Into the Breach review

5 months ago by Kendal Erickson

A masterstroke of minimalist transparency, risk versus reward, and player agency.

Having conquered three islands and saved over 10,000 civilians, I felt confident to dive into the belly of the beast and save Earth. Armed with new and powerful weapons, veteran pilots, and a healthy amount of Power Grid, I ventured into the volcanic nests of the Vek, alien invaders bent on destroying the surviving remnants of humanity. I was becoming comfortable thinking one or two steps ahead, often mulling over a full round of moves for five minutes before taking a single action. Despite all of this, I soon found myself ejecting out of my mechs, a single fatal mistake causing us to lose power, abandon the timeline, and start all over again.

I was hooked. This game is brilliant.

The most important thing to realize about Into the Breach is that it is entirely fair. Though at first glance it may be easy to view the game as intimidating and brutally difficult, much like its predecessor FTL: Faster Than Light, Subset Games has designed Into the Breach to be entirely transparent about its mechanics. The actions you see before you are going to happen, exactly as they show, in that order. It’s up to you to twist those actions to bend in your favor, or suffer the consequences. What little RNG that does exist is built to help the player, so if you make a mistake, you’ve no one to blame but yourself.

The core idea behind Into the Breach is that you are in charge of a squadron of mechs meant to defend buildings from insectoid enemies known as the Vek. Missions take place on a turn-based grid map over a set amount of turns. Vek will tunnel up from within the ground, and your mechs must stop them from assaulting the various objectives on the map. Each round consists of your mechs taking their movement and actions, followed by the Vek moving and broadcasting their actions to you. For example, in the below mission a Vek is preparing to attack my Artillery Mech, another one is going to lob an attack at a building, and two more are going to burst out of the Earth at the end of the next turn. Now, during my turn, I need to consider the following scenarios: I need to defend the building, I need to defend my mech, and I need to complete the mission bonus rewards if possible.

How I fulfill these scenarios is entirely up to me. I could move my Tank Mech down towards the beetle Vek and displace it over one square, causing its attack to hit a mountain rather than the city. Perhaps I can find a way to knock it into the water, killing it instantly instead. Rather than dodging the shot aimed at my Artillery Mech, I may just focus on killing the Vek initiating the attack. Perhaps instead I’ll move out of the attack and displace the Vek onto one of the breach-zones, causing it to block its ally from surfacing and taking damage in the process.

Movement, actions, and reactions are the core principles of combat. The only RNG the player needs to concern themselves with is whether or not a building can survive an attack, as the Grid Defense percentage chance indicates. Losing buildings results in a point of Power Grid loss. If you run out of power, it’s game over, Earth is doomed, and you are hurled back in time to the beginning.

Luckily for us, time is on our side on this apocalyptic Earth.

Mistakes are bound to happen, so Into the Breach comes loaded with a few mechanics to allow players to undo poor decisions. First off, you can always move your mechs, think out a plan, and then move them back before taking any actions. This is similar in nature to a Fire Emblem game, as you can see the potential movement, status effect, or damage that would result from your decision, and then backpedal before confirming. It’s important to note you can do this with all of your mechs at once, and then backpedal to the beginning of the round as long as you don’t act with any of them. If you enjoy being able to visualize a strategy rather than having to just think it out, then you will quickly come to appreciate this feature.

Additionally, once per mission, you can completely restart the current turn. Often after finishing a round, I would stop and think if I did it in the most optimal way. Could I have been more efficient in my kills? Was sacking a point of power grid to defend a different bonus objective worth it? Was my Combat Mech going to survive later rounds having tanked a large hit? While everything may be transparent in the game, often enough you’ll still find yourself mulling over your decisions. The temptation to undo a round and take a different route is omnipresent, but tempering that desire to save it for a possibly even worse follow-up turn makes it a tough choice.

Should you be successful in saving one of the Corporate Islands (the overworld map being broken into four of them), you can spend your reputation points on randomized available gear, additional Power Grid, or Reactors for your mechs. Reactors are required to power the various pieces of equipment and bonus upgrades for each of your individual mechs. Items can go on sale for lower costs than normal, so reading through the available options after each island becomes critical to the potential success of your overall campaign, as a single saved point of reputation can be used to buy extra Power Grid.

Shopping becomes a delicate balance of selling off items and pilots that no longer seem valuable, without putting yourself in a position to outright lose should disaster strike. If you were able to complete every bonus objective available to you on an island, you’ll even get a free reward amongst a few randomized choices. Picking up a pilot that was immune to being webbed ended up being a core part of my initial few campaigns successes, but trying to plan that far ahead of multiple missions where individual failures are very possible is not advisable. Sometimes it’s better to live another day rather than go for broke on a risky series of plays, but if you have the Power Grid to spare, the option is always available to you.

As with FTL: Faster Than Light, the player can get a lot of mileage out of Into the Breach. Every campaign is different from the last, with new bonus objectives, enemy types, and island bosses to contend with. There is a huge combination of mech teams available to unlock via currency earned from completing specific achievements or beating the game with different numbers of islands saved. That currency, along with one pilot of your choosing from the previous campaign, will persist and carry over throughout each playthrough. Starting off my second campaign with an additional 2 health points and immunity to webbing on my Combat Mech was a great feeling, though I was also reminded of my previous failure to destroy the alien nest beneath the earth. Each team of mechs plays very differently, and eventually you can customize your own team out of ones you have unlocked. You start off your second campaign with any of the four islands you have previously accessed, and the difficulty will scale for the next island you choose.

Future iterations of the game continue to feel fresh and different, and I look forward to testing my luck with various build ideas. Subset Games have once again demonstrated that you do not need large amounts of complex systems, or the latest and greatest graphical fidelity, to build a masterpiece. Being given absolute information and then trying to process and interpret the best outcomes is addicting on its own merit, though involving giant mechs and alien swarms certainly doesn’t hurt. Into the Breach is unquestionably worth your time, the only question is if you can save the current timeline!

Verdict: Yes