Hyper Light Breaker is a colorful mix between Risk of Rain and Dark Souls

A player walks through a town in Hyper Light Breaker.
Gearbox Publishing

One thing I’ve always appreciated about gaming is the iterative nature of the industry. When one game cracks a good idea, it tends to trickle down to others in creative ways. There’s a sense that developers are always in conversation with one another, riffing off of each other’s ideas in search of something that feels truly fresh.

That idea is on display all over this year’s Game Developers Conference, but it’s especially apparent in Hyper Light Breaker. The upcoming title from Heart Machine, which I demoed at this year’s GDC, pulls clear inspiration from several games, touching on everything from Risk of Rain to Dark Souls. It sounds like a hodge-podge of ideas on paper, but every design inspiration comes together to form something distinct: a neon-soaked action game that neatly fits in the same lineage as Hyper Light Drifter and Solar Ash.

My demo would throw me in the thick of Hyper Light Breaker with little setup. After trotting around a quick hub and creating a loadout for my Breaker, I’d quickly get the flow of the run-based game. The 100-story elevator pitch is that it’s a co-op action RPG roguelike with Dark Souls-inspired combat and extraction shooter hooks. But thankfully, it’s a lot easier to grasp than that sounds.

A character slashes at monsters in Hyper Light Breaker.
Gearbox Entertainment

Each time I started a new run, I was dropped into a colorful biome called the Overgrowth, which is not too far off from Solar Ash’s art style. I could freely explore as I looked for loot, which I’d have to successfully extract to keep, but I had a clear goal: kill three sub-bosses to open the door to the level’s big bad. It sounds straightforward enough, but I’d quickly learn that Hyper Light Breaker is no pushover.

At first, my demo was deceptively breezy. The world was a vibrant playground for me to explore, using a hoverboard and Zelda-like glider to traverse. Some simple enemies would get me up to speed with the basics of slashing, shooting, and using a handful of abilities. I’d tinker with a few different loadouts during my session; one would give me a deadly whirling slash, while another had a skill granting me infinite ammo for a short window. I felt confident in my first run as I popped open chests and stocked up on loot.

I was too cocky.

A boss in Hyper Light Breaker.

As a much bigger enemy wiped the floor with me, I’d start to see the secret FromSoftware influence hiding underneath the waves of neon. In order to take out tougher bosses, I’d need to carefully read their attack patterns, evade, and parry just as I would in a Dark Souls game. I’d see the full extent of that when I got to the big boss of one run. Suddenly, I was avoiding aggressive attacks from an oversized monster, jumping over damaging circle waves while parrying wild swings from its body. It was a hectic encounter – one that I stood no hope of winning on the fly during a convention demo.

While I’d only get a small taste of the game with a few failed runs, I can already see how all of Heart Machine’s wide range of inspirations – which also includes Genshin Impact and Zenless Zone Zero – will likely blend together in the full release. The slice I played has real potential as a future co-op staple that scratches the same itch as Risk of Rain. When you combine that foundation with some Soulslike challenge and Heart Machine’s signature art style, you wind up with a colorful, mysterious little action game that’s sure to turn heads when it hits early access.

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