Riftbreaker is a base-building survival game, but whereas in other games you build an army to defend you, here, you are the army. You’re a pilot inside a mech capable of level-shaking destruction and you can torch entire hordes with flamethrowers, mow them down with thundering cannons, carve through them with giant swords and pound them with barrages of missiles. Here, the tech upgrades you normally spend on your army are spent on you. It feels awesome.
Riftbreaker is a cross between StarCraft, They Are Billions and Diablo. StarCraft because it looks like it – you’re in a colourful and chunky alien world, clomping around in what looks like a Terran marine suit, They Are Billions because you need to survive against increasingly massive hordes of invading insect enemies, and Diablo because you grow and equip a fighter which gets more and more powerful as the game goes on. In summary, then, Riftbreaker is a real-time strategy game with a dollop of action-RPG on top.
It’s really well put together. It surprised me, actually. I thought the key art looked tacky and dated because apparently I’m very shallow, but the game itself certainly is not. Riftbreaker is snappy and robust and accomplished in a way I’d expect from – to use an appropriate comparison – a Blizzard game. It’s got heft and pace and punch. Trains of small enemy insects flow like water as they surge towards you, and cleaving through them with your sword leaves a great bloody mess all around you, and it’s no less fun revving up a machine gun to cut them all down or blowing them to smithereens with any number of explosives. Riftbreaker makes you feel powerful.
But your strength comes hand-in-hand with your base’s development. When you begin, you can dash around a bit, repair, and swing your sword and shoot a basic gun, so you’re no weakling, but it’s a far cry from what you can be once you lay down an armory and start researching and developing there. It’s then that you can begin re-equipping yourself as you would in an action-RPG, unlocking abilities and upgrades.
Base-building is pretty familiar. You need resource streams from minerals and something called carbonium in order to build things, and you need sources of electricity to keep things powered-up, and there are a few to choose from. Obviously, you’ll also need a wall around your base and turrets to help with defense. And to begin with, that’s enough. But games like this don’t want you sitting behind walls so they find ways to coax you out.
You need to go out for a few reasons. Probably the most pressing will be finding new resource piles because they deplete and will run out. New ones, though, are just out of reach. You can’t realistically extend your existing perimeter to encircle them so what do you do? Here, Riftbreaker has a nifty trick: portals. They make it possible to establish far-away mining outcrops – and to wall them, turret them and power them – and hop between there and home when you need to.
You’ll also want to go out roaming to simply kill enemies, because they drop what you need to research new gear. You don’t get loot in a traditional action-RPG sense – new weapons don’t just drop ready made – but you get body parts and components from enemies instead. You also get components from generally smashing the place up, which makes me feel a bit like I’m the guy with the scar in Avatar. There’s also the possibility of taking out a nearby alien nest and so ending the trickle of enemies coming from it.
It’s in these ways Riftbreaker keeps you on the move. It wants you hopping between bases and it wants you out roaming. It wants action. It’s not a game about being shy and reserved. You don’t have time before the enemy horde comes. This is how it keeps the tension and excitement up, and it’s that, hand in hand with the beautiful way it’s put together, which makes Riftbreaker a joy to play.