Phantom Brigade’s Boss Fight Update Makes A Fantastic Mech Game Even Better
Suit up for another round.
Mech tactics game Phantom Brigade had a lot going for it when it launched in early 2023. Its time-manipulating tactical combat is one of the best battle systems around, featuring in-depth mech customization, and ending each turn with a real-time visualization of every character moving at once, performing an explosive ballet of destruction. One of its biggest flaws was a lack of mission variety. However, after a recent update addressing exactly that, there’s never been a better time to try Phantom Brigade.
The core of Phantom Brigade is the same as it ever was. It’s a turn-based tactics game that puts you in command of a squad of mech pilots taking back their homes from an invading military. The twist is that during each turn, you can see a timeline predicting each enemy’s actions down to the millisecond and plan your actions to counter them. This precise intel lets you pull off some seriously impressive maneuvers with synchronized movements. Between battles, you move your mobile base on a world map. You choose whether to avoid or engage enemy patrols, taking out bases along the way to liberate your home, province by province.
While Phantom Brigade’s 1.2 update leaves all that intact, it adds boss battles and new mission types to improve on some of its most criticized areas. As before, you need to win a certain number of key battles in each province to retake your territory, but now, you also need to defeat a boss enemy to stake your claim.
The first boss I encountered on a new playthrough was a massive tank that walks on four legs, towering above the buildings on its map. Equipped with a huge array of turrets and missile launchers, plus a devastating laser beam, it’s like nothing else I’d seen in Phantom Brigade. A single shot from its main cannon was enough to take one of my mechs out of the fight. I quickly learned that while I could get away with face-tanking enemy fire in regular battles, using the terrain for cover was absolutely essential against the boss’ onslaught.
Throughout a protracted battle, I had a mech equipped with a rifle dashing in and out of cover to take shots at key components at close range, while mechs equipped with a sniper rifle and missile launcher circled the outside of the arena, taking out the boss’ weapons to give their comrade a better chance at survival. When I finally landed the last shot and the boss went down with a massive series of explosions, I cheered.
The smaller battles along the way have also changed, with new mission types that have you intercepting cargo transports and destroying buildings in enemy bases. In my favorite new scenario, I was tasked with taking down an elite mech and its escort. The fight proceeded as many had before, with most of my squad focused on the main target as one close-range fighter distracted the next biggest threat. Then, after the elite had taken some damage, it disappeared from the system that tracks mech movements, meaning I was firing entirely in the dark. Rather than syncing up shots with precision using my fancy turn-planning timeline, I just had to guess where the mech would be at any given time and hope I didn’t accidentally take out my allies with a misplaced shot.
I spent a solid few days doing nothing but playing Phantom Brigade when it was first released. Every single turn presents an opportunity to pull off a coordinated move worthy of a good mech anime, like dashing away from a guided missile so that it slams into an enemy instead, or having a well armored mech leap in front of an ally and protect them with a heavy shield. It’s the lack of variety that made me stop, and with everything that’s been added in the 1.2 update, I’m back to being obsessed.
Phantom Brigade still has its quirks. Its biggest flaw is that it’s almost entirely lacking in story, and both its hostile and friendly factions are entirely anonymous. Your pilots are also blank slates without personalities of their own so it’s hard to really care about them versus even the minimal identities given to units in games like Battletech and XCOM allow. Mid-campign events that let you give pilots the chance to grieve comrades or celebrate victories in arrange for morale boosts feel completely irrelevant when the crew itself is such an afterthought. And while kitting out mechs with gear scavenged from enemies to test new strategies is fun, the user interface you use to build mechs and upgrade your base is cluttered enough to make navigating it a bit of a drag.
Maybe if we’re really lucky, we’ll get an equally ambitious patch to address those quibbles in the future. But for now, Phantom Brigade is already in a much better place than it was a year ago. Whether you’re suiting up for the first time or returning to the game, it’s absolutely worth getting your hands dirty in Phantom Brigade’s combat. Even if you don’t see it through to the end of the campaign, there’s just nothing out there quite like its spectacular mech battles.