From The Bearded Ladies, the developers of Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, and published by 505 Games, is Miasma Chronicles – a new tactical RPG.
After the success of Mutant Year Zero, can Miasma Chronicles provide more of the same, or is it a damp squib? Well, let’s light the blue touch paper and find out.
There’s no doubt that games like this live and die on the strength of their story, and so it proves here. However, in a fortunate turn of events, the story in Miasma Chronicles is plenty strong enough to keep us playing, filled with goodies, baddies and twists and turns.
We play the role of Elvis, a kid who has grown up in the town of Sedentary, whose mother ran away to the other side of an impenetrable barrier made of Miasma. This Miasma has apparently destroyed what was once America; the population has regressed to an almost feudal way of life.
As the game opens, we are found trying to get through this barrier with a glove left to us by our mother, and while we fail, it sets us on a course for the rest of the game. Accompanying us is our brother, Diggs, who just so happens to be a robot. As you’d expect, as we go through the journey we can recruit new members to our little band. Can we get through the barrier, learn to control the Miasma, and reunite with our mother? Maybe we’ll even save the world from the First Family as we go. Well, no spoilers here, but it is a lot of fun trying to find out what happens next.
Graphically, Miasma Chronicles works very well. The design of the characters, good and bad, and the landscapes all have a strong design aesthetic. From Elvis and Diggs, who appear worn down by life in the wasteland, via hideous frog monsters known as Grabbers, robots and finally the First Family’s enforcers, the Collectors, the world and characters are very well realised.
Each area comes with its own design too, from shattered skyscrapers to swamps, from crashed airliners (called the Sky Whale) to deserts and a town run by robots – all of life seems to be here. The whole post-apocalyptic vibe is very strong.
The sound is equally as impressive, mostly as every person we meet, even a random NPC, is fully voiced, helping with the immersion. Talking to the main characters and NPCs usually involves a series of directions the conversation can take, and while I haven’t noticed any impact on the story from the chats, it is nice to have the background to the game fleshed out. One thing to mention, the camera does occasionally lose the plot, but it is nothing that a quick manual reposition can’t fix.
Onto the actual gameplay itself and if you have played the previous game from this development team, then it will all seem very familiar. Basically, Miasma Chronicles comes in two halves – combat and the exploration of the world.
Dealing with the exploration first and as you run around the various areas (each zone in the game is its own discrete area, with usually one way in and one way out) you have control of one of the members of your squad. I tended to take charge of Jade, a companion you meet as you go through the story, as she has a very handy silenced sniper rifle that can end some fights before they even begin. The other two members of your squad follow along behind, and while you can tell them to wait and them move each member individually, it is handy to have as much firepower with you as you can!
As you explore, there are various things to find and pick up, from Plastic, the in-game currency, through consumables to new weapons or mods; thoroughly exploring every area is a good idea. Quite often the best gear will be hidden behind powerful enemies, so you’ll want to think carefully before you engage in any fisticuffs.
You’ll happen upon various settlements too, and it’s here where you’ll find people to speak to, gaining side missions in return. These are a great way of getting EXP and extra gear, so while blazing through the story is doable, it is quite easy to find yourself underleveled and undergunned for the later missions. And Miasma Chronicles is properly hard, believe me.
A discussion about the in-game combat wouldn’t be complete without looking at the weapons and powers that you can access. Every character can carry two weapons, and keeping them updated is vital if you wish to stay alive. Each of those weapons has a level, and two slots for mods to be fitted into; one for a scope and one for a general mod. The mods come in many flavours, from scopes that add range or give you an additional critical chance when ambushing foes. They are all equally varied – extra critical damage, base damage or added fire damage, anyone?
As we go through the game, certain characters can also have Miasma powers added to their arsenal. These are very imaginative too. Whether it be a Miasma blast that suspends foes, making them helpless for a turn, summoning a Grabber Witchdoctor to act as healing for the team (this is the best power) through to a Miasma Whirlwind that can pick enemies up and throw them into explosive barrels, the powers make you feel like a total badass.
Actual combat takes place via the usual turn based way of doing things. By entering stealth, you can position your team into an advantageous position before the fighting begins, and with Jade having a silenced rifle, ambushing foes works pretty well. If you can isolate a foe, they can usually be dropped by stealth without alerting anyone else, but sooner or later it will come down to a stand up (or rather, a crouching behind cover) fight.
Each team member has two action points to spend, and firing their weapon ends their turn, even if it is the first action, so bear that in mind. Normally, turn one is spent getting into a good hiding spot (preferably where you can shoot them, but they can’t shoot you) with the second turn pulling the trigger. Diggs has a handy ability called Tackle, which knocks foes down and makes them unable to act on the next turn, so that, followed by shooting the helpless foe on the floor, is usually a good tactic. Once all the enemies are dead, it is time for tea and EXP. With each level our heroes gain, they can utilise nodes on their skill tree, and in this way the people you are playing as get stronger and stronger.
Everything in Miasma Chronicles comes together to ensure that it is a blast to play through. The mix of real time exploration and turn-based combat is intriguing, but combine in a good story and it will keep you hooked. The difficulty is the brutal side of hard, and you may wish to lower things to gain progress, but camera niggles aside, Miasma Chronicles is as accomplished as you will find. It deserves to be played.