Occasionally you will hear about a video game that seems to be tailor made for you. A friend, a podcaster, a reviewer on a website describes what makes the game unique and every single point on the bullet list lines up with something you’re looking for in a game. I had this experience when I first read about Wildermyth, a game that promised tabletop-RPG style storytelling by using a large collection of random events to make your characters develop in unique ways. The reviewer described an experience in which the choices they made during seemingly-innocuous events made radical changes to the characters’ bodies or netted them unique equipment. The concept fascinated me enough that I watched a playthrough of the first campaign path on Waypoint’s YouTube channel, and seeing the game in action showed me a whole ‘nother aspect that the written review didn’t even mention: this was a turn-based tactics game. Characters move around on a grid battlefield making attacks and carefully finding defensive positions while building a customizable skillset that can make two units of the same class still function in different ways. When I started hearing about it from friend of the site Frostilyte, who normally hates RPGs, I knew I needed to play Wildermyth yesterday.
The fact that I am writing this article is probably evidence enough that I’ve spent some time with the game. As I type these words I’ve just finished the game’s opening campaign, the Age of Ulstryx, which does a good job of introducing the game’s basic concepts while still being somewhat meaty in terms of content. After seven hours with Wildermyth, I feel good about sharing my initial thoughts on the game. Do the random story elements do a good job of building characters who feel special? How is the combat and does it bring interesting ideas to the turn based tactics genre? I’ll be discussing these questions in the context of my first campaign, so buckle up because there is plenty to talk about!
The game starts with character creation, a process which can be as quick as a button press or can be a deep dive into a number of obtuse-seeming stats. Your characters by default are randomly generated from their appearance to their gender to their sexuality to their personality. You can go in and edit these details if you wish, lovingly crafting a ten page backstory and adjusting each point of personality to suit the type of character you are trying to build. Personally I would discourage you from doing this, though – the beauty of Wildermyth is in what your characters become rather than how they start. Take for example one of my warriors Clayala, a “cowardly poet” who became my team tank and always charged headfirst into battle to endure the blows of multiple enemies while hacking them down with her magical axe blessed by a leaf spirit. In my run, the only changes I made to my characters was to spice up the variety in terms of gender (there are male, female, and nonbinary options and these options are independent of the “masculine” or “feminine” build options) and sexuality (attracted to men, women, or anyone with a checkbox to indicate whether or not the character is open to romance and/or children). I also made sure they each had different personality traits as one of my characters originally generated with a duplicate personality trait with both of their partners.
After making characters you get the basic introduction to the storyline which also teaches you the basics of combat. Wildermyth’s battles have a round structure similar to many tactical RPGs where you move all your characters and then the enemy moves all of their units, back and forth in a cycle until the victory or defeat conditions are met. Most of the time your goal is to defeat all the enemies but occasionally you need to face a boss or escape a situation where enemies will spawn endlessly. During your turn you select characters to move, position them on the battlefield, and then have them take actions like making an attack or interacting with something in the environment. These actions take what are called action points and the cost depends on the action type. The main action types are free actions (stuff you can always do like switching a weapon), swift actions (free the first time but then costs a point, like opening a door), single actions which cost one of your two AP (the most common of which is moving), and turn-ending actions which generally cost 1 AP but end the turn anyway (the most common of which is attacking).
There are only three classes in Wildermyth, which keeps the core concepts you need to understand simple. Each class has a special ability that helps to define their role in combat. The warrior can essentially stand overwatch, making a melee attack against enemies that step into their range. The hunter can use the silkstep ability to enter the greyplane, which hides them from enemy view and allows them to deal a sneak attack that ignores armor. Finally, the mystic can interfuse with objects in the environment, allowing a number of magical effects based on the type of object. On top of these core class abilities the other good concepts to know are flanking and walling. Flanking an enemy by having two melee attackers at a 90 degree angle guarantees that your attack will hit. Walling by having two allies stand side by side increases their protection from enemy attacks. Positioning your characters to get the benefits of flanking and walling while best utilizing their class abilities is the core of performing well in Wildermyth’s battles.
Wildermyth isn’t just a visual novel with tactical battles between the scenes though; there’s an overland phase where you make choices about jobs for your characters to do and what missions to prioritize in what order. Map tiles are mysteries to you until they are scouted, and scouted tiles often have a battle with hostile forces in order to make the tile safe. Safe tiles can then be developed with defenses or harvested for resources to upgrade your equipment at the end of a chapter. Sometimes two tiles are not directly connected so you need to build a bridge in order to cross between them; other times you may be moving along and a unique quest for one of your heroes will interrupt your plans. All of these types of events and tasks take time, and time is a precious resource during the overland phase. Sometimes your overall goal is flat-out time limited, and not completing the final mission in time ends with negative consequences. But even if you technically have all the time in the world, there are other factors that will make you want to go quickly.
Tiles on the map can be infested by enemies, which makes the missions which take place on those tiles more dangerous. Given time to fester, these infested tiles will become an invasion force that moves through other tiles, destroying the helpful resources they hold and possibly ending your game if all the towns on the map are destroyed by invasions. Protecting against these types of threats is important to maintaining momentum – similar to something like XCOM, how you do on the overland sections of Wildermyth can make or break your ability to succeed in combat. This is particularly relevant because of the calamity mechanic, which adds new dangers to the “decks” of the different enemy types in the game. There’s no card mechanics in this game so if you read that and thought “oh god not another deckbuilder” then you can unclench your fists. The cards are simply a visual representation of what enemy types can spawn in battles within different enemy classes, or of bonuses to the types that are already able to spawn. In other words, the more time you spend in the overland phase the more dangerous your enemies become, getting new unit types to bring to bear as well as increasing their armor, health, and damage.
One nice touch with Wildermyth compared to something like XCOM is that you can customize the game’s difficulty to suit your playstyle. Say you want the battles to have a bit more bite but hate the idea of being screwed over by a mistake in the overland phase – you can adjust those difficulties separately in order to end up with just the right level of challenge for your preference. I played my first campaign at the recommended difficulty for both and found it to be a bit on the easy side, but I also had seen that campaign played before so my foreknowledge may have influenced my performance. If my second campaign is also too easy I’ll likely experiment more with the difficulty sliders to find the balance that best fits how I want to play.
What really works about Wildermyth for me is that each aspect of the game works together to support a form of storytelling focused on your characters rather than the capital p Plot of the game. The characters you choose to send on a scouting mission may encounter an unnatural phenomenon on their trip, and their personalities as well as their relationships with one another may influence how those events turn out. In one situation my mystic Kathennen came across a beautiful tree covered in sparkles like starlight. As a romantic, the idea of having her very own star appealed to her and she wanted to climb the tree. I had the choice to make her strive for the very top – barely a 30% chance of success – or to grab something from the middle which was a much safer 70% chance. I chose the middle option and her reward for her trouble was a new magic wand, a powerful artifact that when fully upgraded made her my most dangerous unit on the battlefield. But Kathennen’s power didn’t just come from the artifact – I also built her to have high-impact interfusions available to her, specializing in specific types rather than broadening her abilities to make her more versatile. By the end of the game, she could bond with two trees and use them to obliterate multiple high-level enemies in a cluster, even taking out half of the health from the final boss in a single blow and chipping away its armor for another hero to come finish the job.
Even the events that didn’t go my way still led to interesting character moments. At one point I sent one of my hunters Molbarn on a solo scouting mission. This wasn’t the best idea as there was potential to be ambushed while alone on the way to the scouting site, but I wanted to maximize my usage of time in the overland phase. Instead of running into enemies, they encountered a strange women who proposed a bit of gambling. She presented a box and told them that whatever they said was in the box would also be the cost if they lost the bet. The options included a trinket or some resources for upgrades but the option that appealed to me the most was “the essence of life itself.” This could be a potent magic item but there was a 50% chance that…what, my character would just die? I made a save and took the risk, and the situation did not play out in my favor. However, instead of killing Molbarn, they instead got the box as an artifact as well as a magical ring that gave a minor boon. As long as they held the box, a piece of their soul would be inside of it and cost them 1 health (that’s a not-insignificant chunk in Wildermyth) but there was potential that they could someday learn how to safely reclaim that piece of themselves from inside of it. My character got weaker but it made for a cool story, and it defined my playstyle with that unit moving forward – I gave Molbarn a lot of items that prioritized dodge and made sure to keep them out of the thick of combat whenever possible.
I’m writing this article more than a week before it will actually be posted. During that time I will almost certainly forget the big-picture details of the campaign I played through. I’ll probably forget the character names too. But what will stick with me are the stories that were created by the interactions of the various mechanics. My cowardly poet who overcame her cowardice to become a mighty warrior with the spirit of an ancient sword as her companion, the stealthy hunter whose life was fragmented with a piece of their soul in a strange chest, the romantic mystic who became a powerhouse wielding a wand made of starlight – these heroes feel special in the same way that characters I have made for tabletop RPGs feel special, because the experiences that they went through, the cool things they found, and the deeds they accomplished were uniquely mine. What I look forward to exploring in a future article is how these characters factor into future runs, because Wildermyth has a legacy system that references these stories and even makes the characters available again in future runs. Their retirements, their families, their next opportunity for adventure – these are the things I am most excited to see as I move forward in my journey through Wildermyth.
There’s still plenty of this game left for me to experience and I am deeply excited to dive back in. I felt even before I played it that Wildermyth would be a game uniquely suited to my tastes, and I am pleased to find that – at least early on – this is indeed the case. We’ll see if future campaigns dull the enjoyment through repeated encounters with the same set of procedurally generated events, whether the options for characters have an optimal path that indirectly discourage experimentation, or if the formula becomes stale over time as you begin to see behind the curtain and understand why the game works the way it does. I’m optimistic though that this won’t be the case and I’m anticipating that I will continue to enjoy Wildermyth for a long time to come.