Into The Breach review: Roguelikes are just fun

The menu screen for Into The Breach

So I recently beat Into The Breach, the second game made by Subset Games, the FTL: Faster Than Light developers. It’s a turn based strategy game where you control a squad of 3 mechs, fight against insectoid alien invaders known as the Vek, and hopefully save the world, essentially. Its futuristic setting revolves around 4 islands, each controlled by a megacorporation that hires out your mechs to deal with Vek attacks – in other words, each island is a campaign of levels, with each level itself being an 8×8 map with 4 to 7 turns to complete your objectives. It sounds basic, but it’s probably one of the most in depth and complex games I’ve played in a while, endlessly revealing new layers to itself because it takes winning in a completely different way than most games because it expertly incorporates roguelike influences.

At the core it’s a tactical strategy game, like say, Fire Emblem, but with a completely different win condition with a good deal of roguelike elements. In a game like Fire Emblem, you win a map by killing all the enemies there, while in Into The Breach instead you have multiple goals: first, you have to complete whatever objectives you’ve been assigned at the start, such as defending a certain building, or destroying part of the terrain, or killing a certain number of enemies. After that, your mechs have to survive, as if their health goes to zero, the pilot in them dies – if this happens to all your mechs, you lose. Finally, each civilian building helps power your mechs, and so if they get destroyed and you run out of power, you lose. The main goal is then to simply survive, as each map has a timer of about 7-4 turns, after which the Vek retreat. Losing means that you choose one pilot to continue into a new timeline to do it again, unless they are all dead, in which case you restart. Each completed goal then adds to a pool of resources to get upgrades and improve your abilities overall.

All of these goals are where the game really comes into its own, as it becomes less about winning and more about trying to survive and juggle all of these often contradictory goals – for example, most attacks in this game have knockback, so if a Vek is next to a building, you might be able to kill it, but that might mean knocking it into and destroying a building, lowering your mechs power. Sometimes, you might have to accomplish a goal like destroying a mountain – which means one less mech to fight off Vek and protect buildings. While failing these goals doesn’t mean that you lose, each one gives you the resources to buy upgrades, and if all goals are completed on an island, then at the end you get a free, powerful upgrade. What this means is that it makes the game much more strategic, as balancing this all usually means that rather than heroic stunts, you make your mechs take enemy attacks, push Vek in a direction where their attacks are harmless, and sacrifice as much as possible to have the least bad round possible. It’s stacking your own bad hand to win and getting out of the last rounds mistakes, including the necessary ones where you had to move 1 mech to the other side of the map to block an attack on a building – so now you’re down a mech where it counts. The game becomes more about pushing to the finish than some climactic victory where all of the enemies are dead – not that it matters since more enemies spawn each round anyway, digging their way up from the ground. It stays to the roguelike formula, where the focus is more on mastering systems each run and learning ahead what to expect, making it an interesting turn on the base mechanics.

Here, I’m basically screwed since i split my team so the most attacks are on the other side. Love this game!

In that sense it reminds me a lot of Shiren The Wanderer, which is one of my all time favorite games. Shiren is a true-bones classic roguelike (though not as random as many other roguelike games) that was released for the DS in 2008. It sports full graphics and much more simplified gameplay than the dizzying array of abilities in older roguelikes. Like any roguelike, the goal is to move through a series of dungeon floors to get to the end, which really means more that you die a lot trying to make incremental progress to the end. It ends up being more this cycle of slowly learning from your mistakes and trying to use any bit to put yourself in as much of an advantageous position as possible, stacking every bonus in order to win the next fight. It’s the very same basic gameplay loop as Into The Breach, where ultimately playing it is a zen acceptance of the fact that you will lose, and so the point is to truly learn and advance. In spite of not having every turn happen at the same time, no random dungeons, no scrambling for the correct item, Into The Breach masters that fundamental gameplay loop that roguelikes have.

Promotional art for Shiren the Wanderer, via

This whole gameplay loop is just addicting to me, in the way that not many roguelites are, since it uses random generation and permadeath to create actual depth, instead of filling out content with random generation as it feels many do. For this reason, I rank it among my favorite roguelikes, like Shiren. It’s just incredibly good and makes for a really satisfying experience. I fully recommend trying it out, and trying out roguelikes in general. Plus, it has a pretty kickass soundtrack:

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