I recently got my hands on Solstice Chronicles: MIA. Here’s what I like, what I don’t and what to expect from Ironward’s latest effort.
Solstice Chronicles: MIA is not a game that I would have chosen to play of my own volition. Playing Indie games is not something I have found myself doing recently. This is largely because a LOT of Indie games are poorly made and are full of glitches, bugs and other general fuck-upery. Whilst there are some minor issues I have with Solstice Chronicles: MIA, none of these impacts the game much at all. There are a few bugs, clipping issues and such, but what game is without a few? None of the gripes I have listed below have stopped me playing this game for eight hours straight and completing it though!
Solstice Chronicles: MIA, is a top-down, isometric, Action RPG. My initial impressions were that it’s going to be something like Diablo with guns, or a top-down Doom. You play as a marine that’s sent on a suicide mission and is left for dead. Except, you’re found by a Drone, which is basically a Ghost from Destiny. You are hunting down the origin of a virus called “STORL” which effectively mutates what were organic life forms and twists them into creatures that just want to pull you limb from limb. Whilst the game looks like great fun, particularly for a Co-op experience, I just found it dull. I’ll widen my reasoning further in but it’s a riot to just go on for an hour or so of gib-tastic fun but much longer than that and you’ll find yourself facing the same enemies repeatedly.
You can carry your choice of two weapons and you have a choice of two abilities that consume a resource and one ability that will be put onto cooldown. That’s basically it. There’s no depth to the character, no customization, no choice of gender. You have an initial choice of 3 classes: Assault, Hellfire and Demolition. Each with their own “unique” abilities.
- Assault: Your basic grunt. Good with guns and is probably best for solo play as it is the most rounded of the 3. Able to carry two weapons, you can keep yourself set up best for what the game will throw at you. Whilst holding “fire”, consecutive rounds increase in damage – really useful against bosses and big targets.
- Hellfire: Apparently, this class is a “Tank”, I chose this as my first character and was sorely disappointed. For some reason, the (awesome) flamethrower consumes your stamina, which leaves you high and dry if you’re all out of lead. Its other abilities are mediocre at best.
- Demolition: This class relies on its skills to keep you in the fight. Not recommended for beginners as this can often get confusing in the heat of a brawl. Basically, ability spam and shoot stuff. There’s no such thing as “Proccing” enemies in this game.
I would strongly suggest picking the “Assault” character for your first playthrough simply because you need the two guns if you’re playing through the game on your own. The flamethrower might seem like a good idea but most of the combat in this game relies on running, turned to fuck some shit up and then running again. If you have no stamina, you can’t run away and the Hellfire’s toughness leaves a lot to be desired.
Whatever guns you pick up (excluding Brutal-class) can and should be leveled up, increasing their damage and magazine capacity gradually. The max gun level is 75. Shotguns, by the way, are just pointless. Your melee does more damage and does it in an area around you, so just stick with the Light Machine-gun and the HPR Viking. I found these two weapons were easily the most effective.
- Pistol MS-5: Your simple, accurate, low-damage pistol. The first gun you will come across in Solstice Chronicles: MIA. For the first third of the game, I kept hold of this as you can kill most standard enemies with this relatively easily.
- Submachine Gun: A waste of time. It’s an inaccurate piece of trash and fires in bursts. This thing will chew through more ammo than you realize because you can’t aim the damned thing effectively. Anything more than two inches away is only going to eat one or two bullets per burst.
- Gauss Assault Rifle: This equates to the bread and butter of all shooters of all types. Accurate when tapped and will hit anything that you can see. I love this gun for everything except boss fights, where it’s small magazine will leave you vulnerable.
- Shotgun – Cerberus: Good at close range, wide pellet spread, and explosive rounds. Useful when you want to do something other than melee things close to you. Does less damage than a melee and has a short range.
- Light Machine Gun: Fast rate of fire, HUGE ammo capacity, and high damage. Only real downside is the increasing spread of the weapon. This can be cancelled-out by the game’s auto-targeting system (basically an aim-bot).
- Strike VI: Basically, a sniper rifle. It’s got a low rate of fire, high damage, and low ammo capacity. BUT it can penetrate targets, so it can be highly effective if you take the time to kite enemies into a nice neat line. Honestly though why bother with a sniper rifle in a top-down isometric shooter?
- HPR Viking: It’s a plasma rifle. One shot consumes 5 ammunition per shot (same as shotguns) but you can take 20 shots before needing to reload. Does huge damage (300 base if I remember rightly) and has a relatively good rate of fire. Good for large single-targets.
- Shotgun: A redundant weapon since the Cerberus variant already does the same and you find it earlier in the game. This means the Cerberus variant will be a higher level and therefore more useful to you.
There is also a variety of what are referred to as “Brutal” weapons. Things like miniguns and grenade launchers that can be carried around until out of ammo but cannot be leveled up. That’s it for the main guns. Not a massive variety and a couple of them are pointless but hey, it’s nice to see at least one variant for each type of weapon.
As I said up top, I don’t normally play Indie games and I really don’t care to. I have given them a chance on many occasions, only to feel let down, robbed and violated. They often fall short of the mark in most areas despite the effort put into them by the developers. The single, biggest pitfall of this game is that every level plays the same. It’s repetitive as hell and is not a game to be played beginning to end in large chunks. Aside from that, I found a few other things in this game irritating but there were some saving graces. I’ll lead with the pet peeves I have in this game:
The Levelling System
Most other Action-RPGs have some way of displaying your level progress in the HUD. Solstice Chronicles has none. Nor can you see when you level up and no, there’s no way to even apply your new skill points until you complete a level. This really pissed me off when I first started this game. My first thought was: “They call this an “Action-RPG”? Where’s the leveling system?”. Their system is convoluted as hell and isn’t explained in the slightest. You get three skill points per game level and there are sometimes bonus skill points hidden around the map.
Once you figure out how to level up, for the first thirty-ish levels, actual skills are irrelevant. You need to put everything into health, or you’ll just suffer death by a thousand cuts and be two-shot by the bosses and larger mobs.
Come on, really? Every game I have ever played (particularly RPG’s) has a map. How the fuck am I supposed to tell where I’m going or where I’ve been without it? Thankfully, most of the levels are linear. I found myself running around in circles a fair bit in the less-linear levels. Solstice Chronicles developers should seriously consider adding one to their games, it would make life a lot easier.
There’s also the fact that the levels are mostly LINEAR in an RPG. For Christ’s sake, why would you even call this an “Action-RPG” when its maps are mostly a straight line? This makes it a lot more of an “Isometric Shooter”. It’s not an Action-RPG in my book. Not at all.
There are a few things here to talk about actually. Types, density, and spawn rates are a few of them, although, there are more.
Now, having enemies constantly respawning through some convoluted “Threat Level” system might sound cool to begin with. Trust me, it gets old, FAST. I much prefer having mobs of enemies triggered through certain actions or when I move into a specific area.
Having to get to grips with the “Threat Level” shit took me until I was literally 3 missions from the end of the game. There’s no real explanation of it anywhere. Even when you pick up the “Taunt” ability for your drone.
For the first ten levels of this game, you will pretty much only see 5 different enemy types. I appreciate that adding new enemies is something that is possible after launch, I just wish that there was a bit more of a variety. Even later into the game, there are only a couple of minor variants of pre-encountered enemies. It’s part of the recipe for a game getting old in a hurry.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I like to run around the level once I’ve completed objectives to collect what I perhaps overlooked. You don’t know whether it’s the end of a level or not and you don’t’ get any chance to go grab that skill point you missed. You don’t even get to carry your ammunition through to the next level. Really wound me up to begin with.
This might seem like an odd one but I found that sometimes there was a massive abundance of ammo and “Brutal” weapons. Yet, on other occasions I seemed to be completely dry with no ammo and a whole mob of enemies to kill. Despite using my melee to kill weaker enemies I just kept running out. It would be nice to see enemies dropping ammo like they do in most shooters. There’s no point in having such idiotic restrictions on ammo when this game is supposed to be reliant on running around emptying untold quantities of lead into zombie-demon-things.
Talking about running out of ammunition; there’s the lazy-ass reload animations that are just poor. There is only one animation for reloading every gun. That animation doesn’t speed up or slow down as required by the reload speed of the given weapon. It plays at ONE speed, if the reload is slow, the animation just starts again. Lazy, just lazy.
I get the feeling that this game was aimed at consoles more than PC. Given that the game is all based on an isometric grid, getting around on the PC is a pain in the backside. Using the WASD control scheme, it’s only possible to move around at multiples of 45 degrees. This gets infuriating when having to run through a narrow, straight line because the game’s levels are all designed at intervals of 30 degrees. You either must constantly tap a second key or sacrifice all your speed and move whilst aiming. Losing speed in this game means you die. Simple as that.
On this subject, there is also the issue of not having a “Dodge” button. Most other Action-RPG games have one and it’s essential for getting out of the way of those telegraphed attacks. In Solstice Chronicles if you see an enemy telegraphing their attack, you just need to face-tank it.
There Were Some Bits I Love
Besides some character clipping issues, the rest of the game is ok. I wouldn’t say that this game pushes the limits of what the Unreal Engine is capable of. I’d suggest that it has a lot of opportunities to improve though, although that’s up to the developers. There are some good things that this game has going for it however. Let’s move onto those, because this game can be a lot of fun.
This is one of the first games I have had to play on the lowest difficulty in, quite literally, a decade. You can’t take a brand-new character into a brand-new campaign and expect to smash it. You can just about grind through to the first boss fight, if you’re lucky. Clearing that boss is not going to happen though. I started the game afresh on the “Rookie” level and that is when Solstice Chronicles: MIA really came into its own. Once on the lower difficulty, I wasn’t dying every thirty seconds and was able to wade, nipples deep, into hordes of enemies and smash them all to bloody bits.
Stay Awhile and Loot Things
I know that it’s a pain in the ass to really explore this game with the constant stream of enemies but you really should. If you explore, you’ll get better weapons earlier in the game, find bonus skill points, suit upgrades, gun upgrades, brutal weapons and more ammo than currently in the possession of NATO. Solstice Chronicles: MIA developers really want to reward the intrepid explorers. Remember though, there’s a narrow line, between bravery and idiocy.
In most games, your melee is a poor alternative for bullets. In Solstice Chronicles: MIA though, it’s not a useless wet-willy of a punch. Once you get your suit (about the 2nd or 3rd level), your base melee damage jumps to 500. This is enough damage to kill the 3 basic types of trash that you’ll encounter throughout the game. If that wasn’t enough, your melee does damage in a complete circle around you, making it a LOT more useful than shotguns in this game.
TL:DR / Closing Thoughts
Overall, I have had a few gripes with Solstice Chronicles: MIA. Some of them might divert players away, some might bring in new players. The one thing that I know is that I find myself being drawn back to this game time and again. There’s something addictive with just unloading thousands of rounds into a never-ending horde of enemies. This little something, combined with the levels of difficulty that are available make this game a great deal of fun. Add local co-op into the mix and you have something that could be an outright blast with a mate staying over!
The gripes that I have with certain systems are simply because they make the game harder to get the hang of. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. It’s been a long time since I had a game that I couldn’t just crank up to the highest difficulty and wander through like a Sunday morning stroll along the beach. The slightly awkward controls, lack of any viable sort of dodge mechanic and the never-ending swarms of enemies make this game a bitch to master.
Given that I don’t tend to like Indie games a whole bunch, I would go as far as saying that this game is probably the best Indie game that I have ever had the pleasure of playing. There are changes that would make the game more accessible but I think that some of them might take away from what makes this game truly unique.
Ironward have outdone themselves here. Whilst I doubt it could stand up to something like Diablo 3, I think that, for $19.99, it’s worth considering picking up.