by Dan Lenois
reviewed on PC
A grim, wet future...
For those looking for a story-rich and action-driven tactical RPG game that offers fans of XCOM and other similar titles a familiar gameplay experience, albeit in a completely different setting, Miasma Chronicles aims to fulfil that very particular niche. Miasma Chronicles abandons the usual high-tech futuristic cities and towns, whose beauty stands in complete contrast with the apocalyptical scenario, in favour of, well, a different apocalyptical setting, with lots of forests, swamps, and bayous, where everyone looks at you with suspicion, and one cannot always readily tell friend from foe. (Kind of like Louisiana on any given day.)
A story without focus is a story without purpose...
Developed by The Bearded Ladies, the development team behind Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden, Miasma Chronicles clearly shows itself to be the team's effort to further publicly brand themselves as one of the primary go-to studios for AA-scale story-driven tactical RPG games, With Miasma Chronicles clearly attempting, far more than its predecessor, to capitalize on the story-driven part of that label. The problem is, like the mythical Icarus soaring too close to the sun, the developers here exceeded their capabilities in their ambition to do more than ever before. Doing more means very little if it means sacrificing quality in the process.
The story initially starts out fairly simple, with the protagonist, Elvis, with the aid of his robotic brother, attempting to find and rescue his mother, who went missing years prior. However, following this elementary premise, the story then immediately loses almost all originality, devolving into a series of fetch quests and combat encounters.
Characters will spout lengthy exposition ad nauseum, often referencing events or backstory relevant to the protagonist or themselves, but which were never shown on-screen, nor impact the main story. This goes back to the classic rule of storytelling in film and other narrative media: Show, don't tell. Characters often act or react to things without context, making their behaviour and/or attitude come across as arbitrary and out-of-nowhere, making it hard for the player to maintain immersion and buy into the fantasy that these are seemingly-real people.
Ready, fire, aim...
The combat in Miasma Chronicles is a very muddled and mixed affair. On one hand, it can initially appear challenging and engaging, but in reality this is only until you realize the potential for cheesing your way through a seemingly time-consuming boss fight or large group of enemies is almost limitless. Early into the campaign, you unlock a third member of the group who acts as the default sniper, taking out enemies at mid to long-range. However, her passive stealth ability (which allows her to remain undetected by enemies even after a kill) allows her to easily singlehandedly assassinate a dozen-odd enemies within only a minute or two. While certain more powerful elite enemies later on will prevent this kind of easy win, the lack of inclusion of specific nerfs to balance out aggressive stealth kills, which is normally better balanced in other games like XCOM, oddly rewards needlessly-aggressive play by an individual character, rather than precise tactical strikes of a coordinated team.
The inclusion of individual skill trees for each character is admirable in theory, but the extremely-limited scale and lack of creativity in the presented skill options, combined with the grind needed to unlock new skill points, raises the question of why it was even included as a customizable system to begin with, rather than merely integrating the few active and passive abilities into each character's kit from the very start. For those searching for a deep and rewarding system that truly allows them to tweak the character's playstyle to their own liking, look elsewhere, for you won't find that here.
Miasma Chronicles is a perfectly passable game, one with an admittedly long campaign that fairly justifies the modestly-high retail price. The problem is that the campaign in question feels far longer than it ought, because most aspects of its narrative and dialogue fail entirely to bring the player closer to the characters they're playing as, a critical failing for any game calling itself an RPG. Decent performances from the voice cast almost manages to redeem the game's storytelling failings, but never fully. The combat is often excessively repetitive, and the killcam system often seems more interested in capturing footage of the foliage presumably for a nature documentary, than focusing on the far more interesting bleeding and screaming enemy flailing around on the ground. Hopefully Miasma Chronicles does eventually get a sequel, because it does manage to lay down a lot of potentially interesting groundwork, albeit without ever managing to fully capitalize on it.
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High-quality visuals, fantastic optimization, and fun stealth-action gameplay
Cliché story, cringeworthy dialogue, unnecessary busywork at times