Review: Massive Chalice (Computer)
- Release Date (NA): June 1, 2015
- Release Date (EU): June 1, 2015
- Release Date (JP): June 1, 2015
- Publisher: Double Fine Productions
- Genres: Indie Strategy
- ESRB Rating: Everyone
- PEGI Rating: Three years and older
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
Massive Chalice is a strategy game that takes place on a grand timescale scale. You are the immortal ruler over a kingdom filled with very mortal people, a kingdom that is under attack from a substance known as the Cadence. The Cadence attacks sections of your kingdom sporadically every few years starting from your kingdoms outskirts and slowly works its way into a section at a time, if the Cadence has three victories in a row over any section of your kingdom it falls to the Cadence forever. Luckily for you you have a literal Massive Chalice at your beckoning, and all that you need to do is hold out and make sure your kingdom survives for 300 years so that the Chalice can charge itself and eliminate the Cadence from existence. The Chalice has the personality of both a male and a separate female and it acts as your narrator and guide throughout the game, giving you advice and other commentary via some fairly decent and well written voice acting. As well as fairly well written and executed voice acting the game also has a very fitting orchestral score throughout, which fits the tone and the personality of the game quite well.
The visuals compliment the audio with a colourful and cartoony artstyle that is simple yet affective in nature. There are few textures in the game per se, instead everything is broken up by a puzzle of small geometric shapes and watercolour swirls that almost work like a collage in the way that they blend together from afar. The total effect is simple yet pretty and compliments the game well to give it a nice individual art direction. Design wise there is not a great deal that differentiates one of your heroes from another which is a shame. It would have been nice if they had more of a distinct personality, but it is understandable why Double Fine did not go to that effort seeing as your time with each hero is fleeting in the grand scale of things, more on that later. The design of the enemy Cadence troops is far more varied thankfully with all of the different units uniquely identifiable and distinct in both their looks and their different attack patterns and skills. Each different enemy type must be approached and dealt with in an individual way and have unique attack patterns and quirks. For example a twitcher can teleport and swap places with your heroes, a Rupture blows itself up next to you leaving a pool of corrosive acid on the ground and wrinklers age a hero with every hit which can even lead to premature death mid battle.
As well as having Double Fines fingerprints and personality throughout visually, it also contains the company's quirks mechanically. Massive Chalice has a unique blend of strategy, management and story driven elements. Indeed some of the most important decisions you will make as you play will not be on the battlefield and will not even be strategic, but instead they will be moral context driven choices that may not have an obvious solution and whose impact may not be felt until years later. For example you may have to decide the fate of one of your heroes after they accidentally kill a civilian, do you please the people by imprisoning them for a decade or even sentence them to death or do you let them go free? In a world that is under attack by the Cadence every hero counts after all? Do you separate a child from its parents or force a drunk old woman to hand over an ancient relic to you? These choose your own adventure type elements really do make you feel like a ruler under the shadow of war who has difficult decisions to make for the greater good.
But underneath the Double Fine veneer lays a strategy game at its heart. Anyone familiar with the genre will be immediately at home with this game, well almost immediately once they get used to the games unique quirks that is. Unlike most turn based strategy games that have currencies that can be mined or otherwise accumulated, Massive Chalice's main currency is time and individual heroes. The main game spans a 300 year timeline so you only have a finite amount of time in which to best manage your kingdom and maintain it so it survives to the end. So do you invest ten years in building a keep where you can birth and train more heroes, or do you spend a dozen years researching an enhanced weapon or new piece of armor? Do you instead build a Sagewrights Guild to boost research speed but that has to be constantly manned by up to three of your valuable Heroes to be effective? Every decision you make strategically feels like you are sacrificing something in the process which means no choice you make can be taken lightly.
Sacrifice also plays its part in the games rogue like element for your Heroes, as I said the main game spans a 300 year time limit but your individual Heroes only live for a normal amount of time and die of old age at sixty or seventy years or so. Also if they die in battle their death is permanent with no coming back from it. Gaining new Heroes is no simple task either and it takes precious time to build up your forces. Firstly you must build a keep on one of the limited sections of land in your kingdom, then appoint a Regent and marry them to a husband or wife, so before you have even begun gaining any new troops you have already sacrificed two. The couples personal traits and fertility determine what type of Heroes they spawn and how often they give birth to them and before any hero can participate in battle they must first come of age. Balancing the use of time and manpower can be tricky and at times you can have a large roster to draw upon, or have a severe shortage to defend against attacks by the Cadence. Much like other strategy games of its ilk, in Massive Chalice you don't actually attack the enemy, rather you are the one on the defensive waiting to protect your borders. The Cadence attack pincer like against two areas at a time or more and you can only respond to one attack leaving the other areas undefended. If an area is unsuccessfully defended three times it falls to the Cadence forever and you lose any buildings, Regents and bloodlines that it accommodated, permanently depleting your resources.
When it comes down to the actual meat of the game, that being turn based strategy; Massive Chalice plays like most games of the genre you would have encountered before. You can field a team of up to five heroes to defend against attacks which come from three base classes. At your disposal you have Caberjacks a close combat melee unit, Hunters who are your long range archer types and Alchemists who offer a mix of both close and long range combat and who have a limited area of effect attack at their disposal. Over the course of the game you can of course research new weapons, items and skills to equip your Heroes with and the three base classes diverge and evolve into more exotic and powerful variants. In game you and the AI take turns against each other and each unit can make up to two moves per turn but usually only one attack move. The in game AI is a fair challenge even on normal difficulty and you can expect to pay for any strategic mistakes you make during battle. Unlike some strategy games the AI will focus on vulnerable and weakened units if it can and its attacks feel coordinated and logical which always keeps you on your toes. Each arena you play on is procedurally generated and fog of war is in effect so every encounter has a random and dangerous element to it. The arenas themselves however do not have any real interactive elements to them other than a few destructible barriers that are peppered across each stage and there is no cover mechanic to speak of, however some units can take advantage of stealth abilities and so on. But as I said every battle feels tight for the most part and Double Fine seem to have done a good job of maintaining the AI's difficulty as you level up so even by the end the battles do not feel overly easy, which is a flaw that some strategy games tend to suffer. All in all Massive Chalice is worth the time of any turn based strategy fan or any fan of Double Fines games. It is priced at a budget price, £15 at the time of this review so its small omissions can be forgiven. You wont find the depth of a game like Civilization here or the production levels of something like XCOM but what you will find is a very charming and quirky, unique addition to the turn based strategy genre which is definitely worth a look.
+ Original currency and progression systems
+ Challenging AI even on lower difficulty
+ Fairly expansive research system
+ Nice musical score and voice acting
+ Unique roguelike and story driven elements
- No alternate main area maps
- No multiplayer
- At times combat can feel lacking in nuance
- More diverse classes of both heroes and enemies would have been welcome
Although the artstyle can seem rather plain an simplistic the game does a good job of having its own individual personality and charm that is hard to dislike. The musical score and voice acting are well executed and entertaining. As turn based strategy games go Massive Chalice definitely forges its own identity and stands out well enough in a fairly cluttered genre. However there is nothing here that will blow you away aesthetically and graphics options are fairly limited.
Its unique take and twists on the turn based strategy genre and its added roguelike and choose your own adventure mechanics make the game definitely worth a look for even those who may not be huge turn based strategy fans. A challenging AI and fun battles make every battle interesting and compelling to play. Even though the different enemy types are completely different from one another some more variety would have definitely been welcome. But overall the gameplay is solid enough and is fun and will retain your interest until the end.
The lack of multiplayer is certainly a sad omission that reduces the longevity of the title. An extra game mode or two would have been welcome just to add some more variety to the main game mode. However a very competent AI and challenging difficulty levels including an iron man mode mean that there is plenty of longevity here for those who enjoy a challenge.
out of 10
(not an average)
As turn based strategy games go Massive Chalice has some nice innovations that make it well worth playing if you are a fan of the genre. With a distinctive art style and an interesting combination of story driven multiple choice decisions and roguelike mechanics there is nothing else really like it out there. The lack of multiplayer is a real shame though and the game loses a point because of that. But the games positives far outweigh its few negatives and considering Massive Chalices budget price it is a hard game not to recommend to both strategy and Double Fine fans alike.