There’s a particular breed of Dark Souls fan – the “11ers”. Those who jumped into Dark Souls 1 back in 2011, while in their 20’s or at school. Giantdads swinging around fully upgraded Zweihanders and packing Havel’s Ring at all times. For these people, that initial mystery they felt all those years ago probably can’t be found in Souls games anymore. They’ve seen too much, played too much. Firmly stuck in the expert camp, never able to get out.
If you consider yourself one of these folks, Armored Core 6 might be the perfect game for you. The latest entry in FromSoftware’s legendary mecha series, one that has taken a notable leave of absense ever since the company started printing money with a hot streak of challenging third-person action games, Armored Core 6 is entering combat mode at a time when we’re seemingly swamped by outstanding games. Anyone would do well to pick out any of the biggest game releases right now, but for OG Souls fans it’s this one that I believe is most likely to impress.
An obvious retort would be to say: “Yeah, obviously mate, I’m going to buy it anyway. I’ve bought every FromSoft game for like 12 years,” and that’s true. Sure, you’re getting the high-intensity action you expect, you’re getting that same level of quality, a banging OST, that familiar sense of challenge and respect of a player’s ability to dive deep into the guts of the game and create absurdly powerful builds. But what you may not expect to find is that long-lost feeling that you don’t already know what to do before you hit the main menu.
When I played Dark Souls 3 for the first time, I knew I wanted to play an Intellect-focused character. I knew what weapons and spells to look out for, I knew what kind of NPCs I should track down and that their quests should be top priorities. Deeper than that – I knew how to smartly spend my Souls, how to dodge towards attacks to avoid damage, how to conserve stamina and stay below a certain equipment weight.
There were new things to discover, sure – bosses with three phases and interesting spells that tempted me into splashing into other stats somewhat – but the overall experience didn’t shock me. It couldn’t! Regardless of what the devs did, a sizable part of that experience was pre-established through years of play and dozens of playthroughs. A certain joy comes from that mastery, sure. The pride of being able to take down the Dancer of The Boreal Valley without much issue, for one. But you lose something, too. You lose that wonder at digging around in a new world, an experience FromSoftware is excellent at re-creating over and over, but something that is inevitably lost over time.
Armored Core 6 fits into this beautiful middle-ground between the apparently impenetrable nature of prior titles (they aren’t actually that daunting and are well worth going back to if you can), and the Souls experience. Some things will be instantly familiar, too; you basically get three Estus Flasks to mess around with and your stamina conservation instincts find new homes in your AC’s energy and weapon heat.
But learning how to make use of vertical movement, building an AC that fits your style, discovering new weapon types and interrogating their merits – that’s all new. Armored Core 6 not only welcomes you to a new universe filled with its own riches, it takes you back, in spirit, to Lordran. Strapping on two shotguns and discovering how busted that can be rekindles that same fire you felt in your stomach when you swang around that Uchigatana for the first time.
On its own merits, Armored Core 6 is excellent. Our review dives into that in ample detail. You don’t need to be a Dark Souls head to enjoy it. But if you are – if you catch yourself saying ‘Seek Seek Lest’ every time you visit Majula or can recount exactly where Siegmeyer is at any point in his questline – then Armored Core 6 provides something special. That feeling of discovery, packaged in thick layers of nostalgia. It’s FromSoft, firing – quite literally – on all cylinders.
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