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Miasma Chronicles review: a tiger-tough tactical RPG with lots of heart

Miasma Chronicles skillfully merges turn-based tactical combat, stealth, and exploration
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Jade silently approaches a group of Grabbers, mutated bullfrogs worshiping the Miasma, and takes her position on the high ground. Elvis is already waiting behind some road barriers, just in case the plan goes awry, while Diggs, Elvis’ robot brother, walks up to activate this old loudspeaker at the bus stop nearby. The machine sprints back to Elvis once the job is done and soon one of the Grabbers comes around to investigate the noise – right into the path of a high-velocity bullet from Jade’s silenced sniper rifle. I group up my three heroes again, infiltrating the Grabbers’ lines deeper to pick off another lone enemy on patrol without alerting the rest to our presence. A thrown glass bottle lures another adversary out of position and to his grave.

With the overall number of foes reduced, I plan the next step of this operation and scout for advantageous terrain. A building with some ruined structures in front of it catches my eye, so I once again split the group and get everyone into position: Jade, who is equipped with two sniper rifles, goes to the roof. Diggs, the most durable party member, is equipped with an assault rifle and a shotgun and takes position near the entrance, ready to unleash a barrage. Elvis has an assault rifle and a unique bounce weapon at his disposal, which can curve bullets around cover, and is positioned to protect both Diggs and Jade. I hope to funnel the enemy through the small space between the ruins in front of the building and into a killzone.

Miasma Chronicles characters sneaking up on enemies.

Jade opens fire first as we seamlessly transition from real-time mode to turn-based mode, taking out a low-level target with her silenced gun – silent kills restore one action point to her, allowing her to switch weapons and shoot a second time during this round. I target a higher-level enemy at maximum range, which gives that particular gun more accuracy, and unleash a flame shot, which sets the target on fire to damage him in subsequent turns. Diggs and Elvis set up Overwatch to automatically target anyone coming into their view, which of course happens thanks to the way the terrain is crafted here. They unleash salvo after salvo from their assault rifles, picking off the first wave of enemies. Switching weapons on Diggs, I go on the offensive by flanking the ranged enemies – a move made easier thanks to the enhanced range of Diggs’ shotgun, on which I mounted a targeting scope I found earlier. The rest is just mop-up. The way forward is open – and hey, there’s some loot over there!

Battles in Miasma Chronicles, the newest tactical RPG developed by The Bearded Ladies and published by 505 Games, are often won or lost before the first shot is fired. Scouting the lovingly hand-crafted maps in real time with your party, you should always look out for terrain (and items) that might be to your advantage or for opportunities to pick off isolated enemies without alerting the rest. As described above, you have some traditional stealth game mechanics like noise and sightlines to work with in this regard.

Miasma Chronicles characters sneaking through a factory.

Miasma Chronicles’ customization options greatly help you with preparing for a fight: Weapons have two slots for modifications, which can be swapped at any time, and each character may carry two guns around, giving you plenty of flexibility. What’s more, you can switch the abilities every character has at their disposal whenever you’re out of combat. In effect, you can tailor your loadouts precisely to counter the foes you’re about to face, changing how characters play from one battle to the next.

This is a powerful tool, keeps things fresh, and allows you to steadily invest your skill points instead of having to uselessly bank them while waiting to have enough for unlocking a particular ability. That makes every level-up feel meaningful and rewards information-gathering. You can hover your mouse over enemies to get all kinds of info on their weaknesses and abilities, so you’ll usually gain some understanding on why you may have lost a battle – an important aspect that reduces frustration and helps you prepare for your next attempt.

You gain XP through combat and completing quests, but also by discovering hidden treasures. These, along with new weapons and other useful equipment, are often found in locked areas, which require access cards or the unlocking through a keypad to enter. Clues to the codes are found in the environment or on the keypad screen itself, masterfully hidden in plain sight. The developers tell me that someone designing escape rooms in their freetime thought all of these clues up, and it shows. Just like every skill point, each new piece of gear adds to your toolbox for future battles, which makes it extremely satisfying and meaningful to solve these puzzles.

Miasma Chronicles tree enemies.

Filling this toolbox is important, because Miasma Chronicles can be a challenging title. Unlike with its spiritual predecessor, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, you have a choice in that regard, though. From the toned down “Narrative” mode to the hardcore “Alpha Editor” mode, you have several difficulty settings at your disposal to make the game as challenging as you want it to be. Opponents hit you like a truck in any case, so the intensity of combat never gets lost.

You can also decide if you want the full XCOM-like experience in terms of RNG – missed shots despite a 97% hit chance and heroic hits against the odds alike – or want your game to be less impacted by luck. That shows growth on the part of the developers and makes their new title a lot more approachable, while all the complexity and depth hardcore fans are looking for is still there.

Powered by Unreal Engine 5, Miasma Chronicles is quite the looker. The titular substance is the defining visual factor, with otherworldly particles flying through grounded, familiar environments and reflecting the light in a beautiful way. Elsewhere, the Miasma has sucked all the vibrant color from the world, transforming it into a haunted, gray wasteland. It forms dangerous spikes, whirling storms, and generally rips apart the fabric of reality, eventually calcifying everything it touches.

Miasma Chronicles robot town.

Understanding – and using – the Miasma is part of the journey (one that takes upwards of 35 hours, even if you’re quick) that main character Elvis, his robot “brother” Diggs, and their various companions embark on as they search for a legendary warrior who is also Elvis’ mother. It’s a carefully balanced adventure that has plenty of darkness and brutality in it, but that also touches on themes like friendship and family. There are moments of lightheartedness and wit to brighten the mood, and fans of dark humor in particular will find plenty of things to make them smile. Veering from one side to the other, the game’s tone never feels disjointed. The dynamic between most of the characters works well, especially the brotherly bond between Elvis and Diggs.

Miasma Chronicles’ lore, which you can piece together by interacting with NPCs and the world, conveys a powerful environmental and political message as well – a fun detail is that plastic is the dominant currency in that world, so by picking it up from everywhere, you’re cleaning nature.

Miasma Chronicles skillfully merges intense turn-based tactical combat, stealth mechanics, and rewarding exploration, dresses them up in a compelling world and narrative, and makes the result accessible to a broad audience.

Score: 8/10

  • Story and narrative: 8/10
  • Technical performance: 7/10
  • Art: 9/10
  • Audio and music: 7/10
  • Mechanics and systems: 9/10

Miasma Chronicles: technical breakdown

Miasma Chronicles is a well polished product and the smooth transitions between combat and exploration are especially impressive – you’ll only encounter short loading screens when you change between maps. Sometimes the enemy AI will take a bit longer to decide on a move, but that’s a rare occurrence. Explosions seem to cause significant frame rate drops for me, which is quite unfortunate and an issue that’s already been present in the preview build.

One minor issue I discovered due to my middle mouse button not working is that you seemingly can’t reassign camera movement to a secondary mouse button, so I had to assign that to my keyboard, which is a bit awkward but not world-ending by any means. Aside from these fairly minor problems, I encountered no bugs or glitches that marred my experience with the game.

Version tested: PC.

Read more on Miasma Chronicles in our preview as well as in our interviews with game director Lee Varley and producer Mark Parker.