The developers behind Mutant Year Zero are known for their unique take on the tactical strategy genre. Rather than focusing on emergent storytelling with custom characters, Mutant Year Zero instead treated us to a cast of fixed characters with an emphasis on a well-written storyline and an interesting take on stealth alongside its more traditional turn-based gameplay. With its follow-up, Miasma Chronicles, the studio seems keen on taking everything it learned with Mutant Year Zero, while at the same time expanding on its ideas, in terms of both story as well as gameplay.
When it comes to the story itself, Miasma Chronicles seems quite inspired by popular manga and anime. The game features two brothers, one of whom seems artificial, and the protagonist has a special arm, and there’s an emphasis on the duos’ mothers in the plot. However, Miasma Chronicles isn’t really that focused on the relationship between the two brothers—Elvis and Briggs—and is instead more focused on what’s happening in its world. The story starts off quite strong, presenting a number of questions that would get answered throughout the course of the game.
"Miasma Chronicles seems quite inspired by the critically-acclaimed manga and anime Fullmetal Alchemist."
At some point in Earth’s history, the eponymous Miasma started spreading and destroying the world. Our protagonists’ mother seems to have some deeper knowledge of the Miasma, but unfortunately for us, she disappeared, leaving Elvis with a glove that could potentially let him tap into the powers of the Miasma. Along the way the duo also learn of a tribe of mutant frogs that are planning to invade our protagonists’ hometown of Sedentary.
While the main storyline is quite interesting in all of its grandeur, Miasma Chronicles also does a pretty good job in letting us in on the smaller details of its post-apocalyptic world. For example, walk through Sedentary and you might overhear an old man talking about the early days of the apocalypse, and how humanity had to deal with running out of food. The world-building also extends to the main story itself, with an emphasis placed on the mysterious First Family and the iron grip it seems to rule the world with.
The only real fault with the story side of Miasma Chronicles is that some of its dialogue writing seems too random. Characters often seem to go through random mood shifts between asking a question and getting an answer, and several times, you just won’t expect the emotion any of your characters might display. An easy example of this is an early conversation you have with the mayor of Sedentary, or even the local sheriff who deputizes to help him keep the town safe.
When it comes to gameplay, Miasma Chronicles has two distinct modes of play: I like to call them the exploration mode and the combat mode. As these names might imply, the exploration mode is how you explore the world, pick up loot, find new gear, and talk to people, while the combat mode is how you sneak around and fight enemies. Let’s talk about combat mode first, since that’s really where the meat of the gameplay lies.
"While it never gets as complicated or modular with its statistics and abilities as other real time strategy games, Miasma Chronicles still manages to maintain some level of depth"
When you first start the game, the combat isn’t too different from what you might expect from other real time strategy games, especially if you pick the full tactical game mode in its difficulty settings. Every attack you attempt will have a chance to hit, and the cover you and your enemies take will affect this chance to quite an extent. In fact, taking cover, the different types of cover, and how to flank enemies are literally some of the first things you learn in Miasma Chronicles.
While it never gets as complicated or modular with its statistics and abilities as other real time strategy games, Miasma Chronicles still manages to maintain some level of depth with the ability to sneak up on enemies to set up ambushes before the start of a fight. Your entire team can be split apart so that you can pull off an effective ambush, and your enemies’ lines of sight are helpfully highlighted on the movement grid whenever you enter stealth mode. Don’t expect incredible depth when it comes to stealth, however, as it’s purely a means to an end—kicking off an ambush—rather than its own bespoke game mechanic.
Your characters also have their own skill trees—referred to as skill decks—where you can invest points whenever you level up. Skill decks for every character are divided into four small quadrants, each one signifying a specific area of expertise for the character. For example, Diggs has an entire quadrant of abilities dedicated to keeping the heat off his brother Elvis, which includes abilities like provoking enemies in a large area, and becoming movable cover for other characters.
In your first hour of playing the game, you’ll undoubtedly unlock the ability to harness miasma for your own ends. This manifests in gameplay through you getting special abilities that need energy to use. These miasma abilities can get quite varied, and without spoiling too much, even the first ability gives you the ability to manipulate the battlefield in fun and interesting ways, almost like you might be playing Into the Breach with its emphasis on battlefield control. These miasma mechanics work well with the simple-but-effective weapon customisation to ultimately provide quite a few impressive options for battle.
"Miasma Chronicles is a great extension of what made Mutant Year Zero fun."
The other side of Miasma Chronicles’ gameplay is its exploration mode. Unfortunately, there isn’t really much to say. Exploration is rather simple and barebones, and you’re not going to be unlocking fancy traversal skills. The exploration mode definitely gives you a great excuse to appreciate just how good Miasma Chronicles looks, however.
It features an impressive level of detail, right from its main menu, to exploration segments, to the designs of various enemies and characters you run into, and even down to your weapons with its various attachments. Miasma Chronicles is a rather gorgeous-looking game, and it runs incredibly well to boot. Playing on a PC running an AMD Ryzen 5 3600, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti, and 32GB of RAM, I was able to get a constant frame rate of 60fps most of the time—unless I was recording gameplay for the purposes of this review—with all of its settings at Ultra, ray tracing disabled, and a resolution of 1080p. The game also managed to run decently-enough on the Steam Deck, giving me a frame rate of 30fps with everything set to low.
Miasma Chronicles is a great extension of what made Mutant Year Zero fun. It combines turn-based tactical gameplay with a fun story set in an immensely-interesting and fleshed-out world. While its gameplay isn’t going to seem too deep for anyone that’s spent some time with real time strategy games, it still manages to offer a decent amount of challenge and tactical options, especially once you start unlocking magical abilities that help you manipulate the battlefield. Despite its sometimes-awkward writing, Miasma Chronicles is certainly a game worth your time.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Interesting world; Fun combat; Miasma powers are fun to play with.
Awkward dialogue; exploration is rather simple and barebones.
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