Miasma Chronicles review: Apocalypse tropes galore
Miasma Chronicles explores tech in a post-apocalyptic world with a turn-based strategy and a top-down view.
You play as Elvis, a young teen in what was once Kentucky before a global-wide disaster struck the population 140 years previously.
Armed with a curious metal glove left by his mother and his companion robot Diggs who has raised him for many years, Elvis sets out to find his missing mother in a world plagued by an entity called the Miasma.
The Miasma is a swarm-like substance that has poisoned the air and caused deviations in evolution, creating beast-like monsters which seem to worship the Miasma and guard it furiously.
If you're usually a fan of post-apocalyptic dramas or turn-based strategy games, this game feels like a Horizon Zero Dawn meets XCOM hybrid. Keep reading and we'll tell you if it's worth your time
- For more new games, check out our Darkest Dungeon 2 review here.
Kicking up a stink
Miasma Chronicles sets the tone with a hard opening of Elvis and Diggs attempting to breach a Miasma barrier. The barrier is made up of an intangible material with destructive properties which has wreaked havoc on the world for the last 140 years.
We find out that Elvis' mother is separated from him somewhere on the other side of the barrier and left Elvis with the key to controlling the Miasma – a strange metallic glove.
It becomes clear that although something of this power would be a golden ticket in an apocalypse and possibly put you at the top of every hit list, Elvis does not keep this a secret and indeed is known in his hometown for it.
It transpires that Elvis' mother chose to abandon him for unknown yet reasonably assumed higher purposes. As well as the glove, she leaves Elvis a robot chaperone called Diggs, programmed to be his older brother.
The game does manage to tick off multiple apocalypse-themed tropes right off the bat, so if you're looking for an original storyline then this may not serve that need.
Instead, it explores a similar story to that of Horizon Zero Dawn. A tale of a world succumbing to pollution and its populace taking drastic technological decisions to combat this, with fatal consequences.
Amongst the ruins of the old world has arisen a new power, the 'First Family' who trade gold with the neighbouring towns in return for a pittance of food rations and resources that are scarce.
The stranglehold the 'First Family' have on the populace and the mysterious uses they have of the technology they have accumulated is enough of a mystery to keep you engaged for some time, and was the core story beat that kept me engaged with Miasma Chronicles.
It's just you and me, and my friend Diggs
Elvis is your usual plucky all-American teen who we've seen before in countless other forms of media, and his sidekick Diggs is a 'love him or hate him' contender as with most robot companions in games.
Diggs will make jokes that feel somewhat cheesy and fail to land sometimes, and the tone seems slightly off when compared to the rest of the gritty landscape. He is also completely human in his responses, but can certain pop off in certain combat scenarios.
His character feels similar in some regard to Claptrap from Borderlands, serving almost exclusively as comedic relief in a way that some people may find endearing and others annoying.
The game has a turn-based party system where you can recruit new characters to fight alongside you. When recruiting party members the game commits the one cardinal sin of telling not showing, however.
Jade is a bounty hunter who is on the run from the 'First Family' and looking for a way to escape with the help of Elvis' mum who is something of a folk hero to the people.
In Jade's introduction she uses the line ''yeah, I know a lot, I'm pretty amazing' and Elvis references her as a badass multiple times without us seeing any substance to that claim. This felt like a missed opportunity to have her introduced in an action scene or something of the like to see her abilities shine through without simply being told 'Hey look at me I'm a badass'. These tonal shifts can sometimes lead the writing to feel a little one-note in places.
The game could also use more party interactions when out investigating in the wild. This is where franchises like Dragon Age struck a chord with their audiences and made their characters memorable and likeable. The dialogue between characters during downtime can be the best writing you come across. Whilst Miasma Chronicles does have a campfire moment like this, it takes a while to warm up to the characters and their backstories, and none feel like they get a chance to shine before the credits roll.
This isn’t true for all characters though; The Mayor of Sedentary is easily the most interesting NPC, mostly due to the fact that he is a head in a jar with mechanical arms constantly reaching out for a cigar. He has been the Mayor of the small mining town for 80 years and doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon, which raises a lot of questions.
Indeed, interacting with the townsfolk and the various destroyed droids around the world can lead to interesting conversations about the lore of the world.
In particular, the lore around the mysterious Edezen Technology company, who invested heavily in cleaning up the pollution on earth before disaster struck. They call these years the era of 'Great Stability' before the Miasma.
Run for cover
The combat is where the game really shines through. As with all strategy games, unless you're a frequent strategy gamer there is something of a learning curve before it becomes instinctual.
Miasma Chronicles offers four difficulty settings and then a further two sub-settings based on how integrated you want the cover system to be. As such, it could be a great entry title for people looking to get into strategy games but are perhaps a little intimidated by the reputation of games like XCOM. It can also offer a challenge for players more well-versed in strategy titles.
Each round starts off with your party getting two AP (Action Points) each which they can spend on movement, firing weapons or special attacks.
Each character has different attack styles, and it can be immensely satisfying when you manage to blend the styles together. For example, Jade is a sniper and can silently kill enemies. This can be useful for crowd control; you can use her to pick off stragglers before you let Diggs loose and barrelling into the tougher enemies.
There is a shared inventory system so things like healing Med packs and grenades can be equipped by any party member.
There isn’t permadeath in the game, which lowers the stakes somewhat, but combat is still often challenging.
Enemies also have different skills, learning to adapt in battle to account for this is part of the fun and where the game excels.
The game also follows XCOM's lead, temporarily shifting from a top-down view to over-the-shoulder when you land a critical hit which does a good job of making you feel powerful.
Another great thing about Miasma Chronicles is that skill points can be re-distributed freely at any moment meaning you don’t have to deal with the decision stress of choosing skills. You can try out different playstyles to fit your taste.
Amongst the characters and their abilities are Elvis and his glove. He has magic-like abilities where he is able to control the Miasma and harness it in battle for different elemental results. This ability can turn the tide of combat if you're in a pinch, and adds an almost magical flavour to an otherwise strictly sci-fi affair.
Miasma Chronicles is a promising strategy game with satisfying but challenging combat, a generous skill tree with sci-fi elements and intriguing lore.
The characters and writing are somewhat cheesy which you'll either love or hate and the story doesn't set any new ground in the crowded post-apocalyptic space, but it's still a fun romp.
Reviewed on PC. Code provided by the publisher.