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After years of 'good enough' PC ports, Armored Core 6 is the first game in FromSoftware's history truly born for mouse and keyboard

 Armored Core 6 - AC close-up
Armored Core 6 - AC close-up

I've spent too much time musing over the logistics of how one would pilot a mecha: how to upscale the automatic process of human movement, translating the locomotor system into the bare minimum configuration of buttons, joysticks, and throttles. Armored Core 6 has totally upended my thinking on this very important subject and the hyper advanced cockpit tech I once imagined.

Now I think Armored Core's pilots are probably just using keyboard and mouse.

I became convinced of the superiority of Armored Core 6's KB+M controls during a campaign mission a few hours in, when I made first contact with the Planetary Closure Administration. Deftly evading streams of missiles and sweeping laser beams by quick boosting with the shift key, flicking the mouse to hot swap between targets with a precision that channeled mecha's finest ace pilots, and carefully pacing out my barrage of ranged attacks, all bound to mouse buttons...

I was on some psycho-frame shit, sync rate ∞, becoming one with the controls in a way that I so rarely do with videogames.

Armored Core backwards controller grip
Armored Core backwards controller grip

There's a meme in the Japanese Armored Core community about how the ideal way to hold the controller is backwards, all your digits awkwardly spiderwebbed across the face of the pad. Even as a joke, the benefits are hard to brush off—in prior Armored Core games, you'd have to lift your thumb off the right stick or face buttons to reach the other, losing precious milliseconds that start to add up in the higher bracket of arena matches.

Armored Core 6's controller presets all have some kind of tradeoff too: mounting your weapon inputs to the triggers and shoulder buttons leaves jumping and quick boosting isolated on the A and B buttons, and moving those to the shoulder buttons renders coordinated bombardment with shoulder weapons awkward and difficult to pace.

I found that Armored Core 6's demand that players develop a mastery of both movement and attack pacing makes the mouse and keyboard a natural fit. For me, it all came down to having all of my attack inputs on the mouse, letting me freely jump, quick boost, circle strafe, and shoot simultaneously. Playing on a controller, I'd be limited to two, maybe three concurrent actions.

Leaping between and on top of buildings, chaining evasive dodges into assault boosts, and following through with an earth-rending drop kick feels great, too. Being able to easily control your mecha's facing with a mouse allows for more precise movement.

Here's a battle against two tough ACs that particularly highlights controlling the camera with a mouse.

There's a balance From Software has struck with movement in Armored Core 6 that's a big part of why it feels so good to control—your AC has momentum, yes, but that momentum can be canceled, instantly reversed by the firing of thrusters that activate with this crushing, air sucking thwump, veering your mecha onto a new trajectory with a heft that evokes a freight train switching tracks at breakneck pace. You skate across the ground Armored Trooper VOTOMS-style, kicking up a shrieking inferno of sparks and shrapnel. Adjusting your course in one direction has your AC lean into the turn like it’s on roller skates, igniting peripheral thrusters on the opposite side to heave the steel behemoth.

All these visual effects make the movement of your own AC instantly readable in the fevered pitch of battle.

There's some depth from previous Armored Core games lost in this update with the axing of the "turn speed" stat, which means that your AC will always rotate to face the direction of your mouse cursor at the same lightning quick speed. This compromise does mean that your AC loses a bit of heft, and can, at times, feel a bit more like a character and less like a war machine, but after running through NG & NG+, I'm convinced the increased responsiveness is well worth it.

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Armored Core 6 control options
Armored Core 6 control options

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Armored Core 6 control options
Armored Core 6 control options

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Armored Core 6 control options
Armored Core 6 control options

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Armored Core 6 control options
Armored Core 6 control options

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Armored Core 6 control options
Armored Core 6 control options

One control issue I'd like to see patched in is the ability to activate core expansions with a single input, rather than the awkward pinky & index finger cramping default "CTRL+R". While both keys can be rebound, there's no way to bind them to a singular key press. This limitation is in line with From's previous PC releases, and there's still no option to bind one command to multiple key options. Static input assignment for hold functions were an annoying fixture of Elden Ring's controls, and they're even more annoying in a game that feels like it's just a few tiny tweaks away from fully thriving on KB+M. While Elden Ring was playable with mouse and keyboard, Armored Core 6 is the developer's first game to feel truly natural on PC.

Better, even.

It all came together in a moment of unadulterated bliss when the PCA Suppression Ship swung back around for a second pass, my ammo and repair kits all but exhausted. My fingers fluttered across my keyboard, purging the empty rifle and bottomed out missile pod to get more speed and more thrust, empowering me to overboost onto the deck of the charging battleship before it could fan out its network of point defense drones. Touching down and skating across the top deck between anti-air craft guns like slalom flags to gore a steel rod through the bridge felt so elegant and natural that it was like I had done it a hundred times before.

I'm unconvinced that I could have pulled this off chained to the tyrannical yoke of a gamepad—a breakthrough for a FromSoftware PC release, alongside that 120 fps option and ultrawide monitor support. It's now hard to imagine playing Armored Core any other way.