Category Archives: Impressions
Syp is giving Cryptic some additional grace, but the open beta for Magic: Legends is perhaps the worst open beta for a game I have played. Sure, there are objectively worse ones out there, but the first impression missed so hard that it’s flying off into space.
What is Magic: Legends (M:L)? Once upon a time, it was supposedly going to be an MMO based in the Magic: the Gathering universe. Instead, we’re getting an isometric ARPG in the literal vein of Diablo. Which… is not the worst thing in the world. I have played all games in the Diablo franchise, along with Torchlight 1 & 2, and dabbled in Path of Exile. Do UnderMine and Children of Morta count? I don’t do any legendary-grinding in these games, but am otherwise fully onboard with the general gameplay.
At first blush, M:L looks just like those games. A lot of mouse clicking to move around and attack, some special abilities, extremely gorgeous backgrounds, and so on. I can forgive the 20 FPS given that it is beta – something is clearly not optimized – but there are two things that kills the experience.
First, there is no loot. At least, there hasn’t been after 2+ hours of play. There are artifact slots and such, so that I know these things exist somewhere, but items and gear do not drop from enemies normally. Sometimes there is gold, most times there is nothing. I do not need a full set of gear from every mob, but I have no real idea what the moment-to-moment motivation for the game is supposed to be without that dopamine hit, or chance thereof.
This is especially problematic given the second issue: the gameplay isn’t fun. Characters have three baseline abilities based on their class. All other abilities are tied to “cards” that you slot into your “deck,” like in traditional Magic. And just like in traditional Magic, what cards you draw are random. Using an ability causes it to both go on cooldown and be shuffled back into the deck and new ability replace it.
So… chew on that a minute. You are playing Diablo 3 or Path of Exile or whatever, and each time you use an ability, it disappears from your bar and is replaced by something else entirely. You are then stuck with those abilities until you use them on something else, or perhaps just cast it on the ground. Oh, and you are also limited by your mana meter, so it’s not like you can rapidly cycle through abilities either. Do that over and over, clearing an entire map, and enjoy the 500g and zero items you receive. Then go spend that currency buying booster packs of random abilities to slot into your deck. Whee!
I kinda get what devs might be going for here. Having dead abilities is a natural consequence of deck building; presumably you would want a deck with a lot of AoE cards if you’re farming, then swap out for more single-target abilities for bosses. Things might get better once you unlock more than two ability slots too. And by going straight for currency farming at the beginning, there is no bait-and-switch that happens to the average player once they hit the endgame.
At the same time, it feels like a colossal disaster in progress. Pushing buttons isn’t fun, the loot isn’t fun, and the monetization strategy isn’t fun. How much can realistically change in Open beta? If the answer isn’t “the whole damn thing” then Cryptic is in trouble.
I decided to start playing Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (BLPS), as one of the literal 124 games in my Epic library that I did not pay for. No, really, I just counted one-hundred and twenty-four. Minus one, as I did end up purchasing Outward way back in the day:
Anyway. Borderlands: Pre-Sequel!
…yeah, it sucks. I give myself about a 40% chance of uninstalling it the next time I play.
There are a lot of people who don’t, but I for one actually do appreciate the Borderlands writing style. The humor doesn’t always land, but there simply aren’t many people out there writing, well, out there. Most games have utterly boring dialog and take their generic plots very seriously. So when you have a game series that does the exact opposite, amusing things can happen.
That’s not the problem though. The problem is the gameplay.
Back in the day (Jesus Christ, 2013?!), I talked about getting burned out on Borderlands 2. At the time, I was talking about the absurdity that occurs when you get to the level cap and end up facing enemies with tens of millions of HP. Some of that is impacting me even at the beginning of BLPS, as I start wondering whether I am going to just plow through the story missions or play this “for real.” See, nothing you do matters in a Normal playthrough. And on the next playthrough, you have to plow through the story again until the level-cap, doing zero side-quests, lest the unique side-quest rewards roll stats at your non-level-cap level. Which would make them instantly useless.
The other part though, is just how the gameplay design doesn’t fit the design of the game. For example, for such a kinetic gunplay experience, Borderlands has these awkward moments of intense inventory management. Bosses and enemies can explode in a fountain of epic loot… and you have to meticulously look at each one to analyze its stats, see if you have enough inventory space to pick it up, and so on. BLPS takes this to a whole new level considering the game takes place on a low-gravity moon. Which means you can be in an intense firefight and killing enemies with jetpacks, only to watch in horror as potentially good loot goes flying off in all sorts of directions.
Speaking of low-gravity, BLPS adds the element of gliding and slamming as attacking maneuvers. Which is fine. But it really highlights the fact that there isn’t much that the game is asking you to do that is actually supported in the game. This isn’t a cover-based shooter, for example, but the game does expect you to take cover/crouch to avoid damage while waiting for your shields to recharge. Arial acrobatics and butt-stomps are nice and all, but good luck surviving long enough to do any damage as you are literally floating out in open vacuum. Most of the encounters I face are either trivial or overwhelmingly difficult, depending on the availability of cover and whether enemies are randomly equipped with shocking guns (which melts shields).
The above issues are not unique to BLPS, of course. In 2021 though, the standards to what nonsense I am willing to endure have been raised.
Finally, I just have to say there are extremely early parts of BLPS that is just frustratingly bad. Like when you just start playing the game and are facing multiple rooms full of hostiles before you get your very first shield. Was that a thing in BL2? I don’t remember. But there’s also an area after unlocking the first vehicle where you are expected to make a jump while boosting… and I fell into the pit like six times in a row. I was boosting, I was hitting the obvious ramp, and down in the pit I went. Almost uninstalled that night. The deaths were irrelevant – the percentage of wealth penalty is trivial at that level – but it indicated to me that either the game was going to be that janky, or that I no longer understood what the game was asking me to do.
So far, the answer seems to be “both.”
I’m done with Valheim for now.
Where we last left off, I had already committed 4-5 real, prime-time, father of a 2-year old, I-should-be-sleeping hours finding and “exploring” mountain ranges bereft of silver. I had contemplated either uncovering the map with cheat codes or using an online tool to explore my world seed – somehow the latter seemed less morally questionable – but then decided against it. When you’re already this far up shit creek, you may as well keep paddling and see how much further it goes.
The answer is: seven. I explored seven mountain ranges before finding one that spawned any silver.
If we want to get technical, the first two mountain ranges were on my starting continent, and even I figured they had a low likelihood of having silver. From there, the modus operandi was to set sail towards any landmass that appeared to have a mountain on it. Luckily, you can tell from quite a distance whether there is a mountain – much farther than the tree-spawning distance, which otherwise tells you whether you’re heading for a swamp, plains, or forest. Unfortunately, all mountains have a similar skybox at range, and thus you do not know whether it’s going to be the size of those open meadow areas, or something more substantial. In my experience though (n=7), if you do not immediately see any drakes flying around, you are wasting your time at that location.
In any case, I finally hit pay-silver on mountain #7. And just like with the swamp, there were at least three separate silver nodes within about a 40m distance from one another. And one of those towers and give you the location of the boss. I had heard those were an extra layer of RNG I could potentially enjoy, but my tower had the location stone. Neat. I set up shop in the tower, moved my smelting infrastructure via portaling, and began getting my dwarf on.
Then… I was done.
The final nail were Stone Golems. As enemies, they’re fine. I had heard they took extra damage from the pickaxe, but honestly it’s way easier to just bash them with a mace and use your shield to almost negate all their attacks. The problem is that they drop Crystals. And Crystals have zero use in the game. Not “limited use” or “decorative item that grants no bonus,” I mean this is an item the devs put into their Early Access game but didn’t bother attaching to any recipe. It was a stark reminder that whatever the game is now is unfinished. Any of the frustrations I have experienced up to this point may not have been intended. The devs might have just not gotten around to it.
Suspension of disbelief: collapsed.
So now I’m off playing other, more finished games. Steam shows 46.6 hours played with Valheim, which is worlds more than I spend on 90% of the games I do end up playing. Other bloggers have already defeated the remaining bosses and still others appear ready to continue onwards past the edge of the page. Which is fine. But if there is any hope that I will feel motivated to play Valheim 6-12 months from now when it will (presumably) be more feature-complete, I had to call it. Should have called it after the swamp fiasco, honestly. But there it is.
I am still playing Valheim, off and on. I haven’t felt the need to write about it though, considering how many other bloggers are filling space with their survival narratives. How many times do you need someone to talk about taking down the 2nd boss and (initially) struggling in the Swamp biome? For a minute there, even I started to wonder whether we all entered some kind of writing prompt class and had to elaborate on the same Youtube video of someone else playing Valheim.
What I have come to understand though is that all of us playing the same game and making progress in roughly the same timeframe really puts a mirror to us as gamers. Blog posts by their very nature do this all the time, of course, but when the base experience is so austere, we can’t hide in the minutia.
In examining my own narrative though, I keep coming back to… annoyance.
The above is a map of my adventures, starting from the 2nd boss who was like two major islands away. Which is fine. Having them so far away serves as an enforcement mechanism to engage with better boats and creating portals. Which highlights how you can’t take ore with you through portals, and oh you still need to explore the Black Forest to sweep dungeons for the necessary cores. And since you drop everything on death, you have to really be on point when exploring or else you’ll have to build a new boat and sail all over again, so make sure to stop and drop a portal every so often.
The real non-fun happened after killing the 2nd boss though.
The Swamp biome is fine. It’s oppressive and dark and tough to navigate and does a real good job of highlighting how much you do not belong there. The prep work necessary before venturing in (Poison Resist, etc) is precisely the sort of things that make survival games so addicting. If you never bothered to learn what the Wet debuff means on a practical level before, you sure as hell are paying attention now. The desperate struggle to flee while both Wet and Cold, spending what precious Stamina you have left zigging and zagging to avoid Draugr arrows in your back, all while you watch with dread as Poison ticks your remaining HP away is something that I think all of us experienced in our bones.
The non-fun for me was how it took more than 5 hours of “exploration” to find a Swamp biome that even had a Sunken Crypt in the first place. I found Swamps, yes. But Sunken Crypts with their Scrap Iron is the only real reason to ever set foot in one. What I found instead were crypt-less Swamps and a world seed that is apparently 90% Plains, which is a biome two ahead of where I should be. And so I sailed and sailed and slapped portals as far apart as I dared, knowing that dying too far out would likely put an end to my playing Valheim at all.
Then this happened:
With portal “Swamp 5” I finally located a Swamp biome that actually had Sunken Crypts. Three of them. All within sight of one another. And within one such Crypt I got a read that the 3rd boss was… right next door. Next to another 3-4 Crypts.
Now, perhaps it would be too much to ask that every Swamp has a Sunken Crypt. Too formulaic. On the other hand… come the fuck on. Legitimate Swamps 1-4 were not legitimate enough, eh? I keep thinking how much my perception of the game would be different had I discovered a Sunken Crypt in the first Swamp biome I went to. Then again, maybe not, considering how I’ve clocked another 3-4 hours of “gameplay” finding and exploring Mountains that contain no Silver.
“Okay, you just don’t like exploration.” I mean… maybe? I can agonize for hours and hours in 7 Days to Die or ARK where is the ideal place to create a base. Because that sort of thing actually matters in those games. Valheim is about creating shanty towns next to resources and then portaling everywhere or white-knuckle sailing back to “home base” with a hold filled with ore. Really reminds me of Starbound and No Man’s Sky in that way – “home” is all but an abstraction, a loading screen at the end of an ever-expanding portal chain. The only real anchor in Valheim are carrots, beets, and beer, as those take a few game days produce. But, again, those be located at the ass-end of the world for all it matters.
In any case, I do not consider Valheim’s present state to be a particularly compelling argument for “exploration.” Am I literally “traveling in or through an unfamiliar area in order to learn about it?” Yes. But if procedurally-generated emptiness is what floats your boat, allow me to introduce you to No Man’s Sky, (vanilla) Starbound, and another small indie title called Minecraft.
There doesn’t have to be a treasure chest behind every waterfall, but if there are never any chests or my progress through your game is dependent upon a 10% chance of a randomly-generated waterfall spawning a chest 5% of the time, well, fuck you.
Perhaps I am being too harsh. I talked about ARK a lot before, but I sure as hell wasn’t using standard settings that would require 10 real-world hours of unconscious dino-sitting. So perhaps I uncover the Valheim map a bit via cheats (or view my world seed map) and at least note the next 5 mountain ranges of adequate size so I stop spinning my oars in the wrong direction. Because I have no problem collecting 500 whatever to do the next thing. But I have a huge problem spending the time going to the place where the whatever is supposed to be, and finding that the princess is in another castle, in a different game, and have fun playing through it all over again.
Like the rest of the world, I too succumbed to the call of Odin and bought Valheim.
But unlike the rest of the world, here’s my hot take: Valheim ain’t special.
This isn’t to say it’s bad. Valheim is indeed clever in many ways… assuming that it’s austere design is intentional, and not a result of it being an Early Access game built by two dudes. Part of that cleverness is the fact that Valheim put a tutorial inside an otherwise open-world survival game. Just think about all the other survival games out there, and how they all proudly lean into their cold opens and lack of direction. I have spawned into ARK with a level 1 character on what was supposed to be a safe(ish) beach and was immediately eaten by a raptor. That may be par for the course for survival games, but it doesn’t have to be. And so it’s no wonder that Valheim with its exclamation mark raven has hooked millions of people into an experience they don’t quite realize is about to get very survivalish.
By which I mean the tedium of resource gathering.
After killing the first boss, the player unlocks the ability to craft a pickaxe with hard, deer god antlers and otherwise move on to the Bronze Age. Which requires the exploration of the Black Forest biome to find Copper and Tin deposits, which can be smelted into Bronze that can then be crafted into better armor and weapons. It is at this stage that I realized I could have been playing ARK, Conan, No Man’s Sky, Subnautica, The Long Dark, The Forest, 7 Days to Die, State of Decay, or Fallout 76. And probably should have instead, because Valheim is incredibly basic at this level. Whereas I could tame dinosaurs to speed up resource gathering in ARK, I’m stuck sloooooooooowly collecting 20 Copper Ore at a time, bringing it back to the Smelter, and eventually turning it into Bronze. Meanwhile, you get attacked by Greydwarves every minute and a half, punctuating the tedium with a different kind of tedium. Oh, and make sure you scour every hillside on your gathering missions so you can find instanced crypts and collect enough red cubes to create your Smelter and stuff.
Seriously though, I’m reading these other bloggers and then looking at my game and wondering if they have never played a survival game before. And maybe they really haven’t. There is nothing particularly approachable about ARK (etc), especially in comparison to Valheim. But thus far, it appears all the really interesting genre innovation died with Eikthyr.
For example, a lot of hay has been made regarding how Valheim is a survival game in which you don’t actually die to starvation/thirst. Supreme innovation! But what really happens is that you trade off ignoring food at the front end to becoming obsessed with it for the rest of the game, when the opposite is true in every other survival experience. In Valheim, both your HP and Stamina meters are dictated by what food you eat, and you must eat three different varieties to keep them topped off. You can get by with just cooked meat from boars and deer in the beginning, but later generic enemies can almost one-shot you if you aren’t eating cooked meat, neck tails, and then something else like Honey or Mushrooms. That is a lot more varied farming for food than I would need in ARK or 7 Days to Die once I’m past initial hump.
I will continue on playing for a bit and see if anything fundamentally changes after defeating the second boss. Based on writings of people who have already logged 60+ hours though, it sounds like it will be more of the same with a slightly new resource. Which is literally the formula for survival games, I know. Thing is, other survival games typically have an X factor that sets them apart from one another.
As of yet, I don’t see what that is with Valheim.
My typical gaming M.O. is to choose a different genre of game after focusing on one in particular. So after Forager, I should have picked something that was not another crafting/farming/grinding game. Following that ancient edict just left me with not wanting to play anything at all though. So, realizing that I am an Adult© with the means and opportunity to do Whatever the Hell I Want™ I decided to head right into My Time at Portia.
It’s good to be back.
My Time at Portia is a Harvest Moon/Stardew Valley game set in a bizarrely upbeat post-post-apocalypse future. There are ruins and collapsed buildings in the skybox, there are tales of the Age of Corruption, and even a period of darkness in which the skies were blackened for over 300 years. And yet the hero who cleared the skies is a man named Peach, the monsters you fight are things like Panbats (bats with panda faces) and sea urchins that float around with the help of balloons, and similar nonsense. It is all very cartoony and whimsical and doesn’t take itself especially seriously.
One element I do like that shakes the formula up a bit is how your character is a Builder and not a farmer. You can have farm plots and a stable and grow things if you want, but the primary mechanism of advancement is, well, building things. You can take one Commission a day from a posting board (“I need 3 Rubber Belts”), townspeople will occasionally ask you to build an irrigation system for them, some elevator needs repaired so investigations into water supply issues can be resolved, and so on. A lot more crafting than farming, in other words. This solves the sometimes awkward problem of having unlockable crafting tiers of items that you only ever make one of and never use the crafting table again.
While it has been an enjoyable game thus far, I do think I am over-optimizing the game a tiny bit. I am not even past the second season yet and have already unlocked and am using the highest-tier tools and Workbench. There are still longer-term items to purchase (expanded housing plot, etc) and upgrade, but I am primarily “done” in terms of exciting progression, e.g. needing a specific tool to gather a particular resource. We’ll see how the rest of the game pans out.
Having said all that, I am certainly doing what I enjoy. It is not ARK or 7 Days to Die or more freeform crafting-survival, but My Time at Portia scratches similar itches for the time being. It also feels more relaxing than even Stardew Valley, as you can tweak settings like Day Length to give yourself more time to explore/talk to townsfolk. If this is what you’re looking for, well, you found it.
If you ever need to know what my game type is, look at Forager.
Forager is distilled, crystallized, crafting/collecting. Everything is stripped down to their elemental components. You are on an island with constantly respawning resources… like every 20 seconds. You bash trees and rocks until you build a Furnace, which you use to smelt iron and gold into bars to craft more buildings. You get XP for everything, and on level-up you get Skill Points to unlock new buildings, buffs, and gear. Once you have acquired enough gold currency, you can “purchase” new islands, which you build bridges to reach. Said islands expand your access to resources, including new ones, along with enemies and item drops. Rinse and repeat, until you have unlocked half the world and you have automatic resource gathering (to an extent), banks minting gold for you, while you are off scraping the landscape clean with lightning wands and magic scrolls.
The first time I booted the game up, I played for three hours straight.
What is extra interesting to me is examining the components of Forager in terms of other games I play and enjoy. Stardew Valley, for example. You can technically farm in Forager: there is a shovel tool for digging plots, a Windmill building to create seeds from already-gathered plants, and even sprinklers to automatically water said plants. But plants in Forager bloom in like 30 seconds. And you’re just as likely to get a similar yield just blasting everything on the screen along with piles of other components. So not really like Stardew Valley at all.
Now that I think about it, Forager is kind of like a parody of survival/crafting games. Similar to Progress Quest back in the heavy JRPG days, or Cow Clicker during the rise of Facebook games. As it turns out, sometimes parody becomes more fun than the game it makes fun of.
I will reach a natural satiation point eventually. It may be very soon, as most of the progress I can make at this point is grinding currency for the remaining islands. There is no deeper meaning here, or even particular sense of lasting accomplishment. This is decidedly a wirehead experience. But until my tolerance level reaches its peak, I will continue mainlining this game with no regrets.
Sometimes you just need gratification, instantly. In which case Forager has you covered.
[Fake Edit] Oops, apparently I am done. There is no final boss, I have already completed all the dungeons, bought all the islands, and done all the easy upgrades. No sense grinding for more powerful gear to face non-existent threats. Those 16 hours were a blur.
I started playing Outer Wilds this week.
So far, I’m only 22 minutes in.
…five or six times. You know, because the solar system explodes and time loops back around.
I don’t think I’ll be talking much about the experience of Outer Wilds as I go along, because a lot of people have gone to great lengths to not “spoil” anything. Not that I have encountered anything in-game that might constitute a spoiler yet. Supposedly the game can be completed in 20 minutes if you know the right place to go, but… of course it can. The sun explodes every 22 minutes of game time, so by definition it has to be solvable within 22 minutes.
What I will say though, is that Outer Wilds has not thus far been anything approaching peaceful or idyllic or an explorer’s dream or anything of the sort. That seemed to have been the impression I gleaned from reading other posts about it.
In my first foray in space, I brought my spaceship over to some interesting orbiting debris, took a space walk to explore, and when I turned around I realized that my ship had floated away. Or rather, was in a rapidly decaying orbit around the goddamn sun. So I chased after it, damn near skimmed the surface of said sun, and then was slingshotted out into the abyss of space where I eventually suffocated in the darkness, alone.
That was the “first death” too, so I had to watch it play out in its entirety. Kind of fitting, I guess. On all subsequent screw-ups, you can use the menu to manually reset the time loop at will. But that kind of starter experience really sets a tone.
After that, I started exploring an ocean planet with constant, horrific tornadoes that are so strong that they LAUNCH THE ISLANDS YOU WALK ON INTO SPACE. That was a fun second experience. After surviving re-entry somehow, I died walking off a cliff, not having realized a jetpack at full thrust was unable to overcome the planet’s 2.0x gravity. The next few deaths were “only” due to sun explosion as I tried exploring some other ruins. Fun times.
So, yeah. Outer Wilds. Fun in the way I imagine Alien Isolation or the Chemical Plant level in Sonic 2 can be considered fun. But I’m getting the hang of things, and hopefully the experience will improve as time goes on. And loops again. You know what I mean.
Oh, how sweet is that feeling of consumption. Well, not that consumption… the other one, when you have had gaming ennui and then you boot something up and it consumes your entire mindspace.
Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark (FSAM) is a rather unapologetic Final Fantasy Tactics clone. From the bottom of the Steam description:
Strongly influenced by games such as Final Fantasy Tactics (original and Advance versions) and Tactics Ogre, this tactical RPG stands on its own as a worthy successor of those classics, bringing a slew of improvements and additions to the tactics genre.
Which is fine. We all need some more FFT in our lives.
For the most part, FSAM is pressing all the right buttons. Your characters start out knowing just a few
jobs classes like Mercenary or Scoundrel or Mender. As you complete battles, each participating unit will earn AP which can be spent buying abilities in that class in a very limited “tree.” Each purchased ability raises the level of the class, which can unlock new classes. For example, raising Mender to Rank 2 unlock the Wizard class, which then is necessary to unlock other classes, etc.
What really gets the juices flowing is the customization of skillsets. Each character can have a primary class (Abilities + Passives) and a sub-class (Abilities only). So, maybe you want a Knight that also can heal like a Mender. There are two additional Passive slots and a Counter slot you can fill with skills from any class you have purchased though. So instead of being stuck with the Mender’s Passives, you can maybe choose the Ranger’s Evasion Up (13% dodge chance) and the Templar’s Defense Expert (scaling +Defense). And then, instead of something boring like Counterattack, you can choose Evade Magic from the Fellblade class, so you are immune to spells. So, yeah, super tanky Knight in heavy armor with a high dodge rate and immune to spells and can heal themselves or others. Just one combo of a whole raft of similar possibilities.
Another thing I appreciate is the Item system. Basically, Items like Potions and such have per-encounter uses that automatically replenish after combat. Collecting crafting material will allow you to upgrade the potency and unlock additional uses in the future. No more need to hoard X-Potions or the like for a time that may never come.
There are elements where the game falls a bit short. The penalty for death during battle is an “Injury” which is a -10% stat debuff until the unit sits out a battle (or more if multiple injuries). While it’s encouraged to have a larger army of rotating characters so you can sub one out, it’s easier to just travel to an early encounter node and get into a random battle with level 3 enemies, crush them, and then your injured guy is ready for the next story mission. I really just preferred the whole “you have 5 turns to revive your guy” that FFT had. This system is compounded by the sometimes wildly vacillating difficulty, wherein specific units can get piled on if you are not extremely careful, but meanwhile it’s more difficult for your team to alpha strike enemies all in one go.
I am not quite sure about the equipment system and related buff/debuff system yet. Right now I am being offered a raft of generic elemental-themed items (yawn) and a few choice weapons that apply Bleed or Blind (interesting). Debuffs in this game are just as powerful as they are in any turn-based game – battles go bad very quick if anyone on your team gets hit with Berserk/Charm/Sleep/etc, as it consumes your healer’s turn even if you fix it right away. At the same time, characters can equip 2-3 accessories so blanket immunity to many effects are possible. On top of that, enemies will often have these items equipped, so I have found my Fellblade (has a lot of debuff attacks) a little useless when 90% of enemies are immune to Poison/Bleed/Blind.
Overall though, I am having a lot of fun. It’s definitely knockoff FFT quality – there are no Line-of-Sight restrictions, presumably because that’s too difficult to code for an indie team – but for a lot of things in life, a knockoff of something great is still pretty good. Especially when you have apparently been unknowingly craving that thing this whole time.
There are few things that prime the pump more than hearing “from the creators of FTL.” That was one of those games that seemed to come out of nowhere with a simple-yet-actually-brutally-complex system wrapped up in a sweet indie game package and threw me for a loop. It was ultimately a good loop, but a loop nonetheless.
Despite all that, I had hitherto heard about, got excited for, and then completely forgot about Into the Breach. Until I realized it was on the Xbox Game Pass… and leaving shortly.
Into the Breach is essentially a puzzle game. You command three time-traveling pilots who are trying to protect the remnants of humanity from the Vek by piloting giant mechs. Each turn, the Vek (e.g. aliens) will move around the grid-based map and telegraph the actions they are about to take. During your turn, each mech can make one move and one action to try and foil the Vek’s plans before it occurs. While killing the Vek will cancel their action, the primary mechanism is typically “pushing” the Vek out of place on the grid.
As a general example, the default mech can perform a punch that deals 2 damage and pushes the target back 1 square. Many Vek have 3 or more HP, so this attack by itself will not kill a Vek that is about to attack a skyscraper full of people. But instead of attacking the skyscraper in front of it, that punched Vek will move 1 square away and instead attack whatever is in front of it in that new square. If it’s another skyscraper… well, oops. It could be empty air though. Or even another Vek, if you are clever enough. Or if the Vek was standing next to water/a giant pit/the telegraphed impact location of deadly lightning or whatever, it will die instantly. If the square is blocked, the pushed Vek will take an extra 1 damage and deal 1 damage to whatever blocked its path.
The default squad is the punching mech, a tank that deals 1 damage from range in cardinal directions, and artillery that deals one damage at a location and pushes everyone in cardinal directions 1 square away from the impact. If you successfully clear islands, you can spend reputation points to purchase additional items that can be equipped to give your mechs different abilities. For example, the punching mech can get a shield that makes the Vek turn around instead of pushing them, the artillery unit can get shells that light squares on fire, and so on.
If you cannot tell already, the gameplay ends up both simple and complex at the same time. Victory occurs when X number of turns complete, so you don’t really need to kill every Vek on the screen. Missions always have bonus objections which can complicate things. Incoming Vek reinforcements are telegraphed, and they can be prevented from spawning if their square is blocked – it will deal 1 damage to your mechs, or another Vek if one is pushed there.
Having said all that, this game can also be brutal. The Power Grid represents your life total of the run and it carries over through every mission. Vek destroying 1 building results in 1 less Power Grid for every mission thereafter. While you can take on missions that grant replacement power, that comes at the opportunity cost of missions that reward more reputation, which you spend on buying gear to enhance your team. Your own mechs have HP that is repaired between battles, but losing your HP in a battle will kill the pilot, which results in all their unlocked abilities going away.
I got super frustrated at one point until I realized… this is a puzzle roguelike. Some situations will go south fast with nothing you could reasonably do. Sometimes the Vek will “waste” all of their attacks on your mechs, which you can simply walk away from. Other times the Vek will spread out and attack buildings everywhere. In a worst case scenario, you can abandon the timeline you are in and take one pilot with you into a fresh game.
Ultimately, Into the Breach is a decently fun puzzle game. It’s no FTL, but it’s in the same quadrant. I just wish they would port this game to mobile, where it would be a perfect fit IMO. Between this and a mobile Slay the Spire, I might never be productive again.