Much like a one-cent copper piece, Malice & Greed is worth more than the hard drive space it’s printed on. I’m talking about the game, not the software. The software is full of visual clutter and is obviously incomplete, which is to be expected. It’s an early access game. But for the time being, booting it up on Steam is like trying to watch a great movie on a DVD that you’ve played frisbee golf with.
As far as the core gameplay loop goes, it’s a very pure game. Though it does a considerable amount of world-building, it isn’t extremely concerned with presenting you with a narrative to follow. It’s the format that makes it compelling.
If you were to fuse Shin Megami Tensei and Slay the Spire, then this would probably be pretty close to the result. You play the game by moving from one tile on the overworld map to another. After landing on a tile, an event will trigger, prompting you to fight, enter a shop, make a binary decision risking your resources, and so on.
The fun of these sort of hardcore turn-based monster battlers is that they aren’t fair. That’s right. You have no more information about enemy weaknesses than you’ve observed firsthand and, depending on your party composition, you can easily get one or two-shotted into permadeath. Fortunately, the lack of tactical constraints basically means that you’re encouraged to abuse every advantage you can wrap your grubby little mitts on.
While the influence of Shin Megami Tensei is glaringly obvious, the mechanics are quite a bit more varied and deeper. When a character is defeated, their corpse is left on the battlefield, where they can be resurrected by their compatriots. This is true for both you and your enemies, though if a corpse is destroyed the combatant is permanently dead. At the end of every fight, the last enemy that you strike down will be available for you to abduct into your party, forcing them to fight by your side, which incentivizes you to allow your most fearsome opponents to attack you the longest. The result is a brilliant little wrinkle where your long-term and short-term interests are regularly at odds with one another.
It might not be where the idea came from, but Malice & Greed‘s energy system reminds me of a lot of games like Magic the Gathering. In Magic, each turn you are allowed to lay down an additional Land card that imbues you with more mana, which increases your budget for spellcasting. On occasion, you’ll have the option to discard your Lands instead of the usual mode of spending them all every turn. Malice’s take is a bit more impactful by default.
Each character has certain potential thresholds in different resource categories, like technology, the arcane, dexterity, and the like. With every passing turn during combat, your potentials increase across all categories by one point, permitting you to utilize increasingly potent abilities, some of which cost a portion of your rising potential itself. The effect is that you then have to wait for several turns before the move is available to you again unless you have an item or ally who can use one of their moves to fast track your recovery by potentiating you. For this reason, the game’s pace is also defined by the dance inherent to juggling your party’s rising and falling potentials.
I personally love this sort of system. It just begs you to break out a spreadsheet or unfold a notepad and immerse yourself into the world that its mechanics create. If you want to win in Malice & Greed, you can’t just click the strongest attacks available to you. You have to fight tooth and nail. Things won’t go according to plan but it’s of the utmost importance that you understand the actions available to you and how to economize your violence most effectively.
On the subject of learning though, the game is somewhat daunting in its present form. It’s presently missing a great deal of artwork that helps a player keep the various enemies straight in their own mind, though that complaint has diminished in scope with each recent patch. My actual gripe with the presentation of the game comes from the visual clutter of its UI with its plethora of tiny icons.
It does an admirable job presenting you with the meanings of its many status effects but there are often so many in play at any given time that it’s a relatively big ask to keep up with them all. I’m certain that that isn’t a bug though, it’s a stylistic choice that provides its distinct chaotic, oceanic, violent atmosphere where the tides of battle are always changing, assuming you can hang long enough to see it happen.
My real problem comes from the fact that when you hover over an icon for a tooltip, it will show explanations for as many conditions as are in effect on the unit, rather than just the explanation of the one you’re looking at. The situation could be much worse, but I found it a bit overwhelming, all the same. There is no question that the learning curve is front-loaded, and the synergies become more apparent as your fluency increases but I see onboarding new players as the key obstacle.
A Bright Dystopian Future
Essentially all of my quibbles with this game come down to its front end. The game mechanics themselves are rock solid and enthralling, while the venomous fantasy that it all coagulates into is similarly unforgettable. The music, while there’s not a ton of it, is distinctive and memorable, obviously taking notes from Atlus’ beloved Shoji Meguro, if not in composition, then at least in selection.
While there is no doubt in my mind that Malice & Greed is a diamond in the rough, there’s a very simple reason why it’s hiding in the rough in the first place: This game wants to ambush you and once it’s abducted you into its adventuring party, your blood, sweat, and tears won’t be anything more than cannon fodder. I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing how it progresses.
- Incredible depth
- Constant Engagement
- High Skill Floor
- Cluttered UI