Massive Chalice wears its XCOM love on its sleeve; everything from its tactical interface where deadly enemies hide behind a fog of war to its top level strategy that lets player accelerate through time while researching new tools feels reminiscent of Firaxis’ recent strategy masterpiece. Double Fine made no secret of its love for strategy when it raised $1.2 million during a Kickstarter for this game, but now that we've had a chance to kick its tires we’ve discovered that Massive Chalice may feel familiar in a lot of ways, but it’s still different enough to stand on it’s own.
The game begins when you are crowned the immortal emperor of a fledgling kingdom surrounded by an evil force called the Cadence, which is slowly eating away at your nation. Through a series of battles you push back against the Cadence. Fortunately, your army is a diverse collection of heroes with varying abilities. Hunters fight using giant crossbows, but can also enter stealth mode in order to scout ahead and get the drop on foes. Alchemists throw a variety of explosive flasks at enemies, damaging large groups and doing corrosive damage. And finally, Caberjacks are the heavy melee units who use massive battering rams to bludgeon their enemies into submission.
During a series of battles, I encountered a range of foes that required me to utilize different tactics. An early enemy called the Tantrum isn’t hard to kill, but they travel in packs and run towards groups of your heroes like a Kamikaze before exploding into a pool of corrosive sludge. Meanwhile, Bulwark are gorilla-sized fossil monsters that grow an outer layer of bones every time they get hit, making them tougher to kill the longer you engage them. During a later skirmish, I encountered a praying mantis-like enemy called the Wrinkler; these creatures weren’t particularly deadly, but every time one of their attacks connected they aged my characters by five years, which impacted my approach to the strategy layer.
After each battle, players pop out to a bird’s eye view of their kingdom where they can build up their empire, recruit new heroes, and research new equipment. As heroes get older they slowly become less effective in battle, so it’s often good to retire your units into a position where they can train new troops or help research new equipment.
Heroes can also become regents and be married off to procreate and raise up the next generation of Cadence slayers. I installed a 41-year-old Alchemist named Israel Solreign as one of my regents and married him off to a 34-year-old woman named Krum Wander. Israel had a trait called nervous, which gave him decreased accuracy, but I was hoping that his less favorable traits wouldn’t get passed onto his children. As luck would have it, a few year’s later, Elza Solreign was born and she took after her mother who had a nimble trait that increased her dexterity. Elza also received a dormant trait from her parent called hearty, which granted her a boost to HP.
I enjoyed playing matchmaker and watching my rookies slowly grow into an army of war-hardened heroes, but Double Fine’s unique strategy game isn’t nearly as polished as I would hope: the controls feel a little finicky, there isn’t much variety to the mission structure, and the enemy A.I. seems to mostly sits still in the dark until your heroes come find them. However, Double Fine still has a great basic design for a strategy game that does some unique things. Massive Chalice recently launched on Steam Early access, but the studio still has a few months to tighten up the loose ends before it officially launches in a few months.