The Moonbreaker playtest is unlike any RTS I’ve ever played | First Impressions

At barely over an hour into the first playtest weekend with Moonbreaker pre-early access, my hype meter was soaring and my excitement was locked-in. I’ve been pining for this since the release announcement at Gamescom 2022.

Moonbreaker is billed as a turn-based strategy, tabletop simulation game, but it is SO much more than a real-time strategy game (RTS). Coming from the same team that brought us Subnautica, the only thing that Moonbreaker shares with Unknown World’s underwater survival builder is a team that is unafraid to charge into new territory with dedication and passion for getting it right.

Beyond that, Moonbreaker is unlike anything else I’ve played before in an RTS. It does an amazing job of invoking serious Warhammer Tabletop vibes. It even features an incredibly true-to-life miniature painting and customization platform.

Moonbreaker’s gameplay at a glance

This game is rich and deep in its simple complexity. Each match starts off with your army deploying onto the battlefield from your orbiting flagship – which ‘assists’ your troops throughout the match. Two players go head-to-head on a random arena map with pre-selected rosters of one captain and ten battle-ready units. This makes for a total of 11 possible units on the field – consisting of any combination of three factions:

Smugglers – Renegades that thrive on chaos with cybernetic infusions and a steampunk-esque vibe.

Methedori – Honour-bound steel-forged guardians, prepared to fight to defend that honor with “no mercy for the corrupt.”

Cholek – An organic, seemingly peaceful alien-like species – functioning as support type units.

More than 50 units and three primary captains are available to unlock at launch. There are no restrictions on unit availability or combinations save for the requirement to unlock them through the game.

Moonbreaker Ship assist
Image by Unknown Worlds Entertainment

Players select one of three sets of ‘assists’ in advance – these are buffs or benefits your ‘ship’ bestows on your units during the match. These buffs can consist of healing, direct damage, extra defenses, and more.

The first round deploys each player’s captain randomly on opposite sides of the map. While the maps can seem small, I believe they’re perfectly sized, complete with hard/soft cover to use according to the meta.

The match economy is driven by a currency called Cinder, which players earn after each round. Cinder is spent on each prior round with a total of three Cinder that can be banked at a time. Cinder is used to execute unit special abilities, deploy new units to the field and prepare further units for deployment. To win the match, you must kill the other player’s captain – but it sounds a lot simpler than it is.

Units, combinations, and meta

I am perhaps most impressed by the game’s ability (by design) to shake up and possibly prevent any one static or cookie-cutter meta – which remains to be seen of course. In order for a meta to form, there must be consistency. In Moonbreaker, unknowns exist of random maps and random ‘assist’ selection, paired with random starting unit availability from your roster. This means that even if there was a ‘meta comp’ to emerge, your number might not necessarily come up. That said, unit and captain synergy will absolutely be a strategic consideration in the game.

In my opinion, this design presents just the right amount of player agency. It allows you to optimize your armies and abilities for synergy, while also having to adapt in real time to these unplanned effects. Strategies will emerge that focus on dealing quick death to the enemy captain, as well as out-enduring enemy units, high mobility versus crowd control, and more.

I feel that this gives the game a very Magic the Gathering or Hearthstone approach to unit building, deployment, and a number of effective ‘meta’ strats that make for a much more interesting competitive experience.

Miniature painting and customization

The part of Moonbreaker that I was most excited to try was the miniature painting and customization – full-stop. As a forever DM (Dungeon Master), I spent hours upon hours hand-painting miniatures for my tabletop games. It is dear to me as a very “zen” hobby, and I had very high hopes and expectations for this part of the Moonbreaker experience.

As a truly unique differentiator in the game, this had to be done right – and I was very happy.

I am elated to say that Unknown Worlds absolutely nailed the overall experience. I’m especially satisfied with how paints mix, blend and interact with each other on a real plastic or resin miniature. You can mix colors on the palette, choose from hundreds of metallics, primers, washes, airbrush tones, and inks and even adjust for things like brush pressure, stippling, dry brushing, and more.

Moonbreaker Painting
Image by Unknown Worlds Entertainment

Any unit that is available to you will be fully paintable at launch. In the current playtest, some models are placeholders and unable to be painted. While only a few dozen paints are available in the current playtest, Unknown Worlds has already shown a palette of hundreds and there are more than enough to keep even the most avid mini-painter busy for a while! There will be players who focus on mini-painting almost exclusively – I guarantee it.

Micro-transactions and monetization

Rest easy, friends, there is no pay-to-win in Moonbreaker. The game is perfectly set up for paid customizations, skins, paint schemes, and the roots of a battlepass style progression already in place. This, to me, is the perfect model. We have seen as an industry (and verified as gamers) that we can and will happily pay for cosmetic customizations and visual bragging rights.

From what I’ve seen so far, Unknown Worlds has a level of respect for that and have laid in ways to get the bills paid without alienating players. I hope they stick to that North Star and I’m actually excited to see what the battle pass and customization options offer.

How to get into the Moonbreaker playtest

Fortunately, there is no mysterious science to getting your hands on Moonbreaker early. Simply sign up for the playtest via Steam and keep an eye on your inbox for an invitation to join!

Moonbreaker playtest preview weekends are:
September 9-11, 2022
September 16-18, 2022

The story and lore of Moonbreaker

The design team behind the storied world of The Reaches – where the Moonbreaker IP is set – describes it as Warhammer meets Firefly, and that is definitely evident in the look and feel of the game.

Cleverly cringe-free quips are distinct to each unit as they interact with others on the field. Each unit has its own card and history of lore items, motivations, and story points. It is truly immersive in so many ways beyond just the head-to-head matches themselves.

Moonbreaker is a content creator’s paradise, and I can’t wait to see what the community comes up with.

I, for one, will be spending as much time as I can across these next two Moonbreaker playtest weekends. I’ll be eagerly watching the growth and development as we head towards early access on Sept 29, 2022. It also just so happens to be on my birthday… just saying.

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Brad D

Brad is a lifelong gamer and 12 year veteran of the gaming and esports marketing industry and owner/founder of where his passion for the business of gaming takes form. As a writer, Twitch and Instagram influencer and industry professional, Brad has produced bylines and content work for Walmart Gaming, SQUAD and Northern Arena to name a few.
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