13 people found this review helpful
0.0 hrs last two weeks / 63.6 hrs on record (34.9 hrs at review time)
Posted: Dec 2, 2016 @ 11:31am
Updated: Dec 2, 2016 @ 12:06pm

XCOM (2012) meets Crusader Kings II with a eurogame design aesthetic.

If you are a fan of those games (or even one of them), Massive Chalice is worth a playthrough. XCOM was already a streamlined remake of X-COM, so you might wonder how it could be further simplified. The solution is reducing resources that need to be managed to just bloodlines, territory and "Research". The later can be used to get new technology, build out infrastructure and aquire new heros. Instead of the slightly complicated system of engineers, scientists and money, you can build one project at a time and speed it up by dedicating heroes to become lifetime "Sagewrights". They can't fight for you anymore, which is always the tradeoff when assigning heroes to special positions.

It's a similar situation with expanding your bloodlines: dedicate heroes to become "Regents" and marry them to start having children. This part of the game take the primary decisions in CKII (arraigning marriages) and removes minor (and fiddly) decisions like assigning counsel duties and building structures in each county. The overworld game operates on a puasable realtime system, but unlike other games you don't spend much time waiting around.

It helps that there's a steady diet of random events such as deciding whether to punish heroes who have children out of wedlock. While I enjoy these bits of story, I can see how they can be frusterating for people who enjoy strategy. The results seem to be random even when you see the same event in a later playthrough. Sometimes forgiving the couple gives them a positive personality stat and othertimes a negative one. It's never possible to make a perfect decision. For me, however, this is just the right level of chrome.

XCOM fans might be disappointed that heroes age and die off whether you play well or not. Massive Chalice seems to want players to be invested in bloodlines (AKA, dynasties in CKII) rather than individuals. Parents randomly pass genetic traits to children and also determine the hero class. Bloodlines specialize in one of three base classes: ranged, melee and area damage. These classes can be combined by marriage to create interesting dual-classed heroes. Once you get the concept of managing families rather than a team of individuals, the game will be less frustering.

The tactical game starts fairly slowly, but as you develop technologies and bloodlines your tactics change. Meanwhile enemy forces bring new powers to the fight. The forces of chaos invading your nation are called "Cadence". Appropriately, their sortees come at regular intervals for 300 in-game-years. Fighting isn't too different from XCOM in terms of feel, but heroes start with fewer options. As you develop your bloodlines and technology, new and surprising tactics are opened up. Because of the bloodline mechanism, it'll take several playthroughs to see all the possibliites.

Unfortunately, the tactical maps start to feel samey after a few battles in the same regions. If they are proceedurally generated, the just isn't enough variablity. (I have the same problem with XCOM, which is odd considering X-COM (1994) largely avoids the problem.) Other then the occational base defense missions, most fights settle into careful seek-and-destroy excersises. Cranking up the difficulty helped a bit.

I tend to play these games in Ironman mode as it remove the tempation to break immersion by save scumming. This worked great until the final showdown when I accidently dropped acid on the Chalice. With no option to restart the mission, I was stuck starting the entire game from scratch. I'll probably want to do this at some point, but I don't think it'll happen until I've mostly forgotten the slow start.

In summary, Massive Chalice does a great job of feeding the player with a steady diet of meaty decisions. But there isn't quite enough spice to sustain the mulitiple playthroughs needed to explore all the choices. A faster start and more variety in tactical maps would have helped.
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