Procedurally generated games tend to get a bad rap. A lot of amateur developers tend to lean on it to extend replay value, and hope each player having a unique experience makes up for not developing the whole experience from start to end.
The bad apples spoil the bunch, and when the effort is put in, it can show how it can be done right. Enter Wildermyth, one of the first games I previewed here on Niche Gamer two years ago. 1.0 finally launched June 15th, but we shall be judging the final game (as an aside, there have been many changes for the better in terms if gameplay).
Is this procedurally generated tactical RPG a never-ending story filled with excitement and drama? Or is it something you’d struggle to give away on free book day?
Developer: Worldwalker Games
Platforms: Windows PC (reviewed), Linux, Mac
Release Date: June 15, 2021
Price: $24.99 USD
The premise of the first campaign may involve running across an ancient tome filed with legends of yore, but it’s now your job to fill it with tales of your own. Each campaign usually involves starting with three heroes, on their decades-long quest to stop one of five factions of fiends from befouling the land. Just as you get used to the ebb and flow, a few surprises are scattered into the major campaigns.
Avoiding the typical orc and goblin fantasy tropes, you fight something a little more original. Steam-punk robots using skulls, blood, and flesh to swell their ranks. Psychic insectoid-dragons that bend minds. Mutated woodland creatures slowly turning to stone, and cultists drawing power from mushrooms deep beneath the earth.
Even the lizardmen have some unique units, including giant birds that almost put a Red Chocobo to shame (in appearance alone). Perhaps due to this, that tribal faction has more variants in the designs of individual unit types, as the other factions demand more uniformity.
Players must scour the land for the objective, but even if they know the location, running straight for the goal may not be viable. The land needs liberating, and smaller stories can define your heroes.
Characters can be assigned to move across the world over several days, typically in groups, aiming to purge locations of roaming monsters, scouring them for resources, and even building up settlements to generate more like a 4X. “Infested” areas need to be cleared out, as groups of 2 or less risk being ambushed, and nearby settlements being overrun by invading forces.
Once players attempt to assault a site, they typically encounter a random event either side of a battle. Brief comic-book style stories detail what the characters are going through; be it traps, moral dilemmas, great philosophical debates, or the best tactics to smack some cheeks. For those hoping to save scum; events and battles are re-rolled (though you may save mid-battle).
Players then enter the choose-your-own-adventure style choice that can have ramifications for the upcoming battle, or a character. You may get a percentage chance of success based on their stats, but usually you have to puzzle out what is best for your character.
Lets say one of your characters has the Destiny “hook”; one of three from a list of many that determine the events they will encounter. When they come across the strange woman in a cloak of black feathers, do they accept her offer to “become one?” Does your character amputate their arm to help fuel a digging machine to escape a prison, or risk playing dead to trick their captors?
Even mundane choices can have unseen ramifications. These events combined with excellent tactical combat and character development make the game incredibly moreish. Heroes of Might and Magic III moreish. “Is-it-morning-already?” moreish.
The dialogue can be quippy and border on Marvel movie territory, but the goofs tend to stop when the stakes are high in the main plot. Your characters’ personality stats (such as Cowardly, Greedy, Romantic) also tend to keep their style of dialogue consistent. The random nature of events can breed some inconsistencies, but this is a minority. A character’s history log can forget the name of some places for example.
Personality stats and Hooks are two different things, meaning you can have someone who is compassionate, yet a loner. A character who suffers constant misfortune can still be the clown of the party, yet another who fails to steal a giant egg and realizes the mother bird now laments will become more serious.
People love patterns, so we’re more susceptible to things that stand out. This also means you can end up building a meta-narrative around a character and doing the game’s work for it. Nezdo Realmstone- my Mystic extraordinaire- must fallen down every hole, got hit by every trap (even when someone else set it off), and went bust on pre-battle stratagem.
He got blinded in one eye, and used as a hand-puppet by a Gorgon (which turned that missing eye to stone). As such when he appeared in a future campaign, magically sealed within a tapestry, it was oddly fitting. Hunter Dara Cherry may have once been a coward, but turning into a wolf really seemed to boost her confidence, and she (I) made bolder choices thereafter.
Legacy Points are earned for driving out enemies, and are spent on hiring new characters from towns, and developing certain tiles for resources. These resources are spent between chapters of a campaign to upgrade or acquire new gear, or at a town a hero is visiting.
Roaming around the map and enjoying how your characters grow can make it easy to forget you’re under a time limit; Calamities and Incursions. Calamities grant the factions on the map bonus enemy cards; new kinds of enemy, or new abilities for existing ones. These can be cancelled for Legacy Points, and can make a challenging choice on what to prioritize spending them on.
Incursions are the aforementioned invading armies from Infested areas; a marauding army heading toward an unconquered settlement; taking over every area between them. These armies tend to have a much stronger force with multiple foes in waves. You can build defenses at locations to grant a greater chance for buffs and more temporary allies. And all it costs is the time to build them.
The world map is a constant push and pull of where to divide your forces to be most time efficient. Up to five can fight in battle (more if other allies are in the location when defending an Incursion), and more hands working on setting up defenses, training a new recruit, or developing the land will save time. But, focusing on just one group of five will probably mean you are overrun before you know it.
Further still, liberated lands can be Researched for resources. Work quickly and you can move your heroes onto other tasks. Take the extra time, and you’ll nab a free piece of gear; usually only obtained for free after a battle or in certain events. Do you spend your time to benefit later, or act now? Not to mention, damage from battle persists, and slowly heals over the ever-ticking days.
Thankfully, the difficulty levels can be set independently for combat and world maps at the start of a campaign. If you want to make the world perfect as can be before sticking it to the boss of some horrible beasties, you can. Or, you can ramp up the challenge and make some difficult choices of what needs to be done to guarantee success.
The tactical combat sounds pretty simple on paper, and is the “two action points you can spend on movement or a turn-ending attack” variety. Your party can act in any order, and you can flip between them after just one point spent. You and your enemies can also be flanked (100% hit chance and guaranteed crit for daggers) by attacking 90 and 180 degrees around from the initial attack that turn.
Your characters standing next to one another can “wall”- granting a temporary point of armor to one another. However, this in turn may make them susceptible to enemy attacks with AOE effects. All of the above is a simple yet solid bedrock, built upon with the abilities of the combatants, foes usually being the greater force, and doors and a little fog of war to raise the tension.
The three character classes are also familiar but better. Warriors that can take and deal more physical damage, while Hunters are best at ranged; but can also do stealth and get the knives out for crits. The Mystic is a rather unique take on the mage, needing to infuse with objects in the environment to cast spells from them.
Boulders and walls can skip stones off your foe’s heads, wooden objects can explode into a shotgun blast of splinters, and piles of bones can be made into a might spear to lance through foes. This isn’t to say the Warriors and Hunter are dull in their capabilities; all the classes can gain some rather substantial abilities when leveling up (passive or otherwise).
While the selection of abilities is random (and can be frustrating when you want a particular build with a lynchpin never coming around) it can make characters just as memorable as their story events. I’ve had Hunters who can launch their own fiery arrows when standing next to a blaze; combined with granting themselves extra actions once-per-battle to turn into a warcrime.
Characters are also free to equip any weapon you find. Got a Mystic who increases the damage of the melee attacks for each interfused object? I gave mine a great sword and saw damage output better than a Warrior. You can also freely swap between two equipped weapons in battle, so a Warrior that boosts allies’ movement for killing can get a pot-shot with their bow (sometimes for two attacks in a turn).
Events can also force inspiration onto you for unique builds. The majority of these are mutations, most of them being of the animal variety. An animal head will typically grant you a biting or pecking melee attack, with feet and wings granting increased movement. Claws might grant you a free melee attack, but you then can’t hold anything in that hand.
Along with taking a walk on the wild side, you can turn your limbs into tree branches, stone, fire, and more. Our own mascot-insert found herself with an arm made of lightning, and could go all Palpatine on enemies. I was tempted to further the mutation between chapters (gaining more mutant limbs) to gain more of its magic-based abilities for my otherwise melee-built Warrior.
Foes may start as push-overs, but Calamities mount; especially as factions gain a free card after a fight. It can demand you deploy X-COM style “hard and fast” tactics, and using weapons that ignore armor rather than shredding it.
Early on you may feel maps are too big given how few foes there are, but as the campaign goes on you’ll find the “death by 1000 cuts” are starting to cut deeper each time. While factions’ tactics become apparent, the wide variety of unit types, random factors of character building, and each campaign having four enemy factions prevent making a truly unstoppable force.
Should a heroes fall, they can go out in a blaze of glory; buffing allies, debuffing foes, or a devastating blow to their killer. They can also slink away, take a few days to heal up in a nearby town, and usually suffer a dismemberment or other permanent stat debuff.
Even these can be random, and I’ve sometimes not had the option to deal damage. I’ve also had the option to pick a nearby hero to take the L, or destroy the hero’s artifact weapon.
The only battle a hero truly can’t fight against is time. Between chapters you earn several years of peace, during which your heroes age, and may even have children. Each hero has an age they’ll retire at, and you’ll usually get a warning if they’ll retire after the current chapter.
As a rule of thumb, heroes will retire after three chapters, granting a boost of EXP to a lower-level hero of your choice. In five-chapter campaigns, whoever you start with probably won’t finish the fight. As heroes age, their movement speed and recovery rate dwindles. While the pros and cons become blurred, most will probably object to being unable to pass gear onto another generation.
While abilities set your character up for success, gear truly makes or breaks them. Heroes recruited at the 11th hour can still hold their own as long as their weapon and armor is the same as what you’re getting from clearing areas. The only downside is that the newbie hero will only be a warm body with a beat stick and one ability.
Once a piece of gear is equipped to a character, it cannot be sold off or traded. It’s an interesting limitation that prevents trying to get the perfect build, and encourages upgrading a character’s starting and existing gear.
Along with a rare few fights and events granting artifact weapons (with their own passive abilities), there are also elemental weapons. Some maps have spirits who charge deep into enemy territory, and heroes who pursue will can get an elemental version of their weapon. When these crit, they grant special effects such as temporary health or pinning foes. Water, granting extra actions, is unobjectively the best.
Unlocking these elemental weapons also allows them to be forged in other campaigns, one of the few roguelike elements in the game. The other major one is how making your hero a legend is more than just talk.
Completing a campaign adds your heroes to an ever-growing legacy. Players can spend some extra Legacy Points to re-hire these heroes; no memory of their past life, full of youth, and able to keep two of their prior abilities. If granted an upgrade in status after the campaign, they can keep more abilities, and incur higher costs when hired again.
It can be disappointing to see no one realize they are talking to a former hero, as well as their previously lengthy log of events undergone being forgotten. Only the title of their former band of allies, and any relationships formed. You rarely have control over how relationships blossom between characters, but all of them tend to be useful one way or another.
As a minor note, you can also play multiplayer with friends; each controlling a character. However, only higher-level characters will have enough abilities to make encounters engaging, and there is not enough to warrant a grand strategy between multiple minds. Still, any road trip with the right buddies can be fun.
The paper standee art style is an economic choice, but not an unwelcome one. While characters hop around and wave in the face of who they’re attacking, the sky-box giving a blurred background, and texture and story book art style of the environmental assets help put it a step above what could have been a let down.
Dynamic lighting also helps make things a little more interesting, with new sources of fire and light being reflected. However, this can cause the flat character stands to sometimes light up in solid white.
You can freely change global illumination to resolve it, but it is frequent enough to be noticed. While most machines should be able to run the game, you may get lower frame rates on lower-end machines once scenes get a bit full with characters and light sources.
The biggest gripe many are sure to have are the character faces. Yes, they still look like Karl Pilkington in the The Ricky Gervais Show; and their limited expressions can sometimes hinder events. Even the animal faces can sometimes look more emotive. But, it does grow on you after a while, and the game’s burgeoning modding community are likely to see plenty of new sprites and events.
One element that is surprisingly immersive is the sound design. Swords clash and beasts wail, but battle maps have the appropriate environmental sounds. Dripping water accompanies wind howling through caves, and leaves rustle and birds twitter in the forest.
Whatever faction you are fighting also effects battles; with mumbling, snarls, and shifting befitting them. You get a genuine sense of foes around every corner, and even when you’ve scouted out all the fog of war, you know your fight continues beyond the borders.
The music can ride the fantasy tropes a little hard; with medieval lutes, fiddles, and other string instruments dominating most of the soundtrack. Yet, the use of pizzicato helps provide some bass, and the tone is always appropriate for contemplation, the heart of battle, final confrontations (with each boss getting their own track).
The credits music is also always a delight, a Gaelic inspired song playing out over your heroes’ retirement, and highlights from the adventure. A bardic almost bittersweet lullaby for the end of your adventure. Until the next one.
Wildermyth is a very good tactical RPG that pulls you in, and uses randomization to enhance, not compensate. Most flaws come down to personal taste, and being easy on the wallet for what scratches the tactical RPG itch so good means it is certainly worth the recommendation to anyone who loves the genre.
Wildermyth was reviewed on Windows PC using a review code provided by WhisperGames. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.