In 2018, Swedish developer The Bearded Ladies released Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden. An excellent strategy RPG title set in the Mutant Year Zero tabletop universe. With the Miasma Chronicles, they decided to make another strategy RPG based on a brand new IP. Read our Miasma Chronicles review to see how and if they improved on their known formulae.
Welcome to the United States
The game is set in a post-apocalyptic version of the United States. The world is ravaged by a substance called Miasma. Small particles that transform or kill all living things it touches. This has changed the world dramatically. Society collapsed, there are no planes and large bodies of water are uncrossable. Back to the stone ages one would say. There are still guns and so on, which leads to an interesting setting.
The story follows a boy named Elvis. He’s been separated from his mother since an early age and is on a quest to be reunited with his mother. Separated from her by a giant wall of miasma, he has to survive in a town called Sedentary. He’s accompanied by a trust robot called Diggs, who has been assigned to him by his mother. In order to reach her, he has to bend the Miasma to his will to be able to pass through the wall of Miasma.
It quickly becomes apparent that manipulating the Miasma is a skill unique to Elvis. This is due to a special gauntlet inherited from his mother. It has a purpose beyond the story however, as this gauntlet allows Elvis to use Miasma Powers in combat. Miasma powers are powerful moves that can turn the tide of battle. But more on that later.
The first part of the game and story tries to set up the game world and teaches you about the state of the world. Through interactions with other characters and collectible lore objects, you’ll quickly find a very interesting post-apocalyptic setting. One with plenty of potential. Unfortunately, the start of the game may seem a bit slow and cliche in terms of story. But after the first act, this definitely picks up and there are definitely some interesting twists and turns in the story.
Familiar character tropes
During the course of the game, you’ll meet more characters including some new companions. While they fall into familiar character tropes, they are interesting enough to give the story some more flavor. Each of them has their own story to explore, told through optional side quests. In combat, Elvis and Diggs are mandatory but you can choose a third companion to go into combat with you.
You mainly explore the game world in exploration mode. The world is made up of smaller maps which are all connected to each other. You can always fast travel without limitation to a previously discovered map. While exploring, you can find various items lying around such as plastic (The game’s currency), lore objects, consumables to heal you or all kinds of grenades. Every map is pretty linear. It allows for some exploration, but every map has a hidden room which can be unlocked by finding a key(code) and some set areas for combat. In today’s day and age, it feels like there was way more potential here.
Floor to floor
While exploring, there’s also a way to pulse the area for items and other points of interests. I always love this feature in games, so as to not miss anything. Additionally, something I really like is vertical traversal. Often in games like these, you are limited to ladders and such to move from floor to floor. This is still a thing. However, you can always go from high ground to lower ground, just by lowering yourself. This feels so simple but increases the immersion. Especially in combat. While exploring the zones, it’s sometimes a bit hard to keep track of where you’ve been. As there’s no local minimap, you’ll have to go by your own senses.
It won’t be long before you’ll stumble upon groups of enemies. Combat is similar to Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden. Once you engage in combat, you and the enemy team take turns. Every character has two action points. Moving, using consumables and some skills consume one point. Attacking consumes your remaining action points. Using positioning and cover, you’ll make yourself harder to hit for the enemy. Likewise, positioning yourself on an enemy’s flanks grants you various bonuses. Much like the X-Com games, combat is punishing (at first). You can lose a character within a single turn if you’re not careful and they gang up on you. Fortunately, the hit and miss percentages don’t feel as punishing as X-Com.
A rough start
At first, combat is really really hard. Your options are limited and you’ll sometimes be ganged up on and killed easily. As you progress however, your skill options increase and the odds pivot in your favor. The options per character are pretty limited however, which leads to every character essentially getting the same build. Enemies will become a lot tougher later on, but clever use of your abilities and items will see you through the day. I personally feel the difficulty is just right near the end of the game.
The problem is at the start though. Apart from combat being brutal at first, the enemy AI is terrible. Especially at first. I sometimes simply survived combat because enemies would move into cover in strange places, instead of finishing off my team. This in turn allowed me to slaughter them and carry on. I often felt I should have lost those battles. This continues on through the game, however becomes less common the further in you get. It feels like combat at the start is perfectly balanced, because the AI makes weird decisions. Which isn’t how it should be.
Clear the board
One awesome aspect the Miasma Chronicles has compared to other games in this genre, is stealth mode. Generally in these types of games, initiating combat starts combat. Sure, you can position yourself in cover, on high ground or around the enemies. But shoot means go. However, if you have a silent weapon such as a sniper rifle and ambush an enemy which you can kill in one round, you’ve just made a silent kill. Provided you or the target were not seen. This is an awesome idea, which means you can thin out the herd a bit before engaging.
Unfortunately, it is not as well executed. I soon equipped all my characters with a silent weapon, specced their skills for stealth kills and found myself literally killing 80% of the enemies without being detected. This took away a lot of the challenge in the early game.There was even a point where I went into a boss fight, killed every minion through stealth and engaged in combat with the boss on his own. It made the boss fight a breeze. This couldn’t have been intentional. While it is a cool feature, it should be revised for future games.
Use the Miasma, Elvis
The Miasma powers Elvis has, add an extra element to combat. You can obtain various Miasma powers throughout the game. From summoning allies to whirlwinds that knock enemies away and powerful attacks. Each of these can be augmented with offensive or defensive buffs. They increase the cost of your attacks but add powerful effects. Such as burns to deal damage over time or acid damage which slowly chips away at enemies armor.
Besides following the main quests, there are also multiple side quests to discover and complete. While they are pretty simple, they do give you some nice rewards to make the experience easier. Often, they simply play out as going to a specific spot, killing enemies and completing the quest. More variety would have been nice.
World building done right
The Bearded Ladies have spent a lot of effort into world building and done a stellar job. Environments are interesting and so is the background story. When going into towns, they are filled with details and characters. The only downside is there are so few interactable characters with anything remotely interesting. Besides shopkeepers and quest givers, there’s not a lot of interaction possible. Additionally, conversations are all straightforward. With two or three static options.
As mentioned earlier, the environments are stunning however. As soon as you start the game, the cutscenes in the game show an insane amount of detail. The Miasma’s particles offer the tiniest captivating details. Characters are also well rendered, despite having few animations during conversations. Accompanied by a fitting soundtrack which builds suspense, the artists have done a stellar job. While exploring you’ll often find details happening in the background. Such as a huge gator swimming below the bridge you’re crossing.
The Miasma Chronicles has a few shortcomings, such as unbalanced stealth and combat and being pretty linear all in all. However, it’s a game I very much enjoyed from start to finish. The setting is interesting, the combat is fun and just exploring the beautiful game world is an experience in itself. For fans of Strategy RPG’s, I can definitely recommend this game. I don’t think you’ll be back for seconds, but it’s a fun game to enjoy for what it is. I definitely want to see a part two which is grander in scope and utilizes its potential to the fullest.
- Interesting game world
- Combat is fun
- Story offers some surprises
- Stealth mode is overpoweredmiasma
- Weird enemy AI
- Side quests are straightforward