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Miasma Chronicles’ critical hits might be the deadliest of any video game

Just when I think there are no new ways to make a tactics game, something like Miasma Chronicles completely blows that notion apart. Developed by The Bearded Ladies, the upcoming tactical RPG is something of a continuation of the studio’s previous project, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. It’s another post-apocalyptic adventure that has players freely exploring large worlds and stopping to battle monsters in traditional turn-based tactical battles. Don’t expect the exact same experience, though; the old dog has learned plenty of new tricks.

Miasma Chronicles | Pre-Release Alpha Gameplay: Video 01 [ESRB]

I sat down with The Bearded Ladies’ team at this year’s Game Developers Conference to learn all the ins and outs of its latest project. While many of its features build and iterate on the studio’s previous work, it’s one specific combat tweak that has my attention: Miasma Chronicles might have the deadliest critical hit system ever.

Truly critical hits

Miasma Chronicles takes place in a far-off future where a mysterious substance called Miasma has turned America into a wasteland. Players control a trio of heroes, including a boy named Elvis and his robot brother. It’s all set in the southern part of the United States and has been developed with a bit of reverence for the area’s architecture. There seem to be some political themes at play too, as part of the story revolves around a corporation that’s taken control of “New America.” The team on hand noted that those capitalistic threads are present, but noted that the game mostly tackles some familiar territory. It’s not quite the scorched Earth political allegory we’re getting from Redfall.

Rather than going too deep into the story, the hour-long demo was more focused on its exploration and combat. Like Mutant Year Zero, the basic idea is that the team freely traverses a somewhat open-ended world filled with towns, hidden loot, and lots of roaming mutants. As soon as players get close enough to an enemy, its cone of vision appears on screen, highlighting the secret grid squares within its range. That allows players to ambush enemies by initiating combat early and picking off any stragglers in one hit to avoid starting a full encounter. Once an enemy is alerted, though, gameplay fluidly shifts into a traditional tactics experience.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Things really get intriguing when the developers start to break down Miasma Chronicles‘ gameplay systems. A lot of the basics are par for the course for the genre, with each character getting two action points to spend each turn. Movement, abilities, and items all cost an action point and shooting will end a turn. Combat borrows from XCOM in various ways, from cover systems to percentage points indicating the chance a shot has to hit. As a nice touch, Miasma Chronicles includes a more casual difficulty option that locks those percentages to 25% intervals.

The big feature twist here is rage, which controls a deep critical hit system. During battles, players slowly accumulate rage by doing various actions. That resource dictates when a critical hit lands and how much damage it’ll do if it lands. Not only that, but extra rage can be stored up to deal even more critical damage. The developers say that if players have 300 rage stored, for instance, that means they’ll do an extra 200 points of damage. As the pièce de résistance, landing a kill with a critical shot will give that character one AP back.

That feature puts critical hits at the heart of combat, rather than treating it as a lucky bonus. The idea is to build up as much rage as possible, land some well-timed criticals, and keep your turn going. That bleeds into other gameplay ideas too. When lining up a shotgun attack, players will get more rage for every creature in its blast radius – including allies. There’s a lot of strategy and choice to how players build up their rage to store up deadlier criticals.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

That isn’t the only creative idea The Bearded Ladies have worked out here. During my demo, I saw Elvis wield a disc launcher as one of his weapons. The gun shoots discs that can ricochet off of multiple surfaces, with each bounce increasing damage but lowering its chance to hit an enemy. I also got to see a bit of its “magic” system, which lets Elvis cast Miasma-infused spells. One such ability allows him to summon a red barrel out of thin air … and you know what happens when you shoot a red barrel in a video game (kaboom).

There’s even more depth to explore, as a detailed gear customization system lets players tweak a lot about each hero’s loadout. There’s a materia-like perk system, for instance, which grants pliers various bonuses. In Mutant Year Zero, that buff system was tied to cosmetic gear, but the developers have separated the two this time around so players won’t have to choose between style and practicality.

Considering that Mutant Year Zero was something of a cult hit among tactics fans, I imagine Miasma Chronicles will have no trouble finding its audience. Its promising tweaks to the genre’s established formula already have me nerding out over its rage-based turn economy. If that sounds up your alley, then you’ll probably love shooting your way through an apocalyptic version of the American south.

Miasma Chronicles launches on May 23 for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X/S.

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Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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