It can be exhausting, living in a world slowly being suffocated by mega-powerful corporations run by grotesque, sociopathic geeks. Thank goodness for video games! Let’s play Miasma Chronicles, a game about a world that was slowly suffocated by mega-powerful corporations run by grotesque, sociopathic geeks.
Aw, damn it.
Post-apocalyptic Kentucky. Yikes
Miasma Chronicles is the latest from Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden developer The Bearded Ladies, and it’s another step forward in the same genre. This is a turn-based, tactical RPG that takes cues from the modern XCOM series with a heavy emphasis on careful play and strategic use of cover. While Mutant Year Zero was based on an existing IP, Miasma Chronicles is an original work, held up by a cool premise, endearing characters, and a unique approach to the usual grid-based combat.
The story follows Elvis, a mechanic surviving in a barely held-together town in post-apocalyptic Kentucky. The world has been torn asunder by a substance called Miasma, a swirling metallic material that either kills or rewrites the environment in a way that almost suggests sentience. Humans often lose body parts after coming into contact with Miasma, but creatures (such as frogs) can be mutated into intelligent, yet hateful monsters.
Elvis has a glove that can interact with Miasma, as well as a mission from his missing mother to breach a massive wall of Miasma and learn about his past. He's accompanied by his "brother" a robot named Diggs, and the two set out to master the glove, find "mama" and hopefully find a way to thrive instead of survive. Of course, things get way out of hand as this journey intersects with layers of everything horrible that led to this wasteland in the first place.
Leveling the playing field
The moment-to-moment gameplay in Miasma Chronicles is pretty straightforward. Your characters have guns, some active and passive abilities, and in some cases, special moves (glove powers). You can shoot the occasional hazard for bonus damage, use items, and that's about it. However, what sets this game apart is everything that happens before a combat encounter pops off. As you approach a group of enemies, you can go into a sort of "stealth mode," which lets you set your team up for the impending brawl.
During this phase, you can place your teammates individually and kickstart the fight with an ambush, as long as you can avoid getting caught. This sounds neat, but the best part is when you get silent weapons, allowing you to start picking off enemies before the combat officially begins. This adds a puzzle-like layer to fights if you're willing to engage, giving tons of extra utility to your sneakier characters besides sniper rifle distance shots.
While I appreciate the pre-combat rituals, Miasma Chronicles otherwise feels pretty slow. Progress feels stagnant, with hours passing between things like new weapons or abilities. Fights can drag on for quite a while, with your party doing way less damage per hit than your foes. Those glove powers are neat, but they take up a ton of energy, which doesn’t come back on its own. These factors all put together make for a game that often dangles cool stuff in front of you, then yanks it away because the hardcore tactics need to happen first.
Luckily, Miasma Chronicles is also very interested in modular difficulty. You can choose multiple difficulty settings to help you either get through more easily or challenge yourself to a ridiculous extent. This kind of multifaceted approachability suite is great for a game like this, in a space that can often fall on the extreme ends of "too hard" or "too easy."
Yeah, there’s an Elon Musk stand-in
Worldbuilding and storytelling are where Miasma Chronicles really shines. As noted from the start, this game is definitely staring down our current real-world situation with a critical eye. Our current mess of tech billionaires, densely consolidated corporations, and anti-journalist sentiments is stranger than fiction. We've somehow decided CEOs are the smartest grownups in the room and we need them to save us from a climate crisis, escalating global conflict, and increasingly chaotic politics. How far can progress get before it turns into technological snake oil? And when the really bad stuff actually starts to happen, what can we expect the ruling class to do about it? Miasma Chronicles asks these questions and then presents a world that has seen some possible answers. Those answers ain't pretty.
There's always room for hope and optimism even in dire scenarios and the writing in Miasma Chronicles is far from dour all the time. There's a sense of humor with a bite to it, sometimes even going as far as to make major tragedies land awkwardly. There's a raw humanness to that part, an understanding that people don’t always react to major events like they're watching a movie. There's a healthy range to the game's tone that feels natural.
Miasma Chronicles is a fascinating experience that aims for a narrow target and hits it, for the most part. Making a serious, tactical RPG a vehicle for compelling storytelling is a tough proposition because the broad appeal of the latter is often at odds with the brutal vibes of the former. But with its tailored difficulty options, stealth options outside of combat, and, of course, the solid weight of the storytelling itself, Miasma Chronicles succeeds in its mission.
This review is based on a PC digital copy supplied by the publisher. Miasma Chronicles is set to release on May 23, 2023 for the PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S. The game is rated T.
- High quality storytelling, visuals, voice acting
- Approachable difficulty settings
- Neat hybrid of stealth and tactics
- Gameplay/progression can feel slow
- Core combat doesn't move any needles