and Xbox on August 25.

This preview is based on an early PC build provided by Bandai Namco and may not be representative of the final product. Lodging and meals were provided by Bandai Namco.