I’m hoping Hyper Light Breaker can pull a Hades and hammer out its flaws when it finally lands in Early Access later this year – preview
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I’m hoping Hyper Light Breaker can pull a Hades and hammer out its flaws when it finally lands in Early Access later this year – preview

When you release a sequel to a hit indie game, do you play it safe and stay true to the original vision, or do you take a chance and go off in new, interesting directions? It’s a tricky question that many studios have had to face throughout the years, and while taking that leap to greener pastures may lead to greater success, it’s not without risk. Enter Hyper Light Breaker.

Hyper Light Breaker is a third-person action game, complete with open world maps, rogue-like elements, and a healthy dollop of difficulty. This word salad may sound long, and tasty, but its a notable mention right at the top as the last Hyper Light game – Hyper Light Drifter – was a totally different beast. It was a pixel art top-down action RPG. Breaker looks different, it feels different… and it’s an altogether different beast.

Having played the game’s demo at both Day of the Devs and GDC, Hyper Light Breaker feels totally solid ahead of its early access release later this year. Combat is decent; a bit better than Genshin Impact but not quite as good as Nier Automata – two games that (according to the developer) were inspirations for Hyper Light Breaker’s new direction. It’s this core combat experience that was the highlight for me, as judging from my all-too-brief hands-on time with the game, it is not without fault. In dashing from one dimension to the next, it feels as though Hyper Light Breaker may have slipped a little.

Hyper Light Breaker boss
Don’t worry, there are still powerful bosses that you’ll be forced to overcome. | Image credit: Heart Machine

Like a stylish T-shirt, it feels tight, and that’s not a detriment if you’re good at what you’re doing. Parrying incoming attacks perfectly offers ripe rewards, and flowing between basic attack strings and abilities makes you this ultra-colourful whirling dervish. This quality exists among some of my favourite action games, and crosses genre. Hyper Light Breaker in-action puts me in the same flow state as Devil May Cry 5 or Hades. The tightness lets you show off your abs, so to speak. The game seems to reward mastery, much like its predecessor. However, flip that coin and it also is devilishly punishing to flops and fumbles.

The series retains its difficulty, so parry a little late or stop paying attention and a random dude with a rocket launcher may very well be the end of you. So far so good! Hyper Light Drifter was appealing because it challenged you to learn and improve from failed attempts – and that is absolutely present here, albeit in a different form.

I also like the new look, even if my heart aches for that classic pixelated aesthetic the original championed. The game is very saturated and rich with colour, best shown in the hub where all your runs begin. Lush green trees meet with neon lights, and even crumbling alleyways have a beauty to them. This extends to the more dangerous parts of the demo, a ravished but naturalistic landscape with broken-down robots littering hills and streams. The game is a looker, without a doubt.

As you can see, Hyper Light Breaker retains its vibrancy and action focus.

But from there, my praise for Hyper Light Breaker loses its glow a little. The rogue-like elements of the game appear fairly standard. I did eventually die to one of the demo’s bigger enemies, and as you can imagine all my items and upgrades were lost (bar currency I accumulated which sat in a big pile like it would in the Dark Souls series).

From there you return to the hub with naught but XP, which – according to a developer present – can be spent on your Breaker level. This is fine, and perfectly serviceable, but doesn’t exactly blow your hair back as you rinse-repeat your way up the difficulty ladder.

While the appeal of “infinite worlds” present in the trailer for the game sounds nice and all, I also do miss the hand-crafted world of Hyper Light Drifter a lot. You always lose a little something with procedurally-generated levels designed like this; navigating the landscape felt a touch aimless, aside from a mini map which directs you to elites you must defeat in order to progress. The game looks like Hyper Light, but it feels more like Risk of Rain 2. For some of you out there that’ll sound awesome. For others, it’ll make you a little bit sad.

Hyper Light Breaker glider
You really see the Genshin inspiration with the glider, as well as more of the lovely setting, | Image credit: Heart Machine

I think Hyper Light Breaker could be an exciting new game from Heart Machine, and I’m very interested to see how it develops in Early Access. It’s one of those games that’ll very much benefit from a period stewing away there. It’s a decent foundation, but I don’t think it quite has that punch nor cool factor as Hyper Light Drifter. This purely comes down to taste, however. For my money Drifter is cooler – but I reckon this is a debate fans of both games will be having for years. If teh developer can really tighten up the bolts, the leap will be worth it.

Hyper Light Breaker probably has wider appeal, especially once it eventually pops hot from the Early Access oven in the future (think Hades), but the team has a way to go to convince years-long supporters that this new approach was worth it.

Hyper Light Breaker will release in Early Access in Summer, 2024. It’ll first release on Steam, but whether or not it’ll be available on additional platforms to be announced at a later date.

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