I was pretty excited when I got my hands on Into the Breach, being a big fan of turn-based strategy games in general. The last title under Subset Games’ belt, FTL: Faster Than Light, was generally well-regarded by gamers as a whole, including myself. As a result, I was eager to sink my teeth into their newest offering, ready to dump countless hours into it [as I did with FTL].
Sadly, while I’m far from calling ITB a bad game, it ultimately fails to have the same staying power that FTL achieved.
Into the Breach
Publisher: Subset Games
Developer: Subset Games
Platform: PC (Reviewed)
Release Date: Feb 27th, 2018
Players: 1 Player
As far as first impressions go, I was in love with Into the Breach‘s presentation. The graphics are simple, but alluring. The mech designs, while somewhat derivative, are still cool to look at, especially when they’re shooting projectiles or punching aliens. It really captures the calamitous feel of something like Pacific Rim, where mankind is on the brink of destruction due to spooky kaiju.
The music is also something special. Ben Prunty returns as the composer, putting together an impressive soundtrack to really sell the experience. I loved his work on FTL, so to see him return in such brilliant form did a lot to initially suck me into Into the Breach. Seriously, go on Youtube and check out the OST.
Hearing that Chris Avellone contributed to the writing in this game excited me at first, but that quickly soured when I realized just how little story there actually is. Apart from some dialogue, there is almost zero narrative going on here. “Humanity uses mechs to fight an army of giant monsters called the Vek.” That’s about it.
Thankfully, the solid gameplay distracts from that. Into the Breach‘s battles take place on four different islands, with a 5th unlocking after you’ve cleared two of them. This last map contains the final battle, a climactic event with your pilots planting explosives to cripple the Vek menace.
Combat itself is fairly fun and engaging. Rather than having to set up for your enemy’s attack, the game has the Vek taking their turns before you, and forces you to react to them. While your abilities are instant, theirs are delayed, and always telegraph what tiles they’re going to be threatening when the turn concludes.
This is such a simple concept, but it really works. You’ll deploy onto the battlefield, with citizens cheering your pilots on. Aliens will try to destroy your mechs, but also the buildings containing said citizens. You have to manage how much damage you let them take, since every building destroyed takes out a chunk of your Power Grid. If it hits zero, it’s game over.
Your Power Grid is not restored at the end of the battle, but your mechs are repaired, so oftentimes it’s better to take a hit on one of your pilots than it is to lose a building. Unfortunately, if your mech is destroyed, the driver is permanently lost in that playthrough. Mechs can still be used without a pilot, but they lose out on any abilities that pilot may have had.
Once you’ve cleared a map, you’re able to spend any influence points you’ve earned completing missions to unlock reactor cores, abilities, and new pilots.
Reactor cores can be slotted into your mechs to increase the effectiveness of their abilities, and are definitely one of the more useful things to spend your ‘money’ on. The amount of difference a few points of extra damage makes in this game is huge, and having your big piercing laser not hurt allies is a godsend in certain engagements.
Buying abilities is…rarely worth it, honestly. They don’t cost much, but they also don’t do much. This is one of my biggest issues with Into the Breach: your overall power level doesn’t increase enough throughout the game. In other similar titles, your prowess will rise exponentially by buying certain new weapons or items. Not so much in this game.
The pilots also don’t make much of an impact. Sure, their abilities might be useful in certain scenarios, but barring one or two of the more useful heroes, they all accomplish about the same thing. You aren’t drastically changing your playstyle with any of the pilots, and none of them have memorable enough quips to even qualify as likable.
Remember when I said the game unlocks a 5th map for you to complete after finishing two others? Well, you might think the right thing to do is to clear all the other maps first, before tackling the big finish. It makes sense, since that’s generally what you would do in any other game.
This is not the case in Into the Breach, however. The final fight scales to your power level, meaning there’s no reason to complete the other two levels, save for the achievements. These maps also never change. Despite the game claiming they’re randomly generated, which is technically true, you’re still playing the same types of encounters over and over again.
These issues seriously hinder the overall experience—instead of feeling more powerful as you play, you feel pretty much the same throughout the whole game. Instead of feeling eager to start another playthrough, you just know it’s going to feel the same as the last. Unlocking new mechs is great, sure, but some of them have suspiciously similar abilities, and I didn’t feel like any of them drastically changed the way I played.
I gave Into the Breach about ten hours of my time, and while I don’t feel like that time was wasted, I also have no desire to go back and play it again. After one or two playthroughs, you’ll have seen just about everything the game has to offer. It’s such a shame, since I feel like the strategy gameplay on display here is fantastic. If only the rest of the game mirrored how strong the core experience was.
Into the Breach was reviewed on PC using a review copy provided by Subset Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 7
- Satisfying, challenging strategy gameplay
- Great soundtrack
- Smooth presentation, charming graphics
- Almost no feeling of progression
- Surprisingly little replay value
- Upgrades and new pilots do little to change up the formula
- Maps are the same every time, with little variety in the ‘random generation’
- Final battle scales to your level, making completing other maps pointless