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Massive Chalice

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: Strategy
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Release Date: June 1, 2015


Xbox One Review - 'Massive Chalice'

by Adam Pavlacka on June 2, 2015 @ 2:30 a.m. PDT

Massive Chalice is a 3D fantasy turn-based tactics game with a multi-generational twist.

Launched as a Kickstarter project just over two years ago, Massive Chalice is an intriguing take on the turn-based strategy genre. Pulling inspiration from the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics and the XCOM franchise, Massive Chalice adds its own twist by mixing in a little bit of eugenics. Instead of just recruiting random soldiers for your army, you'll need to breed a strong bloodline across multiple generations. At least that's the promise. The reality is fun, but it isn't quite as epic as initially advertised.

When you first start a game of Massive Chalice, you choose five different houses. The choice is purely cosmetic, with most of the house names and sigils being those created by the game's backers. You can have the game choose randomly, or you are free to browse through them all and click on those that strike your fancy. Once your selections are locked in, you'll start the game with a mixed selection of heroes from the three basic archetypes: Alchemist, Caberjack and Hunter.

This initial stock determines both your initial fighting force (you can take five heroes into battle at a time) as well as who you have available for breeding. As Massive Chalice is set in the Middle Ages, all marriages are arranged. They aren't done for love but for the benefits that they could bring to future generations. If you want to do well over the 300 year timeline of Massive Chalice, you'll want to plan ahead.

Selecting a hero as a regent of a keep takes him or her off the battlefield forever. Instead, their job is one of maintaining the bloodline and training new generations of heroes. Hero traits are split between physical traits (genetic) and personality traits. Physical traits can be inherited from parents, so if you have two parents with above-average strength, there is a better chance of the child having above-average strength. Personality traits can be inherited due to environment, but they are also more malleable. For example, a child with a rebellious streak may reject the personality traits of his or her parents. Advanced training by a standard bearer (a retired hero) can also influence personality.

The one element that is not in question for a house is the job of the next generation. Marrying two of the same class results in the kids being trained in the same class. Marrying two different classes can result in a hybrid class, with some traits pulled from each of the two parent classes. Which classes you prefer largely end up being a result of play style, but it is important to keep them varied. If you're not careful, it is surprisingly easy to end up with an abundance of one class. Going into battle with five identical heroes is usually a bad idea.

In addition to pulling heroes out to raise the next generation, you also have the option of dedicating heroes to research. Once dedicated, they won't fight again, but the more experienced they are when you put them on the research path, the more effective they will be. It is an interesting tug-of-war that you're asked to play in the metagame, simply because you have to decide which is the bigger risk: Do you keep a hero in reserve and possibly have him or her die of old age because the next battle never came? Or do you dedicate them to research, only to wish you had your best fighter on hand in the next confrontation? It's all a fine balancing act.

Combat plays out on a turn-based battlefield, similar to what you would see in Final Fantasy Tactics. Everything in Massive Chalice is done on a level playing field. Line-of-sight and fog-of-war are in full play, but the game doesn't incorporate height differences, so you can hide behind a wall to stay out of view, but you can't go to higher ground to gain an advantage. You could argue that Massive Chalice loses some depth because of this, and it is a fair criticism, but the lack of height isn't a big issue during combat. Fights are still plenty challenging (and it's easy enough to see how a single tactical error could result in a big setback) without having to worry about a height advantage.

Death is a permanent thing in Massive Chalice, just like it was in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, so you can't get too gung-ho in combat. Running out like a maniac may work in a FPS, but here, that's likely to get your hero killed rather quickly. Unlike XCOM, though, there isn't really a bond with any specific heroes. Yes, it hurts when they're lost, but only because of the tactical disadvantage. Since Massive Chalice doesn't really let you customize your heroes beyond a skill set selection, they feel more like resources than characters with stories. What is more important are the weapons the heroes carry.

Heroes who fight well have a chance to imbue their weapon with bonuses when they die. These weapons become relics for the bloodline and are limited to use by relatives, but they offer a distinct advantage in battle. Relics can continue to level up (and keep getting more powerful) as the generations pass, so long as they are continually used in battle. Because of this game mechanic, I found myself caring much more about specific weapons than specific characters. It's difficult to tell if that was an unintentional side effect, or an intentional commentary by the developers on the state of modern warfare.

Individually, all of these elements are interesting, and Massive Chalice does a decent job of tying them all together, but it also stumbles in a few places. The enemy types are limited, with later rounds of the game simply offering "advanced" versions of the base creatures. These "advanced" versions are sturdier but don't really add new challenges or skills. Map design tends to focus on maze-like confrontations but doesn't incorporate many different thematic elements. As a result, all of the combat in a given area tends to look very similar, and when you're fighting in a castle, it is always in a throne room or oddly shaped entrance hall.

The bloodline metagame, which seems important early on, can be sidestepped simply be recruiting random heroes in the latter third of the game. While recruiting can be important to ensuring fresh blood for marriage, I found that the recruited heroes were often best on the battlefield, especially when they were delivered almost fully leveled-up. I still wouldn't ignore the bloodline elements when playing, but it does lessen the impact of losing key heroes. No need to level up a new group of trainees when you can just order heroes for delivery.

Finally, there is the odd repetition in the voice acting. As a general rule, Massive Chalice does a great job in terms of the quality of the voice acting. Where it fails is in how it delivers the "random" quips. For as many times as I heard the exact same line about the heroes liking turkey legs before a battle, I'm beginning to think the development team at Double Fine has a fetish for turkey legs.

None of these issues are game-breaking, though they are things that you'll start to notice the more you play.

Taken as a whole, Massive Chalice is basically tactical strategy "lite." It is easy to pick up and play, and there are enough varied elements to keep veterans of the genre interested, but it doesn't break any new ground. If it were a $60 game, Massive Chalice wouldn't hold up, but as a $20 game, it fits the bill nicely. This isn't a title that is going to compete head-to-head with the next XCOM, but it is a good way to pass the time while you wait for XCOM 2.

Score: 7.5/10

Editor's Note: Massive Chalice is currently available for free as one of the June Games with Gold selections on Xbox One.

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