A couple weeks ago I found myself spinning my wheels during my free time. While I had a couple of games I was poking away at – both Splatoon 2 and Ganbare! Super Strikers – I didn’t feel strongly enough about either one to keep playing them at a sustained pace. After an hour or two with each I was ready for a break. Now sometimes I use that time to do other non-gaming hobbies but in this instance I was really in a gaming mood. So I decided to boot up Wildermyth, the indie tactics RPG about creating a legacy of mythic adventures. It’s a game I deeply loved when I played it at the start of the year and its relatively short runs along with a mechanical approach that fits my “comfort game” style very well makes it a good fit for killing some time.
As I prepared to start the game, I got curious about what sort of mods might be available for it. At least for a time, Wildermyth had a decently robust modding scene and while I had tried a couple of cosmetic mods, I didn’t particularly have a lot of experience with mods that made significant mechanical changes or added new story content to the game. For those not familiar with Wildermyth: most of the game’s campaigns are interspersed with randomly selected events from a huge pool of possibilities based on the personalities and relationships of the characters in your party, as well as what other events they’ve been a part of. Having played almost a dozen campaigns during my original time with the game, I felt like I had seen the majority of the original events at least once and there were certain ones I was deeply exhausted of.
With that in mind, I started downloading. I wanted to focus primarily on mods with new story events, so I scooped up a pack or two as well as one well-reviewed single event. There were a couple of mods with events specifically related to relationships between the characters: opportunities to change relationships or just more time dedicated to showing couples or rivals being how they are. Another mod increased the probability for characters to be gay or bisexual. The other mods I picked all made mechanical changes. I added new weapon and armor pieces, new abilities to learn for each class as well as abilities which added new pet creatures to the game, plus the ability to trade in materials for new materials as well as free rerolls for the character abilities when increasing in tier. With all this new content added to the game, I booted it up and started a generic three chapter campaign.
The differences became evident almost immediately. After your first battle the characters always unlock an ability for their chosen class. All of my characters had abilities available from the mods I had installed. I picked new abilities for my warrior and hunter, but didn’t particularly care for the new mystic ability I had rolled so I just added one I was familiar with instead. The very first random event I got was a mod event where two characters were competing for the hand of the third. I got to choose who fell in love and was pleased to see that the Reorienter mod had successfully added a lot more LGBTQ+ characters into the mix. Once I had a couple in play, I started to get events emphasizing their relationship and showing them together pretty frequently.
By the end of the first chapter while I did appreciate some of the new elements the mods had introduced, I was also starting to run into some issues. With one exception, the majority of my events were romance events between the two lovers. One was an opportunity to make them rivals instead of lovers, which at my child’s suggestion I decided to ignore. Another was a very simple event that only contained a couple of lines of dialogue, not adding a significant amount to the characterization of the lovers nor to the lore of the broader story. I had traded getting tired of the game’s original events that I had seen five or six times for getting tired of seeing only romance events instead.
Mechanically things weren’t going great either. Each time my characters increased in tier I’d get a new set of abilities to choose from. Occasionally some of the new abilities would catch my interest, but a problem I was running into was that there weren’t a lot of opportunities for synergy between the abilities I was getting. I’d see a cool upgrade – like one for my hunter that gave them reaction attacks in Grayplane – and be able to think of another ability from the game that would combo well. But the larger pool of abilities meant a smaller chance to get any one ability when increasing in tier, like putting too many nonessential cards in your deck for a trading card game. And a lot of the new abilities didn’t feel like they were adding much to the game. Some were niche – like the ability to add a magic-protection barrier when most enemies in Wildermyth do physical damage. Others seemed like one time trump cards, like the ability to convert physical attack power to potency and make a magic attack but only once per battle.
As the game went on, it was becoming increasingly clear to me that most of these mods which I had added weren’t improving the game. Rather, they were interfering with the tight design that made the game work as well as it did. Developers make choices intentionally when they design their game, and it’s not until you make new decisions in their place that you start to understand why they were made in the first place. Increasing the number of events that focused on the relationship between one pair of characters took away from the mythmaking aspect of the game. I couldn’t tell you all that much about Cari and Narfune, the lovers in my current run. They flirt a lot and they’ve had some dates but neither one feels as if they’ve been through events like some of my legacy heroes.
Two lovers from my second campaign, Madgwen and Tilly, still stand out to me because of the experiences I remember them surviving together. Madgwen stood by Tilly and fought against the pig of her insides to protect the parasites living in her soul-forest. Tilly watched Madgwen take the oath of Lochias and become a wolf-headed warrior, and still loved her in spite of her new face. Wildermyth creates stories in a very specific way – it’s about mythology rather than the character development of any one individual. The romance and rivalries are meant to color interactions and give them flavor but never be the centerpiece. When that system is changed, it impacts how the stories play out in a way that I personally feel is detrimental.
Then there are the mechanical elements. The number of unique class abilities in Wildermyth is relatively small; it is meant to be expanded only by the transformations the characters receive during their journeys, which generally only add one new move to the mix. Keeping the move pool small and focused allows for great synergy between the abilities while still offering a bit of customization; there are enough abilities in each class pool to build a few distinct character types even though the total class selection is very small. Each ability feels important and useful and seems to have at least one other move it can combine with in interesting ways, including moves a character in another class might bring to the table. Adding more abilities seems as if it would add a bunch of new possibilities but in practice it thins the pool and makes combos harder to achieve without rerolling aggressively.
Now free rerolls are one of the mods I’ve attempted as well, but I find that one too detracts from the game for me rather than adding to it. Part of the challenge of Wildermyth is making the most effective character you can out of whatever abilities show up when you increase in tier. This sometimes forces you to pick between some abilities you’ve never tried before, or try to make the best out of a set that doesn’t quite fit the character you have built so far. It’s also fun to choose abilities that feel as if they reflect the character’s experiences; when my aforementioned hero Madgwen retired and taught a student, I chose to give that student the Wolfcall ability not because of its mechanical effect or because it enhanced the hero’s build but because it made sense for wolf-headed Madgwen to howl to Lochias when she made kills, and her student picked up the habit.
Were all the mods I downloaded bad? Absolutely not. Most of the ones I’ve mentioned here that made my experience lesser in some way all work as advertised and don’t break the game. They’re good mods. But their addition to the game made even clearer for me which parts of the original game really work. The number of abilities and their substance, the types of events available for your characters to experience, and how new abilities are chosen when advancing characters are all elements of the game that I appreciate more knowing how moving in a different direction impacts the experience. Wildermyth is a well-designed game, and by experiencing it with mods included I developed a greater appreciation for just how strong that design truly is.