The Riftbreaker (PC)

I had originally heard about this game thru the reddit grapevine a year back or so, when it was in early access. I was sort of intrigued, but I felt that the majority (there are exceptions), of early access games tend to flounder and die. Color me surprised when I saw that it had made its way onto Game Pass. Excellent, I can try it out!

A game promising mech action hack and slash/shooting, with an emphasis on base building like starcraft or AOE? Sign me up. 4 different worlds to explore, and build on? Seems to be filled with content. Unfortunately, the core gameplay loop requires so much more polishing to turn it into a fun adventure instead of the infuriating loop that’s currently going on.

You land on a randomly generated tropical planet, you gotta find a suitable spot to start building your base, and ideally it should be located between a blue and an orange resource. These two are your main resources when it comes to constructing buildings, and acquiring new weaponry or research. Instead of having a slew of units that go around gathering resources for you, or constructing new buildings, you simply make these buildings that mine for you. But, here comes the base management aspect: you have to manage both resources and electricity. Everything in your base is powered by electricity and if you don’t have enough, they will stop working. So your mines would stop excavating, and your perimeter defenses would be inoperable. There are different types of power available, and they each are affected differently by environmental aspects. You can build wind turbines, solar arrays, power plants that use your vital resources, a power plant that uses plant matter (hack/slash any of the environment), and all of that has to be linked together, and maintained with storage units. Night falls, no more solar power. Run out of plant matter? No more bio energy. Wind randomly decides to not work? Tough luck. The speed at which new buildings require electricity, and you carefully managing resources is difficult, and it doesn’t help to be attacked.

You can start to see how there’s a loop here. You have to find resources, drop mining camps on them, manage your electrical output, and defend all of it always from all the various dangers to be found.

Let’s talk about these dangers! For starters, every 7 minutes after the first 5 minutes, your base will get attacked by progressively stronger enemies. That means you have to quickly think how to expand your base, where to deploy it, how to defend it, think of managing electricity and constructing buildings all the while having a countdown that constantly adds to the pressure of getting things done. That’s not all, folks! There are random environmental dangers that can occur without warning, where you have no defenses against it, and it can completely annihilate your base – I didn’t say hurt, in which case, you can simply repair it. The event will destroy buildings that you may have spent valuable resources on, and tough luck. Get cracking, build again.

This kind of artificial difficulty has no place in video games, and I’m sick and tired of seeing developers put it in their games. The only difficulty that should exist is because I’m not smart enough, or clever enough to figure out the challenge coming my way. In the case of the random environmental dangers, to alleviate it, I should be able to research or build something that counters it, which is costly, and therefore requires an aspect of risk. But to simply destroy part of the player’s base, with the only course of action to rebuild? The only thing the developer is saying here is “Fuck you, player.” And honestly? This is why your game is on Game Pass, I would never recommend anyone spend a dime on this game.

See what the developers did with this game, is they realized their core gameplay loop is actually severely lacking in certain aspects, a bit too overblown on others, and so they did the number one trick lately. They shined and polished the graphics to look amazing, the effects and particles, all the fancy lightworks, everything to give your eyes a visual treat. Why? To distract you from figuring out they polished a turd to shine!

You land on a randomly generated terrain. You move to scout out the area, trying to find a good spot where there’s the blue resources, and an orange one nearby. You scour the map, and there’s no good spot. You quit, reload, and try a new randomly generated area. You do this about 20 times or so, until finally, you find an area you could build some sort of easily defended walls and towers. You build your headquarters, and then the mines, and the little bits of power for them, and then you start to think how to expand. However, the rate at which you mine and the rate at which you generate electricity are at a slow crawl at the beginning, so you can’t afford to explore. You have to stay in your base, defending it. After 20 minutes, you have a mildly decent base going on. Barely any defenses though, because those are costly, and the resources to maintain them will take another 10-15 minutes to stockpile. You think it’s time to explore. You get not 5 minutes out when a random swarm attacks your base, but your sentries take care of it. You move on, looking for precious resources, when you hear for the 50th time, “Resources are full, please build a storage unit.” You hurry back, and you build some storage units, but wait! This messes with the electrical grid, and due to some random environmental aspect that game will not tell you about, your power output is much lower than it used to be 5 minutes ago. And that’s not all, the games decides now is the time to send several swarms at you! But wait, there’s more! Have an earthquake that lasts roughly 2 minutes, constantly damaging your buildings, and outright destroying them if they near the epicenter.

Ultimately, this is a game about the illusion of control. You land on this alien planet, and your job is to shape and control its future so that humanity can colonize it later. However, despite all the tools the developers laid into your hands, they kept taking away control from you the moment you thought you had any. This isn’t a game where I play how I want to, this is a game where you play how the developer wants you to, or you can kindly, get fucked.

Do not pass Go. Do not drop any money into the pockets of these developers. If anything, let them vanish into obscurity.

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