Into the Breach, from the devs of FTL, does its predecessor proud by providing a crisp, polished, and low frustration strategy rogue experience while letting you heroically crush giant monsters with time traveling robots.
The premise of Into the Breach is that a subterranean race of giant monsters, the Vek, threatens to destroy humanity. The only hope to repel these invaders is a group of time traveling giant mecha pilots. Into the Breach leverages this time traveling concept to cleverly address core roguelike tropes. Each run functions as its own timeline. Success or failure, the surviving pilots open a ‘breach’ into a new timeline to continue the fight.
Despite the imaginative setting, Into the Breach doesn’t lose itself with overt storytelling. You are immediately thrust into gameplay with little pause. Pilots express their personalities via text box asides and the corporate overlords debrief you over results screens. Aside from a couple of brief transitions during the final mission, the gameplay is never interrupted.
This lack of interference with gameplay is refreshing, because the gameplay is great. Unlike FTL, Into the Breach is fully turn based. First, the Vek move and prepare attacks. Then, the player issues orders to respond. It is your job to prevent these attacks from killing innocents and damaging the power grid. Without the power grid, the mechs fall unpowered and the timeline is lost. This requires a little creativity. Mech weapons are often too weak to kill outright, but frequently apply knockback or other effects. It is up to you to use these tools to force Vek to miss, hit environmental hazards, or even attack one another. At the end of the turn, more Vek emerge and the cycle continues. The combat demands that you be clever. Creatively utilizing the more bizarre weapons to destroy the Vek is immensely satisfying.
The combo of constant spawns and unreliably lethal weaponry means you’ll sometimes become desperately outnumbered. Fortunately, the game moves at a brisk enough pace that this is rarely a death sentence. Each mission only lasts for five rounds. At the end, all Vek retreat and the missions is complete. You only need to manage until then.
This brisk pace extends partially to the runs as a whole. To access the fifth and final mission, you must complete at least two of the four corporate islands. Into the Breach also gives you the option of investing more time into completing three or all four islands before the final mission. The final fight is scaled per island, so you have little incentive either way except for player preference. The exception being the unique medal you earn per squad per victory type. Short victories took me 45-60 minutes, and the four island runs easily stretched to 90+ minutes.
The Best Part. . .
This call-and-response gameplay is pleasantly rhythmic. It’s improved by the fact that the UI is beautifully crisp and clear. Every action and consequence is fully presented to the player. Tooltips are abundant and often include illustrations. I can almost recommend this game for transparency and clarity alone. The only time the player is unsure of what to expect involves the singular dice roll present in Into the Breach. When subject to attack, buildings have a percent chance to survive based on the ‘grid defense’.
The low frustration philosophy permeates Into the Breach. Individual moves can be undone. One whole turn can be reset per mission. The game presents this as a localized time breach; too intense to be used more than once. Even if you’re forced to sacrifice the life of a pilot, the mech can continue to fight in future missions with an AI. The mech loses pilot bonuses, but otherwise operates normally. Even in the final battle Into the Breach forgives you if the Vek destroy the ultimate objective. The corporate overlords simply drop in a new bomb with fresh timer. The fight continues as long as you have fighting mechs and the power to sustain them.
The Worst part. . .
My biggest concerns are the depth and difficulty of Into the Breach. I was victorious by my second run. Then in my first Hard mode run I only failed a few turns short of the finish line. This felt strange compared to the struggles I had during the first few hours of FTL. That being said, failure to stay attentive can quickly result in errors that snowball to a loss. Runs also began to feel homogeneous. Each squad requires its own tactics, but once mastered there is little variation. Although a variety of weapons and pilots can be found within a run, they add little. Bonuses are small and many weapons have limited uses, especially if you are rationing power cores.
Finally, I did not find the meta progression to be particularly compelling. Achievements grant coins to unlock new squads. These achievements are often too simple and uninteresting. Sometimes they are just frustratingly difficult to set up. Pilots can only be recovered per random time capsule drops or as rewards for a perfect island. Hence, there is little you can do to actively seek out undiscovered pilots.
Ultimately, Into the Breach is elegantly designed and beautifully presented. It is an obvious recommendation for strategy and roguelike fans alike, or just people who enjoy good design. Although I got a satisfying 20 hours out of it, Into the Breach may ultimately lack the content to engage those seeking 100+ hour epics.