Equal parts morbid and pleasant, a perfect companion for the more reserved of Halloween fans. Wytchwood is a crafting and gathering game at its core with a focus on being a more relaxed and casual gameplay experience to enjoy no matter your skill level. Grounded within a Brother’s Grimm-like setting and presented as a children’s storybook, you play as an amnesiac witch who wakes up to find a demonic goat in her house who speaks of a dark contract and the promise of recovering her memories upon delivery of select ill-reputed souls from across beloved fairy tale and fable. Armed with a half-eaten grimoire and the discerning “Witch Eye” she embarks on her adventure where every character provides the background for those sage moral lessons in kindness, humility and respect - just like in every good children’s book. After all, how will they ever learn if you don’t teach them the moral of the story?
Developer Whitethorn Games leads with a mission statement: “We’re an indie game publisher focusing on pleasant, cosy games that can be played in pieces, that require no special skills or knowledge, and that anyone can pick up and play. We’re believers in accessibility, inclusion, and widening the audience that gets to play. We like to consider ourselves the defenders of easy games.” So, kick your feet up, light a candle and enjoy the ride as the calming music belies the more macabre setting of famine, poverty and oppression… although that’s not to say this game is without some degree of sunshine and positivity.
In what would be considered a rather atypical reception for a Witch, society as a whole welcome her. Like in any storybook, the naivety of the characters shine through. They are quick to tell the Witch their woes and she just as quick to step in and solve them. A champion of the downtrodden, the Witch spends the majority of her time exchanging witty remarks and raining judgement upon the ne’er-do-wells of this beguiling story filled with suffering and torment, befriending an unlikely cast of characters along the way.
As the developer claims in their mission statement, Wytchwood poses no threat to difficulty and while there are enemies in the game, they are easily avoided or dealt with via your alchemically brewed traps, spells and potions providing you’ve gathered the right supplies to craft them. Therein lies the rub, with only one singular way to dispatch of each enemy type (designated by your Witch Eye), you get used to backtracking across the 8 maps for ingredients at nauseum. Luckily it doesn’t take too long to gather what you need; it’s simply required a bit too often to be considered “fun”.
Nevertheless, things happen very quickly in Wytchwood which is great for keeping your attention. Straight from the get-go the stage is set and you’re thrown straight into gathering items for your first potion. Designed to be enjoyed in bite-sized chunks, story quests unlock in sets of 4 and will see you juggling these self-contained stories at the same time as each other. As you advance through the questlines, you’ll eventually reach a roadblock where you’ll need to travel to new locations for ingredients as marked by your Grimoire. What this does however is overwhelmingly split your focus for items in too many different directions across various locations, not to mention how it can tangle the narrative pace and lead you to forget your place in each quest. It would have been nice if the game included a custom checklist to better organise your tasks and track ingredient quotas - minimising the need to backtrack.
While not totally linear, Wytchwood’s design paves the way for a more naturally progressive story, free from distraction and side-quests. The downside here is that the storybook presentation and narrative aren’t totally complimentary to the interactive medium of games and leans too heavily on describing what is happening rather than showing you. Animation is limited to the gameplay alone and any dynamic interaction between characters are left to blocks of text to fill in the gaps - compensating where the game’s style of presentation lacks. Think of games like Divinity or Pillars of Eternity and you’re not far off.
Trophy Hunters beware
Wytchwood is short and sweet, clocking in at around 10hours to complete requiring no more than simple play to unlock all of its trophies, it’s an enticing game for those that are seeking an easy Platinum for their accounts. However, a long-standing bug has made the road less than straight forward. Trophies are temperamental and have a tendency to pop late, if at all and while players have managed to find a work around to force them, it’s not foolproof and requires perseverance. Method is as follows: close the game, disconnect from the internet, reopen the game and “Load” the save file rather than hitting continue. The missing trophies should appear once you’re loaded in… although I myself had to struggle for a couple days to get them to pop.
Ultimately, I had an overall positive experience with Wytchwood and I really enjoyed the gothic, storybook aesthetic and sense of calm that the soundtrack and gameplay promote in the player. Despite its flaws and a rather obvious but unresolved ending, it’s an adequately seasonal and therapeutic game but I’m glad it wasn’t any longer than it was.