Not turning Armored Core VI into a Soulslike could be a mistake

Despite all their artistic and creative talents. Their flair for building worlds that seem to have been lived in for thousands of years by highly memorable characters. Their sophisticated game design, award-winning music and their utter unwillingness to deviate from what they believe in.

FromSoftware only excels at making one game. That is Demon’s Souls, the progenitor of what has become known as the Soulslike, or Soulsborne genre or “feel” of games.

Now, wait. Put down the rocks and pitchforks. It is undeniable that every hit title the studio has had since releasing Demon’s Souls in 2009 has featured the unlikely maverick fantasy RPG in its genetic code.

From Dark Souls to Bloodborne and even farthest outlier Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, all are built atop the Demon’s Souls skeleton. They use the same gameplay loop, the same core design. They even feel the same when you have the controller in your hands.

FromSoftware’s latest mega-hit Elden Ring has Demon’s Souls nestled deep within it too. Some enemies in Elden Ring even use animations from Demon’s Souls, which was released only on the PlayStation 3 so long ago that its live support has been terminated.

This foundation has made the company rich and famous. It made Hidetaka Miyazaki, once just a project planner, into the President of FromSoftware.

So when Miyazaki revealed in an interview with IGN that the latest game from the studio, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon, is specifically being made to not follow this formula of gameplay, I became a little bit concerned.

“We’ve not been making a conscious effort to try to direct it towards more Soulsborne-type gameplay. First of all, let me just make that clear,” Miyazaki told IGN.

“The essential direction of [Armored Core VI] was to go back and take a good look at the core concept of Armored Core and what made that series special. So we wanted to take the assembly aspect, assembling and customizing your own mech — your AC — and then being able to exact a high level of control over the assembled mech.”

Mech assembly will be expanded on in Fires of Rubicon with Miyazaki adding that now customisation won’t just be about swapping parts and mixing and matching, but rather players will be able to “freely assemble and customize the mech.”

“There’s actually a much higher degree of freedom here, and being able to see these effects both in-game, and as part of the world-building, and as part of your player choices, we feel like this is a very big part of what makes Armored Core special.”

The decision has received praise from the gaming media and fans alike. That Armored Core VI would be true to its lineage and not try to adopt the genre that made FromSoftware what they are today.

Somehow everyone is excited by the prospect of returning to an “authentic” Armored Core, but the truth is that the company’s mecha-building, third-person shooting multiplayer games were middling in both sales and critical response. The Armored Core IP was seemingly abandoned by the company for a reason.

I ask where were all these fans before? The latest in the series, Armored Core: Verdict Day (2013) on the PS3 only sold 62 753 units, according to VGChartz. The game also sits at a 66 percent approval rating on Metacritic.

Verdict Day was mainly criticised for being too difficult to get into. Reviewers often pointed out that fans of the series would enjoy the gameplay and mech building. It remains, like most other Armored Core games, buoyed by its cult following.

It is an ugly game, with odd UI design choices and awkward voice acting. A far cry from the quality the company is known for today. It is also mostly, a third-person shooter – something that will be changed in the upcoming game.

Since Miyazaki will be serving as the “initial director” for the game, FromSoftware veteran Masaru Yamamura will be the one directing Amored Core VI.

In terms of combat, Yamamura, who previously served as the main designer for Sekiro, alluded to how the upcoming Armored Core will have a system similar to Sekiro’s counter mechanic.

One that will spur players to keep attacking, and one which will see more melee weapons being integrated into the game. Fires of Rubicon will also be more linear than recent games from the company, and will be a single-player experience as it stands.

FromSoftware’s decision to return to this mecha series for its next major title springs from a heightened level of confidence following the monumental success of Elden Ring, the studio’s magnum opus.

At the Game Awards, the game received a lavish cinematic trailer. Gone is the FromSoftware of the 2010s with stilted animations and colourless cutscenes. Here is one of the world’s leading game developers and it is hefting its weight behind Armored Core.

The new Armored Core will also have the full might of the company’s current technology at its disposal, and this is a big part of the whole reason Armored Core is returning.

“We wanted to take those original concepts of Armored Core, and we wanted to apply our modern-day company and our modern-day team members and know-how and expertise to those core concepts. And I feel we’re able to capitalize more on that now and able to really make the game that we wanted to make,” said Miyazaki.

He adds that the level of resources and time that the company could dedicate to game development at the time when the previous Armored Core titles were being made was in a completely different ballpark to now.

“I’m extremely jealous of the team today who gets to make this new Armored Core. I wish we had that sort of leverage back in the day.”

Armored Core VI is also set to be the second of the nine titles the company has released in the last 14 years that Miyazaki himself is not in the director’s chair. It joins black sheep Dark Souls II in finding a veteran FromSoftware designer at the helm.

With no Miyazaki and no Soulsborne to build a foundation, it is up to Yamamura and his team to deliver on what sounds like the definitive Armored Core experience – the Armored Core game that FromSoftware have always wanted to make.

The company has learned from its past mistakes. It is seeking to make its future titles more accessible without sacrificing core tenants around difficulty and the focus that difficulty brings.

We are excited about a mech game with high levels of customisation. Especially in the current market which is desperately starved of accessible games in the same vain. No, I won’t be playing Mech Warrior: Mercenaries. That came out in 2019 and you need a load of mods and other settings to make it look decent.

FromSoftware has an uphill battle with Armored Core VI. The game will look great, sound incredible and the customisation will be in-depth and interesting. But we can’t fathom a FromSoftware game without Soulslike combat mechanics. Not one that will keep us coming back. It is their special sauce.

Without it, their games are bland. Something critics have been saying for every Armored Core game that came before. It is why no one cared about King’s Field. Why no one has ever heard about Shadow Assault: Tenchu.

Hopefully, Armored Core VI doesn’t join those names.


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