The title of this post isn’t a creative way of saying “pros and cons” (though that would be a pretty good title). I’m going to be writing out some thoughts I have on the literal concept of critical hits and missed attacks. More broadly, this is a post discussing RNG in Into The Breach.
Into The Breach is a really interesting game to analyze. I consider there to be two methods of “strategy” in this game – the battle strategy and the build strategy.
I’ve never seen a game quite like Into The Breach before. It seems simple enough – it’s a tactical turn based game on a flat 8 x 8 grid. But what makes Into The Breach interesting is that you always know exactly how the enemy is going to attack.
Each battle lasts for a certain amount of turns, usually around three to five, and you win if you can survive until the end. There’s three parts to a turn: the enemy moves, you act, the enemy attacks. In the beginning of each turn, the Vek (the enemies) on the field move and telegraph an attack. You can see on the screen, in red, where and how they will attack at the end of the turn. If there are spawn points for new enemies, denoted by the cracks on the ground, they will emerge and then also move and prep an attack. Then, the map marks new spawn points for the next round.
Then it progresses to the player’s action. In this state, the Vek are essentially frozen in their next action. The player has three mechs that they control. Each mech has a movement stat that denotes how many tiles they can move this turn. Each mech also has up to three different actions they can make depending on what weapons or abilities are equipped. There is a heal option, and then two options based on weaponry.
These weapons can do things like:
- Attack something and push it back one square
- Set something on fire and push it back one square
- Pull something a square closer to you
- Teleport to another tile and swap spots with whatever is on that tile
- Create a shield on a tile
- etc. (there’s a lot)
As you can see, a lot of these involve manipulating the Vek on the board. As I stated before, the Vek’s move is telegraphed. If one is attacking a city tile in front of itself and you push it one tile to the left, it will still attack the tile in front of itself, regardless of what’s on that tile.
In that sense, the exact method of a telegraphed attack is important, not the target.
During your play phase, you know every exact action that will occur in the next phase. You know how they’ll attack. You know where they will spawn. You know all weather effects/status effects/etc. You know when each of these things occur because you can see the order of action. You see everything, and then you can make your move.
In some sense, everything in predictable and nothing is random. And for me, it’s led to a lot of really interesting strategic tactics.
You know that thing in Fire Emblem (for example) in which you may make each move perfectly, but then one of your attacks misses? Or maybe worse, the enemy unit happens to land a critical hit? (An aside: the reason I started thinking about RNG in strategy games to begin with was because when I was playing the new Fire Emblem: Three Houses DLC, I swear Edelgard missed 40% of all of her attacks). Well Into The Breach doesn’t have any of that because each of your moves does exactly what you wanted it to.
Obviously, you can’t have the entire battle without any randomness at all. I mentioned the three phases of enemy -> player -> enemy. The first enemy phase is pretty random. Maybe you can get unlucky and have four enemies attack a single immobile mech and there’s nothing you can do about it. I don’t think it’s possible to really remove RNG from the field entirely.
But then, the player’s turn is entirely predictable. The idea of having literally every outcome presented to me is something I don’t think I’ve seen much elsewhere. From a game design perspective, I think this makes it so the player never feels like they lost because of bad luck, because there’s just so little luck involved here. Got hit? Lost a unit? Well you should have seen it coming. Playing this made me feel like I was in control of the field, and every move I made mattered. It’s a really interesting gameplay experience.
If anything, a big part of the game is trying to reduce the effects of randomness in the first phase. You can do things like block spawn points, create shields, and etc. that allows you to keep an advantage at all times. If you can set up the field such that you have as many options as possible, then you’ll have a much easier time winning.
There is one little final bit of RNG. There’s a chance that an attack to the grid (essentially your overall health bar) will be negated. But for the most part, this chance is so small that you can’t really rely on it at all, but when it triggers, you feel good about it. That bit of random chance is small enough that it doesn’t change the gameplay, but provides some positive support because it can only ever help you, not hurt you.
The design of Into The Breach’s battles makes it hard to ever feel like you got cheated out of a victory from bad luck. Conversely, you can’t win out of luck either. You can only win with skill.
On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, the game’s scenario is built around a more rogue-like system. It’s somewhat similar to it’s predecessor, FTL: Faster Than Light (or technically I think rogue-lite is the proper term).
I call this part of the game the “build strategy” because in between battles is when you get to tweak your mechs. You can swap weapons or swap pilots. Sometimes you can find upgrade items in battles and collect them to gain new abilities or increase health. You pick which battles you want to do based on its objectives and rewards.
There’s a pool of enemy types, bosses, objectives, maps, etc, and the existence, progression, and placement of any of these things are randomized each playthrough. It is a fairly small pool though, so it doesn’t actually feel that random. After a just a couple runs, I already learned what kind of maps and objectives to expect on the first two islands. But regardless, it’s still different every time.
Each pilot gains new skills as they level up. These skills are selected randomly.
At the end of each island, they offer the ability to purchase weapons in a store. Each island only offers four to choose from, and these four are chosen at random.
So to me, the dichotomy between the lack of RNG in the battles themselves and the rogue-lite inspired parts in between all of that is an interesting concept to think about. So much of the game is randomized. And yet so much of the game is entirely non random. If I lose, is it because I used the wrong tactics (something mostly my control) or because I got unlucky and didn’t find time pods in any of the maps (something not within my control).
But given that the core gameplay is in the turn based battles, it tends to be the former.
RNG in Other Games
I had originally wanted to discuss the concept and effects of RNG in other games as well, but this post is already way too long. For example, I wanted to write about Temtem vs Pokemon, in which Temtem does not have crits or misses. I also had a lot of thoughts on luck and predictability in board games, specifically Spirit Island (playing with or without the expansion), as well as in a handful of tabletop RPGs. But…perhaps those thoughts will be for a future post.