ANVIL: Vault Breakers - Early Access Preview
I love a good twin-stick shooter. Ever since playing Smash TV on a mate’s SNES in my younger days, there has been something about the genre that just clicks with me. In recent times we have been blessed with some absolutely cracking entries in the genre. Games like Alienation, Assault Android Cactus and Helldivers have really pushed the genre forward, introducing modern gaming concepts into the classic formula. Now we have a new game that is looking to once again bring modern elements into the genre’s well-established gameplay tropes. That game is ANVIL: Vault Breakers and I have to say, it has the potential to be a breakout hit.
The setup for ANVIL is pretty familiar. Humans have totally stuffed earth so they are heading out into space with some fancy new remote piloted robots called Breakers, exploring remote systems for valuable resources and caches of advanced technology. Really, none of that is important, the key takeaways are there are robots with guns and a whole load of hostile wildlife to kill. An award-winning story this is not, but that said it is more than sufficient to set up hours upon hours of shooting action.
Players choose from one of 12 Breakers to control, three of which are available from the start with the rest being unlocked through in-game currency, each of these breakers has a unique set of favoured weapons and skills. There are high damage, high stamina melee characters, nimble healers, shotgun specialists and everything in between. No matter your preferred playstyle there is sure to be something here that clicks. But sticking to one class is not the point here. The game actually encourages players to mix it up by marking one Breaker with an exp bonus every round, so it makes sense to go with that character in order to unlock everything as quickly as possible.
The structure of the game is something that stands out in the genre. Firstly it looks like it is being set up as a possible free-to-play title. There are indications that there will be seasons and events, along with a fairly slow unlock rate makes me think that ANVIL, once it is out of early access, will be going down that route. Honestly, it makes sense with how the rest of the game plays out. It can be played as a single-player title, in fact, that is mainly how I am playing it, but there is no doubt the developers want you to be playing with friends.
The game also uses a rogue-like structure for the game. Each time you play is a new run through randomised levels with different enemies, bosses, weapons and skill upgrades. You start each run with your special skills and a weapon suited to your class and then through money earned in the run, you can buy boosts, collect new weapons and upgrade your skills to improve your chances. When you die, everything earned is lost and you start again fresh next run. Permanent stat upgrades can be earned through exp so there is the chance to boost health, attack damage and defence permanently, though this seems like it is presently tied to the “seasons” system so we won’t know for sure how permanent these upgrades are until later down the track.
The moment to moment action is a lot of fun. Each character has a defensive move like a dash, teleport or shield that is the key to making it through the game so the management of this skill becomes essential. There is also a huge range of different weapons to chose from. Tracking pistols, slow charging missile launchers, short-ranged shotguns and good old assault rifles all make an appearance. All of the weapons feel wonderfully balanced and with the exception of some boss fights where getting in close is a problem, you won’t go wrong with whichever weapon you end up going with.
Speaking of bosses, this is where my biggest gripe lies. Some of these boss battles are truly epic encounters, long hard-fought battles that go through multiple stages. They are generally a blast but there is one major issue. That is one-hit kills. Often I found myself battling away against one of these epic beasts, only to be killed instantly with an attack that wasn’t telegraphed in any way. It is frustrating as hell, especially when playing through some of the tougher galaxies. It is early access though so there is plenty of time for the devs to tighten the balance.
In all though, ANVIL is shaping up quite nicely. The gameplay is addictive and tight, encouraging that “one more run” mentality that is present in all good rogue-like titles, there is a huge range in variety for both the weapons and the Breakers themselves and there is a host of things to unlock and keep players busy. Some balance tweaking along with more content should be all it takes to make ANVIL a must-play for twin-stick fans everywhere. But don’t just take my word for it, you can download it now through Gamepass on both PC and Xbox. If you loved Alienation on the Playstation then I am sure that you will get a massive kick out of ANVIL, even in its early access state.