(Image: http://store.steampowered.com/app/590380/Into_the_Breach/ )
“Time to go back and try again.”
I love Roguelikes. There’s something very satisfying about a challenge that you need to throw yourself at again and again, gaining knowledge and skill and sometimes in-game upgrades until you’re finally able to tackle the endgame. I’ve played things like Rogue Legacy and SKYHILL before, but the Roguelike that really stuck with me was FTL: Faster than Light.
FTL was a fantastically realized space opera about captaining a space ship as it travels across the galaxy pursed by a rebel fleet. It was a genius idea pulled off with steller results, giving it an addictive quality to play. Despite being only a $10 game, I’ve played it for more hours than most Triple-A games I own, which includes games like X-COM. I cannot gush about FTL enough and I strongly suggest you play it if you haven’t. In fact, buying Into the Breach gives you a free download code for FTL, so you absolutely have no excuse not to play it… the value on display there is simply staggering.
The developer is also a stand-up guy who clearly cares about making his fans happy, and even produced an entirely free expansion for FTL a couple of years ago, which also gives me a great deal of hope for Into the Breach’s longevity.
But I’ve gushed about FTL enough; let’s get to why we’re really here: Into the Breach. Let me say up front that Into the Breach is a very well realized turn-based strategy roguelike. It’s got an appealing art style, an interesting concept, replabaility, a good unlock system (hey look, unlocks that aren’t tied to loot boxes work, and I still have plenty of sense of accomplishment EA!), and it’s ultimately a good game.
People who were coming to this game off of FTL hoping for a game as deep, replayable, and addictive as FTL are going to be disappointed. Into the Breach is a decent game, but it’s a far worse game than FTL.
ITB’s main and greatest strength is that strategy layer. While FTL had a great deal of RNG that you had to dodge around, most of that from ITB is just enemy spawns and behavior (as well as the chance for buildings to resist damage). Every battle is very much like a puzzle. You’ll find yourself baffled at a particular scenario, thinking the game has screwed you, and a few minutes later you’ll be patting yourself on the back for finding a creative solution for minimizing damage. That’s fun and a solid core that the game is built around, and my hat’s off to the developer for making such a balanced and rather excellent combat system. There are even a fair variety of mission types (though to be fair most of them devolve into some variation of “kill a thing,” “defend a thing,” or “survive.”).
Unfortunately, everything else around it is just okay. The story is set up really well, but doesn’t really go anywhere from there. The game, while very mentally engaging, isn’t nearly as difficult as FTL. This is actually something of a problem for a Roguelike, because part of the addictive quality is supposed to come from ramming your head against the brick wall that is the learning curve until you break through. In FTL, it was probably more than ten hours before I secured my first win after over a dozen failures and experiments with different ships, parts, upgrades, and crews. In ITB I beat my very first run on Normal difficulty using the base gear, the default team, and few additional weapons. It wasn’t a blowout victory; I won with only a hit point or two left, but that’s not the point. I should be hitting the “scraping by via the skin of your teeth” stage somewhere around hour 12, not hour 2. At this point, I don’t feel nearly as invested to keep playing because… I’ve already won. I don’t feel like I need to experiment with new teams and weapon combinations because I’ve already found something that works pretty effectively… and this was even on the game’s “Normal” difficulty. It took me more than 10 hours just to beat FTL on Easy. Now I feel like all there’s left to do is grind acheivements just to see what the other teams are.
Unlocks in ITB are tied to your achievements. Each one grants you a coin, and those coins are used to buy new mech teams. Those teams also each come with a color pallet that can be applied to mechs from any other team, and you can create a custom team using mechs from any unlocked team. While this is fine, I much preferred the story-based unlocks in FTL. Stumbling across a quest that unlocked a new ship was exhilerating, and that just isn’t here. FTL had some progression based on achievements, but not all of it, and I think that balance was important (though to be fair it does seem like Pilots need to be unlocked some other way, but I’m not sure exactly how to do that without FTL’s narrative layer).
Speaking of the narrative layer, that’s almost completely stripped out in ITB. Running across interesting scenarios like pirates attacking a commerce ship, a station infected by a virus, or similar scenarios was what really tied FTL together. The fact that you could use that layer to take risks and find new scrap, weapons, or crew was what really made the game as juicy and addicting as it was. Not only is that not here, but there also seems to be something of a variety problem. In FTL, there were tons of different system arranged in new and interesting ways each time you play. This time, there are the same four islands arranged in the same order (Read: Whatever order you want) and with the same layout every time you go to that island every game you play. There’s also a fifth island, but that one’s just a final boss scenario (which, by the way, isn’t nearly as intereting as FTL’s final boss of the Rebel Flagship. Here it’s just two normal back-to-back missions, the final of which has a normal boss in it). The random layout of the galaxy each time you played was one of the most compelling reasons to dive back into FTL. Seeing all the cool encounters you could find and having to adapt your strategy on the fly, but here a lot of the guesswork is just stripped out. To be honest, I’m not even convinced that the mission types on the islands change much as you return to them, the difficulty just changes depending on what order you tackle them in.
You have the option to complete anywhere from 2 to 4 islands before approaching the final boss. You’d assume that going the distance is a risk vs. reward scenario where you need to press your luck in later islands to get the better gear you need to tackle the final mission. Or that you’re taking a huge risk by attacking the final mission early without weakening the forces on the other islands. However, that just isn’t the case. The game flat-out tells you that the final mission will scale to your strength. Which begs the question of what even is the point is to letting players choose how many islands they want to fight? The only real decision you’re making at that point is how “long” you want your game to be, but that hardly matters when you can just save and quit whenever you want.
I’ll also mention that progression in this game (within an individual game) isn’t nearly as fun as in FTL. In FTL, finding scrap is always fun and will have you constantly on the lookout for shops to spend it at, if you’re not already dumping it into ship upgrades. There are tons of different ships with tons of different ways to upgrade them, lots of crew to man them, and lots of different ways to fight with your ship. While that exists with the mechs and you’d assume the lack of complexity with each mech is made up for by the fact that there are three mechs instead of one ship… it really isn’t. Upgrading your mech seldom feels as good as upgrading your ship, and frequently you’ll find yourself passing up entire stores worth of weapons because at the end of the day, most aren’t worth it. You’ll need a ton of Cores to make them work, and frequently just upgrading your primary tools are going to be far more effective anyways.
Really, at the end of the day, Into the Breach just makes me want to play more FTL. By no means does this mean I think that Into the Breach is bad, but it does mean that it looks best without comparing it to FTL. There’s definitely plenty of value here (especially with the free FTL pass that comes along with it… that alone is worth the price of entry) for sure, and you’ll definitely have fun diving Into the Breach, but you’ll find yourself coming up for air a lot sooner than you’d think.
I give Into the Breach a 3 out of 5.