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Miasma Chronicles review - a disappointing follow-up to a tactics gem


A serviceable tactics game lumbered with an uninspiring setting and narrative, brought right down by bigoted stereotypes.

Licensed video games are funny things. Sometimes a licence elevates a game, making it more than it would have been otherwise. I adore Respawn's Jedi games, for instance, but I doubt I'd feel the same way if they weren't set in a beloved galaxy far, far away. On other occasions, it can be overly restrictive, holding developers back as they try to work within and around the constraints of an existing setting. I rather enjoyed what I played of Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, Bearded Ladies' stealthy tactics 'em up based on a venerable TTRPG, so I was more than happy to take a look at the sort of follow-up Miasma Chronicles and see what it could do with a new world. Sadly it seems that the Mutant Year Zero licence was doing a lot of heavy lifting, as Miasma Chronicles doesn't have a fraction of that game's charm, while featuring some very questionable characters.

The basic elements remain the same and they do provide a reasonably solid foundation. Like its predecessor, Miasma Chronicles is a turn-based tactics game at heart, with a lot of conventions borrowed from XCOM. The twist that Mutant Year Zero put on the formula is that this core is plopped into a real-time framework that sees your team ambling about the game's levels and getting into a prime position before fights start. Miasma Chronicles expands on this by letting you stealthily execute as many enemies as you can, instead of a single kill kicking things off. It's a great idea in theory, but I'm not sure how I feel about it. The stealth bits are well executed with vital information clearly marked, like enemy sight ranges and whether or not a comrade is close enough to notice them being killed, even with a silenced weapon. I adore this kind of stealth-as-puzzle solving, and taking out three quarters of a squad before they even know you're there is rather satisfying.

Here's a Miasma Chronicles launch trailer to show it in action.

What puts me off is that maximising your stealth kills before each battle isn't a choice, but a necessity. Without heavily reducing the number of foes and setting your team up for an advantageous alpha strike, you will quickly be overwhelmed, even on the standard difficulty. Make a mistake half way through a plan and you may be able to squeak through a victory, at significant cost to your limited resources, otherwise you may as well reload your save and try again. This isn't as frustrating as it could have been, thanks to some generous autosaving, but I'd much rather feel free to make mistakes and enjoy the ensuing chaos. As it stands, it can make the whole process a tedious chore.

Getting to the crunchy turn-based bits, I'd say they're fine. Everything works well enough, it's just a format that has become overly familiar. Look, there's a tie-in game for the Transformers Cyberverse kid's cartoon from a few years ago that's an XCOM-like. That's the point where you either need to do something new with the formula, or really excel, and Miasma Chronicles does neither. My main issue is that it's a deeply ungenerous game. Consumables are limited in quantity, with even glass bottles (apparently the only object distracting enough to lure guards in the post-apocalypse) being few and far between. Ability cooldowns are excessively long, with even a bread-and-butter skill like overwatch having a three turn wait between uses. Protagonist Elvis' armour-stripping ability? Six turn cooldown, so don't expect to be using it more than once per combat. What's worse is that cooldowns persist across skirmishes, so if you use an ability at the end of a fight, there's a good chance it won't be available at all for the next one.

Miasma Chronicles review screenshot, showing a boy and a robot in a post-apocalyptic landscape with an eagle in the foreground.
Miasma Chronicles review screenshot, showing a post-apocalyptic town.

It doesn't help that new skills are doled out at a glacial pace. Each character gets one point per level up, which happens roughly once an hour. Most skills cost two or three points, with some being even more expensive. While there are other sources of new abilities for some characters, like Elvis' glove-based miasma powers, for much of the game you'll just be moving and shooting with the occasional reload.

There's enough enemy variety to keep things interesting, although some of their powers will have more precise tacticians gnashing their teeth in frustration, with teleportation and summoning being a factor. It can feel like a bit of a kick in the aforementioned pearly whites when you've carefully cleared out an area before a fight, only to have the survivors bring in four replacements in the first turn. As I said, it's fine and would be sufficient if the framework that surrounded it was better.

Miasma Chronicles review screenshot, showing a letterboxed cutscene with two humanoid mutant frogs.
Miasma Chronicles review screenshot, showing a turn-based battle in a swamp ruin. There is a glowing grid overlaying much of the area.
Miasma Chronicles review screenshot, showing a turn-based battle, there is a white outline to show the range of a gun.
Miasma Chronicles review screenshot,  showing a turn-based battle with many enemies.

Unfortunately, that's where Miasma Chronicles completely falls down. At best, it's uninspired. It's the same post-apocalyptic setting that we've seen a dozen times before, all doom and gloom and misery, excessive use of grey and brown palettes and people who don't clean the houses they've supposedly been living in for decades. Sure, a few details have changed, the technocratic overlords and mutant monsters have different names, but there's nothing new. The cast of characters is a massive step backwards from Mutant Year Zero. A huge part of that game's appeal was that your main duo were a duck and a pig. It's funny until you realise that it's not a joke, that being a mutant kinda sucks and you really start to feel for these characters.

Miasma Chronicles, on the other hand, has a boy and his bot. Elvis is an everyman chosen one so generic that they forgot to give him a personality, who constantly sounds bored, sleepy or both. Diggs, his robot "brother" is an outdated stereotype of a brash Black man from a 90s movie that was tiresome even then. Would it surprise you to learn that Jade, the first and most prominent character to go in the team's third slot, is a mysterious, abrasive badass who gradually softens and says things like "and that's why they call me a knockout" when she drops a bad guy?

For the most part, they're just crappy characters, but Diggs is a real problem. He's a modified mining bot, having been upgraded by Elvis' mother to serve as a protector. He's strong, tough, but not too smart. One of his core abilities is that he can serve as mobile cover for other characters, an interesting addition marred by context. At one point he mentions bling. There's a bit of incidental dialogue where a townsperson tells him that he ought to get back to work (in the mines, like all the other good little slav... I mean robots.) The mayor flat out tells him that he wants to speak to the brains of the outfit, referring to Elvis.

Miasma Chronicles review screenshot, showing a boy hiding from humanoid monsters in a ruined building.

He makes for the most racist stereotype of a video game character I have encountered in years and it's simply not acceptable. A Black character who is stronger, but less intelligent than his white counterpart, who was uplifted from a slave class in order to take bullets for the white saviour, who constantly fawns over and praises him, while taking none of the credit for the heroic actions he is equally responsible for. It would be enough to condemn a great game, and it utterly damns this one.

There's also a throwaway transphobic line in a diary entry about the author not caring if drugs cause them to grow boobs that made me distinctly uncomfortable. It's completely out of the blue and isn't even in service to building up a particularly nasty character. An unpleasant moment, though one that pales in comparison to the anti-Black racism on display.

Without Diggs, Miasma Chronicles would be okay, serviceable, middling. A tactics game to play if you'd run out of other options and could pick it up cheaply. With him, it's just not worth your time at all.

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About the Author
Caelyn Ellis avatar

Caelyn Ellis


Caelyn loves Soulslikes, RPGs and collecting tiny giant robots, and she's still not over the death of Optimus Prime.

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