Into the Breach (2018)

There is an eternal struggle which the developers of turn-based tactics games must attempt to solve. Randomness. Without some form of unpredictability, turn-based games quickly grow stale. Nothing is fun when you know exactly what moves to make to ensure victory 100% of the time. In contrast, too much randomness leads to frustration when the player makes all the right moves but loses anyway. The inclusion of randomness is a game design pillar that could be discussed endlessly, but I want to talk about one game that got it right. Into the Breach.

Subset Games are known for creating the immensely popular roguelite space game, FTL: Faster than Light. While I love FTL: Faster than Light, it is an incredibly difficult game and some bad luck could easily end a run. While Into the Breach is a different genre altogether, it limits the effects of unpredictability and nearly everything in the game is telegraphed. Into the Breach is a turn-based tactics game in which the player commands three giant mechs to defend cities against humongous alien bugs called Vek. The game is played on an 8×8 grid, with each turn being split into three distinct phases.


At the beginning of each turn, the enemies telegraph exactly what they are going to do. They move into position and highlight what squares they will attack, how much damage it will do, and what order they will attack in. The next phase of a turn is the players response, in which the player can move and attack with all three of their robots. The final part of the turn is when the enemies execute their telegraphed actions. There is no miss chance, no critical hits, or any sort of randomness on the battlefield. Aside from enemy spawns and the map layout (which the player can see before choosing a map), everything is predictable. The player is given all the information they need to succeed, and I love it. The only randomness is in favor of the player, when the enemies manage to hit a city; there is a 15% chance that the city may “resist” and ignore the damage.


The idea behind Into the Breach is that you are commanding a squad of three mechs that travel from alternate timelines to defend the one that you are playing in. It sounds complicated but in terms of gameplay it has a couple of neat benefits. The first being that in each battle the player is allotted a single reset. This can be used during the player phase to reset to the beginning of the player phase. This is incredibly helpful in the case of a misclick or if you spot a better move after you already preformed an action. Battles are relatively short, only 4-5 turns long, so a single reset is completely fair to allow players to fix any exceedingly dumb errors. The other major gameplay benefit of the time-travelling squad of mechs is that after a campaign is completed, you can bring one pilot with you to the next campaign.

Pilots are an integral feature to Into the Breach, and they serve as a method to improve your mechs. Each pilot can level up a couple of times, providing bonuses such as health, movement, or a reactor to power up new weaponry. There are unique pilots as well as generic ones. The unique pilots have special abilities to make them more powerful than the generic ones. Moreover, unique pilots are selectable at the beginning of the game, allowing the player to bring one along with them. They serve as a form of progression, as you unlock pilots during campaigns, you can then select them for any future campaign. The other major form of progression are unlockable squads. There are 8 squads in the game, as well as a customizable squad, a random squad, and a secret squad.  All of the squads have three mechs, each with their own abilities.


The versatility of the squads is essential to Into the Breach. In this game, there are very often 4 or 5 enemies on the screen at any given time. This means that it is impossible for three mechs to kill all the enemies during every turn. Luckily, these mechs have far better utility than damage dealing potential. The mechs’ attacks often have side effects that are far more powerful than incurring straight damage. Things like pushing or pulling the enemies to displace them, creating smoke that disrupts attacks, freezing enemies, or lighting them on fire to deal damage every turn. Moreover, you can block enemy spawns by placing something on top of their spawn points. Each mission is usually littered with environmental effects which further increase flexibility. More often than not you will be killing Vek by pushing them into the ocean, or getting them struck by lightning rather than just straight up damaging them.


Since there are more Vek than the player has mechs, every turn is essentially a puzzle. The player must determine how to get through the turn while taking no grid damage or mech damage, as well as complete objectives and dispose of as many Vek as possible. Of course, this may not always be possible and then the player has to determine what is most important to them. Grid damage persists throughout battles, and serves as the player’s health, so prioritizing stopping the enemies from damaging the grid is essential. Completing objectives provides currency to purchase upgrades, so they are also imperative to complete. Sacrificing a few health off of a mech to block a shot is often an incredibly powerful tool. With more Vek than mechs on the field, the player must look for high-value moves that will deal with multiple enemies at a time. Things like blocking a shot while simultaneously pushing a Vek off a cliff. Or pulling a Vek in a position so that it will kill its ally. Into the Breach facilitates creative tactics and solutions, and that is why I love it.


My singular issue with Into the Breach is that the game can become repetitive across numerous campaigns. A campaign can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. You can use a different squad every time, but once you play with each squad once, you will have experienced most of what the game has to offer. Compared to FTL: Faster than Light, Into the Breach lacks unique encounters in each campaign. In FTL: Faster than Light, the battles were just a portion of the decision making. You would have to build your crew and analyze the risk and reward of certain decisions. You can let an alien on your ship, but it may backfire if the alien betrays and robs you. You can go to assist distress signal, but it may be a trap. Decisions like these permeate FTL: Faster than Light, but are mostly absent in Into the Breach. You can choose which missions to do and what upgrades to buy, but the game lacks any sort of storytelling or more interesting decision making. The meat of the battles is phenomenal, but I wish there was more than just the battles.


A major aspect that increases replayablity of this game is the achievement system. In Into the Breach, achievements accrue points that player can then use to purchase new squads. Some achievements happen naturally, but some require the player to tackle the game in a different way. Challenges may be completing an island without taking any damage, or win a campaign without upgrading any weapons. Many of these achievements are squad specific: the ice squad has achievements dependent on freezing enemies, while the fire squad is all about setting the whole map alight.


I absolutely adored the puzzle tactics of Into the Breach. Each squad was designed in a cohesive manner that prompts the player to search for creative solutions. This is not a “kill all enemies” turn-based strategy game, but one that expects the player to use utility to protect their resources. Despite the fact that the game got a little repetitive after a while, I still managed to get about 40 hours out of this game before I ultimately decided that I had seen everything. While customizable squads allow for nearly endless possibilities, I wish there was more variances between each campaign.  It is for these reasons I give Into the Breach an 8.5/10. It is a remarkable tactics game that ensures the player will think imaginatively about the problems before them.

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