Miasma Chronicles is a tactical role-playing game set in a post-apocalyptic America in which the disparity between the haves and have-nots has grown to an unfathomable degree. The country is ruled by The First Family; an untouchable, self-serving elite born from the ashes of big corporation in the post-cataclysm world.
They’ve got access to a lethal robot army and many advanced technologies, and they care not one whit about the little people who live in small towns and villages trying their best to make ends meet in an unforgiving landscape. That land is blighted by the miasma; a beguiling grey goo that is both destructive and obstructive, blocking access to certain regions while displaying a seemingly malevolent and deadly intelligence.
We play as Elvis, a young mechanic from the town of Sedentary. His mother left him in the care of his robotic brother Diggs before disappearing into the night and now Elvis wants to track her down. The problem is that in order to do that he’ll need to breach a miasma wall on the outskirts of town. And so Elvis must learn how to break and ultimately control the miasma, destroy the wall, and venture forth into what remains of America beyond.
Along the way Elvis and Diggs will meet a handful of other characters that can join their party, and each comes with their own backstories, secrets, and notable flaws. It’s the classic ragtag bunch, banding together for a common goal, not necessarily altruistic or even decent but interesting nonetheless. Their dialogue will likely make you wince on occasion and the one-liners miss more than they hit, but for what it’s worth we did find them endearing in their own, embarrassing-little-brother sorta way.
The camera views the action from an elevated position as you wander around each town or wasteland you visit, talking to other characters, and exploring the world looking for loot like ammo, health potions, and occasionally weapons or upgrades. There are secrets to find, light puzzles to solve, and side quests to partake in.
The meat and potatoes of the game is the tactical turn-based combat, which is where Miasma Chronicles shines brightest. Each of your heroes gets two action points per turn, and they can use those to move position to get into better cover, reload if necessary, use an item, or attack an enemy. Attacks have a percentage chance to land based on how far away you are from the target and whether or not they’re in effective cover, and there’s a smaller percentage chance that you could land a critical hit for extra damage, all helpfully displayed before you take the shot.
Like all good tactical role-playing games, the joy of Miasma Chronicles lies in planning out your moves and watching them unfold with deadly precision while avoiding retaliation through awareness of your surroundings. In this regard, Miasma Chronicles is mostly rewarding, with challenging encounters and an array of useful skills for each party member that are unlocked as you progress. There are some combat-related niggles, mainly to do with a few cheaper feeling enemies towards the end of the game, and occasional glitches that frustrate when they ruin the flow of battle.
One of the coolest options you have in the game is to ambush enemies, getting your characters into advantageous positions, or even wiping them out through stealth kills without facing a single retaliatory shot. With a silenced sniper rifle, some distractions to peel enemies away from their friends, and little bit of luck you can take a lot of problems out of the equation or even avoid combat entirely, and we found this incredibly rewarding every time we pulled it off.
There are also skills that utilise the miasma to take into account. Certain characters are able to control the miasma for special attacks, and using these can turn the tide of battle in interesting and often spectacular ways. Our favourite was the ability to conjure a barrel full of explosives out of thin air, which can be placed in the middle of a group of enemies before shooting it for hellish damage.
Miasma Chronicles is an occasionally beautiful game. Animations are less convincing, particularly in cutscenes, but the locales and characters are well-realised and nicely rendered. The heroes are also distinct in their designs, from Elvis’ junkyard-rockstar-chic to a head in a jar controlling a gigantic, robotic frame.
While the characters are visually well designed and charming in their own way, broadly speaking, their storylines and the overall tale that the game tells are a little disappointing. There are revelations and twists and secrets are revealed, but none of them carry much weight because the story ends just as it’s getting interesting, and there’s not enough time devoted to developing any particular narrative beat over the 25-30 hour playing time.
Miasama Chronicles feels like the first part of a much larger narrative, and that might certainly be the plan, but as a standalone piece we were left perplexed by the rushed nature of the late game plot developments. Worse still are the technical issues we experienced playing the game, and while the day one patch seems to have corrected the most catastrophic problems that plagued our initial playthrough, we only had one endgame save available to test it with, so it might pay to wait a little if you’re hesitant about a purchase.
Throughout Miasma Chronicles, some lines of dialogue refused to play at all and so subtitles were required at all times to understand what was happening. There were bizarre animation issues where characters would repeatedly sit down and stand up during conversations for no apparent reason. We also ran into problems when trying to get out of cover, as on numerous occasions our heroes half-phased into waist-high walls and couldn’t get out of them.
The most egregious problems we came up against took place in the final battle, in which the game crashed repeatedly when we performed certain actions. It would crash if we hit specific enemies with grenades but would continue unabated if we shot them or used other skills. One spectacular error we discovered meant that the game would crash if we cycled through the menu to the right, but it was fine if we were moving to the left.
We managed to muddle through that battle by learning the rules of what crashed the game and what didn’t across two or three hours, but we’d be lying if we said it didn’t sour the experience for us somewhat. That said, after reloading that same battle post-update we didn’t face the same problems. While we wouldn’t necessarily give the game a clean bill of health just yet, the biggest technical mishaps do seem to have been rectified.