Disclosure: The writer has backed the Kickstarter for Massive Chalice, effectively pre-ordering a copy in advance of this preview.
Trying out strategy games on the PAX floor can be a hit or miss affair. Time-consuming missions usually require more depth and patience than other genres, but Double Fine's Massive Chalice shone as one of the brightest demos on the show floor. The Kickstarted game flaunted both the macro-level mechanics and battle tactics, and scratches all the right itches for Fire Emblem fans looking for their next fix.
Massive Chalice places you as an immortal ruler during a 300-year war, defending your country from a corrupt, invasive evil. The PAX demo covered a basic introductory battle against a few enemy types, introducing classes such as the Caberjack, the Alchemist, and the Hunter, all randomized characters who would become the foundation members in a line of heroes lasting years and decades beyond this battle. Massive Chalice's tactical combat borrows from classic battle styles, like fog of war. Players utilizing stealthy Hunters to unveil the darkness, locating enemies before following up with heavy hitters to engage in close combat.
Here, the little details sharpen the demo's experience. Surprisingly low hit percentages and enemy attackers who affect the macro-level strategy contribute to a solid flow and encourages a larger sense of perspective.
This demo also wasn't a scripted experience. While assistance from project lead Brad Muir helped me learn the basic moves of combat, I enjoyed stepping back and talking out my strategy with him, essentially making my own decisions in the randomly generated fight.
Once the fight was cleared, Muir explained the full depths of the kingdom mechanics to me. Operating from a capitol city at the center of the map, you defend and control nearby regions and keeps, appointing regents to local provinces from your army of heroes and arranging them in various marriages. Your goal here is for your strongest warriors to birth and raise children who rise as new heroes. Muir further described their parent’s physical attributes and how they can fall to the children in a fashion equivalent to “high school punnett squares.” Arranging marriages becomes a question of pedigree then, searching for fertile, high-level heroes with the attributes needed to help boost your future army’s stats.
Massive Chalice’s wedding system also contains one key feature Fire Emblem’s lacked: same-sex couples. Muir showed me how the Massive Chalice -- a cup with two warrior’s souls bound to it that helps you in your quest -- allows orphans to be adopted and fostered by their parents, and can be raised in just the same fashion as children from heterosexual couples. This was not immediately playable on the floor, but the inclusive feature fit well with the game’s motif of banding together against the face of an oncoming darkness.
On a show floor packed with great games, the focus on inclusive design and promises of a unique strategy game convinced me that Massive Chalice showed the strongest demo on the game floor, and I definitely look forward to the game’s release later this year.
Massive Chalice is expected to launch later this year for PC, Mac, Linux, and Xbox One.