Emerging from the fog are the long-range Bulwarks, hulking blue Twitchers and ugly, irritating Wrinklers; the Vanguard is surrounded on all sides. However, using the efficient sniper skills of the Hunters, the important Free Throw ability of the Alchemist and the aggressive nature of Caberjacks, the Cadence is vanquished and another landmark victory achieved. A distant horn bellows across the land; success.
Situations like this are a frequent occurrence in Massive Chalice, a game that rewards you for knowing your enemy and playing to the strengths of your soldiers. When these strategic elements come together, it makes hearing that horn that much more satisfying.
In Massive Chalice you play a God, of sorts. Your duty, with guidance from two voices speaking within the Chalice, is to oversee the survival of the human race from the Cadence – an evil band of grotesque creatures plaguing the Kingdom’s regions of all life. You are to push back this evil that is encroaching on the Kingdom by creating Keeps, excelling soldiers’ skills and even assisting them in battle. The war with the Cadence will be long and, to ensure the survival of the townspeople, players will need to establish the strongest bloodlines for specific roles; a tough gig, to say the least.
At first, Massive Chalice is an intimidating undertaking. There is a comprehensive list of house names to choose from and, in the first hour, you’ll be juggling all manner of construction, combat, marriage-based tasks. Creating a decent bloodline, with a respectful list of combat traits and positive outlooks on the war, is paramount when deciding who is fit for service and whose traits are more valuable for future generations.
Each region only holds one structure and the outer regions in particular, prove to be very important. They are attacked more often but hold bonuses, such decreased research time or increased experience per mission. Holding them off from the Cadence, however, is challenging. Players will have three opportunities to defend a region until it becomes overrun and cannot be reclaimed. There’s an enticing risk/reward scheme in play with Massive Chalice, which extends even further in the heat of combat.
Thankfully, Double Fine Productions have delivered extremely helpful and detailed tutorials for strategising in and out of Tactical Battles. The UI is simple but intuitive, and the tactics discussed in the introductory battle lay the foundations really well.
In each battle, you must amass a Vanguard: A band of five Heroes to act as your shield against the invading Cadence. With enough bloodline experimentation, your starting classes, the Caberjack (melee), Alchemist (melee/range) and Hunter (range), can flourish into Blastcappers (Alchemist+Caberjack), Shadowjacks (Caberjack+Hunter) or Trickshots (Hunter+Alchemist).
Upon deployment into an area, the turn-based strategy of Massive Chalice begins. Each Vanguard member has two ‘actions’ during a turn, whether it be attack, move, heal, or use an ability. When moving, characters are surrounded by an orange or white grid depending on their movement range – the orange being one action and the white being two actions. However, attacking will conclude your turn immediately, so it’s always best to re-position yourself before launching an attack.
While the range and accuracy of your Hunters is always nice, never discount the importance of the Alchemist. Even though the Caberjacks possess a powerful Knockback ability, thrusting enemies further away from your allies, the Alchemist can lob explosive flasks across large distances. On top of a handy Acid Solution perk, whereby enemies receive ongoing corrosive damage after a melee attack, the flasks grow in potency and can despatch several enemies at once.
The enemies in Massive Chalice have great variation. From your stock-standard Seeds to self-detonating Ruptures and Lapses, as well as secondary abilities, such as melee hits that age your Vanguards or impromptu armour activations, Double Fine keeps players’ minds active even amidst the latter stages of the game. The challenging AI of the Cadence is another bonus, too.
Advancing from one battle to the next requires the passing of time. Years fly by and players can choose to research new weapons, buildings (such as the Crucible, to increase the experience of your trainee Heroes), items (e.g.: explosive mines and ‘experience scarves’) and armour to fill the intermission. Each subsequent structure will take longer to create and there’s a never-ending factor of risk associated with researching one item over another. Furthermore, assigning a Hero as a Sagewright (Researcher), Standard (Crucible trainer), or a territory’s Regent (King/Queen) will cease their time on the battlefield, which is an important feature to consider.
Massive Chalice also has random scenarios that pop up during this transitional phase. These break up the constant stream of tactical battles and is a nice change of pace. They aren’t all good, though, and most inevitably have grave consequences for individual Heroes or entire regions in reaction to the war effort.
The war against the Cadence will span centuries and players must quickly deal with the inevitable loss – whether from age or battle – of countless Heroes. Losing a Hero in battle is completely demoralising but, ultimately, many characters in Massive Chalice are temporary and unhelpful. Their hereditary traits aren’t preferable for later generations and their base stats make them unfit for service. Even though there is a possibility for a relic or heirloom to be handed down the bloodline (usually a weapon) for attack bonuses, it’s surprising that with such heavy fantasy ties, Double Fine Productions failed to implement an Immortal Hero – the spirit of a dead soldier that can be summoned for a specific number of years – or something of that nature. It would have added a layer of humanity to the game that Massive Chalice desperately needed.
The graphics are average, despite guidance from a terrific orchestral soundtrack. The stylised art style from Double Fine lacks personality because, whether in their youth or twilight years, every Hero looks alike in some way. Some extra detail and variation to a character’s physical appearance would have distinguished the crowds of brown hair, wrinkled faces and nonchalant emotions.
The latter half of Massive Chalice is a tough task to complete. After calmly micromanaging territories, buildings and marriages for 150 short years, players are left waiting for a change that never comes. On top of increasing battles and congested landing zones, players will be returning to previously explored regions to halt progress of the Cadence and, time after time, areas look the same; incorporating new environments with new hazards would maintain a level of engagement and depth not seen since Massive Chalice’s opening hour of gameplay.
The first half of Massive Chalice yields a highly enjoyable strategy game, which forces you to make many hard decisions constantly, outside of battle. The deep ancestry system encourages you to keep every bloodline plentiful and eventually stems the flow of emotion as players become more battle-hardened, awaiting the Chalice to cleanse the Kingdom. But, complacency is your enemy and applause has to be given to Double Fine Productions for making failure in the campaign a hard reality to face.
There is over 20 hours worth of content in one playthrough and, even though the latter half of Massive Chalice wanes in variety, it is an engaging strategy game where easy choices are few and far between.