Everyone has a genre or two of fiction that simply does not appeal to them. Whether it is because they find the setting to be boring or cliche, or the stories to be too unbelievable or too mundane, I’d venture to guess that everyone reading can think of that one concept that simply never grabs your attention. For me, there’s a few genres like this. You’d be hard pressed to get me to watch any film heavily focused on space travel or aliens. It doesn’t matter if it’s a realistic documentary about astronaut life or an action movie of planet-jumping space warriors – the space exploration subgenre of science fiction holds no appeal for me. In gaming titles about giant mechs such as the upcoming Daemon X Machina or the Wii U’s Xenoblade Chronicles X are games I tend to stay away from. So you can imagine my original disinterest when I heard about Into the Breach, an indie game by Subset Games about giant robots fighting aliens.
When I first heard about Into the Breach I decided to pass on the title. “That’s not for me,” I said, “next game, please.” But I kept hearing about it. I saw screenshots of the grids where gamers were trying to figure out the best strategy for a specific combination of enemies, noticed a few streamers featuring the game on Twitch. The fact that it was a strategy game enticed me a bit, and it helped that it was a strategy game that seemed to be resonating with a number of players. Still, it wouldn’t be until the Game Awards, where Into the Breach was nominated for Best Indie Game and won Best Strategy Game, that I would finally decide I needed to add the title to my list of games to purchase.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long after the Game Awards to catch the title on sale. I picked up Into the Breach for $10 during the Nintendo Switch January sale and booted it up the next evening while taking a break from Smash Ultimate’s World of Light. To say I got lost in the game would be an understatement – what I anticipated to be a quick tryout before bed became a four-and-a-half hour session of strategy battles that saw me beating the game for the first time at around 3 AM. With Into the Breach, though, beating the game for the first time is only the beginning of your alien-blasting journey. So today I’ll share my impressions from my first runthrough of the game in anticipation of many, many more.
Into the Breach is the sort of game that throws you directly into the action. You start a profile, get a quick glimpse at your first mech pilot, and then dive right into your first battle against the alien insectoid force known as the Vek. The story introduction of the game is quite brief – basically, you’re a time traveler trying to prevent an apocalypse brought on by an alien race of bugs. The setting is a group of four “corporate islands” near the hidden Vek nest. These islands are ran by CEOs who maintain the power grids which provide energy to your mech warriors. Protecting them from the Vek is the last hope for humanity.
Before your first Vek battle you get an opportunity to try out a tutorial to get a hang of the game’s basics. Into the Breach is a turn-based strategy title, so if you’ve played games like Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy Tactics, or Mario + Rabbids you’ll be in familiar territory here. You have three mech units in your team each with its own pilot. On your turn each mech has one movement and one action. Movement cells are based on mech and pilot abilities, and action types are based on the weapons you have equipped to your mech. When your turn is over, the Vek take their actions and set up for the next round. It’s a simple premise made all the more interesting by one difference from typical strategy games – you know exactly what your opponent is going to do.
At the beginning of each turn, the Vek move into attack position and indicate where they are going to attack. Their targets vary from mission to mission – they could strike at buildings to wreck the power grid, try to destroy your mechs directly, or hit other strategic points such as supply trains or time capsules sent by other time travelers. During your turn, your goal is to prevent the Vek from carrying out their attack by either killing them or moving them into new positions with your attacks. When a Vek aiming at a building is pushed one square to the side, for example, they may end up shooting at an empty square or a mountain or something instead.
This strategy of moving the Vek around the battlefield is the meat and potatoes of Into the Breach, as there are lots of considerations to make and plenty of Vek that change up the formula. Some Vek cover a wide area with their attack so pushing them a single square won’t stop them from hitting their target. Others position themselves so that pushing them a certain direction will put another significant target in their line of fire. And in addition to the active Vek on the battlefield, you always have to worry about the ones who are about to emerge from the ground. You can stop them from getting out by placing a mech on the rumbling square, but that causes damage to your machine over time and it won’t always be the ideal position for you to execute your own attacks.
The ideal situation each round is to put the Vek in places where they will tear themselves apart. Pushing one Vek into the path of another’s attack will cause it to take damage when the attacks are executed – if you can set two up to both aim at each other, that’s even better. You can also position the Vek over the tiles where their reinforcements are about to emerge so that they’ll stop the second wave from coming while also taking the damage from the effort. When you find yourself having the opportunity to pull it off these are great strategies to employ. On the other end of the spectrum, though, are situations where you have to choose the lesser of two evils.
Each map has multiple fail states as well as bonus objectives for you to complete. You can lose if all of your mechs are destroyed or if the power grid is shut down completely – either of these outcomes mean a game over for you. But bonus objectives are significant because they earn you reputation among the corporate islands, and this reputation serves as currency which allows you to gain rewards after the island is saved. Bonus objectives can also restore your power grid or get your reactor cores to upgrade your mechs. When all of these things – your mechs, your buildings, and your rewards – are threatened at the same time, you sometimes have to choose which one you are most willing to put at risk in the current situation.
Luckily, you have some pretty powerful resources on your side of the map. I had three mech classes available to me when I played Into the Breach: the prime, the brute, and the artillery. The prime is a front line mech with high health and damage but a short range attack – it gets up close and personal with the Vek to push them around. The brute deals damage to a distant target in a straight line, pushing it backwards with the blast. The artillery lobs ammunition over the heads of anything in the way, damaging the target of the attack while pushing whatever is in the spaces adjacent to that tile. The different types of attack available to each mech made them useful for different things – I often used the artillery to try and deal with situations where multiple Vek were closely gathered, while I sent in the prime to take out Vek with frustrating abilities like buffing the enemy party or tying up one of my units in web.
While each mech has a primary method of attack there are also multiple subweapons in the game. Some are specific to particular mech types while others can be used by any machine. Subweapons have a variety of effects – some added new strategic options like airstrikes while others give passive bonuses like shielding buildings or increasing mech movement. You almost exclusively get subweapons as a reward for saving a whole corporate island, so you don’t get too many opportunities to scoop them up. The ones you choose to use change your strategy quite a bit – will you pick weapons that prioritize damage or moving the Vek around? Or perhaps you prefer having options for defense and healing on your team? Because you never quite know when a subweapon will come in handy, it can be valuable to try them all out and see what clicks with you.
What would a mech be without its pilot? There are multiple mech pilots in the game, with some seeming to be generic characters while others are time travelers who have special abilities. These latter pilots are the ones you’ll want to grow and develop as you play through the game. They start out with one ability unlocked and can learn two more by gaining XP from defeating Vek. These abilities buff mechs various ways. My starting pilot, for example, got extra XP for defeating Vek and also gave his mech more HP. Other abilities I saw during my run gave the mech armor, increased the movement range on the first turn of battle, and even gave an additional reset turn during battle. This reset ability was particularly helpful as it was often after I executed a turn that I suddenly saw another avenue I could have taken to suffer fewer casualties.
This all covers the basics of the game, but there’s one last feature to Into the Breach, the one that has me chomping at the bit to play the game again despite finishing it in one sitting. The presence of time travel as a core game mechanic means that the battle against the Vek is never truly over – you may save the earth in one timeline, but there are dozens more where the alien bugs are wrecking buildings and webbing supply trains. Each time you play the game, you’re not just working on the short term goals of saving a single corporate island or even a single timeline – there are overarching goals which open the door to new ways to play.
I tried out five pilots during my first run but there are thirteen in the game. I may have used one mech squadron, but there are nine others I haven’t even unlocked yet. And there are still achievements I didn’t finish with the mechs I did play as – I still need to dash punch a Vek from five tiles away, I need to finish a run with fewer corporate islands completed, I can try out hard mode; each of these tasks is tied to achievements that add longevity to the game. One pilot who survived the finale of my first timeline can begin the next one, and the game tracks statistics such as how many timelines a particular pilot has survived or how many timelines were lost to the Vek hordes. For the achievement hunter, the completionist, the person who is driven to overcome challenges when they are presented to you, Into the Breach is a gold mine of content.
I stated at the beginning of this article that I “beat” the game after four-and-a-half hours, but that’s not quite the truth. Into the Breach is not a single campaign to destroy the Vek hive; it is all of them, the ones that end in triumph and the ones that end in despair. It is the story of pilots who visit timeline after timeline in a never-ending battle against alien forces. My journey didn’t end with the destruction of the Vek nest – there are many achievements still for me to strive for, some of which will not be accomplished until many different timelines have seen their conflict come to an end. To say I beat the game is to imply that my time with it is over, that I’ve engaged with everything meaningful about it and that nothing is left for me to do. But with this title, beating the game is only the beginning.
I’m heading back into the breach, adventurers – I’ll see you in the next timeline.
Glad to see you’re enjoying it! It’s on my Game of the Year short-list. Into the Breach really cuts to the core of what makes turn-based strategy games great in terms of forcing you to really think about every move, while also scaling well for different durations of play. With all of the variables at play, there’s rarely ever a move you can make without some sort of negative consequence.
As for scaling, you can easily play a level and drop it. Or play through a whole campaign in one sitting. Or chip away at all the achievements and unlocking all the units over the course of multiple runs. Or enjoy it forever thanks to its randomized levels, which seem to randomize pretty well. I’m a turn-based strategy junkie, but I could see a world where this could be the only one I need.
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It’s an excellent game, for all the reasons you mentioned. Even after multiple timelines I’m still learning tricks and finding myself in situations where it seems like there are no good choices. It makes certain achievements very difficult to get, but the game is so short and sweet that failure is motivating instead of stopping your momentum.
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