EXOR Studios has made a name for itself by blending genres. Zombie Driver mixes combat racing with a zombie apocalypse motif. X-Morph: Defense, despite its name being a clear call-out to X-COM: UFO Defense, is a blend of a tower defense game and a twin-stick shooter.
This time around, EXOR has dropped three genres into the pot — a tower defense game, an action RPG, and a base-building RTS. The result is The Riftbreaker, a game that has potential it never fully realizes.
The Riftbreaker Review: Too Many Genres Spoil the Broth
The Riftbreaker‘s base-building and deep tech tree bring to mind Factorio, and it is this main game mode that provides the frame story for the game.
You are Ashley S. Nowak, the titular “Riftbreaker.” Dialogue with Mr. Riggs, your mech suit, implies that humanity strip-mined the Earth and ran into some sort of natural disaster involving the Yellowstone supervolcano. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people worked to develop dimensional jumping to cross the Milky Way and steal resources off other planets to keep their advanced civilization from collapsing.
At least that’s what it seems. The writing is a mishmash of cliches and nonsequiturs, so keeping up can be difficult.
Either way, the planets on which humanity arrives aren’t thrilled about the intrusion. In every situation, hordes of space bugs periodically descend on your base as you colonize, and the game gives you an assortment of defenses to repel them.
Between attacks, you move your mech around to babysit the repair and upgrading of an increasingly complex base, but none of it is with Factorio‘s brilliant automation systems that make that game so infinitely playable.
And finally, your mechsuit also serves as the means by which you explore the map, unlock more resources, and push toward the ultimate goal of building a dimensional rift back to Earth — apparently getting there is a one-way trip until you can acquire on-site the means to get home.
Unfortunately, that requires a massive amount of resources and a whole lot of repetitive grinding just to complete one mission. And the problem is that it just isn’t any fun, though 91% of Steam users seem to disagree.
It doesn’t help that the voice acting is stilted, and the story elements are off-putting, quickly surfacing questions like “are we the baddies?” about the human society you’re supposed to be aiding.
The day-night cycle feels tacked on, and rather than creating a sense of dread at night and forcing the player back to base, it makes the normal, repetitive gameplay loop take place in an environment so dark that you can’t see what you’re doing. That’s fine in an RPG. It’s unforgivable in a base-building RTS that doesn’t use the night as a narrative device.
And as one Steam reviewer pointed out, any time the game throws a natural disaster at you, you’ll be spending all your time hunting down and repairing every power connection, pipe, and stray bit of wall instead of exploring and progressing.
There are automated repair bots, but they drain so much power and have such a tiny area-of-effect that they’re too inefficient. It’s all just busy work. And by the time your base gets large enough to move into the mid-game, it creates a real obstacle to being prepared for the next alien attack.
The missions themselves are far too long, as well. Any good RTS campaign divides its overarching goal into easily digestible chunks that you can play in an hour or two and then go do something else. The Riftbreaker is a game that is actively hostile to anyone with a life. You can save any time, but there are no natural exit points or lulls in gameplay to do so.
Almost every other genre has this down pat. In turn-based games, you can save before hitting the End Turn button and pick up later. In RPGs, you turn in a quest and then save and exit. In sports and mission-based simulation games, you play a game or do a mission (like hauling a load of cheese in American Truck Simulator) and stop.
The Riftbreaker has nothing like that; it simply throws mission after mission, objective after objective, at you, almost as if it’s afraid that once you turn it off, you’re not going to want to turn it back on.
The Riftbreaker Review — The Bottom Line
- Blends a variety of genres
- Fast-paced, frantic gameplay that never lets off the gas pedal
- Gorgeous graphics with all the bells and whistles you expect in 2021
- None of the genres are any fun in and of themselves
- Frustrating obstacles that only drag out playtime
- Hostile design that makes balancing playtime difficult
- Byzantine UI
- Lackluster tutorials
- Bad voice acting and no player engagement with the story and the world
To their credit, EXOR Studios has blended three distinctively different styles of strategy game into one package. For hardcore fans of the genre, this might just be the Reese’s cup of gaming that they’ve been waiting for.
But for some folks, this game is just going to feel like a slog and leave them cold — like me. There is a demo available on Steam, so you can try it out before you take the plunge.
[Note: Exor Studios provided the copy of The Riftbreaker used for this review.]