Miasma Chronicles Review - Not Quite A Clean Hit
The Miasma Chronicles is a bit of a quandary. Developed by The Bearded Ladies, the team that brought us the excellent Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, Miasma Chronicles has been built on the same hybrid RPG-Tactical turn-based foundation. This foundation also extends to a dystopian America where the old world has collapsed and people are left to survive in this new, harsh environment. This time around the world is accosted by the Miasma, a substance that the corporations of the old world developed to consume the pollutants of an Earth driven and overwhelmed by capitalistic consumer ideals. Something went wrong and the Miasma grew angry, bringing about the collapse of America and beginning to consume the remnants. Elvis, a young man searching for the mother that abandoned him sets off on a journey that takes him across the country, pitting him against frog-men, strange creatures and the robotic minions of the First Family, the immortal rulers of what remains of America.
That is about as much of the story as I could make out and to be honest, it is a bit of a mess. A lot of the backstory in Miasma Chronicles is found through information pickups scattered about the world, along with some basic exposition from both the main and supporting characters. In a way, the lack of knowledge about how the world came to be is quite fitting, there has been a societal collapse after all, but there are narrative twists that don’t make any sense even for a video game world. It’s hard to go in-depth about it without hitting major spoiler territory but the story is undoubtedly one of the weaker aspects of the game.
While there have been some tweaks made to the way that combat works, if you have some experience with Mutant Year Zero you will feel instantly comfortable. Where Miasma Chronicles mixes things up is locking your ability actions behind a turn cooldown. This brings an extra level of tactical thinking to engagements and can make for some difficult choices. Should you use an area of effect ability now to get you out of a sticky situation or save it for a future engagement where you can target multiple enemies at once? Almost every ability is locked behind a turn-based countdown that does not reset between combat engagements and makes you think about your tactics at each point of an engagement.
The one exception to the countdown rule is the Miasma-based abilities found throughout the game and augmented for varied effects. Of course, being able to use these abilities whenever you wanted could make the game seriously one-sided, my favourite was the ability to spawn an explosive barrel for wide-ranging damage, so it is limited by an energy bar that will dictate how often you will be able to use them. Keeping this bar filled can be done via energy grenades but it becomes quite costly, especially as there is no automatic healing after combat above the narrative difficulty level and most of your funds will go towards medical grenades. This adds yet another layer to the tactical decisions you have to make if you are playing on anything higher than the narrative difficulty level.
The team at The Bearded Ladies listened to the feedback they received from their previous games and decided to mix up the difficulty levels for those that wish to enjoy the story and RPG elements of the game more than the combat. When embarking on a new game, the player can play the game in Full Tactical mode, where you will have to suffer through those painful moments of missing a shot with a 93% chance and then being destroyed by the enemy you failed to hit, or you can choose the Light Tactical mode. Choosing this option will ensure that any shots you make while flanking will always hit their target and taking cover will always provide the same level of protection whether it is full or half cover. No matter which of these options you choose you will still have multiple difficulty level options, allowing all players to find the best fit for how they want to play the game.
One of the things I was disappointed with was the weapons on offer, specifically the silenced weapons. Early in the game, you encounter Jade, a mysterious hunter toting a silenced sniper rifle. Once you meet her you will be able to take out enemies silently, thinning out the enemies in an area to give you a fighting chance when you are eventually discovered. It is a clever mechanic, where you will need to lure some enemies away from their posts to make the kill without the alarm being raised and can make a big difference to your ability to survive any given fight. The problem I have is that it is one of only two silenced weapons found in the game. Understandably, there may not be many silenced weapons to be found in this post-apocalyptic world, but in a game where these stealth attacks are a major part of the game, indeed they are essential to being able to survive some areas, not being able to upgrade or obtain more powerful variants of these weapons majorly hampers the player. By the time I got to the final act, I was having to use attacks from all three characters just to take out one enemy. With only two silenced weapons you can probably guess what happened when the third character fired their gun.
While not a dealbreaker I also had several times when the game would randomly crash back to the desktop. It is not a game that takes a long time to load, but the timing of the auto-save can feel a bit random sometimes and I had one point near the end of the game where I lost about twenty minutes of progress in a hard-fought battle. When the hardest difficulty makes it a point to tell you that manual saving is disabled it had better be stable enough that players will not lose hard-fought progress because a bug has caused the game to crash.
While there are missteps in the narrative, Miasma Chronicles is a solid enough game that can scratch both the RPG and tactical turn-based combat itch, with some solid ideas that aim to tweak the genre in ways that keep the combat fresh. While it doesn’t always work, it will provide around twenty hours of game time to those looking for something a bit different than the standard tactical fare.
Miasma Chronicles was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by the publisher.