Double Fine’s Massive Chalice is essentially X-COM… but with a sprinkling of Fire Emblem’s family/progenitation mechanic. As someone who loved both games, the result is pretty awesome.
Now when I say “awesome,” I don’t mean “perfect,” but it’s well worth the price of admission (especially at the moment, $14 during the Steam Summer Sale).
Massive Chalice actually takes place over hundreds of years, as you attempt to prevent an advancing darkness called The Cadence from overtaking your lands long enough for the Massive Chalice (literally a giant, talking cup that acts your advisor) to essentially power up its super move.
The individual battles take place in true turn-based strategy mode. You get to choose the order you activate your squad members in, but otherwise, it’s straight up X-COM, it feels great and looks amazing.
Inbetween battles, you’ll be managing the Kingdom as a whole, and while it’s not quite as flashy or interesting as it could be, this is where you make sure you have a steady supply of troops to continue fighting battles. You do this by building keeps, selecting one of your warriors as reagent, and then providing them a spouse.
Over time they will start a family, generating offspring that will be raised into fresh recruits to protect the kingdom. This is important, because all of your troops age and die.
This is the biggest difference between Massive Chalice and other turn-based strategy games. Unlike in X-COM, no matter how well you play, the heroes you start the game with will not live to see the final battle. But their great, great grandchildren may.
Choosing a reagent for a keep also retired them from battle, so it’s important to choose the right time to lose one of your leveled up fighters. You obviously want to retire them early enough that their fertility is still high enough to produce many children, but not so soon that they haven’t learned a bunch of stuff that they will then pass down to their children.
And the children do indeed inherit traits from their parents, good and bad. Children are also how you generate new classes; you start the game with only a few basics, but by marrying warriors of two different classes, you can create a hybrid. Marry and alchemist with a caberjack, and their children will be Blastcappers, a melee trooper that causes explosions when they hit.
It’s a fun and crazy system, though I have to admit, I found myself not developing quite as strong a bond with my troops as a result. In X-COM, I get familiar with my soldiers, and if one dies, I feel their absence. However in Massive Chalice, you go into it knowing they everyone is dead no matter what. Even if a genetic mutation allows a soldier to live past 100 years old, we’re still talking about a campaign lasting centuries. Time claims all.
However, X-COM still exists, and we’re getting another one soon as well. So there is plenty of room in the market for a turn-based strategy game that does things a little different. Massive Chalice is one that should definitely be experienced by any fan of the genre.