Already in love, already fearing it'll devour my time with an XCOM-like fervor
We've heard little from Massive Chalice in the year and change since its successful crowdfunding campaign that took in over a million dollars following Double Fine's even more successful campaign for Broken Age.
Just like that, though (imagine I snapped my fingers), it exists. It is at PAX and playable if you're there. If you're not, the video below features Brad Muir walking you through the PAX demo. Third option: I played the dang thing myself last week and will tell you all about it. It is good.
Massive Chalice is structured like recent wonderful game XCOM: Enemy Unknown. There is the boots on the ground layer, which involves action points, movement restrictions, and killing monsters -- the Cadence -- on an isometric plane.
Your troops will be one of several types. The Hunter is basically carrying a personal ballista on their shoulder. The Alchemist has a bladed hook used for melee, but is mainly meant for slinging explosives. The last has a giant battering ram of sorts.
What you want to do is escort your gaggle of fighters throughout levels without getting people killed because if they're killed, you don't get to continue to use them (permadeath). Because of the melee focus, there's no cover bonuses, so you'll want to unlearn that XCOM tic. It's all line of sight and numbers. I got through the demo losing one soldier too many (that is, one), which then opens up to the overarching strategy screen, which is where things get interesting.
Your goal in Massive Chalice is to make it through 350 years of encroaching Cadence. Your characters will die, eventually. Lineage and generations become key, like Fire Emblem: Awakening was mixed with XCOM, but stretched out. You can advance the chronology in large chunks between significant events (or battles) in the same way you'd run a few days on the world clock in XCOM's mission control.
There are a lot of systems at play. You appoint Regents in ten or so kingdoms on the map to stymie Cadence spread and then you give them a partner to continue the bloodline. This detracts from your pool of warriors, however, as Regents can't fight.
It's a sort of retirement spot, then, for your best fighter, but you have to weigh considerations like their age, risk of losing them in battle, and their genes. Some characters carry positive characteristics that can be passed down. Some are cursed with things like asthma, which reduces movement if you exhaust both AP in one turn. The accumulated experience points of a Regent and partner can affect the growth of the child. A parent could die of old age before the child grows up. The child would have the same genes, but have a different growth trajectory based on the stats of the replacement Regent.
One of the choices you'll make is what to research using the titular chalice. 15 years for improve health. 23 years for a global fertility boost. Adoption is possible too, through later chalice research, and that child can go to same sex or hetero couples. If your two strongest characters are of the same gender, you might want them to raise an adopted child (ages 0-15) to gain 40% experience from each of them during the raising process.
Maybe you just appoint a Regency and partner for two characters whose unwanted traits you're trying to weed out of your lineages (asthma is pretty crippling).
Muir said it's "like a long form roguelike," in that you can lose the game. You can fail to contain encroaching cadence and have your kingdom slowly devoured. I love it. I liked XCOM for letting you lose.
In that sense, it is divergent, replayable. Your starting soldiers are always different, and the soldiers you'll have to use throughout the entire game will inevitably be different as they age and die. Narrative bits come in the form of random events, like choosing whether or not to send Bella Black to retrieve her uncle, The Walrus, who refused to move from his home near encroaching Cadence. I did. It took nine years, but Bella came back stronger. The team is working on cranking these up, including some nastier ones where, "we just come around and spit in your soup, I guess."
Massive Chalice does have a more defined narrative, but it's mostly in the endgame, should you survive for that many generations. 350 years. I'm excited to try and get there. I'm excited to fail, and to try again. And I'm always down for playing digital matchmaker (by way of horrible eugenics scientist).