A tl;dr Haiku:
Control a kingdom
Over many centuries
Kill all the monsters.
Know what gets in the way of ruling the world? Mortality. Ruling the world and controlling the flow of history throughout the centuries would be a lot more fun if I were immortal. While I only get to do one of those in real life, Massive Chalice, a tactical strategy game form Double Fine Productions, lets me do both.
The Penny Saved
The first thing to know about this game is that a controller is almost required. I say almost because I could technically play with a keyboard and mouse; it was just consistently awkward and clunky. It’s not too bad outside of combat, but still — a controller helps.
The gameplay itself is pretty good. It’s turn based strategy where I hit them, then they hit me. We take it in turns like its the good ol’ 1700s, complete with plans for tea and crumpets after the tussle. There’s a lot of variety to be found in terms of classes, skills, and enemies, which is good in the case of this game as without having new things to dry, things would get repetitive quickly. Things still do get a bit stale, if I’m being stingy. But, I’m more amicable to repeat the same “kill everything on the map” fight nearly three dozen times if I get to use new toys or abilities each go.
The difficulty scaling could be better. While the routine introduction of new enemies does encourage creative approaches to circumvent troublesome abilities, a lot of levels seem to be content to just send me into battles with increasingly lopsided numbers. I enjoy a large body count as much as the next guy, but I think it would have been cool to see some levels where the objective is to take down a single, bigger enemy.
Most of the bodies aren’t even mine. That’s a win.
I can’t focus too much on the battles though, as they are only half the game. The other half has to do with the managing of a kingdom as time passes. The course of the game spans three hundred years, so characters around at the beginning won’t be around at the end. Different subjects of my mighty and noble rule must be assigned as family reagents to continue bloodlines and provide a steady supply of soldiers to be thrown into battles over the years.
Considerations for regents include intelligence, the opportunity cost of losing a warrior, and fertility potential with the wing-dang-doodle.
There are other things to consider in the running of the kingdom as well. Research is pretty varied as it covers technological research, which provides gear and bonuses to help warriors in battle; building construction, which allows for structures to be installed in regions for a variety of benefits; and hero recruitment, which allows more warriors to be recruited if the installed reagents aren’t doing the horizontal tango well enough. Research takes place over many years, and the bulk of the game outside of combat is spent waiting for buildings to finish or for people to die of old age. The waiting is broken up by the battles, which occur randomly every few years. Usually, multiple regions will be attacked at once and only one can be defended. If a region goes undefended too many times, it’s destroyed. So bummer for anyone living there.
The Penny Earned
There are a lot of little annoying things and a lot of little charming things in this game. We’ll start with annoying: events occurring in my kingdom that I am forced to ‘resolve.’ Stuff like some dude stealing another dude’s cow, or a warrior requesting vacation time. Most often, these are lose-lose scenarios where the wheel of “screw you” is spun and all I can do is hope for the least crippling penalty.
A charming bit is the dialogue spun by the titular Chalice. Naturally, as a massive chalice of immense magical power, it talks. What’s cool is that it has two voices. Usually artifacts of mysterious power only have one voice, and pretty boring one at that. This one has two and both have pretty well written dialogue. They’re chill. I’d get a beer with them.
There aren’t many games where I’ve bounced as quickly between being bored and being enthralled as I have in Massive Chalice. When the game is good, it’s great. Blowing up a line of enemies with an exploding caber, installing two year-old babies into seats of regencies – that stuff’s a blast. Then there’s all the waiting I have to do for things to get built. There’s the less-than-fulfilling difficulty progression. There’s how I ended up losing access to a class because all the families who had access to it were weak and, like people who eat their chips before their sandwich, fell victim to the brutal cruelties of the world. That stuff was annoying. Massive Chalice has got good and bad, but ultimately, it’s still a fun game to play.
Play Massive Chalice?
Sure, might as well.
This is the last review I’ll be writing for Train Wreck Gaming for the foreseeable future. I just wanted to thank you all for joining me these past two years. Whether you’ve been around since TwonkHammer or if you just jumped on the train recently, I appreciate your readership and hope I was able to give you some informative reviewing. Or at least a laugh. Maybe even both. It was fun. See you around, friends.