“Wildermyth”, digital storytelling and fun in their purest form

Wildermyth is a 2021 indie videogame by Worldwalker Games that, despite very positive reviews, (87 on metacritic as I am writing this) only got my attention recently. It is described as a “character-driven, procedurally-generated tactical RPG, designed to help you tell your wildest stories”, which may sound confusing at first, but it delivers exactly what it promises. It’s a gentle, well-crafted, infinitely charming gem of a game. Here is why.

It combines all the flavors and the tactile feel of a board game session, the simple joys of a choose-your-own-adventure novel, the unbridled fun of the pop-up books we loved as children, and the freedom of choice of tabletop roleplaying games, all wrapped in one.

And like a refreshing soda or a young, sparkling wine, it’s best flavored in short and intense sessions. It’s well suited for adults who run busy lives and still want to experience the pleasure of some digital adventuring, but struggle to find the hundreds of hours necessary for many AAA titles.

With this one, 30 minutes to 1 hour per session should do – even though some campaigns may get so engaging, the “one more turn” feeling kicks in and makes it very hard to disconnect. We will get to that in a second.

The gameplay – in the beginning, the player controls a small party of randomly generated wannabe adventurers who are literally just starting their careers. They will be young farmers or wanderers with very little to their name, and just a stick, pitchfork, or simple bow as a side weapon. Even though the graphics offer a stylized, comics-inspired look, there are many options to personalize each character‘s face, hair, skin color, and even body type, which makes it easy to develop an authentic connection with them.

This ragtag group of individuals will then be confronted with a typical quest – classic story prompts that seem taken from a Dungeons & Dragons beginners playbook, but are always fresh and curated enough to offer an honest incentive to be played.

At the end of the first chapter, the band decides to take their career as adventurers seriously, and they have a meeting to choose their name as a party. It’s small touches like this that make this game memorable. There is a neverending source of fun in the fact that your band of weirdly-assorted individuals is known by the name of “The Dirty Half-Dozen”, “The Fellowship”, or, should you choose so, “The Smelly Wanderers”. It’s all in your hands, and the game doesn’t judge you for it.

While the tone is always lighthearted and casual, Wildermyth takes its storytelling seriously, with its authored tales presented in the form of short paragraphs accompanied by vignettes, creating a feeling of fast and dynamic comic-book strips that can be enjoyed by any audience.

The initial characters may be randomly generated, but don’t think they will become a set of replaceable min-max stat sets. Each will develop traits and abilities, form bonds and relationships (like friendships, romance or rivalries), get scarred, age, learn new skills – and they all are reflected in the game mechanics, sometimes obviously, sometimes in more subtle ways. Some will also fall in battle, obviously, and this will always generate an important moment. Nothing feels like a throwaway detail. All this makes for constant little surprises and fun touches that contribute to a very satisfying experience, a great mix of playing a game and enjoying a superb story.

The rich and well-developed cast of accompanying NPCs and antagonists also add to the depth of the experience. Some stories are actually memorable and make for an experience that left a lasting impression on me.

The game itself is… pure fun. Characters may choose between three adventuring classes: warrior, rogue and mystic, the magic users. The way magic works in this game deserves a special mention: mystics have the ability to “infuse” magic in their surroundings, which means they can’t just summon a fireball from nothing and toast enemies like that, but the effectiveness of their spells depends on where they are, what objects they can interact with, and a number of other creative decisions. Fight in a room with a burning fireplace, and they will be able to engulf enemies in a roaring fire; in a forest setting, they will use trees, bushes and rotting stomps to create deadly splinters, or entrap their opponents in enveloping vines. It makes for some serious tactical depth, as you will always be on the lookout for new creative ways to wreak havoc on your opponents using elements in the environment.

The game also includes (although simplified) inventory, magic items, resources, a map to explore, party management – all the elements that make RPGs fun, just in the right amounts to avoid excessive micromanagement.

As in a game from the X-Com series, there is enough variety in the character advancement tree to ensure no two builds will end up being absolutely the same. the system includes a limited number of random ability cards to choose from every time a character levels up, and this is simple, fast and effective.

To add to this procedural layer of variety, characters will be confronted during the course of a game with seemingly random personal side quests, that always end up offering some meaningful choices and open up new significant branching options. Characters can, over the course of their life, find powerful artifacts that will radically influence their abilities, or even transform (fully or gradually) into something else: a fire elemental, a sentient tree, a crystal, or a werewolf.

The game includes five carefully detailed campaigns, plus unlimited procedurally generated extras to guarantee replayability. Each of them takes place over several “ages”, meaning decades, during the course of which the initial characters will inevitably age and retire from active duty. And since great care is given to the relationships they will form over their careers, the longer campaigns will most likely be completed by their children, grandchildren, friends or apprentices. This gives a sense of scale and continuity that turns every game session into the chapter of an epic saga. It can be really engrossing.

And fear not – there is a way to always keep your favorites in the loop. After they retire, they enter a special “Pantheon” of heroes, and they can be recruited (or casually encountered! which is super fun) in future campaigns. In this way, they can keep on progressing on their character arc, effectively moving through a different set of ranks, from “local hero” to “myth”. There is a special sense of satisfaction when you manage to bring back from the mists of time your all-time favorite, spear-wielding scarred veteran who got one arm permanently turned into stone, thus turning the fate of an apparently doomed campaign.

As a cherry on this interactive storytelling cake, it is also possible to play a multiplayer game, where each player can bring their favorite characters to start a new adventuring party. The developers really took the player base seriously and tried to offer the richest experience possible.

In conclusion, I really loved Wildermyth and I think I can easily recommend it to beginners and experienced users alike. It’s an RPG but it does not intimidate with too many statistics and rules, it’s very easy to learn and never punishes mistakes too harshly (harder difficulty levels are there for those who appreciate a challenge, though). Like every good story, it flows by itself and only asks for a fair bit of attention and time.

By combining aspects of boardgames, comics, novel and classic roleplaying games, and with a very conscious emphasis on its stories and characters, this very intelligent and detailed game can offer a very satisfying experience to anybody looking for fun and engagement in their purest form.


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