Procedural generation is one of those things with me. In theory it sounds great, in practice I usually find it disappointing. Random maps I find ok. Random treasure works in some games, like Diablo for instance. I’ve played some roguelikes I’ve enjoyed for 20 hours or so, but others invest hundreds of hours in these games. I’ve found procedural generation in more classic rpgs almost always inferior to hand placed material, though. Still, I picked up Wildermyth, because it was advertised as story and character heavy, as well as capturing the feel of a tabletop game, which I found intriguing at the same time as I found it hard to believe.
In a review I usually leave this section to the end, because I think good gameplay is far more important than how a game looks or sounds. I’ve played a number of forgettably boring games that were beautiful to look at. Wildermyth has a fairly primitive comic art style that won’t appeal to everyone. However, the choice of art in Wildermyth is closely tied to its gameplay. There are 5 story campaigns in the game (in addition, you can also choose to play an entirely randomly generated one) and you will be recruiting a decent number of heroes in each one (I think I had well over 40 heroes in the 5 campaigns) so its important they look different from one another. Heroes can also die or be sacrificed, and therefore the game is not fixated on a set character. Whatever heroes are alive in your group play an important part in the story. Heroes also age as a campaign advances and some even will becomes so old that they will retire. In addition, your heroes can undergo other drastic physical changes as the campaign progresses. One of my heroes had one of his eyes replaced by a crystal. Another lost her hair and got her head tattooed. And yet another grew a scorpion tail. Wildermyth presents its story in comic book like cut scenes with choose your own adventure type elements. And they capture the vast physical differences and emotions of your characters, For those reasons I think it would have been difficult to go with a more realistic art style.
My heroine Seldana started out as a normal farm girl. Over the course of the campaign she somehow managed to lose a hand and grow raven wings.
Wildermyth’s battlefields look like someone set up a bunch of cardboard scenery on a square battle mat. That gives the battles a tabletop feel, while at the same time being fairly primitive visually. That also has a good reason, though. I’ve never played a game where terrain is so terribly important. Wildermyth’s magic system is entirely tied to manipulating terrain. And since the magic wielding mystic is one of the game’s 3 classes, you will be dependent on the magic system constantly. Light sources can be used to blind opponents. Fire can be spread to burn, wood can be exploded, stone can be cracked and launched at opponents, plants can strangle, cloth can suffocate. And that’s in addition to the cover terrain can provide.
Wildermyth’s sound is limited to some well performed music and audio effects, mostly battle sounds.
Story and Atmosphere
Wildermyth is a story telling game. Other procedurally generated games have told stories. In many of these, there is a map and when you arrive at a location there is a short self-contained story, which often ends in a choice for the player. Wildermyth builds on this foundation. When you uncover a new tile on the map, there is a short story. But Wildermyth does two things a bit differently. First, the story is told in comic book form. Second, we often can see what chance certain choices have to turn out successfully, which normally results in a beneficial gain. The flip side of the coin means failure yield a short or long term negative effect. There is also often a chance to avoid taking a risk altogether. This means the story choices have a “push your luck” mechanism we see in some board games. But apart from that each story vignette features some of your characters. We not only see them act and banter in the various stories, but our choices effect their futures. This definitely brings the player closer to their characters. Choices made in these stories often have long term effects, some of which will return later in a campaign with additional choices. These short stories are in general well written, but appear randomly. While I’ve never seen the same story appear twice in the same Wildermyth campaign, you will see them reappear if you play multiple campaigns, which I have to say is something I find to be a major drawback of procedurally generated storytelling. Once I recognized being in the same story again, I would click through the texts just to get to the end choices.
In Wildermyth your characters also have relationships with one another. Some of these you can decide upon, others randomly develop. The base relationship state is friendship, but characters can also develop a romance or rivalry. These relationships have both mechanical and story telling consequences. Romantic couples gain a revenge buff if their beloved is injured, whereas rivals will become fired up if their competitor kills an enemy. Rivalry is not hostility. The characters act more like Legolas and Gimli from Lord of the Rings. These characters are in competition one another. Both rival and romantic couples have their own randomly generated stories in Wildermyth, which is another cool touch and brings you closer to your characters.
Wildermyth has 5 story campaigns. The first introductory campaign in divided into 3 chapters. The others are divided into 5. Each story campaign has a unique story event which starts the chapter, and one which ends the chapter. Some chapters my also have an additional event somewhere in the middle. These main story events define your goals in each chapter. Also, each campaign is dedicated to one of Wildermyth’s 5 very unique monster factions. In these campaigns you learn a great deal about the origins and character of your enemies. These campaign events are really the highlight of Wildermyth and motivated me finish every story campaign. Not only do they give the game structure and purpose, but they provide both unique battles, weighty story choices, and the desire to find out how every story ends.
Wildermyth’s campaigns are divided by chapters, and each chapter has a similar game loop. First there is a story introduction. Here we learn the main goal of the chapter, and sometimes we are attacked by our enemies, but other times we learn of a way to disrupt their plans or gain more information about them. After that the game opens up in map mode. The map in made up of tiles, each tile or region is either revealed or covered by fog of war and has to be scouted. In the first chapter only one region tile is revealed, and in each additional chapter we start on the map from the previous chapter with new fogged tiles added, which means the map gets larger and larger as a campaign progresses.
The campaign story always gives us a goal, but mechanically this can be boiled down to one of the following: We have an unexplored location we have to reach and we know where it is; We have to go to an unexplored location, but only after finding and destroying all enemy bases on the map; We have to find an unexplored location, but we are unsure of where it is on the map.
Each time our group arrives at a new tile, we scout it, and it becomes a revealed tile. Then there is a story vignette. If there are enemies on the tile and we haven’t already been attacked by them, we can choose to attack them. Once the enemies have been cleared out (if there were any) we can choose to build a settlement, if the tile supports one, or an outpost. Settlements only cost time to build, outposts additionally cost legacy points, which I’ll discuss later in detail. We can also choose to fortify our outposts and settlements, which costs even more time. Some tiles also allow us to construct bridges or mountain passes to more easily travel across the map, but this also costs time.
At the end of each chapter, we get resources for all our settlements and outposts. While we do find some equipment after stories or battles, the best way to get better equipment in Wildermyth is to craft it between campaign chapters, or before the final battle.
Wildermyth also has two timers of sorts. Each action on the map costs time, and as time progresses the enemy’s plans evolve. Each monster faction has their own deck of cards, and each time a battle takes place, monsters are drawn from this deck, though the special campaign battles often feature additional unique enemies. When the time runs down, new meaner nasties, or upgrades for existing enemies are added to the monster decks. This just means if you dawdle, your enemies will become stronger, so the game encourages you to use your time efficiently. The second timer, which is longer than the first creates a monster horde at one of the monster bases on the map. The horde will then move across the world map destroying your settlements and outposts. If you have fortified them though, that will buy you time, as they are delayed from moving on until they destroy your defenses. You can take out these hordes by engaging them in battle, and it actually it is much easier to do so, if you are fighting them in a settlement under siege where you have built defenses.
In the end I found these timers encouraged me to act efficiently. Going too fast across the map, and not building settlements or eliminating enemies often means your character are too underleveled and poorly equipped to survive the chapter ending battle. But wasting time by backtracking across a map or having inactive characters sitting around only makes your enemies stronger.
Once you have succeed at your goal at the end of a campaign chapter your characters age, perhaps even retiring. At least characters who survive long enough to retire can pass on a part of their experience to a younger character.
Your initial heroes in Wildermyth are given to you by the campaign. However, you can always change and customize the appearances of your heroes if you wish. When you recruit a new hero, you can usually determine that hero’s class. The game features 3 classes, the hunter, warrior, and mystic. So basically, a ranged fighter, close combat fighter and magic user. Each character starts with a set class skill and can learn an additional skill. You can learn an additional skill from a choice of 3 randomly selected skills available to your class. At additional levels (some of your heroes may level up 5 times in the course of long campaign if they are lucky) you usually get the choice of selecting one of 3 new selected skills or upgrading an existing skill. While most skills are pretty much what you’d expect for each class, you can roll some skills that let you build decent hybrid characters. The hunter has access to a few close combat skills, the warrior has a ranged skill, and the mystic has skills which make him or her viable both with a bow and in close combat.
New heroes are recruited with legacy points. Legacy points are a currency you can earn every time you finish a story vignette. These points can be used for a lot of things. In addition to recruiting new heroes, you can burn legacy points to reroll the random skills available on a level up. You can also use them to prevent your enemy from adding new upgrades or monsters to their monster decks. They also can be used on empty tiles to build outposts to give you additional crafting materials at the end of a chapter, so you can better upgrade character equipment.
Wildermyth has a lot of battles. Most times you turn over a tile you will fight a short battles that take 5-10 minutes on a random battlefield. You will get to know these battlefields quite well. Horde invasion battles take longer, as there are more enemies on a bigger map, and if you are defending a settlement, you will gain control of additional defenders. These battles can be a good 10-15 minutes long. The main story battles of a campaign differ greatly depending on the goal, but some of these can take up to 30 minutes.
What makes Wildermyth combat really stand out is the unique magic system. What your mystics can do is tied to what terrain is on the board and in range of both the mystic and the enemies. So, you will often have to form strategies involving moving your mystics to make the best use out of terrain, without overly exposing them to opponents.
Skills and placing are also important. Standing next to an ally grants each character 1 extra temporary armor point. The warrior’s base skill is a guard, which allows the warrior to attack an enemy coming close to them. The hunter’s base skill lets them hide, and hiding hunters ignore enemy armor when making a surprise attack. You will almost always be facing more enemies than your characters, so charging the closest enemy without thinking about protecting your heroes often is a foolish strategy.
Death is an interesting mechanic in Wildermyth. A hero who falls in battle is not automatically dead. They usually can take a wound and retreat from battle. In a random battle, this isn't tragic as they go to the nearest settlement and recover in time. In a campaign mission though, a wound means they will suffer a permanent penalty to their stats. You can choose though instead of taking a wound, to let a hero die. A dying hero will perform one last heroic action, doing massive damage to their attacker or buffing the remaining suvivors. This means a death almost never feels cheap, and sacrifcing a hero can turn the tide in a difficult battle.
While the epic story battles are memorable and often extremely challenging, the vast number of normal battles you fight grow repetitive after a while due to the fact that you are fighting similar enemies and are on the same maps again and again.
Wildermyth presented me with quite a challenge as a reviewer, which has a lot to do with what I thought the game might be versus what it actually is. What Wildermyth is not, is a classic crpg or a high budget, high price game. If you come in, thinking it is, you will bound to be disappointed. Rather Wildermyth is a low budget indie game that reminds me a lot of a story telling board game, which have become quite fashionable during the last few years. The core gameplay of moving into tiles, experiencing a story segment, fighting a possible battle, and perhaps setting yourself up to collect future resources is not something you’ll find in a normal crpg, but definitely has a board game feel. So do the timers and the decks of enemies, which are similar mechanisms to what one finds in a lot of cooperative board games. What Wildermyth does that no board game can do is present its story segments as very well depicted comics, and visually shows how your characters develop and change over time. The core mechanics all work well in the game and are fun. I also think the magic system is pretty unique and exceptionally well implemented. Still, you won’t find the depth that you’d find in a crpg of comparable quality. The procedural events and maps lead to a fair amount of repetition. After completing all five campaigns, I became very familiar with the combat maps, enemy units, and saw most random story segments at least twice, even if the outcomes weren’t always the same. Nevertheless I did finish all the story campaigns which took me around 35 hours, and that’s because not only did I find the game loop and the world with its cool magic and unusual monster factions to be entertaining, but also because the 10 or so story missions in each large campaign are really compelling, both in terms of telling a story, and because they often present gameplay twists, which you don’t find in the random events. Wildermyth does a lot of things differently and thinks outside of the box, and for that it deserves a lot of praise. When you consider its price tag its also hard to argue with the quality of what you are getting. So, if you think you can accept the visuals, the choose your own adventure elements, the heavy use of procedural events, and the board game like mechanics, then I can very much recommend Wildermyth.
Developer: Worldwalker Games
Genre: Tactical RPG
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2021-06-15
· Publisher: Worldwalker Games
- Well told campaign stories
- Well designed campaign missions
- Original magic system
- Game loop works well
- Characters develop and change over time
- Visuals won't be for everyone
- Repetitive story vignettes
- Small selection of random battle maps
- Limited character building (mechanically speaking)
- Board game like mechanics won't be for everyone.