I’ve been playing a bunch of Wildermyth recently. I’ve played through almost all of the campaigns on my own, some of them multiple times with different groups of people, and there’s only one left that I haven’t played at all. At this point, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good grasp on the storytelling pieces of this game, even if I don’t always remember the particulars of every encounter. Throw in a general understanding of the strategy behind the game and a nearly complete understanding of how all the abilities synergize (except for Hero Theme abilities, since I’m still working on collecting all of those), and I feel like there are no real secrets left for me. I’m sure there’s plenty of random encounters I haven’t run into, given my penchant for creating specific types of heroes, but I’m working to correct those biases and hopefully I’ll eventually be able to tick through all the achievements as evidence of my gameplaying breadth.
That said, I’ve begun to run into an issue. It took a while, because the whole game just feels so novel and new, with the legacy system and the ability to continue to grow my heroes from one play-through to the next, but I started to realize that I don’t find most of the stories particularly compelling. So far, the only one I’ve been actually invested myself in is All The Bones of Summer. There’s a lot of really cool ideas and lots of potential in that story, but most of it comes to nothing in the end. The potential for an antihero is dashed upon the necessity of unveiling one non-player character’s true motives and the way they tease potential understanding between two intelligent peoples in the world is undercut in order to maintain the rise of the true villain. There’s a lot of foreshadowing and some cool narrative building, but it leaves that story feeling like the villain just keeps changing. It, more than any other story, leaves you in a position of wondering why the characters didn’t just finish off an enemy when they clearly had a chance instead of just standing around while a lot of dialogue happened. It’s like they forget that bows and magic exist once an enemy they need to kill turns away.
In the face of the amazing accomplishment that is the game overall, with the varied writing for all the different types of heroes you can make, with the ability to replace characters entirely should someone you thought was plot essential actually die, with the ability to pop up a seemingly endless number of random encounters that make sense to exist in the world you’re playing in, this gripe feels small. This is a game about the way that the bones of stories are recycled from one myth to another. How stories exist in cycles and in conversation with each other. It isn’t about overarching narrative other than as a tool to hold together the loose pieces that make up the character-centric stories we’re telling. After all, none of this stuff is about the narrative threads tying the story together but the characters who move them.
That is the only way a game like this could work. If the stories weren’t truly about the people moving through time, forging their own legends, then having so many disparate and random pieces would make for an unpleasant experience. Since the writers creating the game knew what they were doing, keeping it character centric, with each mini-story have a main and supporting characters that can either establish an aspect of those characters or build on an existing one, it all fits together flawlessly. In fact, it worked so well that I didn’t notice I wasn’t really engaging with the plot of the campaigns until this time, when there was enough meat there to really snag my interest. Now, though, as I go to wrap up the campaign, I feel like the story was really about the foes my characters are facing and the high death toll on their end of things has left me feeling adrift. I wanted to see things turn out unexpectly, to see unlikely alliances form as betrayals were discovered. To see growth and to watch characters gain wisdom that let them see beyond their life and the lives of those around them.
I’m going to continue to play the game. If nothing else, the gameplay loop of it is very pleasant and I think I can turn the chapter-based, fully random campaigns into an interesting story generator. I will be able to derive endless hours of entertainment from those two things even if they never add another campaign. Plus, the developers keep updating the game to add more encounters, tweak existing ones, and refine abilities, all of which is honestly pretty fun. These subtle changes, every so often, tweak the gaming experience in ways that are usually difficult to notice but make the game feel like something the developers also play and enjoy and continue to improve because they want to make a game they’ll enjoy themselves, instead of continuing to provide a service to their supporters. I really can’t recommend the game enough, even if you aren’t interested in a story generator, because it will easily give you dozens of hours of fun and it’s probably priced much lower than it aught to be, given the work that went into it.