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The Riftbreaker preview: base building, strategy, and giant stompy robots collide

By Ian Dransfield. Posted

On first glance, The Riftbreaker appears to have a lot of Total Annihilation (or Supreme Commander) in its DNA, but soon enough it becomes apparent this is more than just big robots and war. Well, there are big robots, and there is war going on, but it’s more than that. Developer EXOR Studios has mixed in plenty of other inspirations, from Diablo through StarCraft; even the likes of Factorio are in the mix. And so far? It’s looking pretty great.

Following completion of the team’s previous title, X-Morph: Defense, EXOR began work on The Riftbreaker in 2018. “The idea for The Riftbreaker was born in a very long brainstorming cycle at our company,” explains Pawel Lekki, chief operating officer at EXOR. “We’re a small team, but everyone could pitch concepts for the next game that we were going to make and then we voted on all of them. We went through 73 game concepts until we all unanimously voted on The Riftbreaker, with the original concept called Project Pandora, created by Andrzej Czajkowski.”

From that pitch, the game has, as might be expected, changed a fair bit – most significantly in the base building mechanics, which have become more of a core pillar for the game as development has continued. On top of that come the dynamic systems like procedural generation for the world and enemy AI behaviour, which has been – and continues to be – tweaked to make sure it’s as close to perfect as it can be. Unsurprisingly it’s been a challenge for the indie studio.

“There were multiple challenges,” Lekki says. “From a technical point of view getting thousands of monsters with individual AI was a real strain on performance, both in terms of CPU and GPU power. The most challenging task we’re working on now is creating the ability to maintain multiple persistent bases in different parts of the planet that continuously operate even if the player is not present in that region. It’s an interesting problem both from a technical and design point of view.”

Metal Arms: Glitch in the System meets Diablo, anyone?

While building up your base forms a big part of The Riftbreaker, you do have to defend it too – a mix of Diablo and tower defence, like a direct-control They Are Billions, perhaps. In the more hectic of these scenarios you’re met by dozens – hundreds, even – of enemies rushing your base, and you’re required to stop the onslaught both directly and through smart use of defensive emplacements. It can be overwhelming, but at the same time, it can be intensely satisfying to wade through legions of incoming bugs and other such nasties, intent on causing your beautiful crafts harm. It is, as Lekki says, a natural fit for each of the individual mechanics.

One ingenious factor in The Riftbreaker’s development has been its use of in-game streamer tools, which allow the audience to interact more directly with the action they’re watching. While these are usually intended to be used by – you guessed it – streamers, and to be fair they are for that, the tools were actually introduced with an ulterior motive: “It’s a direct reaction to the closed development cycle of X-Morph: Defense,” Lekki explains. “We wanted to have a much deeper connection to our community with this project. It was actually developed more in mind of our own development streams than streamer outreach. We wanted our community to be able to play the game together with us, even when it’s still in development. Thanks to the interactive streaming options, they can be a part of the game world and influence what’s happening in the game.”

Outside of your base, things get a mite more dangerous – which is where the twin-stick shooting comes into play.

EXOR is also using its own in-house engine, which the team ‘knows down to the bone’. “We know what can be done in a reasonable time frame and which topics should be avoided,” Lekki says. “That provides a lot of confidence when making bold technical bets, like the one on adding ray tracing.” Though at the same time, EXOR is avoiding the now-traditional route of opting for Early Access, instead releasing limited demos and betas of The Riftbreaker.

“We didn’t want to be constrained by the pressure of constantly updating an Early Access version of the game, maintaining backwards compatibility of updates and a few other caveats that are typical to Early Access projects,” Lekki explains. “I think the Prologue we released last year, as well as our closed Alpha project in combination with the Discord community, have created a fantastic way of gathering player feedback and the ability to react to what players expect of the game. At the same time, we’ve retained full creative control of the game with the ability to change anything at any time.”

A more focused approach to development when compared to X-Morph, along with a creative way of garnering player feedback, and a deep knowledge of the tech backing it all up – oh, and a good concept, too – all combine to make The Riftbreaker a game with real potential from EXOR Studios. Hopefully, the pre-release passion translates into post-release positivity.

Crikey. That's a lot of stuff happening.

Crafty

There is, of course, a fair chunk of StarCraft in the look of The Riftbreaker, which we put to Lekki. “Thank you! I take it as a big compliment,” he says. “StarCraft is one of the games that we’ve grown up with. I started my game development adventure by making fan-made maps for StarCraft: Brood War with my brother. StarCraft references are certainly running at the back of our subconscious all of the time. In terms of the visual art style, if you take a look at our previous games, we certainly like to strike a gritty naturalistic feel. For The Riftbreaker we wanted to go into rich, vibrant colours with references ranging from James Cameron’s Avatar to coral reef documentaries.”

Genre: Base building RTS tower defence+++ | Format: PC / PS5 / XB X/S / PS4 / XBO | Developer: EXOR Studios | Publisher: EXOR Studios | Release: TBC 2021

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