Into the Breach Review
Published on March 9, 2018
Into the Breach
Release Date: February 27, 2018
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux (Played on Windows)
Developer: Subset Games
Publisher: Subset Games
2012’s sleeper indie hit FTL: Faster Than Light captivated gamers with its spaceship roguelike gameplay. Five years later, the devs at Subset Games have increased the stakes from saving your ship to saving your planet.
Into the Breach is a turn-based strategy game that pits a squad of three player-controlled mechs against a race of aliens called the Vek. At first glance, the game seems like a strange chess-roguelike hybrid. Each battle begins with your three mechs landing on the battlefield. The primary objective is simple: protect the cities from damage and keeping your power level high. If a city takes damage in a mission, your power level is lowered. Lose all your power and its game over.
Each battle takes place on an 8-by-8 grid where the goal is to either destroy all attacking Vek or survive a set number of turns at which point all remaining Vek will flee. Each turn allows a unit to be moved once and take one action, such as attacking or repairing. However, Into the Breach puts a unique spin on the turn-based strategy genre by having the enemies telegraph their attacks for the next turn. This provides a more reactive experience with the goal of preventing any damage to your cities.
Mechs are equipped with a variety of weapons and gadgets to assist the player. Unlike most strategy games, killing every enemy is not a viable option as most mechs are not strong enough to kill them in one hit. Instead, mechs are equipped with weapons that push, pull, or rotate units as well. Like in a game of chess, Into the Breach teaches the player that positioning is critical. When starting out, players might focus on pushing enemy units, so they attack thin air as opposed to a city. As the player gains more experience with the mechanics, the game encourages employing more advanced tactics such as redirecting enemies to attack one another.
At the start of each turn, visual indications on the playing grid will notify players that an enemy will spawn from that tile on the next turn. However, if a unit is on top of the tile, the enemy unit will be blocked from spawning at the cost of minor damage to the unit on top. This mechanic is crucial to preventing your three mechs from becoming overwhelmed. The game also includes other support abilities such as shields to prevent damage or smoke storms to stop units from attacking.
The beauty of the gameplay comes from the premise that every action in the game is straightforward and predictable. Players begin each turn assessing the situation and planning every move. When the plan executes, the player can watch it unfold like a coordinated dance routine. The game also includes the ability to reset your turn once per battle, which has saved me from frustration many times after a minor oversight when planning out my turn.
Protecting your cities is not the only objective as battles also come with bonus challenges that provide rewards if completed. The most common rewards are a currency called Reputation and Energy. Reputation can be used to buy new weapons or passive abilities for your mechs. It can also be used to buy extra Energy or reactor cores for a higher price; a resource that is used to upgrade your mech’s weapons or abilities. Bonus objectives vary from battle to battle and add a sense of choice as the rewards will vary based on the situation you are in. Additionally, as you progress through an island (a series of missions), you must make decisions on which rewards you want to fight for as you are limited to partaking in only 5 of the eight battles on each island.
Since resources are limited, you must make key decisions on what you want to invest in. Do you focus on power cores to make your weapons deal high damage, or on passive skills like the ability to freeze enemies in place? Sometimes it may be beneficial to sacrifice some power to fulfill a bonus objective and get more Reputation with the hopes of buying a shiny new weapon.
Each mech starts with a pilot that can gain unique traits such as increased HP or attacking twice in one turn. Pilots gain these traits by killing enemies and leveling up. If you end up losing a mech, the game will allow you to use it after the battle has ended but the pilot will not be able to survive the event. Replacing them is a robot with no beneficial traits. The game also introduces a time machine mechanic where at the end of each run (successful or not) you can send one of your pilots back through time making them available to use on your next playthrough. Highly experienced pilots that have been through many runs will display their veteran status by showing the number of victories they have been through.
In total, there are eight unlockable pre-assembled squads to choose from with varying powers that alter your strategy. For example, the “Rusting Hulks” squad focuses on using smoke storms, with a bonus passive ability that causes smoke storms to deal damage to enemy units. For those who like to experiment, the game includes two extra squads. One is a random squad chosen with units from your unlocked mechs, and the other allows the player to form a squad from any three mechs. Each team, even the custom ones, comes with a unique set of challenges that award the player with coins upon completion that they can use to unlock new squads and mechs. The replayability doesn’t stop there; the game scores each run and places it on a leaderboard to push players to compete for the top. The addition of a hard mode not only brings a greater trial but adds a score multiplier for those who are looking to max out their points.
Perhaps cheesy, Into the Breach evokes a feeling that only the best strategy games can accomplish: it makes me feel smart. The game has a way of making some turns feel like an impossible bind that you cannot escape from. But ten minutes later, you can see a move that unravels the tangled puzzle that manifests on the playing field. The game’s ability to make you think outside the box and consider all your options makes for some of the most satisfying gameplay in any recent strategy game. Each turn feels like an elaborate puzzle to solve, and the goal of completing a perfect mission makes the game both stressful yet addicting. With a variety of mechs to choose from combined with focused gameplay, Into the Breach has enough replayability to last another five years. Hopefully, Subset Games won’t make us wait this long until its next release.