Gaming - Massive Chalice

Title

The Defective Inspector opens up a massive case file for Massive Chalice...

Double Fine are well known for being kings of the Indie world, they bring us legends of entertainment such as the remastering of legends like Grim Fandango and Broken Age, one of the biggest Kickstarters in gaming history. Massive Chalice was their second Kickstarter attempt and, while not as successful, reached its goal and poked Ben Muir out of a mental asylum (see this link for more info on that…). So when a company, forged in the blood of fans, comes and brings you something there is an unquestionable need to play it.

To give you an idea of my “process” (Because I’m an actor of words and stuff…) I play a game for at least 2 hours before I even start writing a review. I sit at my PC with a trusty notepad so when I notice something worth talking about, I jot it down like Clark Kent when he’s actually doing his job. I take those notes and create what you see right now. Below is a photo of my notepad

Notepad
I like this title. That is a nice title.
Something went terribly wrong. I would show you a before and after shot but it seems redundant, you see readers I just couldn’t write notes as I was too damn busy. Ever tried to rule a kingdom as a giant talking cup? No I didn’t think so! Luckily the screenshot key was located on the keyboard and thus I was able to press it every once in a while to ensure I had SOMETHING to base my writing on. So watch as I fumble together some semblance of a case file.

Massive Chalice is a beautiful idea, you are an undescribed god which has been stored within a giant stone drinking bowl which, for more undescribed reasons, also houses 2 other advisors who guide your reign for 300 years. Already you’re scratching your head, I don’t blame you. But putting aside the fact this already sounds completely insane I am going to press on. With your biblical tableware powers you have to control the bloodlines of heroes and regents to rule the land and defend off a spreading corruption created, sort of, by something called “The Cadence”. “Why the Cadence?” I ask myself, no idea. The fear of a greater evil deflates when I can imagine my old school music teacher Mrs Perkin’s saying it. But that being said I am meant to be a monstrous granite cup so let’s throw logic out the window and press onwards.

Chalice
My cup LITERALLY runneth over.
Your duties as the immortal mug (You may notice the fun I am having right now) is to assign people to join hands and pork until babies fall out but most importantly to raise mighty heroes. Why? So they may fight off the oncoming invasions AND pork until MORE babies come out. This is achieved by building keeps to act as motel rooms for my honoured warriors, however they find a fondness to their new home and stay put. Once the sheets have been changed and the tone of this case file is risen from gutter harlot to perfect gentleman a baby is provided and the world keeps turning. All joking aside the bloodline aspect of this game is VERY important. As explained your menacing goblet presence is immortal, while humans are squishy little creatures. With a 300 year war on your hands you need to guardians of my rocky body. So the game becomes a delicate balance of fighting the good fight while also mixing birds and bees; the results are varied as each person has traits attained by birth, randomness and sometimes special events. The events are exceptionally varied and have no right or wrong answer. They appear to have a similar system to FTL or The Sims in that the right answer is based on chance, not on logic. Going to the park to calm a citizen can result in it discovering a new flower or the corpse of a bunny rabbit, thus consequences of these events can be frustrating but understandable, after all there are only so many scenarios and eventually you’ll remember them all granting an unfair advantage.

Map of death
What a lovely map of death.
The map itself is rather simple, which is comforting considering how complex eugenics can be. On this map you MAY notice a few different building. As explained earlier the keeps hold people and couples to -cough- and raise family members to later become heroes. The other 2 buildings named the Crucible and the Sagewright Guild. Both of these places implement a “join and never leave” policy. The Sagewright boost research while the Crucible boosts training and, regardless of how useful it is, personal traits. This means fighting and f***ing are out of the question, stopping any chance of living the Viking life, a fun but sometimes infuriating consequence on an already fiddly game.

There is of course battle mechanics beyond the world map, it operates on a VERY similar mechanic to X-Com: Enemy Unknown. So much so in fact I felt myself getting frustrated when my units would not overwatch… Just like X-Com is works on a turn by turn basis using specialised units with skills, items and weapons which can be decided before each mission. Ultimately it boils down to clever tactics and a hint of luck if your arrow/flask/fist hits or not. The 3 starting classes are Hunter, Caberjack (GREAT name) and Alchemist. Your heroes CAN interbreed with classes and new “hybrid” classes’ form but they all just borrow skills from each other rather than form brand new ones, thus I’ll keep it simple for now. The hunter is as it sounds, a long ranged archer with stealth skills. The Alchemist is also as opaque, you make flasks of mixtures which explode and so on, note at this point however it gets more interesting… I threw a jar of bees at something and the results were Nick-Cage-A-Rific. Finally there is the Caberjack which is basically a person who carries a Caber (Popularly known outside of Scotland as a giant f’ing tree trunk) used for cracking open the heads of your enemies. Speaking of enemies their names are equally as insane. Some are fairly common like Bulwark but then you have things like Lapse, Cradle and Seed which, as you’ll find out when you play it, are appropriate names for their skill sets. However it gets downright creepy when for things like Rupture, Twitcher and Wrinkler. I won’t ruin the fun of what each of them do, but the names alone send shivers down my spine. Suddenly the word “Cadence” makes me feel “The Fear”.

cadence
Whatever mind made this also made Slender Man
The very tone of this game is consistent in its odd and almost light hearted narrative. This isn’t to say the game isn’t serious, it really is, but it keeps the mood light as you fight battle after battle watching your favourite warrior die of a Twitcher to the chest. Hell even if that doesn’t happen your favourite WILL die of old age. This level of good humour is controlled almost completely by the special events and the 2 advisors I mentioned earlier, they work in a similar manner to Black and White’s “Good and Bad”. They argue, they joke and their personalities demand conflict but this method of holding the gamer’s interest REALLY works.

On the brighter side of things your houses do continue. There is a motto which is different for each house, colours are different, tabard is different but it’s all very cosmetic. From reading the Kickstarter page and looking over the literal hundreds of different houses it all seems to be a granted immortality of those who contributed early on, a total of 1239 people are forever embedded into the game as a “thank you” from Double Fine. The sheer number of contributors has allows us, the average player, to appreciate the amount of love the project had from the start which is a beautiful thing to see.

The oddest but biggest problem I find with this game is the wasted potential. There could have been more maps, more classes and more customization. Not to say I didn’t like the game, I don’t waste 6 uninterrupted hours as a godly trophy for no good reason, but I kept thinking “I wish I could do X”. I am not talking about complex thing here, there are always theoretical improvements to a game which in practice are not worth the thing, but little things like being able to make my own house. I want the “Defective Inspectors” to rule the realm, wielding Caber’s like blood thirsty maniacs, I want to feel SHAME when one of my kin does something stupid and PRIDE when the final strike finishes the battle. I feel like there is a missing connection with my characters and it falls short. For me the 300 year war is the end goal and the death toll is simply a number of broken eggs in my quest to make the world’s oldest omelette. In X-Com when my favourite mechanical unit “Talos” died I almost lost it, I didn’t play the game for a week because I was THAT annoyed a lucky shot killed him. This request is constant however and has yet to be implemented which is a HUGE shame really…


Death Toll
We are legion, we are many, and we are devoid of personality or emotional connection...
It all comes down to what you wanted from the game, when I started playing I had no idea what to expect beyond a giant solid demitasse controlling bloodlines. While I got exactly that I felt like I needed more, like something is missing. What I must say it there I still hope, Massive Chalice has mainly been occupied with a behind the scenes video “Massive Knowledge” which has yet to be completed, I suspect once that is done we may get what we want, or at least Steam Workshop will open up…

Even without this metaphysical update I like the game, I truly do. I’ve yet to reach the end and I feel like something is coming, something like… Winter but less R-R-Martin-esque. Whatever happens on the future I must say this; the game boils down to a clever mixture of great tactic gameplay, interesting interbreeding mechanics and flawless writing, thrown it into a colossal liquid holder of some kind and allowed to simmer. Frankly, it’s delicious.

Images – Live screenshots, Malice Chalice Wiki and Kickstarter