While Broken Age is probably seen as developer Double Fine’s most publicized Kickstarter-funded title, it’s not the only one, as Massive Chalice was also crowdfunded back in 2013. Originally released for PC, the turn-based strategy game has now made its way to Xbox One as well. Considering that Double Fine has made some solid games in the past and previously dabbled in the strategy genre with Brutal Legend, there was good reason to look forward to this one.
Unfortunately, while there are certainly some strong qualities to be found and some clever mechanics, the game is something of a mixed bag. The positives of certain aspects end up somewhat dulled by repetition and surprisingly lackluster presentation, making for a title that never quite achieves the greatness it may have been capable of.
Story is sparse. The anonymous player character is chosen by the titular sentient chalice at the beginning of the game, which provides the only dialog to you periodically through both a male and a female personality. You’re tasked with defending a kingdom of multiple territories from a malicious force known as the Cadence, and while the chalice has the power to drive them away for good, it will take several centuries to build up such an attack.
As a result, players are given the responsibility both to choose individual items and perks that can be unlocked through several years of research, as well as the ability to speed up the timeline so that years fly by in seconds. As time passes, you’ll have to recruit new warriors, build structures and appoint officials to each one for more unlockable perks, choose replacement fighters and officials as the previous ones die, and most importantly, lead a group of warriors into battle whenever Cadence forces threaten the land.
The battles are turn-based on several different maps with a grid-like layout, along with features like a fog that obscures enemies until your own units venture further. Heroes fall into different classes with different strengths and abilities, from projectile weapons to the ability to hide in foliage. Individual units can also gain experience and level up by dealing the finishing blow to enemies, which tie into skill trees that unlock additional class-specific skills.
All of the combat gameplay elements, while certainly competent, feel kind of dull as the game continues. Some additional issues also made it a bit difficult to appreciate some of the previously mentioned issues. For one, the fog element led to multiple times where I ventured a unit out and got ambushed by up to three hidden enemy units at once, and there’s also the fact that heroes defeated in battle stay dead and unavailable from that point forward, making it sometimes rather difficult to unlock more than a few skills for each one.
Some of Massive Chalice‘s more interesting features actually come into play outside of battle. One feature available early on allows you to pair up two heroes for breeding future warriors that share both their abilities, adding a nice feature of customization and strategy to the mix. The center of the kingdom where the chalice is located also allows you to pick from a large assortment of unlockables for gradual research, including building new structures, recruiting new heroes, and enhancing the abilities for individual classes. As nice as this is, it feels a bit limited in that you can only unlock one at a time, which dulls the overall sense of progression.
While the story and personality is strictly limited to the chalice’s dialog, this would be easier to deal with if there was also a sense of personality and appeal for the overall presentation. Unfortunately, Massive Chalice can be pretty ugly. The overall aesthetic for both characters and environments sports bland, muted colors and very low-detail, blocky models, and the soundtrack is forgettable to boot. This ends up feeling like Double Fine prioritized deep gameplay over a fleshed-out look, but considering the issues mentioned earlier, it doesn’t feel like an approach that fully paid off.
While Massive Chalice is far from a bad game, it is a pretty uninspired one, with occasional moments of monotony and frustration for good measure. While Broken Age ended up being one of gaming’s biggest Kickstarter successes, Double Fine’s crowdfunded follow up has less of a happy ending from my point of view.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game.
Functional, but often uninspired, Massive Chalice may please strategy enthusiasts but will likely bore anyone else.