Into the Breach Deep Look
The melding of tactics with roguelike-like gameplay will keep fans of strategy RPGs coming back to fight the Vek over and over again.
Subset Games’ first release FTL: Faster Than Light, a spaceship-based roguelike-like, was an early Kickstarter success that actually delivered a product that lived up to its early promise. For its second game, the developer has kept the randomized elements from FTL but shifted from spaceships to mecha and replaced the real-time strategy aspects with tactical RPG elements. Into the Breach‘s expansion into the RPG sphere, combined with impressive use of an achievement system, results in an addictive and interesting mashup that fans of strategy RPGs should not miss.
Into the Breach is set on a future version of Earth, which is being attacked by giant insect-like beings called the Vek. The only thing stopping the Vek from achieving total domination is a group of time-traveling mech-piloting mercenaries who are jumping from timeline to timeline countering this menace. The story plays into the randomized gameplay premise, and regardless of whether one particular war ends in victory or defeat, there is always another timeline threatened by the Vek.
Each campaign against the Vek begins with players choosing a squad of three mechs and the time traveler that will lead the squad. Both the leader and the mechs have unique abilities, with the mech groups having themes to the weapons they equip. These choices dramatically change gameplay, including those with traditional projectile weapony, those that manipulate enemy positions, those that light the Vek and terrain on fire, and more. Once unlocked, there are eight classes to choose from as well as the option of creating custom squads composed of individual mechs chosen from the different groups.
In order to unlock advanced mechs, Into the Breach uses an achievement system, giving a coin for each accomplishment that can be used to purchase different types of mechs. There are both global achievements as well as specific ones tied to each group of mechs. This achievement system means that, even in a failed campaign, there is still the opportunity to make overall progress by collecting achievements and unlocking new mechs.
Combat itself is turned-based and takes place on an eight-by-eight grid. There are buildings on the map and protecting them from attack is of paramount importance. Each of the buildings is tied into a power grid — this game’s analog to hull strength in FTL — which goes down with every building destroyed. If the power grid is depleted, the Vek are victorious and it’s time to jump to another timeline and try again. Successfully defending buildings results in more cilivians saved and thus a higher score given at the end of each campaign. The score doesn’t have any practical function outside of a single achievement, but it is handy way to judge the success of one war versus another. The higher difficulty options increase the number of civilians available to save while also increasing the number and challenge of the Vek that are faced
While Into the Breach takes the form of a small-scale tactical RPG, with three mechs facing successive waves of Vek burrowing up from the ground each turn until the turn counter reaches zero, the strategy itself is more akin to a multi-layered puzzle than Final Fantasy Tactics. All enemy attacks are telegraphed, with the enemy moving at the beginning of the turn and their targeting being clearly shown on the map. Almost all mech weapons cause friendly fire to other mechs and buildings, so it’s not as simple as walking up to a Vek and firing a massive laser at it. That laser blast may not only kill the Vek but go right through it and into a building, thus killing civilians. Each turn becomes a careful balance of killing enemies, making sure there isn’t any friendly fire, while also trying to plan ahead for the next turn.
Much of the strategy comes down to positioning on both sides, with many weapons’ ability to move enemies proving incredibly useful, especially when combined with environmental effects. For example, most land-based Vek will drown in water without players needing to do any direct damage, and there are many other possible effects that can be taken advantage of. While it may seem simple on the surface, the devilishly difficult scenarios that occur create a challenge on par with the best of the genre. It is incredibly fun to pull out a victory on a map with some cunning moves when defeat otherwise seems certain.
For a short game where a campaign can be completed in under two hours, there is a surprising amount of customization. Mechs gain experience by killing Vek — whether directly, by using the environment, or by maneuvering Vek to attack one another — allowing them to level up and gain abilities. The squad can be further tweaked by acquiring reactor cores to power new weapons, increase HP and movement, or upgrades to existing abilities. These are bought using prestige, which is given for completing certain secondary objectives on missions such as defending certain strategically important buildings. The accumulated prestige must be spent upon completion of the series of maps making up an island on new weapons, repairs to the power grid, and spare reactor cores.
Each conflict occurs across a series of five islands, four of which are controlled by corporations who have manipulated the local climes to have a unique look and feel, and as a result will require different strategies. The corporate-held islands are broken up into eight territories, each with their own secondary objectives beyond outlasting the Vek. There is also strategy in choosing the territory that gives the prestige, power grid repairs, or occasional reactor core that are most beneficial at that moment balanced against the difficulty of the mission. Once four of these territories have been defended, a boss battle occurs where the corporate headquarters must be protected. After two islands have been purged of the Vek menace, the final volcanic island hive can be tackled. This is yet another perilous decision: whether to tackle other islands to buy weapons and upgrade the mechs or try and end the war before the chance for victory is lost.
The story is effective at tying the missions together, but it’s not amazing. Each of the islands have different CEOs and they are the main vehicle for the story. Each of the CEOs, like the islands, has his own personality, sets up missions, and comments on player successes and failures. It’s not a deep plot, but it adds flavor to what otherwise would be a purely mechanical experience.
The pixel-art graphics look excellent, with a great variety of mech designs and environments between the islands. The mechs’ colors can be customized, allowing players to personalize their party. Music is soft and ethereal but fits into the background nicely. There are also well-executed island-specific touches, such as the dust wisping across the barren plains on the desert island that enhance the experience.
After loving the concept of FTL, but ultimately being turned off by the harsh late-game difficulty curve, I’m pleased by how much friendlier Into the Breach is; I won my first run on easy and normal feels like a tough yet fair challenge. It’s also incredibly addictive as Into the Breach is successful at doling out a drip feed of new mechs to try out. There is no sophomore slump here, as Subset Games has kept what worked in FTL and successfully tweaked what didn’t. The melding of tactics with roguelike-like gameplay will keep fans of strategy RPGs coming back to fight the Vek over and over again.