Wot I Think: Into The Breach


Look not to what high-speed, turn-based, sci-fi strategy wonder Into The Breach shares with its timeless predecessor FTL: Faster Than Light, but instead to how aggressively different it is. Though they share a soul of permadeath and moment-to-moment dilemmas, entire limbs have been lopped off and casually thrown aside, teeth and hair uprooted and plugged back in at strange new angles, eyeballs moved to places that were never designed to have eyeballs. Not in merely superficial ways either. It has moved from space-bound chaos to ground-based decisions, from spaceship crew management to mech vs horror-bug warfare, even from real-time to turn-based combat.

Yet the really startling change is that, unlike FTL, Into The Breach is rarely a game of chance, of random, cruel loss or sudden fortune, but instead is almost pathologically fair, even if it often doesn’t feel like it. There is no calamity here that cannot be traced back to your own actions. In other words, you’ve only got yourself to blame for the total wipeout of humanity. But this particular end of the world is a glorious one, and one I will happily keep experiencing for years to come.

The setup: Earth is dead, basically. Big ol’ space-bugs killed almost everyone years ago. But it’s not too late to change that. Survivors from the future develop a double-whammy of time-travel tech and giant mechs, enabling them to journey back to the days before total destruction and seek to prevent the bugs from wiping out the last of humanity.

In practice, that’s a great conceit that has very little bearing on proceedings, outside of choosing which one of your mech pilots you can carry over to your next attempt at saving the world. You’ve got a team of hot-shot soldiers and you need to make ’em go splat the aliens – it’s a familiar theme, obviously sipping from an XCOM vein, but giving it a bit of a Japanese monster movie or Pacific Rim remix, thanks to a choice of scale that casts the goodies and baddies alike as beings the size of nearby skyscrapers.

And, crucially, those skyscrapers must be protected, for within them live the last dregs of humanity in this timeline. Simply slaying every bug that spawns on the map would be relatively straightforward, but preventing them from levelling a clutch of buildings in the process is where the real challenge lies. If too many buildings fall across the course of a campaign, so too does Earth. Meeting certain in-mission objectives can replenish losses, but the balancing act is so delicate that one bad turn can erase all gains – and more.

This is all presented as a small-headcount strategy game that’s leaner than Mo Farah on a gluten-free diet. Anything that does not specifically and immediately play into where you’re going to move your three units and what you’re going to make them punch, shoot or shove has been excised. An entire campaign takes about as long as a single mid-game XCOM mission if you’re lucky (and a lot less if you aren’t), while a freshly-brewed pot of tea will still be steaming hot after a single battle.


Yet this is not because everything happens at speed – in fact, every mission, hell, every action in every turn of every mission feels momentous, with every action and reaction entirely transparent. It’s just that Into The Breach has aggressively removed all distractions.

You don’t control buildings or support units, just a squad of three very different mechs that attack with chess-like specificity. Mission briefings and debrief are never more than a couple of lines of instant text either side of a mission. Optional objectives never divert you from primary objectives, but instead ask you to fold in an extra element of risk as you pursue them. The entirety of every map is visible from the first turn and the length of it can be crossed in two turns. Skill and equipment unlocks, meanwhile, do play an occasional part, but they’re infrequent and subtle enough to never steal focus from the core objective – to win (or, at least, don’t die).

There’s an argument to be made – a very superficial argument – that Into The Breach is effectively always the same, that it has too few moving parts, that random map layouts can’t save each mission from being, at most, a palette-swap made up of the same few, recurring elements. I rifle through my folder of screenshots to illustrate this post, and without the context of the robots I cared about, the buildings I was terrified might collapse, the victory I was jubilant about pulling off against seemingly impossible odds, they all look meaninglessly interchangeable. Small maps, total unit counts that rarely reach double figures – a small and repetitive thing, surely.

And that’s the alluring genius of Into The Breach. It deftly flicks tiny switches that have huge effects upon a constant refrain of kill bugs > keep your mechs alive > don’t let civilian buildings be destroyed in the process.

The enemy whose attack can span the length of map, rather than the norm of an adjacent tile.

The weapon upgrade that fires a shot from both the front of rear of your mech and which, if forgotten about, will inadvertently level a key structure.

The tidal waves, earthquakes and airstrikes which remove whole tiles from the map come the turn’s end.

The tiles that burn, the tiles that poison, the titles that drown.

The sub-objective that yields greater rewards if you keep a particular lethal bug alive for the duration (which means shunting it away from buildings, diverting your resources away from killing other enemies).


And on and on, these dozens of different possibilities assembling into hundreds or thousands of different combinations, which your brain surprisingly quickly learns to recognise on sight. It also quickly learns that any calamity is its own fault. Unlike FTL, there are no events that coldly swipe away a crew member or drain a resource. If one of your three pilots dies, or if a civilian building is knocked down, or if too many civilian buildings are knocked down, thus triggering the end of a campaign, you always know exactly why.

Yes, sometimes it can feel as though you’ve been placed in an unwinnable situation – those turns that start with all three of your mechs frozen in place by bug-webbing, or with a building you cannot reach in the space of one turn targeted for destruction. A perfect turn is not always possible, but a match with only minimal losses is, and to that end one of Into The Breach’s masterstrokes is that it always shows you in advance what’s going to happen.

When you press End Turn, you do so knowing exactly what’s going to get hurt. Your mechs move first and attack second during their turn, XCOM-style, but aliens always attack first and move second. It’s the simplest-sounding twist on paper, but with a dramatic effect in practice. When you end your turn, every mech or building that you were not able to remove from harm’s way – either by killing or moving the enemy that targeted it – will take damage.


You know, full well, when you press that ‘end turn’ button what you have failed to achieve, what you have bungled or, less commonly, how gloriously you’ve managed the situation. There is a growing choice of mechs and mech abilities as you hit certain achievements, but they are just that – a choice, not an upgrade. Decide which particular plates you want to spin, sure, but none of ’em will save you from having to spin in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, I have sworn at this game so often and so viciously, I have felt betrayed by it, I have felt like a fool because of it. But, once the red mist evaporates, I always know exactly why I failed to save mankind. Which makes me determined that, next time, I will know exactly what to do, and I must do so immediately. Sometimes I’m right. Usually I’m not. I always know why.

There are those games whose technology or setpieces or storytelling I thrill to. Then there are the games where I marvel, most of all, at the elegance of the design, the remarkable precision at which so many interlocking gears are arranged, particularly in something as breezily-executed as Into The Breach. The Spelunkies, the Slay The Spires and, of course, the FTLs. Into The Breach effortlessly joins those ranks, instantly feeling ageless and ingenious, a collecting of long-known designs honed to a glorious sheen.

I am sorely tempted to reach for the word ‘perfect’, and it’s only a slight ennui about the five visual level themes and the repeating incidental dialogue that holds me back from that. (Again, it treads softly-softly in terms of storytelling, but unseen civilians will hail your arrival or a neat bit of a bug-slaying, in charming lines clearly chosen from a very small pool. Then again, the idea is that you’re time-travelling back to do this again and again, which sort of covers that repetition). As it is, let’s just settle for ‘I cannot currently think of any reason why I would ever uninstall Into The Breach.’


  1. vahnn says:

    These 12 hours before I get home to play are going to be the longest of my life.

  2. PancakeWizard says:

    Interestingly, it sounds almost like they came up with a Chess-like board game (something timeless and simple to learn, but with a deep strategic layer), then put the mech/bug war thing on top as set-dressing.

    I’ve got a copy of Push Fight on my shelf that the Penny Arcade guys made (got produced, didn’t invent) and this review is putting me in mind of that. Like you could just stick mechs and bugs in place of the wooden blocks and you’d get that same feeling of ingenious simplicity.

    • April March says:

      Interesting. Reminds me of Polaris, a board game which is alledgedly based on sumo. (Sorry for the video in Portuguese, it’s the only one I could find.)

    • Hypocee says:

      Seconding in passing that Push Fight’s both very relevant to ITB as a sort of photographic negative, and a surprising masterpiece. Blood running out your ears because you stand to lose on almost every turn if you overlook that one movement chain and the opponent doesn’t. I’m considering spending money to send a copy across the pond to SUSD.

      In turn, if it’s like ITB and Push Fight I guess it’s time for me to check out Polaris.

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      zapatapon says:

      The review also reminded me of Militia . It plays like an asymmetric chess with 3 very powerful pieces you control against a mob, in coffee-break length bouts (a couple of minutes each). The learning curve is very satisfying, I recommend it without reservation to anyone into that style of gameplay.

  3. Michael Fogg says:

    This kind of ‘deterministic’ approach to strategy reminds me of Invisible Inc. Almost the opposite philosophy to FTL, where everything depended on unseen dice rolls. Myself, I do like to estimate probabilities and make informed guesses in games. But no doubt this thing is ingeniously crafted.

    • napoleonic says:

      Interesting, I loved Invisible Inc. This is firmly on my wishlist.

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      Invisible Inc, a.k.a. the best game ever. This does have similar vibes, a must buy after this review

      • wwarnick says:

        Yeah, I love Invisible Inc. The fact that this game was made by the FTL devs and was compared to Invisible Inc made it a no-brainer purchase for me.

        It applies some of the same principles to turn-based combat instead of turn-based stealth. You can see what enemies are about to do, so you know exactly what’s going to happen, and you can plan out your attack perfectly. Both games put you in seemingly impossible situations, and if you look hard enough, you can often find some complicated, convoluted strategy that just barely scrapes you by, and you feel like a genius. Just like Invisible Inc, it’s hard to see the solutions early on, but as you get to know the rules, it starts the click.

        I just played a round where I had one power left on the last turn and it seemed that no matter what I did, at least one building would be damaged, but then I saw that a certain vek I couldn’t kill was on a sand tile, which turns to smoke when damaged, and smoke prevents attacks. So while I couldn’t move him or kill him, I could still prevent him from attacking for one more turn, which was all I needed to win the round.

  4. GernauMorat says:

    My god this game is hard. Bloody excellent, but hard.

    • Thankmar says:

      Yeah, its like FTL in that way: the more casual player will enjoy it on easy mode much more without missing out. No shame in turning it on. I didn’t realise it was there till my third run, so I thought I leave that here.

      • Thankmar says:

        Rereading makes me think this sounds condescending. When I found that easy mode, I went “OMFG, thank you”, to clarify that.

  5. Laurentius says:

    Playing it, feels really good so far.

  6. indigochill says:

    Something that I didn’t pick up from the review: how deep is the long-term progression across campaigns? There’s mention of new choices with achievements, but not how long it would take to reach them all. Since it sounds like they’re quite short, I worry that after a few campaigns I’d have seen everything there was to see. But perhaps I’m not adequately appreciating the chesslikeness of it.

    • anHorse says:

      It’s pretty easy to get the first few achievements and unlock one different squad of mechs. Then unless your unlocked squad has easy achievements it’s quite a struggle to get any more without beating the game (I’ve only got the second island boss once).

      I actually made a second in game profile just because it was quicker to try another squad that way than by trying to do the harder achievements on my first profile.

      • Kitsunin says:

        I disagree. There are at least 6 achievements which you’re basically going to get eventually no matter what (either you get them when something happens which is bound to sooner or later, or like the metagame ones it’s just “do x y times”). Then all the squad-based ones seem to be pretty easy to get if you focus on setting them up rather than winning (though to be fair pretty hard to get from just normal play).

        Taking this into account, you can get all but the last two squads without even being skilled enough to win. Then considering you can still get most achievements on Easy it’s even easier to unlock squads than that.

        As far as replayability, yeah, there’s a lot. Eight squads with a total of 24 mechs which can then be mix-and-matched randomly-or-not, also with a special ability from your pilot. Islands can also be targeted in any order which adds some variance to the opposition you face, and you can choose to enter the final fight earlier to change the campaign’s length.

  7. wraithgr says:

    Got home, installed it, loaded up the screen, soundtrack is great yay! Jump into the first mission and all I can hear is this annoying wind blowing. WHY IS THERE NO MUSIC IN THE STAGES :(

    • wwarnick says:

      I love the environment sound effects! Not for everybody, I guess. But I agree, another awesome soundtrack from Ben Prunty.

    • BlissBatch says:

      There’s no music because you literally didn’t start the mission yet. To quote the composer in his PC Gamer interview (link to pcgamer.com):

      One important thing I learned while transitioning from ‘game music fan’ to ‘game music professional’ is the importance of implementation. It’s not enough to make good music, you also need to know exactly how to present the music. Where the music is placed, how it starts, how it stops, how long the silence is between tracks—it all has an impact. Even the best music can be placed wrong. For a perfect example of wonderful music that’s poorly implemented, go punch a mudcrab in Morrowind.

      In the beginning, we just had music playing pretty much constantly. Menu music would fade to battle music when the battle started, and would fade back immediately when the battle was over. This seems intuitive, but in practice it doesn’t sound very good. Constant music can fatigue the player.

      Here’s one subtle but important change we made. In the game, the player chooses a mission from the map screen, clicks Start Mission, and then the mission starts. Simple, right? In the original implementation, the battle music would start the moment the player clicked that Start Mission button. Again, this seems to make sense, but I didn’t like it. I felt that some of the drama and excitement of starting a mission was missing. So I came up with a new way for the music to start.

      There’s a moment in the beginning of every mission where you’re placing your mechs in their starting positions. With the updated implementation, the menu music fades out when you click on Start Mission, but no other music replaces it at first. While you’re placing your mechs, you hear only the ambient sounds of the environment. There’s a tension now; the mission has started but there’s no music yet.

      Once you’ve decided your unit placement, there’s an animation of your mechs dropping from the sky and slamming on the ground, and the music starts at the exact moment the last mech lands. It’s a strong, dramatic start to the fight. The tension built by the silence is released. This all makes the previous implementation feel lifeless by comparison. And that’s just by changing when the music starts!

      • Coming Second says:

        This kind of experience in game-playing and design being put to good use is evident all the way through the game, not just with the music. It’s small but seriously well crafted.

    • Nosebeggar says:

      Wow man, you did not make it past the tutorial?

  8. thischarmingman says:

    PSA: You get FTL for free if you buy from humble

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      Waltorious says:

      GOG also includes FTL for free when purchasing Into the Breach.

  9. Rituro says:

    In true FTL fashion, everything seems hunky-dory until you reach that final boss fight. Ye gods, I was not ready. Oh, how I was not ready.

    And only six hours until work is over and I can play it again, this time with my newly unlocked Zenith Squad (pictured above). Agree with everything in this review — ITB is the tiniest of shades away from perfection.

    • falcon2001 says:

      The final fight seems remarkably less insane than FTL at least the ones that I’ve done (2 islands only so far)

      • Coming Second says:

        He means the *final* final boss. And yeah, that has a mechanic that made me think “Ok, that’s not fair/properly explained” for the first time.

        • mgardner says:

          But did you win anyways? If you did, wasn’t it even more satisfying?

          • Coming Second says:

            No I didn’t win, because said mechanic OHKd two of my mechs in one turn. Hence why I didn’t think it was fair. You could draw a parallel with turning up to FTL’s boss fight without knowing beforehand what it does and having specific counters for everything.

          • Coming Second says:

            I should add I was quite drunk at the time and may not have noticed something.

          • Kitsunin says:

            I assum you mean the plethora of random spots which instantly have whatever’s standing there die. Those are highlighted before it happens, and I found pretty useful for killing kaiju (especially nice as it kills them before they get to attack).

        • Kitsunin says:

          Falcon might just mean the final final boss, since you can choose to fight it after clearing only two islands.

          Personally I did actually manage to win this game on my first try (a “2 island victory” although GODDAMN was it close, I had one power left and had to spend over 5 minutes puzzling out my second-last turn in order to win. I would have lost if it hadn’t turned out that dead mechs can still block shots)

          • Kitsunin says:

            OK I’m a dummy, the 4-island boss, and presumably the 3-island one is quite a bit different.

        • wwarnick says:

          After reading your post, I expected it to be really unfair, but when I got there, I found that my prior preparation really paid off, and I was able to scrape by and win. I think it is completely different from FTL because in FTL, what works in battles leading up to the final boss doesn’t necessarily work on the boss, so you’re completely unprepared the first time you get there. It was like being asked to do a triathlon after only training for a marathon.

          In Into the Breach, however, I found that my mechs/weapons were just as effective in the final mission as they were in every prior mission, and the combat followed the same principles, so I was still able to look at the enemy’s strategy and counter it, even if there were a few new enemies/environmental hazards. It was the marathon that I had been training for. I personally found it to be very fair and very very satisfying.

  10. Phasma Felis says:

    This looks awesome and I still can’t get past how they call all controllable units “mechs” even when they’re tanks, cars, or–it looks like–turrets.

    Maybe I can edit the text in the data files.

    • Hypocee says:

      Perhaps they all have limbs but some of them are shy.

    • cardigait says:

      I still hate FTL last boss, and having to read and apply a trick to win it by killing every one of the people except one (or they would be replaced by annihilating robot team).
      Still what a great game.

  11. wewaejip says:

    Just wondering — how does everyone think I’ll feel about Into The Breach if I wasn’t a big fan of FTL? I reinstalled FTL last night and still felt the same dull feeling I felt playing it before — I shoot, they shoot, nothing interesting seems to happen, then occasionally something interesting happens and I have to put out fires. (On that note, any suggestions for how I should play FTL differently to get the most out of it?)

    • falcon2001 says:

      FTL is very different than ITB; the biggest thing being that it’s hugely deterministic. It does feel similar in the…I dunno, the soul of it? But they’re very different games.

    • Hypocee says:

      The review opens with a little dissertation on how different ITB is from FTL as a game. Subset’s previous work matters in this context because FTL demonstrated their ability to wring depth from a very small number of moving parts, which is important for believing in a game where you move three things to do one thing per turn amid 64 tiles. In terms of peers, though, look not to FTL but to Advance Wars, Disgaea, Final Fantasy Tactics, Invisible Inc., to an extent Has-Been Heroes, Dynasty Tactics if you go back that far…enjoyed any of those?

      As far as how to enjoy FTL – I mean, try to win? Without knowing more, I will note that the Kestrel, the starting ship, is a bit short on decisions for the first one or two of the eight sectors of a run. It’s not the easiest to win the game with – several other ships boom way harder – but it is the introductory ship precisely because surviving the first couple sectors with it is pretty trivial. It’s armed with by far the best all around weapon in the game, and one which is self-sufficient against enemies with zero or one shield. It’s sometimes optimal to spend a missile or run from a fight, but mostly at the start you can plug away and come out all right. The heart of the game appears when you both get some gear to try to synergise and synchronise, and the enemies toughen up enough that you need to optimize to survive.

      So if you feel an obligation to give a five-year-old game more chances, maybe autofire through the first sector and start thinking three or four sectors in; watch for where you could line up your timings better or increase your chances to avoid damage, what gear you had last time and miss now. You could also hack your savegame to unlock other ships, in case it’s just the Kestrel that disagrees with you.

    • Kitsunin says:

      I just want to chime in to say I thought FTL was great, but…a bit repetitive and not really my cup of tea.

      I love Into The Breach.

    • Shadow says:

      I don’t know why people insist on calling Into the Breach a sequel or even a “spiritual successor” to FTL other than for marketing reasons. Besides sharing developers, their honed talent and a couple of very general gameplay concepts, they’re nothing alike.

      That aside, I’m having a blast. I really like the almost total lack of RNG, and that its major appearance is actually positive (grid defense chance) if it comes into play. I’m two campaigns in, and I’m having fun just unlocking mech squads, characters and discovering weapons and tools. It’s true the battles are somewhat like chess or a tight little puzzle, and tools add depth instead of being a simple-minded +1 to something.

      I feel each and every part of the game has a conscious, clear, unique purpose. Everything seems well thought out, and there’s absolutely minimal padding.

      Incredibly polished little gem, this one.

      • Stevostin says:

        And how do you compare it to Invisible Inc? I found that one very boring. Anything involving exploration shouldn’t be turned based IMO. Turn base only work for when the battle/situation is started. Moving cautiously in turn base system is just an incredible drag. Everything requiring patience really.

  12. Barts says:

    Oh the irony: had been waiting for Into The Breach to come out for months, but now it is finally available, I am out on vacation with no computer to play it. Argh.

    Bought it via mobile regardless. As a sort of payback for FTL that I got for pennies late to the party and because reviewers all over the world agree Into The Breach is brilliant.

    • Themadcow says:

      This for me as well. I never pay full price for games but I see paying for ITB as a thankyou for the insane value I got from FTL. That I love turn based strategy and the reviews are great is a bonus though…

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      phuzz says:

      At least the system specs for ITB are so modest you might be able to get it running on any PC you find.

  13. McB says:

    Having just bounced off XCOM2 – WotC (as in played for 25 hours and with no apparent end in sight couldn’t be bothered any more) this game looks to be just what I’m looking for. Being a 30+ year old kid with adult responsibilites slowly entangling me I found XCOM2 to be such a time-waster in form of over-designing everything. Every time a Chosen enters there has to be a cut-scene and some cheesy dialogue. Every time you see a Lost group there has to play a cut-scene. Constant nibbles of wasted time that in the long run simply wore me down, the constant nagging feeling that I don’t really have time for this. Maybe I’m just starting to finally becoming like Roger Murtaugh: “I’m too old for this shit”

    • Coming Second says:

      Just FYI, there’s plenty of mods out there designed specifically to win back those slivers of time by speeding things up and cutting out the flab. I do feel you about the time expenditure of XCom 2, but the saving grace of that game for me is its moddability and subsequently the immense community it fostered.

    • obuw says:

      If you just bounced off XCOM2 I strongly suggest you check out Xenonauts. I enjoyed XCOM but found XCOM2 rather boring. Xenonauts was fantastic. It’s an indie game that is meant to be a homage to the original XCOM/UFO game.

  14. Themadcow says:

    I don’t know how well FTL sold on iPad (but I think… pretty well?) but was always surprised they didn’t port to Android as well.

    This game looks like the PERFECT mobile/portable game. I won’t have a chance to play it until tomorrow but it looks tailor made for those long commutes into work. Shame my work laptop won’t let me install it…

    Any reason it wouldn’t work on mobile, baring in mind the quite incredible job 2K China did with the XCOM android port?

    • Themadcow says:

      …and that 2K China part is even more relevant because Justin Ma (one half of Subset) worked there before he made FTL.

    • aexia says:

      On whole, it feels very touchscreen friendly. I haven’t seen anything fiddly yet.

  15. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    Anyone know if this is planned for Switch or mobile? Seems ideal for a handheld.

    • Themadcow says:

      They went on record saying that they don’t like coding on iOS, but I can’t see why they wouldn’t farm out the port to another firm.

    • Hypocee says:

      ‘We will consider the possibility of bringing the game to Mobile devices and/or consoles in the future, but it is not a priority at this time.’

      link to subsetgames.com

  16. terryterryd says:

    Reminds me of Front Mission from the SNES… I played an emulated translated version. Kept me entertained for hours!

    • Shadow says:

      Front Mission is obviously crunchier and more detailed, but I see the resemblance in art style.

  17. grrrz says:

    this no-game too-much-work mustnt-get-sucked-into-it diet is getting rough. Maybe in April?

  18. zombiewarrior07 says:

    I wonder if we will see an iOS version of this game, like FTL, which is great on the Ipad-thing.

  19. shevtsov200 says:

    Great game and great article.
    By the way, you have a typo: “The tiles that burn, the tiles that poison, the titles that drown.”

  20. AyeBraine says:

    Late to the game. Having finished 1.5 campaigns, I love it. I even had a fairly comfortable time the first time around, walloping the bugs with my 4-island-upgraded Rift Walkers. Not because I’m some kind of power gamer, but because after you’ve played XCOM Long War for hundreds of hours, agonizing over every move and turn becomes a second nature. So does ruthlessly optimizing (without minmaxing, because the game is perfectly balanced).

    The trick is, there are 9 more completely different class sets of three left to master. And damn this is tough. It’s really timely since I’ve got into chess recently, and the latter also makes me feel like an idiot every 2 minutes for not seeing a great combination.

    I feel like it will not be a binge game for me like most of the games I play, but a challenge I will return to now and again. The rules are almost offensively simple compared to progressive nerdification of something like Long War, but that feeling that there WAS a perfect turn, every turn, that you may not have seen, it’s there.