Developer: Subnet Games
Publisher: Subnet Games
Platform: Windows 10
Time: 35 hours (at the time of writing)
Marketed off the success of Faster Than Light, Into The Breach is Subnet Games’ latest offering. It is a strategy game where players command a squad of three piloted mechs each possessing unique abilities. You’re goal is to defend against an invasion from a race of giant bug creatures called the Vek. The hook of the game is that each turn players are shown exactly what actions the enemy are going to take. While it may sound easy, failing to plan ahead with positioning of both your own and the enemy units can result in your squad being overrun. You’ll fight in several objective based missions across five different islands, each featuring unique environment mechanics. Into The Breach also has rogue-like elements with repeated runs having randomized upgrades that can be purchased throughout. Progress will be lost if you fail to defend the local population, but you’ll be able to send one of your pilots to another timeline to try again.
The thing I liked most with Into The Breach was how its mechanics build a game around positioning. As previously stated, all enemy movements and attacks are shown to the player before they begin their turn. This results in a more reactive style of play where you’re tasked with preventing potential incoming damage. Most of the mechs start off fairly weak, so simply killing all the Vek isn’t a feasible strategy. However, many of the abilities allow for foes to be moved or disabled, which lends itself to strategy built around positioning. For example, the cryo launcher weapon allows a mech to freeze a distant Vek, while also freezing themselves. The frozen Vek will be stuck in ice until it is freed, which prevents it from continuing to act. Your mech will also be stuck until it is broken out, or is defrosted on the following turn. While at first this may seem unfavourable, consider that your mech could be moved into the line of fire, preventing a city from being hit by a ranged assault, before it is frozen. The icy shell will protect the mech from damage, breaking upon impact, thus the player doesn’t need to spend an additional action melting it.
Emphasis on positioning is further bolstered by how Vek reinforcements arrive into battle. Every turn new foes will be marked burrowing up to the surface. On the following turn an enemy unit will emerge to join the encounter. However, if the spot where the Vek are trying to tunnel up is covered then they will be unable to do so. The cost for this is a point of damage to whatever happens to be blocking. Using the different movement based abilities, in tandem with how players position their mechs, can see them using the Vek to block their own reinforcements. It is made even sweeter by the Vek taking damage in the process.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention that moving foes can be leveraged to make the Vek attack each other. As an example, four cities are under attack and you only have three actions across your squad. Initially it may seem like at least one city will be attacked. However, were you to move one of the Vek into the attacking range of another then you could have the enemy doing your dirty work for you. Focusing on how units are positioned results in a strategy game designed around testing the player’s ability to respond to immediate threats, while preventing future ones. When everything works out just right it is deeply satisfying and it is through all of the previously mentioned mechanics that positioning plays a vital role within Into The Breach.
The final element of Into The Breach I’d like to mention is how achievements integrate with the game. Each squad has their own unique selection of side objectives that can be completed to earn an achievement. Doing so grants coins that can be used to purchase additional squads for future attempts. What I liked so much about this was that each achievement felt like an extra side objective within the game. The tangible reward of unlocking new mech squads was a strong incentive to look for opportunities to set up and complete the various challenges. Having a reward to earn made achievements feel like an integral piece of the full experience.
The first problem I have with Into The Breach is repetition. Players are going to become very familiar with the different elements of the game because the short, repeated runs. The worst offender for litany is the different enemies with there being only a limited selection on offer. In a given run I saw the same pool of standard Vek such as scorpions, hornets, and fireflies on several of the islands. While the specialized baddies changed, it still feels like you’re fighting a lot of the same bugs across a full campaign.
In addition to the enemies, there is also a lot of repetition in the missions. Each of the islands features a group of unique missions alongside generic shared missions. However, specialized missions on each island will always be the same in repeated runs. The desert island will always have a mission with a terraforming machine, the historic island will always have a satellite launch, the ice island will always have a mission with snow storms, etc. In conjunction with the lack of different enemy types, the use of the same missions can lead to a feeling of repetition across Into The Breach.
The final point of contention I have is how drastically the difficulty can fluctuate due to luck. Each squad starts with a very limited ability pool that can be upgraded over the course of a campaign. New equipment and pilots can be found throughout, but which ones are available is completely random. As a result, how challenging the game is changes immensely with the right upgrades. For example, while using the squad that damage themselves when they attack, but heal when they kill an enemy I was given a pilot who passively had three additional hit points, and another who had defensive armor. These passive abilities entirely mitigated the concern of incurring residual damage as I attacked, which drastically reduced the challenge of the squad. Because of how the core of Into The Breach relies on thoughtful strategy, I found it frustrating how difficulty could be altered so much by luck.
Into The Breach is a game I easily recommend. The focus on positioning and all of the accompanying mechanics makes for a very engaging strategy game. The achievements also helped to add some additional challenge to each of the different squads. While the game is repetitive, that was only a minor gripe as I still enjoyed playing it for thirty five hours. Chance altering how well a run can go was my big sticking point with Into The Breach, but I still found it thoroughly enjoyable to play. Seeing everything fall perfectly into place never stopped being compelling, and Into The Breach has become my new rogue-like of choice.
Written in memory of TotalBiscuit. You will be missed.