The Riftbreaker Preview — Many Genres, One Great Game

The Riftbreaker Preview — Many Genres, One Great Game

With so many different systems and features, The Riftbreaker should be hard pressed to juggle them all, yet does so with aplomb. The potential is real.

The Riftbreaker is shaping up to be something really special, even in the pre-alpha build I did this preview on. I firmly believe that just about anyone interested in video games should take a moment to look in its direction. It’s incredibly rare that a game has this many working parts without any feeling extraneous. Every aspect of The Riftbreaker slots into place nicely, and the result is one hell of a fun game. I’ve long since stopped letting myself be hyped or swayed for impending releases, yet The Riftbreaker continues to excite me. There’s so much promise here.

I first had the pleasure of discovering The Riftbreaker in my recent Steam Game Fest demo binge. Even among a very strong selection of games, Riftbreaker was the clear and obvious favourite. As such, when the opportunity to do this preview came up, my exact quote was “I will personally fight every member of the staff in order to secure that opp.” So here we are, and I am no less enthusiastic than then.

The Riftbreaker sees you take the role of scientist Ashley and her mecha suit Mr. Riggs. You’re transported to an alien planet and have to establish a base for yourself from which you can study and gather resources. Your ultimate aim is to survive long enough to complete your objectives and open a rift back to Earth. The planet cares not for your presence however, and you’ll face increasing resistance as time goes on. Mr. Riggs comes equipped with basic weaponry, but it will only get you so far.

Your first order of business will be to establish a base in true real-time strategy fashion. You can gather resources manually, then automate the process before long. Hostile creatures will advance on your position, so you’ll find yourself split between hack-and-slash combat and setting up tower defences. From there, you can explore further afield to gather more advanced resources and establish outposts. Before long, you’ll be able to get research going on new buildings or mecha parts. The Riftbreaker is all about finding the right balance between improving your combat abilities, defences, and infrastructure.

What follows is a game that takes the core concepts of a multitude of games, yet manages to keep all the respective plates spinning nicely. It’s equal parts Diablo, They Are Billions, and Factorio; no individual aspect of it is quite as in-depth as those individual titles, yet it blends all of them in a way that feels natural. Feature creep will often lead to a game bloated with extraneous systems, but nothing of the sort happens in The Riftbreaker. So many genres and systems have been incorporated into a gameplay loop that remains balanced and — crucially — fun.

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A timer will signal when the next major wave of enemies will advance on your base, so you’ll have to make use of the downtime to build up. Extra events may also occur that encourage you to venture out from your walls or risk added complications. Alien nests will spawn additional enemies if you leave them alone, and large boss enemies can be discovered that will join an attacking wave if you don’t deal with them. Some events are simply weather abnormalities; windy weather can improve your wind turbine output, but heavy clouds block solar panels. Occasionally, it’ll just rain meteorites on your base, so you’re always required to stay on your toes.

As for building up your base, the early technology will suffice in a pinch, but you very quickly will find yourself overrun if you don’t aim higher. Getting research facilities set up will let you passively download schematics from Earth, assuming you can maintain power requirements. These schematics can lead to new towers, but these turrets require ammunition production to keep running. Material and power requirements will keep increasing, needing infrastructure upgrades; those same resources could instead be used to power up Mr. Riggs’ arsenal, though.

Which brings me to combat. You can equip up to six weapons, with three assigned to each mouse button that can be cycled through. Default armaments include a sword, rapid-fire machine gun, and slow firing blaster. Later, you can craft an assortment of different guns, or swap out your sword for a shield or slow-hitting hammer. Weapons like flamethrowers, burst rifles or plasma guns have different ammo types, and your ammo must be produced at factories just like turret ammo. As such, focusing on one type might leave you spent at a crucial moment, so there’s always more to consider.

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Combat in Riftbreaker is a fast-paced, hack-and-slash affair. Hostiles move in swarms and will frequently mass around your base, so even a well-defended setup will encourage getting into combat to thin out numbers. In addition to the massed swarms, some enemies will perch at range and spit acid, and some are larger meatshields that soak up attacks from the runners. It’s all fairly simple stuff, but the addition of a dash on a short cooldown alongside various consumable items or weapon loadouts means you’re rarely short on options. Nonetheless, it’s fun to blast away at the encroaching forces, and having to keep them from breaking into your base and tearing up infrastructure makes it all the more intense.

Attack waves will start out sparse and spread apart, but things get more demanding as you build up. Downtime sees you repairing and rebuilding or setting up new facilities. Then you need the infrastructure to support them, as well as the resources to build the infrastructure. Thus, you’ll always find yourself needing to expand or venture out to find new material. There’s rarely a dull moment, and The Riftbreaker continued to entertain every time I booted it up.

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At present, there’s a single prologue mission that doubles as a tutorial for the many systems (same as in the Steam demo) as well as a Survival mode. Survival mode has a number of difficulties, customisable modifiers, and a Sandbox mode to play around in. The ultimate aim is to survive for an hour until you can open a rift and return to Earth, but you’re free to keep playing afterward. Even after a few runs in this pre-alpha build, I’ve yet to fully try out all the tech options or exhaust my possibilities. For the particularly adventurous, there’s even Twitch integration that allows viewers to vote on positive or negative events for that run!

The Riftbreaker is immensely ambitious, and the amount of potential I see in it is truly staggering. The game will feature a campaign, as well as multiple different map biomes. You’ll even be able to set up bases in different maps and teleport between them, bringing rare resources back to your hub. Creatures can be researched and additional tech produced as a result. There are even ARPG aspects, as you can craft higher tier versions of your mecha weapons or outfit them with mods that drop from enemies.

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Even if none of this ends up panning out in the final release, what is here right now still makes The Riftbreaker great fun. All the crucial aspects of a base-building tower defence game and ARPG have been condensed into a single package, and the result is exceptional. There have been very few bugs or performance issues, and aside from missing or placeholder assets, the only real complaint I have is the lack of enemy types. I’d wager that more will come with additional biomes, but that’s where it stands presently.

I could continue to praise this game at length, but by now I hope to have gotten the point across. Better yet: The Riftbreaker Prologue is available for free on Steam, featuring the same prologue demo mission from the Steam Game Fest. If anything of what I’ve said sounds even faintly enticing, I heartily encourage you to check it out and see for yourself.

The Riftbreaker is slated to release on Steam, PS4, and Xbox One sometime in 2020; it’s unclear if this will be a full release or an Early Access, however. What is clear is that I’ll be there, regardless. This is absolutely a game to watch.