It’s hours into the events of Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon before you feel a sense of warmth. Until the mission “Operation Wallclimber,” you are nothing but a number, nothing but a hired gun on the other end of barked orders.
In the cold steel garage that is your home on the desolate planet of Rubicon, you are referred to as “dog,” “hound,” and “merc.” Even more dehumanizing nicknames await you later. The closest identities that your character, C4-621, has prior to “Operation Wallclimber” are “Raven,” the identity you’ve stolen, and “Gun 13,” a designation foisted upon you after you killed the guy who would’ve used that name.
But everything changes when Rusty of the Vespers arrives and calls you “buddy.”
[Ed. note: This story contains spoilers for Armored Core 6.]
Rusty is Armored Core 6’s most crush-worthy AC pilot. He’s effortlessly cool, and he’s introduced with appropriate panache: At the Wall, Rusty swoops in riding his Steel Haze mech, and the camera pans up his spindly Nachtreiher AC legs to showcase his emblem, a muzzled wolf. Unlike the rest of the game’s characters, Rusty treats you with respect and camaraderie in your first battle together — during which he also genuinely seems concerned about your well-being. Afterward, he shares private details about that mission as a warning about the corporations’ intentions for you, making Rusty the first character on Rubicon who seems trustworthy.
Whatever impressive feat you pull off in Armored Core 6, no matter how many slo-mo exploding boss battles you walk away from, none of it will match the earned coolness of Rusty saying “I won’t miss” before he skewers your shared opponent with a railgun during the battle against the Ice Worm.
Is it any wonder, then, that players have fallen in love with Rusty, envisioning him as a dashing, rebellious pilot? We never actually see Rusty’s face in Armored Core 6, but every piece of fan art of the man inside Steel Haze looks, to me anyway, 100% accurate.
FromSoftware’s dialogue for Rusty is crafted to make you fall in love with him. He boosts you up (“Walter knows how to pick ’em”; “Glad you’re on my side”; “Stay cool, buddy”) and gives you something to aspire to.
“There’s no graver threat than power without purpose,” Rusty tells you during a mission in which he’s tasked with disposing of 621 under the command of his corporate handlers at Arquebus. While Handler Walter can compel the player to perform missions for his clients, and Ayre can nudge them toward doing the right thing, it’s Rusty who offers 621 a path toward redemption, toward that “purpose,” toward something more than just another job. In the cold, callous world of Armored Core 6, that’s a uniquely humanizing thing.
It’s not until much later in the game, when the reality of two AC pilots working for competing interests comes to a head, that Rusty’s true importance — and true intentions — emerge. Throughout Armored Core 6’s story, those intentions are telegraphed in dialogue and combat logs. Like other FromSoftware games, Rusty’s role in this story isn’t transparent at first, but it’s ultimately revealed that he’s a secret agent working for the Rubicon Liberation Front.
Near the end of the game, when Rusty reappears in a new mech, reborn as Steel Haze Ortus, he bears a different emblem. The wolf is unmasked this time, and depending on certain mission choices and which playthrough players are on, they’ll either fight him or fight alongside him once more, with the force of the Rubiconian resistance behind Rusty and 621.
Rusty’s fate at the end of the game is unclear, as it should be for a man of his cool factor. But regardless of whether Rusty survives the events of Armored Core 6, he’s the one who walks away clean. He’s the hero of this story — not just for his convictions and actions, but for transforming the player into a hero, too.
Stay cool, Rusty.