Miasma Chronicles Review
If there are two things development studio The Bearded Ladies has come to stand for in its previous game catalog, it would have to be dedication to tactical combat and a love for post-apocalyptic storytelling. Both of these mainstays are present — and polished to a high degree — in its latest outing, Miasma Chronicles. Offering a deep and highly enjoyable tactical experience, with fun and engaging world-building elements applied liberally throughout, the game is a total package that may well be the studio’s highest-quality RPG yet.
America has come and gone. Left in the wake of a once-thriving human civilization are the pitiful remnants of humanity, with the few survivors huddled together in isolated camps and townships to scratch out an existence. These scattered settlements are now under the tyrannical thumb of the First Family, an ultra-powerful clan that rose to power out of an ancient mega-conglomerate, and now rules the land by one simple edict: provide payment in the form of goods, minerals, or food, or be swiftly exterminated.
But it’s not just the First Family making people’s life a living hell. Humankind’s past excesses have angered the planet, causing nature to strike back. A mysterious substance known as Miasma has spread, causing havoc to the ecosystem, twisting plants and animals into grotesque horrors, and threatening the existence of the survivors. Enter Elvis and Diggs, a plucky youth and his adopted robotic brother, who live in the mining town of Sedentary. Elvis is in possession of a strange mechanical glove, passed on to him by his missing mother Bha Mahdi. Before disappearing, she claimed that he’d be able to use it to bend and shape the Miasma to his will one day, and come find her.
Elvis and Diggs’s search for their mother is a rather simple story setup, and the early star of the show isn’t the game’s narrative as much as its world-building. Every location, every enemy type, every NPC receives its own interesting, sometimes darkly humorous, codex entry. Seeing familiar, everyday locations — like a gator-themed tourist park, a casino, or an airport — through the game’s post-apocalyptic eyes as the characters discuss and try to come to grips with the whats and whys of each location never gets old. There are tons of notes and letters to find that flesh out the backstory or just build up the lore, and townspeople often stop for fully voiced conversations amongst each other as the party passes through. There are also some decidedly tongue-in-cheek moments, like meeting the mayor of Sedentary, Jedediah Mason, an honest-to-goodness talking head in a Mason jar who, lungs or no, continues to puff on stogies through a special port.
Belying this gallows humor mentality is the reality that Miasma Chronicles is actually a rather grim game, full of mature and challenging themes and content, befitting its hopeless setting. Everywhere Elvis and Diggs turn, mankind is at, or in danger of dropping to, the bottom of the food chain. Sometimes it’s finding the remains of a missing friend being boiled in a bathtub by a group of Miasma-mutated frog monsters. Other times it’s encountering an entire town where the bots have taken over and forced the resident human population into servitude, pitting them against each other in brutal arena deathmatches or chopping up their remains to shore up the food stores for those still living. The world of Miasma Chronicles is no laughing matter for those living in it.
Thankfully, Elvis and his party have plenty of ways to fight back. The turn-based strategy combat will be immediately familiar to anyone with even slight experience in the genre. Each character has two action points to spend per turn, which can be used to move, use an item, or attack. As characters level up and gain skill points, players can also unlock special active or passive abilities via each character’s skill tree, which also use an action point when used during combat. Mapping out an intended move clearly shows which foes the character will have a clear line-of-sight shot at from the new location, as well as both the normal and critical hit chances for each foe from that spot. It’s also easy to see all manner of incidental information at a glance, including remaining ammo for each character’s two equippable weapons that can be switched between on the fly and potential enemy buffs and immunities. However, some quality-of-life features are noticeably absent, such as the ability to undo a character move once it has been performed and any indication for the effective distance of throwable items like grenades or other ranged skills.
Miasma Chronicles‘ core combat is rock-solid, with every turn offering new nuances that need to be considered before committing to a course of action. There is also one extra wrinkle that injects a very welcome dose of stealth and tactical thinking to the action-heavy formula. Once players are able to equip one of their squad members with a silenced weapon, it becomes possible to thin out any enemy group proactively by sneaking around the battlefield and assassinating unwary foes who’ve become separated from the pack. Throwing bottles to attract attention or setting off audio distractions in the environment — for example, activating a GPS tracker in a derelict pizza delivery vehicle — turn every pre-battle section into a game of cat and mouse, and taking out oblivious foes feels supremely satisfying. Players should be aware, however, that Miasma Chronicles poses a considerable challenge at its recommended settings so decimating a group of foes via stealthy assassinations is as entertaining as it is vital.
The player’s final ace in the hole comes in the form of Elvis’s glove, which doesn’t just figure into the game’s narrative but also plays a unique role in battle. The glove’s ability to shape the Miasma to Elvis’s will is required to execute some unique special skills. These eclectic abilities include being able to teleport foes or friends alike around the battlefield and summoning an enemy character to fight on the player’s side. By locating new Miasma vortexes throughout the game’s lengthy 35-to-40-hour runtime, new Miasma powers can be learned, which can then be equipped like any other piece of gear, as well as buffed up with additional properties through the use of special microchips. It’s entirely possible to take a Miasma power and further tweak it so that using it to fling an enemy across the battlefield also causes them to ignite in flames while also healing Elvis in the process.
In all, there is quite a lot of flexibility baked into preparing a team for battle. Apart from Elvis and Diggs, players can eventually expand the party with a third character. For the most part, though each character’s skill tree leans them more toward a particular use in battle, the interchangeable gear means almost anyone will do in a pinch. For instance, anyone can equip a sniper rifle, though one character’s learned skills may be slightly more geared towards its use. This also applies to the Miasma glove, as eventually some other characters will be able to make use of it apart from Elvis.
When it comes to presentation, Miasma Chronicles is certainly no slouch. In fact, the game looks great. Every new location is fascinating to explore, presented with sharp, ultra-detailed graphics and meticulously designed to offer many points of visual interest and tactical consideration for when the fighting breaks out. Character designs are generally well done, with some fun and stylish standouts that are memorable well after the time credits have rolled. Environments are spruced up with weather patterns and particle effects, and cinematic kill cams add some extra satisfying flair to tense battles. Keeping a sharp eye on one’s surroundings even comes in handy when attempting to open one of several passcode-encrypted doors, since hints to the combinations are always camouflaged within the immediate vicinity. Unfortunately, there are currently a few bugs still inherent in the game, ranging from the negligible (like characters’ weapons not being rendered in a cinematic) to the annoying (like the game crashing, forcing a battle restart, which happened around three or four times over the course of the playthrough). Hopefully, the developers will be able to mitigate these technical issues soon.
While the music fits well enough and supports the game, the voice cast is the true star of the show, with great performances across the board. Diggs, in particular, is given a unique personality by his voice actor Byron Marc Newsome, and there is a good amount of back-and-forth banter, sometimes just chewing the fat when passing by a noteworthy feature in the environment, other times a dedicated dialog scene for the characters to discuss the unfolding narrative when entering a new area.
Miasma Chronicles is more than just a solid tactical RPG experience; it’s a game that’s both tongue-in-cheek fun and darkly mature, chronicling a humankind on the brink of extinction. The world-building and presentation offer much to take in and enjoy, while the combat is deep and sound, with tons of variables to constantly keep up with that can turn the tide of battle at a moment’s notice. It also has quite a keen edge, and those who enjoy a firm challenge will be well-served by what’s on offer. Despite a few technical hiccups in its current state, Miasma Chronicles has a lot to love, and is an easy recommendation for those wanting to scratch their next tactical itch with a game that asks much of its players, but also offers a wealth of quality in return.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Combat is deep and detailed, with many variables to juggle at all times
Stealthily assassinating targets before battle never gets old
Fun and satisfying world-building at every turn
Familiar locations viewed through a post-apocalypse lens
Lots of dark humor perfectly balanced by dark and mature themes
Some bugs still present, including the occasional game crash
At least the early game has a fairly simple plot