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Armored Core VI's brutal first boss is all about the horrors and pleasures of climbing The Wall

Armored Core VI, from the minds behind Dark Souls, isn't afraid to hit its players with some tough love

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Image: Bandai-Namco

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There’s a mission, early on in Armored Core VI: Fires Of Rubicon, where you’re told that it’s time to finally climb The Wall. In the context of the game, and its sci-fi story of warring corporations on a far-distant world, that means loading up your (still deeply inadequate) flying robot suit with the best weapons you scrape together with your (also deeply inadequate) early game supplies of cash, tossing yourself into your mech’s battered cockpit, and attempting to take down a deeply imposing, highly fortified mountain stronghold, guarded by one of the game’s first major fights.


Doing so causes your in-game character, Raven, to pick up a nickname that’ll crop up occasionally throughout the rest of your time on Rubicon: The Wallclimber. But while the Juggernaut battle tank you fight at the end of the mission in question can be tricky—forcing you to spend a bit of time thinking about angles of attack, weapon choices, and the many other elements of AC6’s fast-moving, twitch-heavy combat—it’s not really The Wall. The Wall, for most players, will come a few missions later, during “Attack The Watchpoint,” the final mission of the game’s first chapter. The Wall’s official name is BALTEUS. And on at least your first playthrough of Armored Core 6, it will probably consume several hours of your life, burning them away in an inferno of missile fire, launched grenades, and wreathes of flame.

There have been roughly a million things said, over the last decade and change, about the approach to video game difficulty typically preferred by From Software—who have, with Fires Of Rubicon, returned to their beloved mech combat franchise after more than a decade away, spent getting super famous, and super rich, with the Dark Souls franchise of games. Difficulty discourse around From’s games usually comes from a couple of different angles, some argued in obvious good faith—i.e., questions about whether a game series that requires such a high level of physical dexterity to complete is in line with good principles for gaming accessibility—and some, not so much (i.e., the often marketing-driven idea that From’s games are hard simply for the sake of being hard, a sentiment famously exemplified by one of the worst T-shirt designs every crafted by human hands or minds).


The difficulty of From’s games, though, isn’t just a binary of hard and easy, good or bad. (Or “git gud,” which is much, much worse.) It is, instead, a process: A sort of intensive “learn by dying” approach to video game education that trades the steady slope of skill and success that most games offer for one with far more rapid, and extreme, peaks and valleys.


The first time an Armored Core VI player attempts to take down BALTEUS—a flying drone sent after Raven by Rubicon’s resident space cops, the PCA—it’s likely to go very poorly, very quickly, possibly ending in exactly the same amount of time that it takes the robot’s initial salvo of missiles to reach their AC and tear it apart. “Ah-ha!” the player thinks, “Maybe if I approach from the air.” “Oh no,” the player thinks several seconds, and one reload, later, as they desperately pop repair kits to try to stay alive, “These things track like a mother.”

But like so many of From’s most infamous boss fights, BALTEUS is an ode, not to brutal difficulty, but to the sometimes subtle pleasures of experimentation, trial, and error. Armored Core is built for this stuff, almost literally—there’s a reason the game allows you to sell back parts for your robot in its stats-heavy weapons and equipment shop for the exact same price you bought them for, allowing you to construct whatever build you like from your available pool of cash. (Of course, in BALTEUS’ case, going back to the shop means restarting the lengthy mission he’s in entirely—something of a misstep for a game that’s trying to kick the idea of flexibility straight through your head at this point.) Your enemy has a quickly regenerating energy shield? It might be time to swap in some sort of plasma cannon. Missiles moving too fast? Might need to tweak that booster to extend the range of your dodge. Not piling enough damage on when you finally destabilize the flying death dealer? Friend, have you heard the gospel of laser swords?

The same process is happening in the play, as you learn to identify the tells for certain attacks—and the counters that will keep them from ripping you to shreds. (A process that, admittedly, sometimes amounts to trying everything until you stumble into the thing that lets you survive.)

The upshot of all this is that From is, and pretty much always has been, perfectly comfortable kicking their players’ asses—as long as it’s in the interest of them learning how to play their games. (See also the studio’s recent Elden Ring, which is very comfortable pointing players straight at one of its nastiest early bosses, Margit The Fell Omen, in the interest of teaching a lesson in “Sometimes it’s okay to go somewhere else for a while.”) Learning to handle BALTEUS is also learning to handle all sorts of nuances of Armored Core 6’s combat—the importance of dodging, the ways your build contributes to how you fight, the rhythm of when and when not to deploy your weapons in a massive alpha strike. The process isn’t exactly fun, at least not as traditionally understood. But it can be deeply satisfying, as you synthesize more and more understanding about how this game, and this particular enemy, works, slowly accruing mastery, and watching the odds gradually tip in your favor. (On a personal note, I was streaming when I hit BALTEUS—the resulting two-plus hour video serving, essentially, as a record of me going through the full five stages of grief, video game-style, before finally delivering “Acceptance” in the form of one last, desperate swipe of my laser blade.)


And it’s not like the people who label From’s games as masochism simulators don’t have at least a part of a point: To enjoy this process, you have to be someone for whom “grueling video game ordeal” is not an immediate turn-off. (Ditto those who accuse From fans of having essentially contracted Stockholm syndrome for a video game studio.) But there are pleasures inherent to climbing The Wall—and Fires Of Rubicon offers them in abundance.