Also, giant insects.
I didn’t realize that I was going to lose two of my mechs until I’d already clicked the end turn button. It was entirely my fault. I’d been so focused on destroying the Vek, protecting my power supply, and moving my units into the position to do the most damage that I’d completely forgotten about the volcano. My artillery and cannon mechs were sitting on spaces that would be consumed by fire the next turn. Everything on those spaces, Vek or human, would die instantly. And I didn’t realize it until I ended my turn.
I’d like to tell you that they died gloriously, but there’s nothing glorious about molten lava raining down on your head because you moved to the wrong square. They died because I was careless. The next turn, more Vek spawned. Soon, my Prime mech, the toughest and most Gundamy in my arsenal, was overwhelmed. I had two choices: abandon this timeline and start over with my only remaining pilot, who would keep all of his experience and unlocked abilities, or stay here and watch the Vek methodically tear him apart. I beamed him up, and back in time, as his mech sunk lifelessly to the ground and the island was overrun by Vek. I promised myself that I would never lose to an environmental condition again.
Before I tell you what happened next, let me go back to the beginning. Into the Breach is the second game from Subset Games, the two-man studio that developed FTL: Faster Than Light, for my money the best indie game of the last generation. If you haven’t played it, FTL was a strategy-heavy Rogue-like that had you shepherd a Federation starship with priceless intel away from a pursuing Rebel starfleet. Think Star Wars if the Empire was the good guys.
"Into the Breach’s set-up is just as simple: you command of the Rift Walkers, a time-traveling group of mech pilots trying to defend what remains of a future Earth from an invasion of big bugs known as the Vek."
Into the Breach’s set-up is just as simple: you command of the Rift Walkers, a time-traveling group of mech pilots trying to defend what remains of a future Earth from an invasion of big bugs known as the Vek. To do that, you’ll need to liberate islands controlled by various factions and then launch an assault on the Vek’s Hive. Succeed and you successfully defend the human race. Fail and the timeline is wiped out. The twist is that, if you fail, you’ll get to take one of your surviving pilots, and all of their experience, back with you to try again.
The story’s pretty simple, but all it’s supposed to do is lay the groundwork for what you’re getting into. The real appeal of Into the Beach is its gameplay, which varies significantly based on the team of mechs you choose. Initially, you’ll only get one group, consisting of a Prime (think an actual mech) that punches things really hard, a Brute (secondary mech that isn’t quite as powerful as a Prime, but still holds its own) mech that’s essentially a big tank, and a Support mech (specializes in moving Vek or doing something like freezing them over damage) that serves as your long range artillery.
Each mech also starts with a pilot. One is the pilot of your choice, provided you have them unlocked, or the one you carried over from a previous timeline. These pilots come equipped with a unique ability: the first one you obtain gains experience more quickly than other pilots, while another adds armor to his mech, negating one damage from enemy attacks, and another allows him to deploy anywhere on the map and damage any enemies he is next to, and so on. You’ll also get a couple of generic pilots to help you out. They can level up, too, but they don’t any special abilities.
"Picking your battles is important. You won’t be able to defend each part of an island, so you’ll have to prioritize the missions you pick, and the path you travel, with the rewards each mission offers."
Protecting your pilots is key because while you mechs can’t “die” (losing all of their health just disables them for the remainder of the current mission), your pilots can. If a mech goes down, its pilot dies. Mechs can function without a pilot, but they won’t get any additional skills that those pilots provide, and you’ll probably need them if you want to finish a particular run.
You start at one of four islands, which are broken up into segments that represents a particular mission. Mission objectives vary pretty wildly. Some might task you with defending a cargo train or protecting certain buildings or additional units that you can control, and others might have you destroy certain parts of the terrain or kill a specific type of or number of Vek. Completing these objectives will reward you with reputation with that island’s faction which can be spent on buying upgrades for your mechs or power for your Power Grid (more on that later) once you complete that island. There’s also bonus objectives in the form of Time Pods, which are supplies sent from other timelines that can contain anything from mech upgrades to new pilots. Complete enough missions, and you’ll have to protect the island’s HQ from a boss Vek and his flunkies.
Picking your battles is important. You won’t be able to defend each part of an island, so you’ll have to prioritize the missions you pick, and the path you travel, with the rewards each mission offers. No matter what you do, you have to balance protecting your mechs and their pilots with completing mission objectives and protecting the Power Grid, which supplies the Eath’s buildings and loses power when one is destroyed. If the Grid goes down, it’s game over.
"Once a Vek selects a direction to attack in, it will attack whatever is in that space no matter what – mech, building, or yes, even other Vek. The thing with Into the Breach is that it’s not just about using your mechs to squash bugs; it’s really a game of positioning."
While your mechs are capable of moving and attacking in a single turn, the Vek aren’t. They can move, but they’ll have to wait till the next turn to attack. Once they select a direction to attack in, they will attack whatever is in that space no matter what – mech, building, or yes, even other Vek. The thing with Into the Breach is that it’s not just about using your mechs to squash bugs; it’s really a game of positioning.
Attacking a Vek doesn’t just do damage; most weapons will also push them in the direction you’re attacking them. Attack a Vek from the top, and it will be pushed down, while attacking one from the right will push it left, and so on. Not only can you push Vek off of the map, onto spaces with environmental dangers (which also let you know where they’ll be a turn before), or into water or lava, which kills most Vek instantly, you can also push them into mountains, buildings, your mechs, other Vek, or another Vek’s attack. You can also push a Vek out of the way of a vulnerable building or mech.
The best part is, many of these stack together. Got three Vek in a row? Attacking one from the right angle will ensure that they all take damage, and will kill the initial Vek outright if you hit it with the right attack. You can even push a Vek on top of where another Vek will spawn, ensuring that it takes damage and the new bug is trapped underground. You can also manipulate their AI. Want a Vek to stand on an environmental hazard that’ll go off next turn? Put a mech right next to it. Odds are, that Vek will stand there just to take a swing at you.
"Do you sacrifice a mission objective to send a mech after a Time Pod in the hopes of getting a new pilot? How will you manage this mission’s environmental hazards? All of these choices are available to you at any given time, and you’ll have to make some hard choices."
You’ll want to use the ability to combo as much as you can while protecting your mechs, Power Grid, and trying to accomplish the bonus objectives, which raises some interesting questions: do you throw your armored Prime unit in front of a building to absorb a long range Vek attack or use it to kill another Vek? Do you use your artillery unit to damage a Vek, or fire it at the space in front of it, so that it gets pushed into your own mech? Both will take damage, but you’ll kill the Vek instantly. Do you allow a Vek to destroy a building, or try to punch it into that building for the extra damage and hope the building holds because your Power Grid provides strong defense? Do you sacrifice a mission objective to send a mech after a Time Pod in the hopes of getting a new pilot? How will you manage this mission’s environmental hazards? All of these choices are available to you at any given time, and you’ll have to make some hard choices. Luckily, you get to reset an entire turn if you mess up, but only once per mission.
And I haven’t even gotten into the other mechs and weapons you can unlock. Into the Breach asks you to manage a lot, but it’s never oppressive or overwhelming. The game systems are pretty simple, and it’s easy to learn what everything does. But the sheer amount of strategy on display is impressive. Even the upgrade paths you choose for your mechs adhere to this philosophy. Do you want to spend the extra reactor power you unlock on damage, health, movement, or another weapon? How about a special ability for your pilot? And which pilot’s abilities work best with what mech? This is the kind of game you can play for years.
Yes, it can be unforgiving. There’s nothing worse than getting to the endgame and losing. But unlike FTL, you’re not starting from scratch. Assuming you kept a pilot alive, you’ve got someone with experience to lead the next charge, and you’d probably learned how to manipulate the Vek into standing where you want and what to prioritize. Each new timeline is a learning experience and an opportunity to try a new starting pilot or a new team of mechs, and to take another shot at those blasted bugs.
"Throw in some gorgeous sprite art, quality character writing that gives each character a personality, a wonderful soundtrack, and adaptable difficulty (you can advance to the endgame after doing just two of the four islands, and the game scales accordingly) and you’ve got a hell of a strategy game."
Throw in some gorgeous sprite art, quality character writing that gives each character a personality, a wonderful soundtrack, and adaptable difficulty (you can advance to the endgame after doing just two of the four islands, and the game scales accordingly) and you’ve got a hell of a strategy game that combines the simplicity of Advance Wars with the long-term complexity of Fire Emblem or X-Com.
Some may feel that the game lacks a long-term challenge since the only thing to do once you’ve finished it is try to finish it with a different group of mechs or a different starting pilot, but those criticisms could be leveled at FTL, too. The core of Into the Breach stands strong, and that should be enough. As for my next run after the volcano debacle? I cleared it pretty easily. And then I went back to the start, to do it all again.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Excellent art and music. String emphasis on strategy and player choice. Mechanics are easy to learn and hard to master. Adaptable difficulty. Being able to keep one pilot is a nice touch. Strong characters and worldbuilding. Lots of mechs to unlock and customize.
Doesn't have the sheer variety of FTL.
Strong art and music combine with excellent mechanics and an emphasis on strategy and players choice to create one of the best strategy games in years.