Around here we love Into the Breach, the 2018 tactical RPG-slash-chess game-slash-giant robot power fantasy from FTL developer Subset Games. The deceptively simple title hasn’t lost any of its charm in the last few years, but today there’s an expansion out that’s adding a few thousand tons of content (get it, because the mechs are big?) to the sterling formula. Best of all, this “Advanced Edition” is a completely free update to both existing owners and new players.
If you’re new to Into the Breach, it’s been described as “chess with giant robots.” That’s a bit reductive — chess starts off with no less than 32 pieces, and Into the Breach rarely has even half that many on the board — but then, so is the game itself. If you’ve played tactical RPGs like XCOM or Disgaea, it feels like that, but boiled down to its bare essentials on teeny-tiny stages. The result is a series of bite-sized strategic puzzles that are surprisingly complex given their brevity, and incredibly satisfying to get through.
Save the World, Die, Repeat
Each game is a series of small stages wherein you’ll drop just three robots to face off against a hoard of alien bugs, a la Starship Troopers. Each robot and bug has specific grid-based movement and attack patterns, which is where the chess comparisons come in. But after the first stage or two, you’re inevitably outnumbered, facing off against at least twice as many somewhat dumb bugs as you have mechs. Even the toughest robots can only take a few hits, so you’ll have to use creative movement, weapons, special abilities, and the environment to get through the stage with everyone alive. Or not, as the case may be.
Into the Breach has a semi-roguelike setup. As you progress you’ll get randomized upgrades, resources, and new pilots with special attributes to augment your fighting abilities, but you always feel outnumbered and outgunned. At the end of the game’s main story (a couple of hours, tops), you can send one pilot through a time portal back into a new game. But other than the accumulated experience of just one pilot, and perhaps a new squad of unlocked mechs, you’re starting from scratch.
WE LOVE GIANT ROBOTS
Speaking of the mechs: they’re wonderful. Though Into the Breach is so low-tech it could run on a Super Nintendo without filling up the RAM, the pixelated giant robots are oozing with unique personalities. You can either go with a pre-assembled squad of three, with complementing abilities and movement, or mix and match among your collected machines. It pays to experiment, as combinations of abilities can play off each other in exciting ways.
Once you get into the groove, the game becomes a sort of zen state, where movement, management of resources, and attack power form a triad of pixelated perfection. It’s why the game was universally praised when it came out for PC and Switch in 2018. (The $15 price tag didn’t hurt, either!) A few years later, the developers have revisited the game ahead of a physical Switch release (and a slightly weird Netflix exclusive on Android and iOS) with the Advanced Edition. It’s a free upgrade for everyone who’s already bought it, so now’s a perfect time to revisit the game or play it for the first time.
The Advanced Edition includes five new mech squads with new, unique weapons (fifteen new mechs in total!), four new pilots with unique abilities, new alien enemies and bosses, and twelve remixed missions with updated objectives. There are even a few fundamental additions to the game formula, like extra weapon effects upon an enemy kill and unstable ground that will destroy units with additional hits.
For those who’ve mastered the original game’s mechanics and are feeling a bit masochistic, there’s a new “Unfair” difficulty mode on top of all of it. We’re talking about a massive update to the core game, and one that would have entirely justified a paid DLC upgrade. But nope: it’s free. Huzzah! If you haven’t bought Into the Breach yet, it’s currently on sale for just over $10 on Steam, Epic, and GoG, as well as the digital version for the Nintendo Switch. You can also play for free on iOS or Android if you’re a Netflix subscriber.
Michael is a former graphic designer who's been building and tweaking desktop computers for longer than he cares to admit. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.