Unfortunately I haven't played any of the previous tactical games of the creators of Miasma Chronicles, neither the wonderful Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden that Stefanos Koutsoukos praised in his review for this site, nor Corruption 2029 that flew under the radar due to its exclusivity in the Epic Game Store. So I started the game without a clear picture of what to expect, but with expectations for a quality turn-based tactics game. Were those expectations fulfilled? Let's discuss it.
The plot of Miasma Chronicles takes place in the southern states of the USA after a major disaster put an end to civilization as we know it today. The mysterious miasma phenomenon flattened the country, mutating people and animals and forcing the survivors into isolated settlements to best cope with the multiple dangers. The United States is now run by the powerful First Family which is indifferent to anything other than collecting unbearable taxes, sending in ruthless collectors to impose its will. Against this bleak backdrop our protagonist, a young engineer with the distinctive name of Elvis, embarks on a search for his mother who abandoned him as a boy and disappeared behind the miasma wall, leaving behind only a high-tech glove and a vague message to Elvis to follow her "when he's ready."
Despite the setting and the plot that harkens to a Fallout-type RPG, Miasma Chronicles clearly belongs to the genre of turn-based tactical games since combat against all kinds of enemies is the focus of the gameplay and any RPG elements have the usual complementary role in games of this genre. The game world is divided into separate maps representing the different regions and traveling from one map to another is done via loading screen once you reach an exit point, but if you visit a map once you can then return at any time via fast travel. Outside of combat character movement is in real time and turn-based combat starts as soon as you are seen by enemies. A quite interesting feature of Miasma Chronicles is the ability to approach an impending battle in stealth mode so you can choose the point from which to attack and the priority of targets, or even eliminate certain enemies stealthily in order to enter the battle on more favourable terms.
RPG elements are limited to progressively leveling up your team and unlocking various perks, short dialogues and transactions with various NPCs, and exploring maps in search of loot. The progression of the main quest is purely linear with no branches and options, but you can take on some side quests if you want to accumulate more experience points and better equipment. As for the combat system, we see once again in a game of this genre the implementation of the now very familiar movement, cover and combat system of modern XCOM: two action points per character, half cover and full cover, special abilities with cooldowns. As we mentioned in our recent Showgunners review, the advantage of this choice on the part of the developers is the immediate acclimation of the player without reinventing the wheel every time, but there is also the potential for fatigue if you've played something similar recently and were looking for a change.
The key points for fun tactical gameplay are of course the combat system itself, the design of the encounters and the strategic options available to the player. I played Miasma Chronicles on the Hardened difficulty level (one less than the maximum) and in Full Tactical Mode which essentially doesn't "tweak" the dice for the player's benefit and had an overall enjoyable experience, neither inhumanly difficult nor particularly easy. I read in some reviews that several encounters are very difficult if you don't take care to reduce the number of enemies with stealth kills before the battle starts but personally I didn't find that, most battles could be successfully completed even without this stage, certainly not in an ideal way but at least victorious. In fact I would say that the biggest difficulty I encountered was mainly... financial, because the rewards of quests in money are quite frugal and thorough exploration of each map is rather necessary to collect extra resources and be able to buy new equipment and valuable healing items.
The combat gameplay I would describe as adequate as it is entertaining without making any big mistakes but also without challenging the top games of the genre in terms of intensity and strategic challenge. Technically the game also stands at a satisfactory level with an asterisk which I will address below, the graphics and art style are beautiful and the music pleasantly accompanies the action. I also didn't notice any particular bugs and I only encountered one crash in the almost 40 hours it took me to complete the campaign and almost all the sidequests, the funny thing is though that this one crash came at the worst possible time. During the campaign there is a sequence of five battles in which the game won't let you save and the crash happened in, you guessed it, the last battle of that sequence, causing me to lose about 40 minutes of progress. The ban on saving is justified script-wise but I thought it went without saying that the developers would have made sure there was a hidden autosave just for such a mishap.
If you've read my other reviews you may have noticed that I haven't yet commented on the quality of the plot and storytelling. I deliberately left it to the end because I consider this area to be the Achilles heel of Miasma Chronicles. First the positives: The world the developers have set up, its atmosphere and the main plot are all interesting and maintain interest throughout the campaign. The negatives: The way the plot is presented, the direction and the writing are not on the same level and somewhat spoil the overall impression. Obviously we don't expect top level production from a small studio but I admit that in some cases the problems had a negative impact on immersion. The completely American-centric storyline clashes with the fact that the developers are based in Europe and therefore are relatively far from the culture and experiences of the American south, resulting in some elements of the atmosphere being lost in translation. It's hard to explain exactly what I mean without revealing spoilers so I'll resort to a movie analogy: the problem is a bit reminiscent of the film studios from Italy or the Philippines trying to make American action movies in the 80s. All the basic elements are theoretically there but the end result seems a bit... off.
In the end this issue is not enough to spoil the good overall impression, it's just a shame that there wasn't more polish in this area because otherwise Miasma Chronicles is quite ambitious and well made. As it is the game will have to be content with a lukewarm but clear recommendation and hopefully a potential sequel will be improved in the areas we've highlighted.