Moonbreaker is a strategy game aiming to last a generation

When Subnautical developer Unknown Worlds announced that he would unveil his latest game at Gamescom, fans probably didn’t expect it Moonbreaker. Rather than dive back into the ocean for another underwater survival game, the studio’s latest project is a turn-based strategy title that replicates the feel of miniature-focused tabletop games. It’s so dedicated to that experience that the game even includes a solid character paint suite. On top of all that, the game features lore written by Mistborn author Brandon Sanderson.

This might seem like a big left turn for a studio that was headlong into the world of Subnautical for a decade, but Moonbreaker is a passion project for the developers involved, allowing them to digitize their love of games like Warhammer 40,000. In an interview with Digital Trends at Gamescom, Unknown Worlds co-founder Charlie Clevland explained the philosophical ties that bind Subnautical and Moonbreaker.

“We want our games to take players on a journey into the unknown,” Cleveland told Digital Trends. “This unknown can be a new genre, it can be a space of possibility, it can be a real journey into the unknown like Subnautical has been. With Moonbreaker, it really is a space of unknown possibility. As we add more units, this game is going to explode.

Moonbreaker: Gameplay Reveal Trailer

I set to work with Moonbreaker at the show, learning a whole lot more about the title ahead of its Early Access launch. Between a tactile strategy game and an incredibly powerful miniature customization suite, Moonbreaker is a game designed for imaginative players willing to indulge their inner child.

The Canterbury Tales in space

With Moonbreaker, Cleveland says Unknown Worlds set out to make “the best miniatures game.” To do that, the studio should pay close attention to what makes this genre work so well. It starts with the story. Cleveland notes that tabletop games like Warhammer 40,000 excels at delivering dense lore and world-building, but strategy video games don’t always deliver those same heights.

“I think of it as The Canterbury Tales in space,” says Cleveland. “We tell the story of 10 different captains. We have three to start with and we distribute them one by one as we complete them. You will see how their stories intertwine in surprising ways. We want these to be great moments. As game of thrones …’ New episode is out! Can you believe what just happened!? That’s what we want.

Key art for Moonbreaker

Cleveland describes the game’s story as a “mystery box” that will be handed out to players over the years. To help create this, the studio partnered with Brandon Sanderson, who wrote the game’s bible. Cleveland describes Sanderson as “essentially a game designer”, explaining that the author thinks in terms of the rules of the game in his novels. Cleveland hopes Sanderson’s stamp on Moonbreaker will be evident, which is exciting news for those who have questioned the extent of George RR Martin’s contributions to Ring of Elden.

“From day one, we wanted to create a game that would last a generation.”

Cleveland is tight-lipped on the story at this time, noting that it takes place in a space system called The Reaches, where 50 to 100 moons orbit a red dwarf. Some of this will be delivered via in-game lore. Moonbreaker takes a totally atypical approach to video game storytelling: he’s going to have his own podcast. The game will run in seasons, and each will bring a 30-minute audio drama that can be listened to both in-game and on platforms like Spotify. Theoretically, someone could follow the story of Moonbreaker without even playing it.

My Demoist mentioned that the game should have around three seasons per year and Unknown Worlds is fully committed to treating the title as a true live service game to achieve this. Cleveland has ambitious plans for the life of the game as long as players seem willing to go the route.

“Making a game like this requires planning months and years in advance. I’m currently working on units for Season 6. That’s a year and a half away,” Cleveland says. day one, we wanted to make a game that would last a generation. We wanted to do like a Magic, Where Yu Gi Oh!, Where Pokemon. We don’t want to follow up; we want to make a live service game that’s just going to go. There is no end date; it will be years. We have stories for years. We have had cultures for years. We have everything we need to set this up for decades.

A miniature model in Moonbreaker.

Spatial strategy

Core gameplay centers around turn-based strategy in a system inspired by Warhammer, XCOM, and Foyer, just to name a few. All units look like tabletop miniatures, which hop around the arena as if an invisible hand is knocking them down. Troops are earned from boosters that players will get as they play (although there will also be an option to buy them outright). At the start of a battle, players drop their captain onto the field. Three troops from their “deck” appear on the player’s bench and can be summoned as the battle progresses. Eliminate your opponent and you will be victorious.

“It’s really lo-fi.”

The game is not grid-based, so each unit can move freely within a certain radius by clicking and dragging the mouse. Like XCOM, there is hard and soft cover that troops can hide behind to reduce damage or avoid it altogether. In addition to basic attacks, players also choose two assists at the top of a turn, which have cooldowns. In my game, a ship hovering above the playing field could shoot space junk at an enemy to hit them and deal extra damage (occasionally a fish from Subnautical would get bombarded by an enemy instead).

Each turn, players earn a tick of ash, a valuable in-universe resource that functions like mana in Foyer. Cinder is used to summon units or perform a character’s special actions. For example, I used three ashes to summon a long-range troop during battle. Two turns later, I spent two ticks to be able to land a grenade attack on two grouped enemies. Three pips of unused ash will be saved from turn to turn, so players must choose when to save resources and when to burn them.

Gameplay of a Moonbreaker match.

What I notice the most while playing is how tactile it all feels, like moving Warhammer miniatures around on a board. The figures are not articulated like a normal video game character, so my imagination fills in the gaps like a child playing with action figures. That’s exactly the design philosophy Unknown Worlds was going for here, with imagination as the main focus.

“It was the main number one and it was so hard to get the whole team on board because it’s such a different way of working,” Cleveland says. “It’s really lo-fi. We thought maybe it would be really shitty, and it was really shitty for a long time! When the game is early, you just put your foot down and say: “I do this.” I don’t care! That’s our design constraint.

As for the fashions, Moonbreaker will have two cores to start with. Although there is no story campaign, the core experience is a roguelike mode where players fight through a series of battles to earn rewards. This mode has permadeath, so when a troop goes down, it can’t be used for the rest of the run. The game will also feature a 1v1 multiplayer mode so players can compete against each other. Cleveland notes that they have already heard requests for ranked play and a 2v2 mode and that the team is open to exploring ideas like this during the early access period.

Bob Ross Project

The most impressive part of my whole demo came when I got to play around with the game’s troop customization tool. For tabletop players, miniature painting is serious business. Go to a Warhammer convention and you’ll find the neatest and most intricate miniatures you’ve ever seen. Moonbreaker seeks to replicate that experience with an easy-to-use yet surprisingly powerful tool.

A player paints an insect-like figure in Moonbreaker.

When players load a troop, they will have a blank gray canvas. From there, they can select different paint options, including washes, stippling, and airbrush. Brush size can be adjusted with a slider, as can opacity. There’s also a whole bunch of colors to choose from and a little well where players can mix paints and select a new color with an eyedropper tool.

Within seconds, I could feel how incredibly satisfying and profound the experience was. In my session, I worked on a horse-like unit with a flamboyant mane and scaly sides. As I applied the paint I could see all the details popping out. I painted the sides with a darker brown wash, allowing the paint to seep into the cracks. I went over it with a brush, adding blue on top while keeping those brown accents. There’s also a toggleable mask tool, which would allow me to focus on something like an eyeball without the paint spilling out of the lines.

Moonbreaker got off to an impressive start.

It was a Zen experience and something the developers intend to do – the game was even initially called Project Bob Ross. To add to this experience, players have the option to completely disable the UI and enter an area if they know the commands by heart. Cleveland thinks the paint provides a unique and perfect time to catch up on the game’s podcasts. It all goes back to the central idea of ​​imagination. Unknown Worlds wants players to connect to the game universe on the same deep level as war hammer players do.

“It’s a hook for the imagination,” Cleveland says. “You see a little statue, you think who they are. Why are they here? You start painting them and focus on them. You imagine their world. That’s the whole idea of ​​the game.”

Players fight a giant enemy in Moonbreaker.

Although the game will be shaped by early access, Moonbreaker got off to an impressive start. It promises a richly detailed story, tight strategy gameplay, and a level of customization that players might end up sinking into most of their time. From there it’s just a matter of how it can sustain itself as a live service game, but Clevland makes it clear that Unknown Worlds is better prepared for the task than it was with Subnautical. The only thing the studio isn’t sure of yet is whether or not this will allow players to purchase actual versions of their figures.

“The plastic is the only problem,” says Cleveland. “I just don’t want to create plastic. Especially after Subnauticalwe don’t want plastic in the ocean!

Moonbreaker go in Steam Early Access September 29.

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