Miasma Chronicles Review
If there’s ever a world-ending apocalypse, it will be interesting to see if any fictional scenarios line up with the real thing. There are many to choose from. Zombie plagues, nuclear holocausts, weird magical uprisings, vampire takeovers, and many more. Before I bum myself out even further, let’s dive into the new turn-based RPG, Miasma Chronicles, and see if its version of the apocalypse rings true.
O Frogman, Where Art Thou?
Many players will recognize developer The Bearded Ladies from their well-received Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. That game was also about a post-apocalyptic world, entirely bereft of humans. This time, America has been transformed by corporate greed and out-of-control technology, resulting in a semi-sentient substance called Miasma. Miasma has ravaged New America. The gulf between the rich and poor has grown into a canyon. Warring factions compete for resources.
You play as Elvis, a young mechanic accompanied by his trash-talking robot brother-surrogate named Diggs. Your big-picture quest is to breach a legendary wall of Miasma, find Elvis’ missing mother and, of course, help tip the scales towards survival. The first order of business is to repair Elvis’ prosthetic arm. It’s a special energy weapon that can harness the power of Miasma.
This begins a series of missions across Miasma-transformed Kentucky. The narrative is presented through objects in the environment and memorable NPCs, like the mayor of town who is literally a talking head. Thanks to excellent writing and acting, Miasma Chronicles’ narrative is entertaining. It’s smart, witty, and even emotional. Most tactical action-RPGs have far less effective stories. There are a few stereotypes in the cast of NPCs, and not all the humor hits, but I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the game.
Although dark and disturbing, New America is a vividly detailed and believable place. Layers of decay and decrepitude and the haunted husks of buildings are everywhere. Mutant frog people and other monstrosities threaten from the shadows. While it isn’t an open world, Miasma Chronicles’ side missions do a good job of sending Elvis and Diggs into several interesting areas.
Miasma Chronicles is an interesting mix of real-time movement and exploration, with turn-based combat on a grid system. This means that Elvis and Diggs can sneak around enemies or avoid swirling clouds of deadly Miasma. At those times, Miasma Chronicles feels like an action RPG.
When it comes time for combat, Miasma Chronicles borrows heavily from X-com-style games. In the first phase, Elvis and Diggs can stealth their way into position for an ambush, or begin the fight from cover, an interesting new mechanic that ties into some of the game’s more silent weapons. Aside from that, party members use a familiar arsenal of upgradeable weapons. The biggest game changer is Elvis’ prosthetic arm, which can use the energy of Miasma to create impressive, brutal effects.
Take It Easy
Combat in Miasma Chronicles is not terribly complex on the face of it. Creativity comes in via smart use of the environment and those conveniently placed exploding barrels or toxic pools. The game obviously encourages this style of play but stymies it too, as there are some frustrating times when bugs or other tech issues refuse to play nice.
Miasma Chronicles has a pretty hardcore approach to healing. While you regain your health when leveling up, there are relatively few ways to do so in combat. It’s easy to barely survive a fight, just hanging on to life by a thread, only to enter another combat scenario with depleted health and not enough medipods. Depending on how you configure the game, it can be comfortably challenging or pretty brutal. Having modded weapons, fully upgraded, helps mitigate some of the potential frustration.
As noted, Miasma Chronicles has outstanding art direction, but some environments are a bit difficult to read due to the washed-out color palette. The voice work is performed by one of the largest casts I’ve seen. The excellent sound direction is paired with a musical score that blends electronic timbres with acoustic folk instruments. It’s quirky, but captures a bit of rural Americana trying to survive a technological meltdown.
Miasma Chronicles is not light years away from Mutant Year Zero in either setting or gameplay. It is, however, a more refined and self-assured game, with an even better narrative and characters. The world-building and story are worth the price of admission, backed up by solid and creative tactical combat mechanics.
***PC code provided by the publisher for review***
- Immersive world and detail
- Interesting story and characters
- Engaging combat
- Some bugs
- Can be challenging
- Fairly familiar mechanics