The Bearded Ladies are back with another tactical-RPG that takes players to an unforgiving post-apocalyptic America.
The Bearded Ladies is slowly cementing itself as one of the most compelling tactical-RPG developers. The Swedish studio previously served up Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden and now has debuted its follow up title, Miasma Chronicles.
Set in a devastated post-apocalyptic world, this game combines a dark and enthralling narrative with that of tight and challenging strategy gameplay. The idea behind the story sees protagonist Elvis travelling through a world that has been wrecked by a destructive force known as the Miasma, all in the effort of first finding his mother and then unearthing answers about why the Miasma is becoming agitated and aggressive, while avoiding and overcoming the threats that make up this horrifying future.
The narrative is one of the strengths of Miasma Chronicles, as it draws the player in with compelling dialogue and unexpected twists and turns, all on top of being unafraid to serve up truly gruesome and dark moments that will leave you shocked and surprised. The characters are also well defined and feel interesting to follow, even if some are almost caricatures of American culture with the way they speak in conversation and when shouting filler lines in the heat of combat.
The storyline is also bolstered by the absolutely fantastic environments and levels you can explore in real-time. Be it towns packed with civilians, swamps laden with mutated frog monsters, sci-fi facilities, and more, regardless of where you find yourself in the storyline, you'll want to venture off the beaten path to pick up lore entries that add context to the world, accept side quests for loot and experience, and also just generally solve environmental puzzles in the hopes of finding some hidden goodies. These can be tied to simply reading a lore entry to learn a safe code, or can require you to keep tabs on the surrounding environment for clues on how to access a hidden area. The main questline and the combat may be the meat on the bones of this game, but there's plenty to pick at beyond them.
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Speaking of combat, Miasma Chronicles uses a tactical strategy system that has some great elements and features, but also some of the weird frustrations that still swirl around the X-COM franchise. When entering into a combat proceeding, you have to command your cast of characters to use their two action points as you see fit. This could be moving and then taking a shot at a foe, or could be reloading and then throwing a grenade, whatever suits the situation you find yourself in. It is, generally speaking, a very intuitive combat suite that isn't overwhelmed with complexities, even if elevation changes, powerful Miasma abilities (that can be devastating but aren't game-breaking), consumables, elemental damage types and resistances, and different weapon types do throw in tons of unique options.
But, this being said, I still loathe the percentage system that the game uses, where vision defines how successful a shot will be. Despite enemy units clearly being visible, you'll often get a 50% hit chance, or likewise, when you think your characters are safe and secure, an enemy will find a way to sneak a shot in. It can be frustrating to deal with. However, the combat is what you make of it in Miasma Chronicles, as if tactical strategy gameplay isn't really your jam, then the basic difficulty takes the sting out of this and allows you to enjoy exploration and narrative first and foremost, whereas the more demanding difficulties will mean that every single choice you make could be a game ender.
To make the combat that little bit more unique, Miasma Chronicles also has a stealth element to it, where you can pick off enemy units before getting sucked into an actual full combat encounter. By isolating and then eliminating enemies with silenced weapons and abilities, you can reduce the amount of foes in play at once, which makes the combat as a whole vastly more approachable. Adding to this is the character designs and the RPG-style progression that allows you to build Elvis and his allies into unique combatants that each bring their own fighting style (for example, the robot Diggs can be built into a tanky presence, whereas Jade is all about stealth and critical hits) by spending skill points and slotting weapon and character modifications into place. Essentially, there is a lot to unpack and sink your teeth into if you want to indulge in more than just the unique storyline.
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I have noticed a few weird bugs and issues over my time playing Miasma Chronicles, including invisible enemies and frame rate drops, but generally speaking, the performance of the game is pretty good and shows that degree of polish that some PC games of late lack. The presentation is also exceptional in the environmental design, even if the character models come across as a bit ugly at times.
All in all, Miasma Chronicles is a solid tactical-RPG that offers good-quality combat encounters, alongside a story that is enthralling to follow, and all set in a world you want to explore. It has its kinks and issues at times, but the depth of the RPG systems and solid performance is enough to keep you engaged and entertained. The Bearded Ladies has served up another winner in the tactical-RPG space.
7 / 10
Enthralling story. Deep RPG systems. Fantastic world that you want to explore. Overflowing with content.
X-COM-like combat sometimes makes you want to bash your head against a wall. A few performance issues and bugs.