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Hyper Light Breaker

Hyper Light Breaker Preview: Hyper Light Drifter meets Solar Ash

We've been hands-on with Heart Machine's upcoming action roguelite game all during our time in LA for Summer Game Fest.

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To say that the Hyper Light series has evolved between Drifter and the upcoming Breaker is probably a bit of an understatement. The former, an absolutely beloved and hugely well-received game, excelled for its grandiose use of pixel art work and had an almost top-down perspective, but the latter is changing all of that. Hyper Light Breaker is an open-world adventure that uses a third-person perspective and a 3D art direction to turn what was once a small indie project into what now feels like an established AA experience. Granted, this leap is perhaps not a huge surprise since between Drifter and Breaker, the folk over at Heart Machine delivered Solar Ash, an adventure that feels more akin to the way that Breaker operates than Drifter does.

I say this as I had the chance to dive into a portion of Hyper Light Breaker during my time in Los Angeles for Summer Game Fest. I got to test around 30 minutes of the game in a demo that introduced me to some of the core new features, mechanics, and systems that make up this roguelite title with cooperative elements.

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Now touching on that latter point, I didn't get the chance to experience the co-op portion, so I'm going to move past that and focus on the core premise of Hyper Light Breaker instead. In many ways, it's a little bit battle royale with an extraction flair, all minus the other players attempting to ruin your day. You are dropped into a map with basic loot and items wherein your task is to explore, defeat enemies, complete minor objectives and tasks, overcome bosses to gather keys that will eventually allow you to open the door to the main boss in an attempt to beat said level. If you die during an attempt, you lose any gear you've gathered unless you extracted before kicking the bucket wherein any gear can be brought back to a central hub known as the Cursed Outpost to either save it, use it on another run, or sell it for currency in order to buy other loot (such as weapons or Holobytes, which effectively are perks) from the available vendors. In many ways, the idea of what makes up an extraction game aren't challenged at all here, neither are looting systems that you would find in a battle royale, as it's pretty much about opening chests guarded by a group of enemies.

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But this is fine because Hyper Light Breaker is a really fluid and fun game to play. Heart Machine has created a set of mechanics that feel fast-paced while still having depth, and this includes hack 'n' slash-like combat, responsive ranged action, tight but rewarding parrying and dodging windows, and all while being able to surf across the map on a hoverboard, glide over gaps, and leap, double-jump, and wall climb to reach new heights and conquer verticality. In combination and in practice, this variety of mechanics make for an elegant and engaging control scheme where it feels like the world is truly yours to conquer.

It's not just the mechanics that make Hyper Light Breaker a blast to play. There are broad customisability options thanks to the roguelite and looting core premise, which when matched up with multiple Breakers to take into action - each of whom have their own abilities and set of mechanics - and the fact that the maps are procedurally generated means that you'll always find new ways to approach the core task at hand of defeating the main boss of the level. You could beeline for the boss, stopping at one of the Elite enemies along the way to earn a key to its domain, or you could spend much more time looting up, taking on different combat encounters around the map to better prepare yourself for what's to come. The main catch is that the more actions you commit in the level, the higher your Danger Meter rises. If it reaches its limit, an assassin will be sent after you (like the Flame Wizard I had to battle), with this essentially serving as a boss that hunts you down until either you, or it, are eliminated in combat.

While these assassins aren't a walk in the park to defeat, they are easier than the main level bosses, which for the sake of this demo was a being known as Exus. Due to the short nature of the demo, I only had one chance to face this enemy and let me just tell you that it didn't go well. Heart Machine hasn't skimped on new mechanics to identify and master with these enemies, and I can imagine plenty of players will be facing certain doom when first taking on these foes when the game ultimately debuts in Early Access.

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While the idea of a game that uses looting and extraction systems might trigger warning claxons in your head, the fact that Hyper Light Breaker is solely PvE makes it far less of a concern. I personally don't quite find the same joy out of roguelites and games similar to Breaker, but there's no denying that there's something sleek and suave about this game. Whether it's the great feeling movement, the stunning and vibrant art direction that makes the Overgrowth map memorable, the fact-paced and challenging combat, or even the fact that there is story and narrative elements baked in through an artefact system where players decode fragments to learn more about a Breaker's past, there are clear compelling elements with this game.

It also feels quite complete despite Heart Machine's plans to first debut as an Early Access project and then arrive in a 1.0 state sometime after that. I'm sure this period will be used to stack it full of content and refine any outlying elements, but as of right now it seems like Heart Machine is back to their old tricks by creating a game that is visually eye-catching, tight, and crammed with charm.

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