I said in my Armored Core 6 review that I beat the game twice before finally putting it down, and while I enjoyed the subtle story differences of New Game+, I was mostly sticking around to fight more mechs for the fun of fighting more mechs. Not long afterward, I began to hear whispers of a New Game++ which packs way more of a narrative punch, so I dove back in to reach what I assumed to be the true ending. Third time's the charm, right?
Folks, I was not prepared for my third run of Armored Core 6 to be one of my favorite gaming stories of the year, not to mention one of the best NG+ experiences I've had in any game ever. My wishlist for FromSoftware's mecha melee was basically just 1) giant robots and 2) cool weapons on those robots. I definitely got plenty of those, so it was a massive and surprising bonus to also get an evolving narrative that echoes and even rivals Nier Automata's famously layered storytelling. (I'll avoid the big plot points, but minor spoilers ahead for Armored Core 6.)
Pedal to the metal
It's my understanding that this sort of NG+ rollercoaster isn't unusual for Armored Core games, but as a relatively new FromSoftware fan who only knows the developer through the Demon's Souls - Elden Ring era, as future archaeologists will refer to it, I was caught off guard. I thought I knew how FromSoftware operates. I thoroughly enjoyed NG+ in Sekiro and Elden Ring despite the games themselves being functionally unchanged apart from a difficulty bump. That's largely because they're so challenging that flexing my hard-earned mastery over them was immensely satisfying – a victory lap of my own design.
I do get a similar satisfaction in Armored Core 6. The base difficulty doesn't actually ramp up on NG+ but my mech's certainly gotten stronger and I'm now much better at the game, so I annihilate bosses that once gave me hell. Mr. Missiles didn't stand a chance this time, nor did Mecha Malenia. On top of that, there are all-new bosses and missions to face, including a fittingly spirit-crushing true final boss, as well as new weapons and parts to fold into my build. That said, for me the fun here is more about finally overcoming the intensity of it all. It seems so simple now. Armored Core 6 presents a breakneck shift in character action that took some getting used to, but like Neo in The Matrix, my brain has finally acclimated.
It's an oddly serene experience to comfortably breeze through warfare. Missiles fly, bullets rattle my AC, a trusty energy sword hums in my hand, and my paramilitary handler shouts into my radio for the millionth time, but it all bounces off me like water off a duck. I see the lines; I'm beginning to believe. White-knuckled, spray-and-pray franticness is a thing of the past. With practiced precision, I now use minimal ammo and movements to dismantle everything from grunts to enemy leaders. The feeling of grasping order in the chaos of Armored Core's combat is something I've never experienced elsewhere, even in all the Souls RPGs. The closest comparison in my mind is probably memorizing a hectic Destiny 2 raid fight like Oryx the Taken King but on a solo scale, and that is no small praise.
If demolishing bosses on NG+ felt like reciting a book I've memorized, the new story developments of NG++ felt like finding the missing pages of a book I thought I'd read cover-to-cover. Massive new story arcs are introduced, and they start so brilliantly small and simple, little wrinkles on the surface. There's just enough to tell you something is off. One early sign comes in Chapter 1. A rival faction contacts me mid-mission and offers a deal: betray my client for twice the pay. This leads to an abrupt double assassination that reframes my relationship with the forces of Rubicon, and it's the first spark of a fire that will ultimately engulf everyone in the plot, including me. More than anything, this moment tells you how tiny decisions can have huge consequences, and this is a key point with subsequent playthroughs.
At first, I was just automatically and fairly brainlessly choosing any new story options in order to see different stuff. Anybody on Rubicon could've gotten me to do anything if they promised me an alternate mission. But by the end of just the first chapter on NG++, I realized how high the stakes had been raised. I was hungry to see what would happen next in a way I wasn't on my first two clears. NG+ was good, but it felt like the other side of the same coin – 80% old and maybe 20% new at best. You kind of just see the same things from a new angle. NG++ is a whole other beast. It's 100% and then 30% more added on top, and that extra bit is the sweetest.
You get the sense that they've been watching you the entire time you've been playing
It's not just that NG++ introduces new characters, missions, and bosses. The secret sauce is the way that familiar missions mutate on the fly. This had me hooked, constantly watching for the next change. Sometimes these changes are massive and obvious. In one mission, I ended up defending the land tank I'd been hired to attack in my previous two playthroughs. Well, I was supposed to defend it, but when I arrived it had already been destroyed by someone else. Among other things, this led to a fight with – I shit you not – an army of the mech equivalent of Dark Souls' infamous wheely skeletons. Hidetaka Miyazaki truly cannot help himself. This moment was a gigantic swerve for the narrative and the combat – two scoops of new content at once.
I soon got to another mission with a much better-hidden deviation. A whole new character popped out of nowhere right at the end, just when I thought I was finished and we were still in normal territory. She went on to become one of my favorites of the cast due to the way she treats your character, Raven, and her introduction came with an epilogue boss battle that set up yet another left turn for a much later mission. New beats are regularly teased between payoff for existing story threads, and the cadence of the mystery kept me guessing. The best part is slowly unraveling this entity lurking in the backdrop, especially because you get the sense that they've been watching you the entire time you've been playing. At this point I'm well over 40 hours into what I thought would be a 15-hour game, and I genuinely can't believe Armored Core 6 just keeps pulling more rabbits out of its hat.
Armored Core 6 begins as a fairly straightforward war story about a tragic soldier doing the dirty work of whoever has the deepest pockets. As you get on the rails of the true ending, it shifts into this cat-and-mouse thriller where you're feeling out enemy forces and wondering who you'll betray next and how. You have exactly one true friend in this war, and even their motivations aren't clear. It's much more compelling and unsettling than anything else I've seen from FromSoftware – in no small part because it's actually a coherent, in-your-face narrative and not a bunch of world-building barely held together with ethereal sadness. The big finale is simultaneously hilarious, epic, stupid, fitting, and breathlessly intense, and it's absolutely a must-see.