A superb blending of narrative and gameplay that learns from old tabletop and newer strategy games in equal measure, Wildermyth plays with the formula while never losing sight of what it's trying to do: tell a fantastic story.
Muser kicks down the dungeon’s door with a lightning-infused foot, shield already raised against the ire of the gorgons within. Bradynne barrels past him without hesitating, axe in hand, swiping at the reaching tendrils of the nearest abomination. Behind them, roguish Lora is invisible in the commotion, her magical right eye seeing far more than any normal one could. Meanwhile, pointing her staff from behind the fighters, dry-witted Nyxa pours magical energy into a weapon rack on the back wall, causing it to explode in shards of metal. A little way off from the chaos, Muser and Lora’s daughter Lorynna watches tentatively - she’s new to this, after all - while recent hire Jon Brasterbook coughs and tries to work out whether now is the best time to ask her out for a drink after work.
I’ll be honest, I think I love Wildermyth. Maybe more than it deserves, maybe just for what it’s trying to do, but it’s a superb game from any angle and one I’ll be playing for a while. It captures the Dungeons and Dragons tabletop experience in a way that other games have never quite managed, and that alone is kind of an amazing achievement. It also let me give my party mage the head of a crow, and that’s even better.
From Humble Peasants...
My usual impulse when writing reviews is to try and segregate the gameplay and story elements into separate segments, but that’s not really possible in Wildermyth, as so much of the gameplay is designed to enhance the storytelling, rather than simply pair with it. Ostensibly it’s a digital recreation of classic tabletop roleplaying games, only one person controls all the party members and the computer itself is your dungeon master. You always start as average farming folk beset by evil, grouping together out of necessity and ending up as stalwart adventurers, but the wide variation of events and characters means it never feels stilted or predictable. It’s new each time.
If you’ve not played tabletop RPGs, then Baldur’s Gate, Darkest Dungeon and XCOM also feel like clear inspirations. In fact, you might be tempted to think of Wildermyth as Darkest Dungeon without the apocalyptic sense of dread, and with more emphasis on the storytelling overall. Passive skill checks, social interaction and character management that all affect the skills and abilities that your heroes carry into combat.
For example, Derek the hunter is on his way to clear out a tower filled with monsters, but on the way the random encounter gets thrown in his path: a mysterious tree covered in divine, light-emitting fruit stands before him. You can tell Derek to ignore it - scrumping from the gods rarely goes well, historically speaking - or choose several options with different difficulty skill checks. In my case, Derek escaped with a middling size superplum, and arrogance and bravery got a little higher in his stats. It’ll impact his combat prowess, as well as what story plots he’s likely to get drawn into (being so arrogant and all). And who knows what might come of that strange fruit later down the line?
The combination of structured story and random events, muddled with your own created characters all goes to create a rich experience, one that’s epic and yet personal, that lasts a day, and yet lasts a lifetime. And I really mean lifetime.
… To Renowned Heroes...
See, all your chosen actions take in-game time, a frighteningly realistic interpretation to boot. Building barricades around a settlement can take weeks. Going from one town to another can take months. And the war effort against rampaging horrors can take years, even decades. A campaign can last your character’s lifetime or maybe more.
Consequently, time management is a big part of it. There’s the microelement, of course (working out if you can get to the threatened hamlet before it’s taken apart by burbling cultists), but also the long-term aspect: age.
There’s something shocking about seeing it happen. Your characters’ age is tracked by the game as you play, so while they all start as fresh-faced teens with more acne than experience, suddenly ten years have elapsed and you realise you’re controlling seasoned heroes. They’ve been spiritually and physically shaped by the encounters they’ve gone through, with proper weapons and tactics. Then another ten years go by, either in conflict or peacetime and… is that a tint of grey in my ranger’s beard?
It never stops being a little sad. Wildermyth makes all these characters feel real, so watching lines begin to form on their faces, seeing their hair lose its colour, it reminds you that you won’t have them around permanently. And because “retirement age” is a defined stat within the game, it puts a ticking clock in play that shows how long you can expect to have them around (though certain events can increase/decrease it accordingly).
But that’s when the procedural, perfect nature of the storytelling comes in. Brongaron, a founding member of the Grand Fellowship adventuring team, might be retiring now that age has proven the one enemy he can’t beat, but he has a son who will carry on the lineage and his father’s wisdom. God, how does this game do it? I play bloated, AAA titles that have so much money poured into them they risk permanently altering the economy, and I feel nothing. Wildermyth just gave me some basic cut-outs and a story chosen by a dice roll, and yet there’s always a lump in my throat when somebody is struck down on the battlefield or just doesn’t have the vigour to carry a sword anymore.
The power of good writing, I guess, not to mention the very clever way Wildermyth makes it all feel so personal. These aren’t just characters, they’re my characters, but with enough personality of their own to feel rich and resounding even when I’m not controlling them. And over the course of a campaign, you’ll see life, death, birth, heroes rise and fall, but become immortal through their legacy. How could it not be just a little beautiful?
… To Legends Everlasting
I suppose I should talk about the actual meat-and-potatoes combat, but I’ve held off on it until now, because it’s only pretty good, as opposed to the rest of the game’s very high standard of excellence. It could probably be deeper overall: there are only three classes - warrior, hunter and mystic - and while you can build them up pretty differently, the warriors feel a bit thin when it comes to variation and strategy.
It’s your magic-slinging mystics who are the most fun, mainly due to how Wildermyth handles the arcane arts. Rather than simply having a load of spells loaded up like bullets, mystics use the environment as a channel, pouring magical energy into nearby rocks, trees and furniture. They effectively weaponize what’s around them, and depending on what’s in the room, you can get entirely different effects. Stones become projectiles, vines lasso enemies, fires can be steered and scrap can be repurposed into chains and manacles. A room full of debris is a huge pool of possibilities for a seasoned mystic, and it’s one of Wildermyth’s most ingenious ideas.
Beyond that, combat is exactly what you’d expect from a D&D recreation: turn-based, tile-structured combat where you strategically manoeuvre around enemies, with elements like flanking or group huddles adding greater depth. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it works and develops well over the course of the campaign. Your early heroes are well-intentioned twerps who can barely hold a pitchfork the right way round. By the time their temples have greyed, they’re experienced warriors, wielding legendary weapons and godly magic.
My nitpicks with Wildermyth are as infrequent as they are irrelevant. Heroes who survive a campaign can be added to the game’s files as “Legacy Heroes”, potentially recruitable in later campaigns. Fair enough, I like the idea of classic characters returning out of retirement to forge new tales and connections, but the game has a selective memory when it comes to their details, and its habit of de-ageing them raises a few too many questions. Last we saw Lora, she was pushing seventy and married. Now she’s suddenly single, lost most of her abilities, and - disturbingly - a twenty-five-year-old, only four years older than her own daughter.
Perhaps it’s meant to evoke a muddled, word-of-mouth mythology or just to be one of those things you don’t think about, but for a game that’s all about timelines and history, it feels weird to see so much of it eliminated at a stroke, or to be told that certain elements don’t matter. And while I’m in a grumbling mood, Wildermyth could maybe use a little more variation when it comes to random encounters. Don’t get me wrong, there are loads of them coded in, but most only trigger under certain circumstances and for certain kinds of characters, so you’re likely to get a few repeats in the first quarter of a campaign before any of them have diversified from the standard.
And that’s basically it, as whinges go, besides a few minor imbalances and some small cosmetic complaints. And frankly, you can disregard those, because Wildermyth is an exemplary achievement of how to integrate story and gameplay, each enhancing the other and backed by an attractive, storybook art style and stirring soundtrack. I hope to god there are more campaigns coming from the developers in the future because though there’s quite a few in there already, I don’t think I’ll be satiated on Wildermyth for a long time.
After all, you never really want the best stories to end.
Reviewed on Steam.