By: Quinn Potter
If you enjoy immensely complicated family histories (think Game of Thrones) that demand patience and strategy for a long-term payoff, you might really enjoy Massive Chalice. In this turn-based strategy game, you arrange marriages, breed and train heroes and eventually go into battle to protect your kingdom from the encroaching evil of the Cadence.
The controls are different for different parts of the game. This could become confusing, but it has been made quite simple because the controls are clearly hinted on every screen. There are a number of different areas to the game, so you will become quite adept at these changes in the mapping of controls because you will be dipping in and out of multiple areas to make progress.
Both graphics and sound are adequate – one could almost say generic – but neither stand out as particularly memorable. The characters are animated, but not realistic; well-drawn, but not detailed; sufficiently colored, but not brilliant. The battle boards are surrounded by water or cliffs and areas of the board the players can’t yet enter are shrouded in fog. The characters and enemies are somewhat stylized as well, but it fits the style of the game.
The soundtrack of the games varies from heavily syncopated and synthesized music to natural environmental sounds, and then there are some sound effects and occasional dialogue layered over those sounds. This provides enough variety and combinations to keep the game somewhat interesting, though there is really no stand-out here in terms of soundtrack, effects, or dialogue. After a few hours of play, dialogue cues can become a bit repetitive.
First of all, it’s important to understand that this is a single-player game with no multiplayer or cooperative modes. That’s going to be a bit frustrating for some of the MMORPG fans who were already researching which house they wanted to join or what character they were going to cosplay as at the next big Con.
Having said that, there’s still a lot of enjoyment here (given that Massive Chalice was funded with over $1.2 million on Kickstarter, we know single-player fans are out there!). As king or queen, you are trying to unite your kingdom and re-forge the Massive Chalice. Easier said than done, of course, because you’ve got all kinds of marriages to arrange, heroes to train and research to do. In fact, there is a lot of text-based gaming here, so be prepared to do quite a bit of reading while you plan strategy.
When we talk about long-range strategy here, we’re talking VERY long, as the war lasts 300 years. There is definitely some Chaos Theory at work here because you might think you are creating a marriage of two strong players, but their offspring don’t always grow into the heroes you are hoping for. In fact, the randomized genetic lottery is a selling point, because it keeps you engaged and interested in the young fighters that have been produced. You might find that a couple’s worst traits have been inherited, not their best (kind of like real life).
These text-based strategy sessions move along at a rapid pace and will become quite automatic to you in less than an hour. Study the 10 different regions of the kingdom and decide what to build. Start working on pairing up rulers and getting offspring.
Each keep will have a ruler and a partner (partners can be different or same sex). These couples can either have or adopt children. The children will be trained as future heroes. There are three base classes of heroes, and you’re going to want a mix of the three. Remember, even though you start with five randomly generated heroes, you can begin again if you need a stronger start.
Graphically, the bland backdrops don’t help much with the text-based strategy sessions. It’s unfortunate that the charts don’t really pop off the page or convey key information in a shorter, faster summary.
Once you’ve researched bloodlines, checked in on your heroes-in-training, and brushed up on turning weapons into relics, it’s time to get to the battlefield. Each battle takes place on a different board, which calls for different tactics. The large variety of different enemies combined with a huge choice of player characters and abilities makes each battle unique and challenging.
As in real life, there are a bunch of different factors that go into creating successful battle tactics. There are seven different types of enemies with differing powers, strengths, weapons and weaknesses. Along with corruption (left behind by Cadence attacks), there are also going to be different types of heroes with varying degrees of skill and power, a variety of weapons, and, of course, random events. These variables make each battle engaging and unpredictable.
What you get out of Massive Chalice really depends on your personality and what you are looking for in a game. If you enjoy chess, Risk, or fantasy-fiction with a choose-your-own-adventure (breed-your-own-hero) premise, you’re going to really enjoy this game. If you prefer a fast-paced, adrenaline-pumping, game of action or intrigue or you like playing online with friends, this is not the game for you.
Kudos to Double Fine for creating a game with a truly massive vision and incredible layers of depth. There’s a lot here to explore for those who want to dive in.