|Developer||Worldwalker Games, LLC|
|Publisher||Worldwalker Games, LLC, WhisperGames|
|Release Date||June 15, 2021|
Up front: I hate tactical RPGs. Or at least, I did. Some less-than-stellar experience with the genre had darkened my view of them as a whole, and I usually steer clear of anything involving grid-based strategy and permadeath. But when I saw Wildermyth, by Worldwalker Games, something intrigued me. This is a game that goes beyond mere combat, and strives to let you tell a story the way you want to. It gripped the author in me, and I decided to venture out of my comfort zone to try the dreaded tactical RPG once more. My adventures are recorded below for future generations.
Violence: Your heroes use a variety of weapons, such as bows, arrows, axes, and swords. There is no blood or gore of any kind. Attacks are a simple animation. If a character is maimed in a battle, one of their limbs may be replaced with a prosthetic one. You mostly fight evil creatures, but at times you are forced into battle with humans.
Spirituality: The mystic class uses magic to “interfuse” with various objects, allowing them to use set pieces for attacks. The story makes frequent mention of spirits and gods, and your characters will come into contact with many of them. Enemies use dark magic to attack you. There is a resource known as “spellthread” which is said to tie all living things together.
Sexual Content: Characters can fall in love and have children. Nothing is shown on screen. When creating a character, you are able to choose their sexual orientation, including homosexual options.
Other negative elements: Some of the choices you make can be morally questionable, but you will face the consequences for them. Several characters in desperate situations turn to terrible solutions such as human sacrifice to solve their problems.
Positive elements: Your band of heroes is dedicated to returning land and villages to the common people, as well as empowering those villages to defend themselves against the threats of the world. Your characters build friendships that last for decades. The game encourages appreciation for creation in all its forms.
Worldwalker Games, as it turns out, is a bit of a family operation. Founded by Nate and Anne Austin, the studio now employs six full-time employees with various other part-time staff. If you pay attention as you’re playing Wildermyth, you’ll see those first two names come up a lot. Nate and Anne wrote most of the scenarios you’ll be playing through, and it’s clear from the get-go that Wildermyth is nothing short of a passion project.
As I said, Wildermyth is in a genre I don’t generally touch, that being a tactical RPG. What’s more, it’s a procedurally generated tactical RPG, with an art style reminiscent of Paper Mario and a story structure and character system lifted straight from tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons. It’s separated into various campaigns, and you’ll be given a few characters when starting out your first campaign. The game creates them itself, rolling their stats and appearances for you, but you’re able to tweak all of them to your heart’s content, going so far as to write your own backstory for them. Immediately, my mind went to my recent foray into the world of Dungeons & Dragons, with its emphasis on character backstory and choices made in the middle of the campaign.
Characters come in one of three classes: warrior, hunter, and mystic. In my first campaign, I started out with one of each. The warrior is a powerhouse, marching up to enemies and swiping at them with a greataxe. The hunter hangs back and attacks from a distance, able to hide in the shadows to surprise enemies. Finally, the mystic can “interfuse” with various set pieces. Depending on what you choose, they’re able to trip up enemies with vines, pin them down with roots, or shoot rocks to hit multiple foes. All classes can use other types of weapons as well, and every character can carry two weapons, so your hunter can have a dagger on them in case they get cornered, or your warrior can carry a crossbow if their health gets a bit too low for close-up fighting.
Part of my beef with tactical RPGs I’ve played in the past is the overload of information as you’re learning the ropes. But Wildermyth keeps its technical mechanics pretty light, and everything is laid out very intuitively. This means that, even if you know nothing about tactical RPGs (aka, me), you won’t have any trouble figuring things out within a few battle sequences. If you’re a veteran of the genre, perhaps you’ll find it a bit simplistic, but I found myself engaged in figuring out just what weapon combos worked the best with each of my characters’ stats, something I’m normally not interested in at all.
My first campaign started out with a comic-strip style scene depicting one of my characters, Plyth, running toward a burning village. She was looking for another one of my characters, Brogora. Once Plyth entered the village, I was thrust into my first bit of gameplay. Plyth stood on a board separated into a grid, and I was able to move her around like a chess piece. When I opened the door of a nearby house, I found Brogora, and the game seamlessly went into another story sequence depicting the two friends trying to decide what to do next.
This grid setup is where you’ll spend about sixty percent of your time in Wildermyth. You’re able to view the battlefield from an isometric perspective and move your troops wherever you’d wish. As you explore the battlefield, you’ll slowly reveal your enemies, and you’ll have to determine the best strategy for dealing with the hordes of creatures ravaging the land.
After the battle, I was taken to a world map, and this is where you’ll spend the rest of your time. If you’ve ever played Civilization or a tabletop game like Risk, then this will be familiar territory. On this screen, you’ll manage your heroes as you wage war against the forces of evil. You’ll need to balance exploring regions of the world that enemies have occupied, fortifying cities you’ve rescued so they’re able to withstand attack, and recruiting eager young heroes from towns around the region. But you’re not the only one plotting. As the days pass, your enemies will grow stronger, adding more units to their ranks, and occasionally breaking out into campaigns of their own across the land. When that happens, you can either attack them head-on or hope that the defenses you’ve prepared will tire them out.
What most impressed me about all these disparate gameplay and story elements is just how seamless everything felt. The story is modular, allowing for the setup to each encounter to be selected from a pool. Some encounters will leave you with choices to make for your characters. Depending on what you choose, they’ll walk away unscathed, or they’ll be impacted for the rest of their lives. One of my characters ended up fused with a crystal that gradually turned his limbs into crystal weapons. He was a mystic, but he ended up kind of being a powerhouse.
A fun consequence of Wildermyth’s procedurally-generated story is, if you reload an older save, you won’t get the same encounter. This means that, if a particular battle is going poorly, you CAN reload your save, but you’ll lose any loot you’ve picked up in the meantime. Once, Plyth found a legendary golden sword, and I was very excited to have her wield it the rest of the game. But as it turns out, I didn’t read the enemy force’s strength well enough, and I ended up having to reload or risk losing all of my heroes. When I explored the same region, I wasn’t given that sword. Not even time travel is free from consequences in this game.
A fair criticism could be made that, because the game is randomly generated, the story doesn’t build on itself like a traditional DND campaign. The characters’ backstories don’t really play into the main story, mainly because you’re able to write those backstories yourself. The main elements that do develop over the course of the campaign are the aforementioned physical characteristics, like gem fusions and such. This didn’t particularly bother me, and I felt that the characters still did age and develop in a natural way, but it’s certainly far from the traditional story setup.
As the years pass, the game ages up your characters, taking them from young and hungry adventurers to wise and strong heroes. Their appearance and dialogue change to match their increased age, and it made what could have easily remained soulless paper cutouts feel even more real. I grew to care about these fictional lives, and I especially cared about the choices I was making to guide those lives.
But all the story in the world wouldn’t matter if the gameplay didn’t hold up, and thankfully, Wildermyth succeeds here too. Going back to my age-old feud with tactical RPGs, the gameplay just never made sense to me. It always felt like I was moving my units randomly, and the strategy element just never made sense. I fully admit that this is a “me” problem, and I don’t blame the games for that. But something about the combat in Wildermyth just clicked for me in a way I can’t describe. It was surprisingly addicting, to the point that I found myself saying “just one more skirmish” when I really just needed to go to bed. In addition, the story elements forced me to get attached to my characters, which in turn impacted my strategy, and that was when I realized that I was actually strategizing. This game got me to actually think like an RPG player without my even realizing it.
When your characters die—and you will experience at least one death in your playtime—it’s surprisingly touching. I was simultaneously impressed and a little scared by how much I’d grown attached to these characters in my relatively short playtime. I lost Brogora pretty early on in my campaign, but she’d already been developing a romance with one of my other characters, and it hurt to see these two fictional characters be torn apart. It struck an emotional chord with me that I was not expecting from such a simple-looking game, and all within the first five hours of playtime.
The game is also balanced well, which was another one of my concerns going in. I can count on one hand the number of times I found myself in a situation I felt I truly couldn’t handle, and most of the time that was only because I didn’t carefully read the warning signs the game gave me. My heroes were usually able to handle the attack, though not always easily, or even without casualties. This doesn’t mean the balance is perfect; there were still some encounters that I felt were truly unfair, but for the most part, the challenge escalated well as my heroes grew. As long as you’re paying attention to the signs the game gives you, you shouldn’t end up in too many sticky situations.
And finally, I have to applaud the presentation. The pop-up book style lends itself wonderfully to such a charming game, and it fits the overall theme very well. The whole game is about the stories we tell about heroes, after all. And thankfully, the simple style doesn’t ever take away from the grim atmosphere in some of the later sections. The music, too, serves to perfectly compliment the understated graphical style. Composer Candy Emberly chose to go for a subtle “bardcore” style, with light string and wind instruments comprising most of the tracks. The music is able to strike an atmosphere almost instantaneously without ever drawing unnecessary attention to itself.
And if, after all that, you’re STILL hankering for more content, the game comes equipped with a full campaign builder, complete with cutscene editing! The game is quick to tell you that there’s quite a steep learning curve to doing some of the more intense story planning, but once you’ve got it down, you’ll be able to craft your own sweeping campaigns and stories yourself and share them with other players. This game truly was crafted with every player in mind, including the DMs who have a lore bible for every campaign. There’s already a vibrant community of modders releasing new content for the game, so, needless to say, you’ll never run out of content to play.
It’s not often that I feel this overwhelmingly positive about a game. Yes, there were some times I got frustrated and even accused the game of being unfair. But those moments were so few and far between, and the overall experience was so joyful and addictive, that I can’t really hold those few moments against the game. The only other criticism I can offer, and this was from a friend of mine who’s very into lore, is that the “years of peace” sections at the end of each chapter are a little short on backstory and filling in plot details. Given the modular nature of the story, I think that’s understandable, but if you really want an expanded story, this may fall a little short for you.
Wildermyth hits every note it was going for. It’s an emotionally evocative, beautifully rendered tactical RPG that is accessible for newcomers, and it has changed my somewhat dismal opinion on the genre as a whole. If you’ve always wanted to try this type of game, or if, like me, you want to break out of your comfort zone, this is your perfect entry point. Simply put, the game is a joyful experience from beginning to end. It grabs your attention from the very first moment, and keeps it all the way until the end of your heroes’ story, bringing you right alongside them for their triumphs, failures, loves, losses, and everything in between. And, above all, it’s just a lot of fun.
The Bottom Line
Wildermyth serves as a perfect entry point to newcomers to tactical RPGs, with beautiful artwork, a brilliant blend of strategy and storytelling, and a wealth of user-created content that will keep players coming back for more.