Double Fine Productions helped usher in the age of Kickstarter funded games with Double Fine Adventure (which later became Broken Age). Coming off of that success, Double Fine dipped into the Kickstarter well once more in order to fund their next major project, Massive Chalice. Headed by the creator of the vastly underrated Iron Brigade, Brad Muir, Massive Chalice looked to create a hybrid of XCOM and Game of Thrones. The game has been launched on Steam Early Access and while it’s an interesting concept, the game feels like it needs to address some massive balance issues.
Massive Chalice finds you playing as a leader of a fantasy land that is being invaded by monsters known as the Cadence. At the start of your reign, you are bound to the titular Massive Chalice, a talking, immortal chalice inhabited by two spirits. When you are bound to the chalice, you become immortal but you are bound to your thrown for the remainder of your life. The chalice informs you that it might be able to kill the Cadence, but that it will take hundreds of years for it to gain the energy to do so. In the meantime, you will need to manage the ranks of your army and their bloodlines.
Every few years, you’ll need to summon five heroes from your ranks in order to fight battles in specific areas across the land. However, during these times two different areas will be attacked at once, forcing you to choose which land you want to defend. If you fail to defend an area three times, that land will be lost to you forever.
Battles themselves play out in a similar way to XCOM, where you explore a set environment and try to kill every enemy you can. There are three main classes for your characters. The Cabberjack is your melee class who uses a battering ram to knock back enemies. Hunters are the long range fighters who use a bow. Alchemists offer a semi-mixture of both styles of play, with the ability to launch bombs from far away and the ability to deal decent melee damage.
While the Cabberjack can be powerful, it seems to take them a long time to level up to deal serious damage. It feels like early on, they also deal mostly glancing hits, only dealing one or two points of damage with each hit. The Hunter can deal pretty big damage, however when they haven’t leveled up much, they never seem to hit their target. That makes the Alchemist one of the best characters in the early game, as they can do decent melee damage and deal massive damage with their bombs, which can eventually be upgraded to deal even more AOE damage.
That said, the early game is by no means easy. In fact, it’s probably the most difficult and frustrating part of Massive Chalice. The game does very little in the way of tutorials of combat, leaving you to need to experiment as much as you can in the first few battles while you are only dealing with simple enemies. That’s when the game begins to throw incredibly difficult enemies at you.
Your team will get destroyed the first time they encounter some of the harder enemies. For example, Ruptures can ruin almost any low level Cabberjack, as Ruptures will always explode, either by their attack or when they die. Since Cabberjacks are a melee class, the damage that Ruptures can do is devastating. Even worse are the Cradles, who spawn smaller melee class enemies and can hurl bombs at your team from long distances. These attacks can kill you with one hit. Moreover, when you first encounter them, you likely won’t realize this, leaving your team incredibly vulnerable.
The game also features permadeth and your roster of team members is extremely small. You will have several fights where you have a skeleton crew working against the Cadence, meaning you’ll likely get overwhelmed.
While it’s possible to recruit new team members, it takes several years and will generally give you allies that are at level 1. Since fights are sparse, it can take you forty of fifty in-game years to level a character up to have a decent chance in a fight. However, one other thing you need to keep in mind is that your team will eventually grow old and die. They will generally only live for around 70 years and when you recruit them, they’ll be in their early twenties. With fights being so difficult and sparse, it’s tough to level anyone on your team.
In between battles, you can research new abilities and upgrade your heroes in different ways, in a very similar manner to XCOM. However, the game does a somewhat poor job of telling you which items are important to upgrade early on. You could go a long time before you realize that you should upgrade your armor on for one specific class or that one of the first things you need to research is the health potion ability.
Research also includes the ability to build different buildings, such as Keeps, Crucibles and the Sagewrights Guild. Keeps allow you to appoint a regent and their partner to be the ruler of that area. If their fertility is high enough, they will produce children who will fight for your army who will inherit some of their parent’s skills. Crucibles allow you to train young recruits after they leave their home keep, in order to give them a higher level when they join the army. The Sagewrights Guild will allow you to speed up research.
However, each of these buildings needs to have heroes appointed to them. It’s incredibly difficult to appoint heroes when you are barely scraping by with the heroes you have. Moreover, since you can only research one project at a time, you will likely try to upgrade the abilities of your heroes so that they can stay alive long enough to lead one of these buildings. However, if they die in battle (and they almost certainly will), it can be tough to actually justify using a hero for these buildings.
Massive Chalice shows some serious potential as Double Fine’s version of XCOM. However, the game needs some serious tweaking in terms of its difficulty. Even if you’re a fan of the difficulty offered by XCOM and other strategy games like it, you’ll likely find that it ramps up its intensity far too quick in order to make it through on your first or even second run through of the game.
An Early Access code for Massive Chalice was provided to Pixel Related for this preview.