Best Action 2023: Armored Core 6

 Best action game banner for the game of the year awards 2023.
Best action game banner for the game of the year awards 2023.

FromSoftware's glorious return to mech combat became our pick for the best action on PC this year. For more awards, head to our Game of the Year 2023  page.

Ted Litchfield, Associate Editor: When I fired up Armored Core 6 for the first time, I felt like Milhouse playing Bonestorm in the Simpsons, the protagonist of every '90s videogame ad physically blasted back into their chair by what they were playing. This is one of the best 3D action games I've ever seen, better even than FromSoft's previous dinger, Sekiro. Armored Core 6 is a generous font of flow state kills piloting a 10 meter-tall mech in between the crumbling tenements of an impoverished world.

It's also a surprisingly thoughtful bit of science fiction, casting you as this put-upon cog of an unthinking corporate war machine, the victim of indeterminate, life-altering augmentation surgery who slowly wakes up to their own potential to write the history of planet Rubicon. Armored Core 6 has a similarly abstracted, surreal approach to the mercenary fantasy as Metal Gear Solid 5, and AC6 uses this simultaneously exhilarating and dehumanizing setup as a launchpad for a twisting, mind-bending story that only fully reveals itself after multiple New Game Plus runs.

Wes Fenlon, Senior Editor: During this year's GOTY debate, Ted and I both joked that Armored Core 6 should win Best Story. Neither of us were actually joking. The sci-fi dystopia vibes are impeccable, but it's really the way every branching path plays out across three runs that makes Armored Core 6 so memorable. The way FromSoftware rolls out new story options in your second and third playthroughs dovetails with the power curve, too, which works something like this:

Cool > Ouch > Cooool > Fuuuu > Hell Yes > F@*# you > I. Am. Unstoppable > How the $#*% do I beat that??? > Now I am become mech, and my blade shall pierce the heavens

By my third run, with my mech fully upgraded and my skills sharpened, I was absolutely embarrassing enemies that had once given me trouble. You have not seen a bigger clown than Baltheus, act one's "hard" boss—I sent his Pagliacci ass to therapy. The real elegance—and thrill—of AC6 is that it's always hard to tell how much new mech parts are powering you up, and how much you're sharpening your skills until you ascend to a higher plane of existence. Anyway, best mech game ever made.

Armored Core 6 key art
Armored Core 6 key art

(Image credit: FromSoftware)

Shaun Prescott, Australian Editor: Armored Core 6 didn't win Best Story but if there was a category for Best Atmosphere, it'd have to win. The absence of even the briefest glimpse of an actual flesh world visage has a brilliant cumulative effect. This game is goddamn cold, and as thematically impenetrable as the tank-tread AC I used to trounce most bosses back before FromSoft balanced that build into oblivion. Its landscapes are unutterably bleak, and its moral world daringly hopeless. I didn't love being in this world, but it evoked stronger emotions in me than any other game world this year.

Sean Martin, Guides Writer: As Shaun mentions above, I think the morally bankrupt aspect of AC6's story really appealed to me. I've been watching a lot of Gundam this year; Iron Blooded Orphans, 00, and Witch from Mercury, and the settings have a lot in common in terms of generally being corporate hellscapes occupied by egotistical mech pilots with often elaborate backstories. It definitely helped me appreciate the world even more. I also love how stripped down and functional AC6's narrative feels, almost like a mech itself—just voice logs and hangar shots and anything extraneous burned away.

Ted Litchfield: AC6 really reminded me of Metal Gear Solid 5 in that way. They're both stories that feel so alienated from normal life, with characters lost in the sauce of this mercenary existence that eclipses every unrelated thought and feeling. C4621 and Venom Snake share a similar arc as well, these personality-less automatons that slowly awaken to their own humanity and desires.

God damn maybe we really should have given this one Best Story.