In addition to our main Game of the Year Awards 2022, each member of the PC Gamer team is shining a spotlight on a game they loved this year. We'll post new personal picks, alongside our main awards, throughout the rest of the month.
When we scored Into the Breach 93% in our review, we said it was "the most consistently rewarding tactics game we’ve played in many years." Later that year it won our 2018 Game of the Year award, where we anointed it "a perfect modern form of strategy game." Where does a game go from that zenith?
In July Subset Games released a surprise update, Into the Breach: Advanced Edition. It added extensive new stuff, fully the size of a traditional expansion, all priced at $0:
- 5 new squads & 15 new squad achievements!
- 7 new Vek, 3 new Psions, & 10 new boss battles!
- 12 new missions & 3 new bonus mission goals!
- 4 new pilots & 10 new random pilot abilities!
- 39 new weapons & equipment!
- 2 new music tracks from composer Ben Prunty!
- Even more challenging difficulty mode, Unfair Mode!
- 7 new nanguages! (Arabic, Thai, Swedish, Korean, Traditional Chinese, Turkish, and Latin American Spanish)
Rather than releasing as a standalone campaign, these new enemies and squads were baked into the procedural generation of Into the Breach, a wise approach that other roguelites have taken for refreshing their replayability. The power level of some of these new enemies and squads is daring. My three favorites are:
- Arachnoid Mech, Arachnophiles - Fires a projectile that turns into a little spider robot on kill, opening the door for two attacks in one turn.
- Control Mech, Mist Eaters - Mind-controls enemy units to make them move (into danger, obviously).
- Exchange Mech, Bombermechs - It's almost too effective: it can teleport any two nearby units and swap their positions, an absurdly useful way of removing an ally from danger and plunging a Vek into water, for example.
In a game that's two-thirds about positioning, teleportation is really powerful! And gratifying. I love the feeling of relocating a Gastropod, one of the new enemies, to a different tile so they'll reach across the board on their turn to lasso another enemy, setting up a ballet of Vek-on-Vek violence. Into the Breach remains a game about finding where these "two birds" efficiencies exist on the board, where you can get the value of multiple actions for the price of one.
VIDEO, ABOVE: My luckiest win in 140 hours, a double resist on the final move of the game on Unfair difficulty, to save Earth.
Initially I was daunted by the prospect of ItB's new "Unfair" difficulty, which throws more and stronger Vek at you. I didn't want my love for a strategy game dampened by arbitrary difficulty spikes. But Unfair turned out to be one of the best kinds of difficulty: it reinvented how I played the game, delivering in the process that rare feeling of neuron-forming growth. It's now the only way I'll play Into the Breach, 140 hours in.
Unlike the lower difficulties, Unfair gladly puts you in situations where damage of some form, even if you execute a perfect turn, is unavoidable. Usually this takes the form of pendulum swings on the power grid, ItB's persistent life bar. Shedding three power increments on a single mission would've been a gutting setback in previous, lower-difficulty runs, but on Unfair, it was an ordinary hit I'd have to learn how to take. The peaks and valleys of loss and recovery enhanced one of the core themes of the game: sacrifice.
To beat Unfair, I had to exploit the best pilot/mech combos, get a little bit lucky with weapon and pilot draws from time pods, and think long-term about which missions and islands I took first. I had to make completely new considerations, like intentionally leaving weaker Vek intact so that they weren't replaced by a stronger one on the next turn.
I almost always ran Morgan Lejeune or Kai Miller, two new pilots who both use Boost, a new ability that enhances damage. If Advanced Edition has any flaw it's that Boost feels mandatory at this difficulty in order to eliminate enemies with six or more HP.
In PC gaming's age of endless updates and seasonal events, making a great expansion pack is a forgotten art. With Advanced Edition, Subset Games renewed an already-great game, adding deliberately splashy enemies and mechs that catered enthusiastically to those of us that beat the game back in '18. Advanced Edition was like being a chess lover, then being handed 15 new pieces—one of which is a GigaQueen.