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Miasma Chronicles mixes XCOM with a fresh take on tactical RPGs

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Upcoming tactical RPG game Miasma Chronicles has a lot of impressive influences. The dark, bleak aesthetic feels very XCOM. The turn-based combat is like classic Final Fantasy. Created by Bearded Ladies, of the 2018 RPG Mutant Year Zero, there’s even a slight hint of Hitman, many of the developers having previously worked on IO’s stealth series. But as we get confirmation of the Miasma Chronicles release date, there’s an interesting mechanic, hidden in Bearded Ladies’ latest, that may set it apart from the RPG and deckbuilding crowd.

If you’re unfamiliar with Miasma Chronicles, the set up goes like this. In a futuristic, dystopian United States, humanity has somehow managed to solve all of its ecological and environmental problems. The companies that built the technology to keep the planet clean now control everything – suddenly, a new threat emerges in the form of the titular Miasma, a loosely defined force of nature that seeks angry retribution against humanity.

A spiritual successor to classic PS1 RPGs like Xenogears, Miasma Chronicles blends strategy game mechanics and turn-based tactical deployments to create a kind of surreal, steampunk XCOM. You position your squad in real-time, seeking elevated areas and decent cover before engaging. From there, battles are won through shrewd combinations of your party’s abilities, skills, and traits. But there’s a twist.

Speaking exclusively to PCGamesN, live at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, Bearded Ladies studio head Mark Parker (pictured on the left below, opposite marketing manager Niklas Odén) explains how Miasma Chronicles is specifically tweaked to encourage experimentation.

“One of the changes we’ve made is a skill tree that you can refund at any time,” Parker explains. “So you can spend points and get stuff, but say later in the game you encounter a new enemy type that would suit a different playstyle, you’re not stuck with the bad cards that you picked earlier on.

Miasma Chronicles mixes XCOM with a fresh take on tactical RPGs: Two developers from RPG game maker Miasma Chronicles at GDC 2023

“We talked about having an old guy, or some person that could remove your money in the game, and then we thought ‘why do we want to punish the player if they want to experiment? We want them to do fun stuff!”

The ability to respec at any time gives Miasma Chronicles players the room to improvise and explore other character builds whenever they like. Typically in an RPG, you need to decide on a build path pretty early on and commit everything towards that singular role – if you want to back out and try something else, it means starting your character from scratch. Refunding your whole build and using everything you’ve spent so far to instantly create something new is a pretty sweet idea.

Combat in Miasma Chronicles also involves some stealth mechanics, directly inspired by many of the Bearded Ladies’ developers’ time working on Hitman.

“Of course we’ve got a little tiny bit of that DNA,” Parker explains. “You don’t have accident kills and things like that, but there’s a little bit of stealth in the sense we have items that you can distract enemies as well as things like radios – if you turn those on, enemies will go and investigate.”

Launching May 23, you can wishlist Miasma Chronicles over on Steam now. In the meantime, you might want to check out some of the other best 4X games, if you’re a big XCOM and strategy, or maybe some of the best card games on PC.

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