Version tested: Xbox One
Also available on: PC, Linux
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: Double Fine Productions
When I originally downloaded Massive Chalice for free on Xbox One, I expected it to be another free game that I’d enjoy for an hour or two, and then maybe slog through one more hour so I could do a decent review. Seven hours later, I was dragging myself away from the TV to go to bed so I wouldn’t be a zombie at work the next day.
Massive Chalice is set in a medieval-type world. It gives off a kind of kiddie-Game-of-Thrones feel from the beginning. There are several families with their own sigils, mottos, and battle cries. The graphics are a cartoonish. The game is narrated by the titular Chalice, which has both male and female sides/voices and cracks stupid jokes. The Chalice tells you that you are an immortal being who must command and defend the kingdom for 300 years against an encroaching corruption, called “The Cadence.”
The kiddie-ness of this game is almost entirely superficial. Massive Chalice is actually a very complex game that reminded me a lot of something that wouldn’t be out of place in the Civilization series with it’s focus on long-term planning, balance of warrior production with scientific progress, and morale gauges. There are also some turn-based levels reminiscent of Final Fantasy: Tactics . It reminded this Games Radar reviewer of eugenics and XCOM. While I’ve never played XCOM, I can say that his eugenics criticism is totally fair.
Probably the biggest part of this game is breeding your warriors, as this will determine your success or failure in the long run. Mistakes made in your breeding program at year 50 can come back and bite you in year 125. For example, you could end up with a dead end infertile line, or a line of weak-willed cowards who faint at the first sign of danger. And there are so many variables in each character that it’s nearly impossible to track all of these traits without actually devoting your real-life time at a 1:1 ratio to the in-game time. Also, sometimes necessity dictates that you marry a 15-year-old to a 60-year-old, which can’t help but make one feel a little icky.
Overall though, the breeding aspect is a lot of fun. Even though you go through dozens–if not hundreds–of characters through the run-time of the game, many of them develop their own personalities. Warriors who live long enough to distinguish themselves earn nicknames and even heirloom weapons that get passed down through their family when they die or join the Sagewright’s Guild (think Game of Thrones’ Maesters). From time to time, events pop up that require you to send a specific hero who will return (if they return at all) with new personality traits. For example, I sent one hero out on a ten-year scouting mission and she returned to me more Worldly (boost to intellect) and Nihilistic (boost to intuition). All of these random events come with several courses of action and it’s very possible to pick the wrong one. For instance, I tried to kick a drunk woman out of my court once and now she’s roaming the country-side turning people against me. So again, a small mistake can come back and bite you 20, 50, or 100 years in the future.
Another huge aspect to this game that is very Game-of-Thrones-ian is the ever present specter of permanent death (or not *cough* Stoneheart *cough*). Everyone will die of old age at some point (usually around 70 years old). You can also permanently lose warriors in battle, including your Regents if your Keep is attacked. This means that you must constantly be breeding new heroes since, in addition to warriors, you must keep Keeps stocked with 2 Regents to make more babies, at least one Sagewright’s Guild stocked with 3 Sages to reduce build times to a palatable number, and a 1 advanced Hero at your Crucible to imbue your new trainees with extra traits and make them effective.
You also have to keep an eye on things like ratio of males to females (you can totally have same-sex partners if you want, but they’re not going to produce babies), and the average age of people in every position (you don’t want to marry a 9-year-old who won’t able to breed for 6 more years to a 68-year-old who will most likely die in 2). That last sentence made me feel icky again. Umm… You can make the head of the houses either male or female. Equal rights! Wooo!!! Moving on…
If you do get backed into a corner on breeding options, there are also options to recruit a batch of new warriors (I’d recommend doing this at least once to prevent inbreeding), or adopt a baby boy or girl. These options all take a few years to develop and will take longer each time they are used though, so only use them when absolutely necessary.
Combat is a smaller but still important part of the game. After all, it will be difficult to win if all your lands and heroes fall to corruption. Every 3-10 years, The Cadence will mount an attack on one or two of your territories. If they attack two, you must chose which to defend, and let the other build up a corruption point. Each region will have a unique buff for beating the level (1.5x XP per kill, recruit a 15-year-old level 4 Alchemist, etc.), so you’ll want to take that into consideration as well as where that region is at on the corruption meter.
Massive Chalice is an exciting, addictive, and complex game with a lot of replay value. If it’s still free, there’s absolutely no reason for Xbox One owners not to pick it up.
Now available on Steam!
If I haven’t yet given you a clear enough picture, here’s the trailer:
Have you played Massive Chalice yet? What are your thoughts?