Miasma Chronicles: We've tried the upcoming tactical RPG at Gamescom
You have to tread carefully when sneaking around in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. But maybe Miasma Chronicles could do with taking some more chances?
There are probably good reasons why many tactical turn-based RPG games are set in postapocalyptic worlds or at least war-torn settings. After all, most planning would probably go out the window if you could request air support to demolish your enemies or stock up on supplies at the local supermarket after a particularly draining fight. So, I get why Bearded Ladies, the developer of Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, has once again chosen a post-apocalyptic setting for their upcoming The Miasma Chronicles. Still, having tried the game at Gamescom, I'm left with a feeling that it just might be a bit too uninspired.
In Miasma Chronicles you play as Elvis. A resourceful and adventurous young lad who grew up in the Mining Town of Sedentary under the care of his robot "brother," and during the games opening you get to play as both characters exploring the barren wasteland of a future America ravaged by an unknown force known as the Miasma. It's not the most original setting to say the least, and during my time with the preview build I several times got a sense of déjà vu - perhaps not the feeling you are going for, when showcasing your new and exciting game.
The main reason was probably the characters and the environment. Elvis looked just like every other clean-shaven, Tom Holland-like protagonist, and for some reason he seems to excitedly yell every single line of dialogue whether it's warranted or not - probably not the best quality when trying to sneak around in a hostile environment. Somewhat better is his robot companion, but it still feels like his whole design and personality is ripped straight from Borderlands, just slightly less annoying than Claptrap.
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Honestly, I couldn't identify a single original element in the world design. Sedentary looks just like every Fallout settlement, minus the quirky characters and humorous references, and the Frontier-like atmosphere with characters being all ruff and wearing cowboy hats has also been done to death by this point. In all fairness, side quests were disabled for this showcase, and it's possible that the game is slightly more adventurous when it comes to optional content.
The gameplay will also feel very familiar to everyone having played Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. In my opinion that is more of a positive. That game impressed with both extremely intuitive tactical combat and great depth, and Miasma Chronicles feels like it's based on the same system even using somewhat similar HUD elements and animations for shooting and taking cover.
Of course, whether it also builds on the previous systems is too early to say, as the encounters I played through basically served as the game's tutorial. Once again there are two overall ways to approach combat. You can either go in guns blazing or try to sneak up on your enemies to gain an advantage. The second method is more often than not the superior one as it allows you to go through a battle spending less items and resources. But once the first shoot is fired, combat works the same either way.
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At its heart, winning battles is all about finding the right positions on the map, exploiting the many opportunities for cover, and using the environment to you advantage by for example shooting at explosive material (which always seems to float around in these kinds of games). Weapons have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to range and effectiveness, and each type of enemy has their own tactics and movement patterns - during the game's opening we mostly fought some nasty looking frogmen that in their design also harkens back to the developers' previous title.
None of this is especially ground-breaking, and I do miss features such as being able to use a melee attack when getting close to an enemy. But it does play well and feels very intuitive to control even with a gamepad. The game transitions smoothly from combat to exploration and scavenging the terrain between battles proves a nice diversion and helps to flesh out the world. If only that world was a bit more interesting.
While I might sound a bit harsh during these impressions, it's not that I didn't enjoy the game. It's just that, on the surface at least, Miasma Chronicles feels like more of the same. That is not necessarily a bad thing, as Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden was a surprisingly good game, but it also had a more unique setting with anthropomorphic animals roaming about a vibrant, colourful world. Miasma Chronicles needs something to set it apart, and luckily it still had one surprise in store for us.
I'm of course talking about the Miasma itself. The mystical force is at the heart of both the game's world and its narrative, and the developer promises that we will learn a lot more about it, including how it connects to the protagonist - I was also told that we even get to learn why he is named Elvis which, for me at least, is the main mystery of the game. The Miasma will also influence the combat and our abilities which might provide the fresh feel the game so desperately needs.
While it's not releasing until 2023, Miasma Chronicles already seems to be in a pretty solid state from a technical standpoint, and if you enjoyed Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden or just like the genre, you would probably want to pick it up, regardless of the rather dull setting. But for drawing new players in, the mysterious Miasma better be just as weird and magical as it seems in the trailers.