Moonbreaker is the answer to all of my turn-based strategy game prayers. With a robust lore system, fun gameplay, and an impressive painting mechanic that lets you truly customise your units, Unknown Worlds’ newest foray is the gift that keeps on giving.
My dad always tells me about this one Christmas when he bought me model aeroplanes. They only cost five pounds, but I gravitated to them immediately over the swathes of expensive toys my mum had got me. At the end of the day – and likely much to my mum’s dismay – I informed them my favourite toys were the model aeroplanes because I could paint them however I wanted.
As I grew up, I developed a tremor that kicks off when I’m nervous, excited, or have had one too many pumpkin spice lattes. It’s been years since I’ve been able to hand-paint a model, such that it feels like a long-forgotten dream now, but Moonbreaker rejuvenated that creative spark within me. A homage to the tabletop games of old, Unknown Worlds has attempted to capture the essence of painting your own army and sending them into battle in virtual form. Daring yet oh so familiar, Moonbreaker is a turn-based tabletop gamer’s dream come true.
Take me to your leader
When I previewed the game at Gamescom, the first thing the devs did was introduce me to the virtual overlords who would be in charge of my fearsome figurine army. Game Director Charlie Cleveland confirms “we have many captains planned, we’re just rolling them out slowly,” so at the moment there are only three to choose from. These are Astra, Extilior, and Zax Jak’ar, and I immediately fell in love with Astra (“the favourite captain,” as Cleveland calls her).
Sporting a giant frog and an extensive arsenal of ranged weapons, when I loaded into the game, I was granted her unique abilities alongside a whole plethora of different ‘Assists.’ These, in essence, let you call in the cavalry to help overwhelm your opponents.
I picked up ‘Plink,’ an aptly named damage dealer that will knock one HP off on the enemy captain per round, or can be used to heal the ally captain by the same amount. Watching my opponent’s health trickle away round by round left me with a profoundly sick sense of satisfaction – and that’s before I even started painting.
Call me da Vinci
You can customise every unit in Moonbreaker with its own unique paint job, with the in-game paint system even letting you get deep into the nooks and crannies it’s so easy to miss with a real-life brush.
As someone whose favourite colour is purple, I immediately dove in with a matte lavender colour to deck out a Tipu – an odd looking velociraptor-like creature with rainbow-coloured spines adorning its back. You can choose from a plethora of different shades and paint tools, including airbrushing and dry brushes, to create different effects, and can add unique decals to help tailor things even more.
“The painting was one of the first things that went into the game,” Cleveland says. “Max McGuire [technical director at Unknown Worlds] did the first version of painting in two days – it has been functional for a very long time! It was a lot easier to design than the game itself; the painting is probably around five percent of the work.”
He cites Procreate on the iPad as one of the main influences for the game’s painting mechanic. “It’s so relaxing, and that was a big inspiration. The goal of painting is not just to customise your unit – it’s to enjoy painting. That’s a completely different take on painting because you’re relaxed, you’re blissful, you’re zoning out looking at the colours, you’re zooming in and out looking at all of the details on your beautiful mini, you’ve got this relaxing music and hitting tab makes the UI go away. Why would you want to play games except to feel good?” he concludes. “It’s a positive emotion.”
For those who struggle to hold a mouse steady enough to not ‘go outside the lines’ (my teachers hated me) you can activate ‘auto paint’ to help you focus on different body and machine parts. As someone who literally hasn’t been able to indulge her artistic spirits since age ten, Moonbreaker’s accessibility features are a dream come true. The thrill of being able to create something truly unique to you – even if it’s in the virtual sphere – is enormous, and all the more so because I thought it was lost. No game has ever given me a sense of creative expression quite like Moonbreaker, and that was during a 30-minute demo. I can’t wait to spend more time in the game’s “non-judgemental” space and paint away to my heart’s content – something that I can’t do in real life.
Tale as old as time
Moonbreaker is in its public infancy at the moment and details about its story and universe are still being kept close to the developers’ collective chest, but they very much exist. Unknown Worlds has an extensive series of audio books planned – you can listen to them in-game while you paint, by the way – and whole universes of lore just waiting to be unveiled.
With bestselling author Brandon Sanderson (creator of the Cosmere universe) at the helm, Cleveland reveals that there’s a whole lot going on in the Moonbreaker galaxy. “The units don’t come from factions – it’s not like the Space Orks from Warhammer. Each moon has a culture that isn’t tied to any specific lifeform. Those cultures came from Brandon, and that in turn informs all of the art and level design.
“Then, of course, we have all of the in-game lore, which is truthfully a bit sparse for Early Access launch,” he confesses. “We have a lot more coming. We’ll have the audio dramas, or the big linear narrative, and that’s been planned out. We’ve been working on that for years, so we have this Game of Thrones-style dialogue. It’s the story of all of the captains, but it’ll be their backstories as well.
“We have so much backstory and lore that the Early Access is the tip of the iceberg,” he states with a wry smile. “It’s going to take us years to try and tell all of these stories.”
You can dive into Moonbreaker’s early access on Steam right now – trust me when I say it’s worth it. My 30 minutes of gameplay were pure, unadulterated happiness. No one was yelling at me like in League of Legends or Valorant, and there was less of the save-the-world pressure that you get from World of Warcraft. This game is about chilling out with mates and getting creative, and that’s my idea of a great Saturday night.
The Moonbreaker release date is set for September 29, 2022, so is only a matter of days away. Be sure to check out the rest of our interview with Cleveland in the meantime, as well as the best tabletop RPGs courtesy of our sister site, Wargamer.