Wot I Think: Massive Chalice

alas poor thingumy, I knew him, I think. Maybe.

Massive Chalice is an XCOM-like, fantasy-themed strategy game from Doublefine, divided into turn-based, grid-based squad battles and a real-time base mode in which you build structures and marry nobles to provide a steady stream of new and upgraded soldiers to fight for you, in the hope of surviving a centuries-long siege by plant-like beasts. It left Early Access a few days ago.

I’m looking at a corpse. It’s someone’s son. Was someone’s son. That someone is regent of a keep in my kingdom, but if they are upset that their son is dead, felled by the acidic explosion of a hunched monster in its own death throes, they do not say so. No-one says anything. Is his corpse even collected from the battlefield, taken back to his family’s home for a respectful burial and private mourning? Or does it still lie there now, gradually dissolving into that acidic puddle it lies in? Does anyone ever speak his name again?

Massive Chalice actively warns the player not to take death hard – there are always more soldiers-to-be being born to the regents, there are always still more casualties, and so there is no time or headspace to become attached. I see the sense in this: it’s a time of war, a centuries-long siege by invading horrors. The entire kingdom is dedicated to mere survival. There is no time for love. But there is consequence to this ruthless practicality: without humanity, it is hard to care at all.

A regent’s wife, their partner for decades, dies suddenly, of one of the many maladies we gently refer to as ‘old age.’ The male narrator mutters something sympathetic, a single line in sad tones. “They’ll be fine,” says the female narrator, not unkindly. Immediately, I’m asked to find a new partner for the widower. The dynasty must continue, yes, but at what cost? If we cannot have grief, we cannot have love, we cannot have meaning beyond mechanical breeding?

Every child is a number. Every death is a statistic. I wonder why my regents and soldiers even have faces and names. (I also wonder why there is no option to change those names, but that’s another concern). I wonder why I am supposed to care about my kingdom.

Massive Chalice is a game about lineages rather than the individuals within them. The relentless parade of new soldiers negates investing in them, treasuring them. When one gains an interesting perk or heirloom, it’s theoretically important to make them breed and pass those traits on, but the effects are so minor in battlefield practice that it’s almost not worth the effort of combing through everyone’s stats to decide exactly who you want to bring on the next away mission. They’ll be dead within the hour whatever happens, and you’ll never think of them again. They all dress the same, act the same, repeat the same mechanical victory cry, die the same. I carefully, painstakingly keep them alive in combat, only for them to perish of natural causes not much later, or be lost to a random event between fights.

It’s certainly important to choose breeding partners carefully enough to maintain and hone a balance of character classes in your future retinue, and to pay close attention to people’s fertility lest they have no offspring at all, but most other perks and traits are not hugely disruptive. It’s all in there if you want to dig in and pursue perfection, but in my experience – and I should note that I have not played on the highest difficulty settings – it is not particularly necessary to.

I don’t know what I’m fighting for.

I don’t feel as though I’m making any progress. I churn through people, I fight the same fights and all I have to show for it is minor expansion which births yet more meat for the grinder, minor upgrades to weapons and armour, and the option to keep going. I do keep going, because I’m waiting. Waiting for purpose: it always feels as though it’s just ahead of me, that I’m on the verge of reaching a point where all these faces in my crowd become more than petals on a wet black bough. It doesn’t happen. I continue for the sake of continuing, and that would be just fine if I wasn’t so uncertain that I was enjoying myself.

I should be: so many elements of so many games I’ve spent dozens of happy hours with are in here. A slow-burn of realtime R&D, tense and deadly turn-based battles, perma-death, observational learning, a loose structure that doesn’t aggressively push a narrative at me, an overarching sense of stakes much higher than whether my guy successfully shoots the other guy or not. I like too that anyone can marry anyone, and that same-sex couples can freely adopt to continue their dynasties, and that this is just there naturally rather than ever remarked upon. Massive Chalice is, clearly very consciously, a dynastic take on XCOM, where new soldiers are raised by my existing soldiers rather than drafted in from some place unseen. On paper, I thrill to that concept.

In practice, Massive Chalice feels cold and mechanical. It’s a game which asks me only to go through the motions, much like the uncomplaining but surely loveless participants of its endless arranged marriages. I press Fast Forward in kingdom mode and the years zoom by, sporadically popping up terse news of birth or death, requests to bind more soldiers to loveless lifelong partnership, choose-your-own adventure vignettes which usually result in a minor statistical adjustment to a soldier or two, or a fight. To know what these stats mean both on the battlefield and in breeding, I must comb through screens of numbers presented in an irritatingly clicky UI, as a wash of samey names and faces scroll by.

Burrow through pop-up events and you’ll get images of babies or sombre-looking couples forever standing by a throne. It’s pretty, with its colours and its model-like, Game-of-Thrones-intro-sequence style, but there isn’t much life to it. The ‘base’ is just a waiting room, a flat view to stare at while you wait for tasks to complete or battles to pop up. Massive Chalice needs its fights in order to provide any kind of excitement, to be more than a to-do list, but many of thm are too short on dynamism to offset the slight irritation and mild dread whenever such an interruption is announced. Clearly Massive Chalice does not have XCOM’s budget, but a little flash would have gone a long way toward making it less like clockwork marionettes performing their routines.

Massive Chalice is determined to be more of a meat grinder than even XCOM was, but it does this by repeatedly and often tiresomely swamping your squad with enemies, many of whom present complications: the one who becomes near-impregnable after one hit, the one who spawns three minions upon death, the aforementioned one who showers acid upon anyone close… All these require strategy and thought, which is great, but all too soon this strategy becomes a laborious ritual.

So much takes so long, too. I groan when a soldier wanders in range of a pack of enemies, and I have to endure a short pause and a message that they’ve been spotted for each enemy before I can do anything about it. And I too often feel like there’s little at stake – my soldiers will die soon anyway. At least in battle I get to see it happen, a moment of reflection and guilt for my decisions.

I enjoy the fights much more when a new enemy is introduced. Massive Chalice likes to seem unfair, and learning how to make it fair is a satisfying thrill. There is definite invention here, but it’s often obscured by cyclic busywork. Again, the delight wears off once you know the routine, but now and again there’s something new to master. I liked the fights even more when, due to recklessness with appointments and casualties, I could only field a team of two or three rather than five. Extreme caution and almost a stealth aspect, as I skulked around the edges of the map, striving not to enter sight range of any more enemies than I could handle.

I don’t think Massive Chalice was designed to be played like that, but when it was it had some of the tension and satisfaction of Invisible Inc – more of an organic and panicky puzzle, rather than a practiced reaction to whichever enemy shambled towards me. The dry world of stats and staff turnover faded away: I was caught in the moment, absolutely determined to keep these two people alive no matter what, no longer cognisant that they could be replaced easily and would be gone soon anyway. Something excellent and lively hides underneath Massive Chalice’s stony exterior; I only wish I could get at more easily and more often. I keep playing it because I want to like it so much, because in so many ways it seems made for me, but I can’t quite seem to. I feel bad that I don’t like it much, but I don’t like it much.

I can choose who to marry to who in order to know exactly what Class their offspring will be. I can choose who to shackle to breeding or research or novice training for the rest of their lives. I can choose whose life to gamble with. I can’t change anyone’s name or appearance. I can’t change any family’s banner. I can’t change the canned line printed on the screen when they score a kill. I can’t find anything that would make them, or Massive Chalice, feel like mine. I wonder why that is. There are many good things within Massive Chalice, but they’re frustratingly kept at arm’s length from me.

Massive Chalice is out now.

From this site

61 Comments

  1. anHorse says:

    I don’t like it much at all, just feels a bit rubbish in comparison to it’s inspiration.
    The menu claim of mechanics never encountered before is blatantly false as well

  2. April March says:

    So it’s a brilliant concept, executed just competently enough that its shortcomings are brought into sharp focus.

    In other words, a Double Fine game.

    • FurryLippedSquid says:

      Ahh c’mon, you can’t say that about Psychonauts.

      If you do, I’ll cut you.

      :p

      • Azagthoth says:

        Psychonauts is a masterpiece. It makes me sad that Double Fine now delivers one mediocre game after the other. Brutal legend, stacking, costume quest, broken age, all ok games, but nowhere near the quality and charm of Psychonauts.

        • Xocrates says:

          Amusingly, of all the games you named, Psychonauts was the one I liked the least.

        • Rorschach617 says:

          As you say, Psychonauts is a masterpiece.
          Stacking, Costume Quest and Brutal Legend may just be ok as games, but they just drip “Character”. Yes, they are only serviceable as games, the game mechanics of Stacking and CQ are repetitive trial and error or repetitive grind, but they had Character. Each built its own little world and it was a pleasure to be in there. I’d still be driving freely around in Brutal Legend listening to the music if it wasn’t for a strange motion sickness that sets in after 15 minutes or so :) Massive Chalice (as little as I have played) has felt devoid of character compared to previous DF games.
          The bloodlines are there, but there is no indication as to what each bloodline is good for, if anything. Cabers/Crossbows/Alchemy. Is there no bloodline that uses swords? Spears? Gatling guns? I am supposed to pretect a country where every castle and library I have to build myself from scratch. Where do these bloodlines rule from? Huts with a flag and a motto over the flap of animal skin in the doorway apparently, since no-one considered building the most basic hall I could use to house my regents.
          I could go ranting on, but I feel so disappointed at MC being such a blank slate compared to the richness of previous DF games.

          • Xocrates says:

            Ok, this is being bitter just the sake of being bitter.

            You admit to barely playing the game, misunderstanding the basic bloodline mechanics and setting, complain about the game differing from traditional archetypes while saying the game lacks personality.

            The game is more serious and less story/character heavy than previous DF games, yes, but the entirety of your post can be translated to “I expected the game to be different”, while not really making a point on why being different would be better.

          • Rorschach617 says:

            Not bitter at all, like I said in my post, just disappointed. I did not support the kickstarter, got the game at 50% off from the Humble Store last month, therefore I have no long term investment or resentment towards MC.

            But I would argue on one point. All the previous DF games grabbed my attention inside 30 minutes on the strength of the narrative and the characters populating those worlds. Even at the tutorial levels. Coach Oleander’s assault course, the train station in Stacking and the first few houses of Costume Quest work to draw the player in.

            MC had (at the point when I tried it), a cinematic of the chalice talking to itself and some people kneeling before it (people that did not show up again in the 3 years of game time I did play) and I randomly clicked on 5 banners because the game did not point me towards making an informed choice (as in “this bloodline is good for close combat”). And straight into the action.

            The MC I played lacked any emotional starting point for me to build on. OK, its a new world for me to explore, but there was a distinct lack of anything to make me care about saving the world, and little to suggest that the world had existed before I showed up. Even something as simple as “This region has the ruined remnants of the ancient seat of Clan BlackAdder, it will be quick to repair the fortifications and install your first regent” would be an improvement over “x time to build your first fortress, other fortresses will take longer.”

            And I don’t believe I have misunderstood the bloodlines concept, but it may have been misrepresented. Once you give a Bloodline a sigil and a motto, those guys are no longer faceless peasants in any factual/fictional world. Those guys are warrior aristocracy, usually with a history to back up their claims to be special bloodlines. The guys I got were colourless conglomerates of stats that could be paired off with other colourless conglomerates of stats in the hope of better stats. Not one of them made me care about their fate. 2 battles and 3 babies into the game, I saved and quit out.

            Would different be better? Well, I only played 30 minutes because it just did not grip me. I was fighting for a blank world with bland soldiers. It felt like the complete opposite of every DF game I had ever seen, and it lost me. I’ll go back to it (there was some patch action since then), and I hope that the story has been fleshed out a bit. If not, oh well. No rancour, just disappointment.

          • Xocrates says:

            Yeah sorry, I think I was just tired to see a game a genuinely love, and consider being one of the strongest Double Fine ever made, be treated with such disdain while stuff like Hatred not only has better user rating on Steam, but ranked significantly higher on Steam’s top seller list, so I think I got a bit too sensitive about it.

            Anyway, to adress some of your points:

            The bloodlines at the start are not supposed to be particularly good at anything – other than each being connected to a specific unit type, and part of your job is to turn them precisely into houses that you remember as particularly good at something.

            Also, they’re not necessarily nobles, they’re largely just families that are attuned to the Chalice and can therefore actually fight the Cadence (think of them as the descendants of someone like Luke Skywalker, as opposed to King Arthur), it’s not actually until you give them a keep that they become actual nobles.

            And the reason there’s nothing in the world, is because you’ve been pushed back to the last corner of it. So it’s a bit like complaining that Antarctica has shit phone coverage.

            Could the world be a bit better fleshed out? Maybe, but that’s why the random events are there, they give personality and context to the world and characters. What’s squareball? No idea, but I know it’s a sport people on this world play.

      • DanMan says:

        That one’s pretty much the notorious exception to the rule. Most of their other games are just neat to look at and play – for a few minutes. Because then you notice how hollow and meatless they are.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      I thought the review exactly hit the nail on the head. I am not losing many people in battle on normal/iron man (maybe 2 in a full campaign), but the battles are too infrequent to care much about your men/women, and too frequent to not seem grindy.

      Not being able to customize things is frankly bizarre, and the pacing all just feels a bit off. I feel like it is a tremendous game half made, or needs a different project lead or something. Some many easy improvements unrealized.

  3. Ashrand says:

    i’m more than a little miffed myself.
    I bought the game hoping that despite my graphics card failing (and it’s emergency replacement not up to the task of most AAA games) that i could play a not stellar but serviceable complement to X-com.
    Sadly due to who knows how poor optimisation and a ‘low graphics’ mode intended to make you hate the developer i haven’t been able to play it at all, and so my search for games that don’t require high end graphics continues….

    Still i can get a refund i suppose!

    (seriously for those who like the game, turn down ALL setting to minimum and tell me this qualifies as actually being able to play the game, i dare you.)

    • Ashrand says:

      Ahh the lack of an edit button!
      Just to add, I’m not simply being a graphics snob (i play dwarf fortress just fine)

      link to s12.postimg.org

      it’s actually worse than a still image can articulate, and left me with a headache after trying to get through the tutorial mission.

      • Xocrates says:

        That looks remarkably like the “retro” pixel-shader that was an easter egg on Broken Age. Are you sure that’s an actual low settings option as opposed as the same easter egg? Because I can’t even find that option on my side

        • Ashrand says:

          i reinstalled just to check, but no, as it turns out it just does that

          link to s18.postimg.org

          shown is the graphics settings required to make the game responsive on the title screen, scaling has to go all the way to the left to achieve the same when in combat, single digit FPS and unresponsiveness is the result otherwise.

          • Xocrates says:

            Yeah, it seems it’s the scaling that does that.

            It appears it’s simply your PC that can’t handle it, That sucks :/

          • Ashrand says:

            Oh very much so!
            What makes it such a pain is that there are a lot of games with more going on in them that run just fine, and this being a turn based game that chokes on the menu screen is ludicrous

    • Crafter says:

      Something must go seriously wrong between MC and your computer.
      I play on an old laptop and the game is perfectly fluid with all options maxed out.

  4. Xocrates says:

    Personally, I utterly loved the game, but I suspect I was a bit better at seeing the humanity within the mechanics.

    The breeding chance of a couple is not based just on their fertility, with the implication that love plays a part on it. And in fact I had one event where a couple became “passionless”, causing them to get lower chance for kids.

    And there are traits specifically regarding how soldiers behave when someone dies, and traits that exist largely for personality – I had wayyy too many drunk soldiers kill wayyy too many things.

    And while most heroes are but another name never remembered name, it does the few others are much more memorable. You remember your XCOM squad because you spent so much time with them, you remember that one guy from MASSIVE CHALICE because he challenged you for a arm wrestling competition when he was 15 and later became your best soldier on the field.

    But yes, everything is extremely systemized.

    Also, I want to give props to both the voice acting and the music, which are excellent (though the Chalice banter became a bit too repetitive)

    • Merlin the tuna says:

      Reveler (drunkenness) is actually a pretty rough personality to saddle your troops with. It can manifest in a couple different statuses, most of which are bad, and both Drunk and Hungover hit your sight range pretty hard. Hungover cuts out your movement range as well. It stands out pretty strongly, in case wobble-walking wasn’t enough of a tip-off.

      Drunk Caberjack charges will never stop being amusing, though.

      • Xocrates says:

        Ah, the hangover thing may explain why some of my guys were suddenly so slow, but the actual drunkeness never seemed to hugely affect their performance. Though granted, this was on normal difficulty.

        • Merlin the tuna says:

          Yeah, Drunk (the status) is one of those things that may or may not affect you based on playstyle, and has some upside in the form of increased Strength. If you’re just running and gunning, it’s basically a buff. But if you’re playing a careful spacing & line of sight game, the sight range debuff is a pretty big deal to keep track of. I was very confused by this for a while during the beta, until it was pointed out to me that using Haste Hooch (rather sensibly) turns your units Drunk.

          • Xocrates says:

            I scouted largely through stealth (Veil Armor is amazing), vision range was amongst the stuff I never cared much about.

    • Crafter says:

      I love the game as well. It looks like your mileage might vary, I have been devastated by some of the loss encountered on the battlefield.
      Especially the first one. I was stil learning the rules, I had an alchemist attack a pawn, but he was too imprecise and the blast killed one of his allies instead. This stung hard, especially with the chalice warming me that this was just the first sacrifice and that I had to go on.

      I disagree with Alex on the effect of the stats.
      Slow and reveler are traits I try to get rid of as much as possible. I makes for useless soldiers (reveler is sometimes useful but mostly a nuisance).
      Dimwitted has no effect on physical classes but put a significant malus to the damages of Alchemists.
      Etc, all the stats combined make a significant difference.

      I do think that there are things that don’t quite work though. I never enjoyed the overworld. Arranging marriages is mostly a chore, and a relatively time consuming one if you try to get rid of the most annoying negative traits.

      The random events are random. You randomly get a reward or penalties. The writing is often good but it does not make these any less arbitrary. There is always a random element in any action of an XCOM-like and they shine when you make calculated risks with high rewards and dangers but these events are just pure luck.

      I would love to see an expansion / sequel : the core idea is good, the combat feels great (but could use more content), the overworld and unit management are the only part that would need to be revamped.

  5. Merlin the tuna says:

    I continue to be surprised at how upset people are at being unable to change the name and appearance of individual units. To a certain extent it seems like something that stands in complete opposition to the themes of the game: that you are breeding unchanging heroes from a specific family rather than a-la-carte-ing whatever you fancy, and that individual heroes valuable but disposable, and not to be attached to. In a slightly roundabout way, it reminds me of the recent kerfuffle that Rust has been going through.

    And while I do sympathize a bit with folks not happy with some of the bloodlines as they appear in the game, I found it’s added an amusing quirk of difficulty to my games. Because as a backer whose name is in there, I’m not going to leave my family out to dry, even if we’re churning out tiny misshapen drunks rather than proper heroes. And similarly, there’s a little push and pull whenever I recruit a valuable unit who is also a complete dork.

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      X_kot says:

      Maybe they’ll go the Paradox way and create a “design-a-character” DLC (ala Crusader Kings II) so that you can edit units’ cosmetic features.

    • frnknstn says:

      I agree, even in Xcom when this was a much-vaunted practice, I never felt the need to rename a soldier after my family or whoever. In that game, if a soldier was powerful enough, he would be innately memorable.

      • Joshua Northey says:

        This si the difference though. In MC you might get 3 or 4 missions out of someone, frequently 1 or 2 because the life spans are realistic, the people are only fighting from 15-60 or so, and the battles only happen every 10 or years or so.

  6. cylentstorm says:

    Massive Chalice seems to adopt the “just-another-soldier-for-the-meat-grinder” approach to an extreme that rivals most multiplayer shooters. Granted, it does exude more overall personality and sense of purpose than say, the cold, mechanical emptiness of Planetside 2–but both share a similar feeling of detachment.

  7. eggy toast says:

    (I also wonder why there is no option to change those names, but that’s another concern)

    It’s because they let some people pay to have their name in the game, so now somehow letting you change the name of your people would be “unfair”.

    • Merlin the tuna says:

      It’s a practicality concern, you’re not being oppressed.

      The original Bloodline creator was created as a web tool so that backers could have time to fiddle with it and make their decision on what they wanted to go with. Those submissions then went to Double Fine for review as to whether it was appropriate at all (IE no banners of dongs) and whether it belonged in the Thematic or Silly category, before being loaded into the game files themselves. It’s a non-trivial task to rebuild that within the game engine, and everyone is aware that any time & money spent doing that would be better spent polishing up other aspects of the game.

      For reference: link to doublefine.com

      • LionsPhil says:

        And if you believe that, I have a Dwarf Fortress clone set in space to sell you…

      • Bull0 says:

        What a load of crap. It’d be trivial to add the ability to customize characters/houses into the game – locally, mind you, there’d be no need to syndicate them to other players – and I fully expect a modder to have added just that to the game in short order.

  8. dddaaannn says:

    I hope that the predetermined list of clans (names, stats, banners) contributes to the themes of lineage and conflicting responsibilities. The breaking of expectations of nurturing an individual character in favor of a bloodline is an intentional emotional note. But I can see how people who weren’t involved in the Kickstarter campaign might see this as a weird gap. Most games let you roll your own initial characters, and it looks like some kind of pre-rolling has happened–because it has. It was just reserved as a reward for the Kickstarter backers.

    Based on this review, it seems like this produces a different experience for backers vs. non-backers. Non-backers have to adopt existing families. Backers get to adopt their own family, and possibly even families of their friends. Naturally my own clan was a founding family in my first game, and I took special care to extend their lineage, even when they weren’t the strongest options during gameplay. I don’t know if that experience is necessarily better, though. If the game opened with a family-making process, that would erroneously imply that the goal is to further your own bloodline, when the actual goal is to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to save the land.

    I won’t defend that as an obviously fun experience, but I like how it’s different from other games in that regard.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      Nice for the backers I guess, why should anyone else care?

    • Joshua Northey says:

      And this is one of the reasons this type of backer reward is a stupid idea if you want a large market for your game. If you just need the backers then who cares I guess?

  9. Michael Fogg says:

    First DoubleFine makes a half-arsed Dwarf Fortress/Startopia clone, then this X-com/Banner Saga makeover. At least this made it past early access. Still, a worrying trend.

    • Yachmenev says:

      There’s only a worrying trend when you’re looking to find it. This game and the development process is not in any way comparable to Spacebase.

      Alec’s opinions are of course as valid as anyone, and I think he wrote a really good review, where I share some of his opinions, but not all of them. If you’re interested in the game, make sure you read several reviews before you make up your mind about a game. Here’s another one to complement. link to eurogamer.net

      As Alec says here, the game isn’t perfect, but it really isn’t a game that symbolises a worrying trend for the developer.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      Yeah while I find the game very uninspiring, I also don’t regret my purchase or my one play-through. I doubt I will ever go back to it though, and I do buy like 2 games a month.

  10. Kohlrabi says:

    This is the Kickstarter project I most regret having backed. So much, that when I bought Invisible Inc. Early Access shortly after Massive Chalice was playable, I have never started it again, until now. Nothing seems to have changed since then. MC has been completely underwhelming from start of Early Access to release. Kingdom management is brain-dead, just waiting for the next upgrade and watching pop-ups go by. Tactical mode is weirdly balanced, and mostly tedious (like, admittedly, XCOM is too, sometimes).

    Just get Invisible Inc., everyone.

  11. Freud says:

    If you care more for your X-Com soldiers than your Massive Chalice soldiers, doesn’t that mean they completely missed the mark here? Shouldn’t the whole bunny ranch mechanic lead to investment in the individual soldiers?

    • Yachmenev says:

      Not really. The intention is more to focus on the bloodline, then the individuals. It’s their traits, and that they are carried on that matters, not the actual persons. Much more cynical then in XCOM, but quite interesting.

    • anHorse says:

      You’re supposed to be invested in the bloodline, however the lame presentation of them (Here’s a list of about 400, pick one!) coupled with the player being unable to make a bloodline leads to you not caring about your bloodline or troops.
      In a TBS people have to have a reason to care about their troops, Chalice doesn’t have one of the 3 main ways of doing it (Written characters, named and customised characters, finite characters) as a result the whole balance of cold logic vs saving the characters you care about is gone.

      It’s a real example of how kickstarter backer concessions can hurt gameplay, even more so than the other main example: terrible backer NPCs in Pillars of Eternity which just killed the mood.

    • Crafter says:

      It is definitely different. You know that in a 300 year war, your soldiers will die one way or another.
      However, good soldiers (a level or two above the crowd and with a nice traits/personality combination) are pivotal in your strategy (either to turn the tide of a battle or to become standards or regents).
      Losing one of these because of a loose explosive vial is just as devastating as losing a skilled soldier in XCOM.

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    AugustSnow says:

    DF hasn’t managed to produce any kind of polished gameplay lately, but their games are so different and unique that I still really enjoy them (From what I’ve seen, spacebase was the exception which is why it failed so badly). The strangeness of the situation in this one made it really fun, even though all of the systems are clunky.

  13. Xzi says:

    It’s a game worth playing, but only after you’ve played all of the other great turn-based games released recently. So I’m not particularly displeased that I bought it, but it’s probably going to sit on the shelf for a while before I feel like dedicating any time to it.

  14. LW says:

    I think that “not caring” problem is the heart of it. It’s fine to have mostly-faceless soldiers, but if the focus is on bloodlines rather than individual troops, you need to give those lines personality. I want one house to be famed for archery, or another for producing skilled sagewrights, but at the moment any flavour a house may have is just spread out amongst the various members. I can’t say anything about House X without checking all the people in it, which defeats the point.

  15. nearly says:

    Do my scanners detect an Ezra Pound reference? Nice. I never understood why there wasn’t a proper Modernist gaming news site.

    It’s always sad when games like this turn out to not necessarily be enjoyable, as I think it’s a very compelling conceit if there’s an appropriate payoff. I find as time goes by that I’m more and more swayed in my opinion by the tone of the game (not necessarily what they’re aiming for but what’s actually felt) and the subtleties therein.

  16. Traipse says:

    Pedantic correction: “wet black bough”, not “bow”. (Though perhaps there are lots of black bows in this game and it was intentional? I cannot say.)

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    cpt_freakout says:

    I’ve played it for like 5 minutes, but it seems that what MC does with this bloodline system is quite interesting, to me at least. Yes, it fails on an emotional level, but that’s because it’s taken the sort of ‘greater scope’ that more traditional wargames – most of which are based on modern mass warfare – do well (do you really, truly mourn the loss of that infantry / tank unit in the General series?) and mixed it with the more up-close and personal vision of an aristocracy at war, which is to say an idealized vision of an ancient kind of warfare.

    One of the brilliant things about XCOM’s apparent failures is that in reducing the ‘grand strategy’ part to a series of mechanics upon which you have very limited impact it (among other things) makes the tactical side urgent and immensely important, to the point of it creating an emotional value out of every shot fired. MC is not fully a strategy game, of course, but it does adopt the wargame view for a theme that is quite personal, so the result is… strange. I think there’s something very interesting about that approach, even if it feels counter-intuitive, and I would encourage anyone who likes weird games and doesn’t mind playing (to some extent) failed experiments to give this a shot.

  18. Wowbagger says:

    Think I’ll stick to rogue legacy for the lineage shenanigans then.

  19. frnknstn says:

    It seems I had a very different experience with the game than you did. I loved every moment of it.

    Over the single three hundred year campaign I went through more soldiers than a half-dozen XCOM games, but there were still times when I felt closer to one of my Chalice heroes than to an XCOM agent I had since the start of the campaign.

    In Massive Chalice, it is so easy to compose a storyline for the characters in your head. You see a young soldier in your squad, and his performance and traits remind you of the Alchemist that was his grandmother.

    You have to mount a desperate defense of a keep, and realise your best remaining soldier is the now-widowed spouse of the keep’s former reagent.

    Or when you examine your roster, deciding which of your aging heroes to promote to Sagewright: Your most experienced hero (who would likely pass his drinking habits onto his students), or his less-experienced but more sensible brother?

    Or deciding what to do when a the reagent of a keep dies. Do you offer the throne to the last scion of the family line, even though he is also the the best soldier you have, and you can’t really afford to lose him from your vanguard?

    I even found the combat itself to be more tactically fulfilling than XCOM. The game managed to streamline the whole genre down to a simpler, $20 experience, and I wholeheartedly enjoyed every aspect of it.

  20. ThornEel says:

    So, this is a game about eugenics.
    Interesting concept there, where a human group is pushed back so hard that they have to give up part of their humanity and do eugenics for sheer survival – and whether it is worth the cost. This could be the basis of a great game. It should make players uncomfortable, make them face hard questions and let them try to answer it without itself casting judgement. Probably hard to do right, but it would be worth it.

    But then same-sex marriage makes absolutely no sense. The goal of marriage here is procreation first (they don’t even get a choice on the partner), so this is flinging right into the face of the basic premise here.
    You talk about your progressive views or about an eugenicist nightmare all you want, but there you have to choose. Mixing both like this is plain idiotic. Unless you want to show how one brings the other, in which case it is supremely idiotic, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
    (I doubt it would cause trouble here, but better safe than sorry: this is not a political statement about same-sex marriage or adoption. So for any hypothetical reader who would want to reply about that to this comment, don’t – no, really.)

    • Xocrates says:

      Actually, the game is largely about growing old, death, and heritage. The Eugenics angle is (by dev admission) something coincidental they tried to sidestep but clearly failed at.

    • Merlin the tuna says:

      I don’t think the game is inherently at odds with your words on same-sex marriage – it’s not encouraged, nor does it have any advantages over heterosexual marriage. It’s just a thing that you can do, and since it produces no children it’s generally not going to come up much.

      That said, there are corner cases where it can be put to use. You can’t remove regents prior to their death, but their fertility drops significantly in old age. So if one of your lords is pushing 70 and finds himself a widower, it’s probably safe to say you’re not getting any more kids regardless of whom he remarries. In that case, all you really care about is finding someone (of either sex) with good personalities and a lot of XP, since those get passed down to the kids still training in the keep.

  21. ssh83 says:

    Exactly what i was afraid of. Breeding and stuff promotes you caring for the character, and when you keep your unit alive, it’s your mini-achievement. But then the game just kills them nonchalantly and tells you to just get the next tier of units. It’s basically the hated MMO formula: try hard to get your best gear, then we make it obsolete so you have to get the next thing, but we quickly make that obselete as well and cycle continues.

  22. HueyLewisFan says:

    I think a lack of systems within the battles makes the game far more boring than it should be. No cover, no downs or rescuing of wounded units, no overwatch or ambush mechanics. There’s very little involved in combat other than “bash the enemy until they die”, with the only non-direct combat strategy I’ve taken was using my caberjacks to stun units that I accidentally ran into (since the stealth mechanic that was probably intended for scouting is rarely usable in some levels.) The Kickstarter spoke about having ancestors fight through their decedents, but the only time I saw anything like that happen was during the final mission, where units would return to full health after dying if they had an ancestor in their bloodline.

    I’m also not a fan of the artstyle. They dropped the gorgeous 2D world map they hinted at before for something that looks like it was rejected from Godus. Blocky and color-coded to help differentiate the different blocks. Had high hopes for this one, but surprised that I enjoy both Chroma Squad and Invisible Inc more than it.

  23. RegisteredUser says:

    ..why does someone like Doublefine not get that “I don’t know what I’m fighting for” is a pretty dang essential part of a game about turn based fighting unless you’re really bloody brilliant at making the fights themselves so immersive and astonishing that nobody cares anyhow?

    What a shame.