This article was supposed to be some kind of dick joke, but instead, I’m too amazed: Why didn’t anyone tell me that Massive Chalice is basically X-Com Fantasy Edition? I would’ve played it rather than let it sit in my Steam library for months. I’m not sure that knowing earlier would’ve led to me finishing the game, though. I’ve made it halfway to… well, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The title says nothing about the game, and strikes me as something of a joke. Someone a Double Fine thought embodying the game’s joint narrators in a giant cup was funny, and they named the game after it. At least that’s my guess. And I’m not saying the people in my imagination are wrong, just that it’s one reason the game sat, within reach but ignored, like a cup of tea that’s spent too long cooling.
Massive Chalice is the story of a small nation besieged by monsters. Gameplay takes place in two arenas: the national stage, where you manage bloodlines to breed better heroes; and the battlefield, where you command your latest batch of heroes in fighting the monsters.
They execute the tactical combat well. You have three main classes, or hybrids thereof, and take advantage of their stealth, range, toughness, and burst attacks to destroy your enemies. Use line-of-sight and each hero’s two actions wisely to find and eliminate the threat. It works well, and is basically identical to X-Com except with less of a cover system.
Between battles, you manage your kingdom, trying to keep it alive for three hundred years so the massive, talking chalice that advises you can gather enough power to destroy all the monsters everywhere. You assign heroes to marry and raise the next generation of heroes; your choices determine the next generation’s heroic classes, hereditary traits, and learned traits. The choices are difficult, because assigning a hero to breed removes him or her from the fighting pool. You must weigh the benefit between keeping your good heroes in the field or letting them pass that experience on to a new generation.
You also select research projects to improve your heroes’ armor, weapons, available items, and so on. As if the combat wasn’t enough, I think this pushed me over into the game feeling just like X-Com.
So, at this point I’ve elected not to finish the game. I’m a bit more than halfway through the three-century chalice-charging process, and I feel trapped. My bloodlines produce nothing but the alchemist and alchemist-hybrid classes, which limits my combat options significantly. I just hit the point where I felt like I could manage the monsters well with foresight, cleverness, and a bit of luck, and the game upped all the monster difficulties on me. I recognize the need to keep a game challenging, but I feel like they just pulled the rug out from under my advancement.
The other reason is that the story just isn’t there. X-Com had a series of plot-driven missions, taking aliens captive or capturing new technology. I could also interact with the engineer and scientist for some personality. Here, there’s only the next mission and the long-term, unchanged story goal of reaching the three-hundred-year goal. Part of me wants to see it through to the end, but the rest of me knows I’ll be more frustrated than happy doing so. And I can watch the ending on YouTube.
Massive Chalice is available in early access from Steam for $29.99. Note that since the game is still in development, just like this article’s dick joke. I played the late February, 2015 build.