Disclaimer: Early Access titles are games that are currently enrolled in the development process. While it wouldn’t be fair to give the game a complete score, we will do our best to offer a current critique for the current build at this time.
When Double Fine first released details of Massive Chalice in its Kickstarter page, my initial reaction was one of intense glee and giddiness. The game had early implications that it was going to stitch together aspect of some of my favorite titles such as Final Fantasy Tactics, X-Com, and Oreshika (Link), and intertwine them together in perfect harmony.
For the most part, Massive Chalice has flown under the radar most of the year. This was likely due to the quiet period the game succumbed to following the success of its Kickstarter campaign. With the game now released on Steam as an Early Access title, there is finally had a chance to reopen that passionate stream of emotions in order to write this early-impressions.
And let me say that its definitely living up to the hype I initially had.
The premise of the game is simple: Cadence, a corruptive dark-spawn like force is invading your kingdom from all sides. To defeat the Cadence and end the war, the mystical Chalice within your capital must be protected for 300 years to charge it to its full strength. Although regular humans die the instant they touch these Cadence monsters, people of heroic bloodlines are able to resist and combat the Cadence on the battlefield. With the Cadence invasion in full force you command and support these heroes, strengthening their bloodlines through careful marriages and arming them through research to eventually drive the Cadence out of the land.
Your enemies, The Cadence, range from simple cannon fodder like the ‘seeds’, to much more complex enemy types, such as the fortified artillery ‘bulwarks’ and EXP-stealing sniper ‘lapses’. Each of the seven types of enemies, on top of their physical superiority to your heroes, (except for those cute little ‘seeds’) all have additional abilities that make them dangerous to challenge head-on; things like explosions on death or super armor status after damage consistently forced me to think about the order of combat, positioning, and potential backup plans. With every enemy feeling unique, combat against these monsters required tweaks to my strategies and play styles based on my available roster and theirs.
On your side, heroes such as Zeyleth”Lusty” Lippincott (they get random fancy nicknames based on traits or personality) make up the core of your anti-Cadence vanguard and support. They come with their own array of randomized traits and stats, so no character is exactly the same. All these little changes and bits of randomness add to the unique flavor of building teams, as you will even have characters fulfill different roles with the same class. Like say a caberjack having tons of strength and movement speed but no HP fulfilling the role of a heavy-hitting assassin. Or an alchemist with low accuracy but heaps of HP and movement fulfilling the role of a medic/support.
*Update 9.0 : Making these sort of ‘specialized’ characters became easier, as classes like the caberjack/hunter are able to stealth to fulfill the role of an assassin. Whilst alchemist/hunter has access to smoke bombs and accurate bombs to make them better medics and support.
However the game’s strategic focus deals little with building individual heroes; indeed you are given practically no influence in individual character growth, as other than the occasional decisions most of these stats and traits are left to the bloodlines system. Since the game lasts for 300 years, your mortal characters are bound to perish over time, whether through combat, bad decisions, or natural causes. Replacement for these heroes come in the form of children, born from marriage between two characters of different ‘bloodlines’ or houses. Children carry on the legacies of their heroic (or relatively non-heroic) forefathers in the form of traits, stats, looks, talents, and occasionally powerful relics.
* Update 9.0 : You can now choose the five bloodlines to have when starting a new game, allowing for deeper emotional attachment with bloodlines of your choosing. Unique looking relic weapons also add to the flavor of your lineages.
These all add up in little ways to make a difference down the line, as you carefully handpick characters to create dynasties of unstoppable heroes, or dynastic traits to suit your play style in the future. The process adds enough randomness to an otherwise controlled system of ‘breeding’ to lend itself surprises, leading to generations of exceptional heroes and boorish sobs in unpredictable frequencies.
Unfortunately the focus on bloodline development in the current builds don’t pave way much for personal investment, as you begin to lose track of all your automatically named characters down the line. This was compounded by how fast time moved in Massive Chalice, where hero events such as new babies and passing away piled up beyond my ability to check individually and care for. Heroes soon became numbers in a statistic, and by the game’s end, I had only remembered the major bloodlines and some of the early heroes.
The game’s other strategic elements are sorely lacking at its current stage, as research and decisions only require your input once and then are left to progress automatically for their duration. There’s not much to say in this part of the game, and since you don’t have control over anything else in the strategy phase after, you’re just left to watch time move on for the next invasion.
Deploying your heroes from well-groomed bloodlines to battle provides a large part of the appeal for Massive Chalice as you finally reap the rewards of time spent during the peaceful phases of the game. Battles can only happen once an invasion of Cadence triggers randomly after a period of time, which, much like X-com, gives you two areas of the world map to choose. The other map that you did not choose gains a point of ‘corruption’, which you have to manage below 3 to keep a province from falling to the Cadence. There aren’t many options to influence the battle once the invasion begins however, so make sure your strategic phase was well-spent in preparation.
Once the battle starts however the game really clicks and shines through. Simply put, the battle system is engaging and exciting, a tad bit like X-Com in the sense where your wits, rather than raw strength of player characters, determine the outcome of the battle. In the first few games that I’d lost, I was overwhelmed by the numerically and physically superior Cadence thanks to my lack of tactical positioning and penchant for head-on conflicts.
Positioning seems to be the key tactical concept in play here, as your three classes of heroes (*Edit : Now 9 classes with the 9.0 update, which includes hybrid classing) must be placed in areas where they are best utilized.
Hunters, wielding huge crossbows into battle, rely on stealthy sneak attacks from a good distance away from the thick of battle. As their stealth movement requires tall covers like trees, they are best positioned when moving from cover to cover. Their accuracy does not seem to decrease with range, so a well-trained hunter can pick off multiple enemies at maximum distance with ease.
Caberjacks, tanky warriors with giant battering ram-like logs, not only act like your standard melee bruiser, but also have a wide-array of skills that knock opponents back. These knock-back attacks often stun and do additional damage when they knock them into other units or walls, making caberjacks best utilized when their attack angles launch the poor sods into said objects.
Alchemists, equipped with throwers and flasks of explosives and acid, don’t depend on positioning for any particular special effect like the other two, but alchemists are required to move closer to enemies (especially at lower levels) for successful throws of their explosive flasks. Unlike the hunters, alchemists lose accuracy at a distance and often throw flasks into grouping of allies or empty space when they miss, making it important to be as accurate as possible at all times.
* Update 9.0 : With the new hybrid classes coming into play, they provide far more variety of class skills than before. Tactics looks to have new options, like how a hunter/caberjack can access knock-back arrows, giving them the same role a caberjack has in terms of knocking enemies around but with range.
Maps themselves also add environmental hazards and elements, that make certain classes more or less effective. One particular desert map contained exploding berries that you could use to wipe large groups of enemies. However maps are mostly the same from one to the other, as it does not seem elevation or more unique features have been implemented yet, so be prepared for a sense of tedium (or familiarity) as you play more battles.
There certainly are other elements of the game that require improvement, my biggest concern as aforementioned, being that strategic interims between invasions becoming a tad bit calculated, repetitive, and sterile. It’s also a little too empty at the current, and most of the time it feels like the world is populated by you, the two narrators, and your heroes. Finally, I wish the game would give you opportunities to honor your dead using statues, plaques, or even new clan mottos – something in the way to feel and reminisce about the ‘ages’ long past in ways other than stats and relics. Hopefully these minor problems will be addressed in the future, and I’m certain that there are still more patches to look forward to.
Overall though, the game’s core is a solid, well-made piece of SRPG that blends together a healthy mix of difficulty, tactical play, specializations, and some strategic management to produce an engaging and genuinely fun experience.
For those of you who want to check the game out, it’s currently on steam as early access, at CDN $32.99, but with an ongoing sale is at CDN $24.75.
Oh, and Zeyleth the Lusty eventually settled down with Roderick Ajaxian, had a whopping 7 children with him and was slain in the battle for her keep. Her lineage wielded cabers like no other.
The short stuff
+ Combat requires tactics, and full use of skills
+ Developers are consistent with patch delivery
+ Developing bloodlines is rewarding
+ Varied enemies switch up the pace of battle
– Not so interesting strategy gameplay
– Slightly poor optimization for level of graphics (Even with 0.90)
Room for improvement
o More life to the world, animals or humans
o More emotional investment with heroes
o More control in development and decisions