Lots of people play god. Doctors and politicians are tasked with making life-changing decisions that can shape generations. Even when the stakes are lower, humans love our dogs, cats, plants, and other dependent life forms. But playing god comes with a great deal of responsibility. You get the rush of watching something thrive, or are crushed when it perishes.
The problem with being a god is that it’s all on you. Even if that god is just a really big, clairvoyant cup.
Massive Chalice from Double Fine is, on the surface, what it sounds like. Players take on the role of a giant, magical chalice which has the power to bless familial bloodlines with protection against an encroaching blight known as the Cadence. You control these families, both in marriage and in combat, in secret, and they rule over the kingdom and carry out your strategic orders in a turn-based tactical battle for its very survival.
The plot may seem silly on its face, but it works surprisingly well. After all, what's really the difference between players being an omniscient cup, or there being no cup at all? You’re still calling the shots and that’s what really matters.
And what Massive Chalice offers is a game that’s part XCOM, part Crusader Kings, all wrapped up in cool, stylized aesthetics with procedurally generated characters you get very attached to, especially as they grow old and pass on. Because the real power of playing god is living forever, and you’ve got a 300-year timeline to manage until your power returns with enough strength to eliminate the Cadence forever.
This plays out in a number of interesting ways. Your kingdom consists of several different regions all ruled by different families. You have to build each of these families a Keep to live in, then pick who will lead these regions. These arranged marriages determine what kind of children they’ll have, which is important because these children will grow up and become part of your roster. There’s a ton of strategy involved in mixing and matching partners and it’s easy to get lost in the fun of shipping heroes.
There are three different base classes for characters, but these can be combined to create six different subclasses. Characters also have a wide range of traits, some good, some bad, that influence combat. The goal of all this dynasty building is to make sure you have enough of each base class for future battles and to tease out recessive buffs that limit mobility, chance to hit, etc. Easier said than done, especially because once you make a warrior the head of the dynasty, they no longer appear on the roster for you to use.
You also have to figure out the best way to spend your limited time in this 300-year window. There are different research projects you can pursue, and some specialized buildings alongside your Keeps that offer buffs to research speeds, roster skills, and XP. All this while the Cadence creeps in ever closer. If you’re not careful, it will consume whole territories and eradicate your carefully orchestrated dynasties. So you’ve gotta fight back.
The combat in Massive Chalice is supremely balanced, even for players new to the genre. Players accustomed to turn-based affairs will feel right at home. XCOM fans in particular will appreciate the anxiety of hit percentages, others will learn the hard way that 90 percent does not mean 100 percent. There’s a wide range of unique enemy types that damage health but also XP, a crucial resource when you’re trying to raise up a new generation of heroes. It never feels grindy and is always full of surprises.
Legendary weapons can be passed down within each dynasty. So while your favorite warrior can’t live forever, their ass-kicking bow might get some unique traits that can be handed down within their lineage. It lends a ceremonial feel to battle that I’ve never experienced anywhere else.
If you’re the type who gets overly attached to your in-game characters, this game is straight kryptonite. It’s a clever, creative tactical wonderland that hits all the right notes, wrapped up in a limited timeframe that can consume your weekend without consuming your life.
Massive Chalice is available now on Xbox Game Pass. It’s also available for purchase on Xbox and PC.