Crafting: that's what Wytchwood is all about. This mechanic has become extremely popular lately, appearing in many genres. In some games, it's a major feature, in others a minor one, but I think this is the first time I've seen a game where crafting is all there is. Gathering ingredients, crafting some goodies, which allow you to gather rarer materials, which then, in turn, make rarer items, with which you can collect- well you get the idea.
That's the gameplay loop here.
No base building, no combat, no survival elements, it all revolves around the gathering and crafting...and the story.
The world of Wytchwood draws much of its inspiration from European folklore and is populated by the people, talking animals, and beasties from that tradition. Many of the characters and tropes will be instantly recognizable from childhood fairytales with hints of Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, and more all getting little references or storylines. Don't be worried about it being all Disneyfied though, this isn't the saccharine sweet type of setting, but it also isn't full-on macabre either. It's kinda Roald Dahl-esque in tone, dark enough to not be cute but light enough that kids won't have nightmares.
The story itself is just an excuse to start a whole huge series of fetch quests but has enough charm and references to hold you as you explore its various biomes. It all starts with your character being awoken after a very long slumber.
By a goat. Or is it a Devil in disguise? Whatever it is, it has woken you up but not before it eats every single page from your precious spell-filled grimoire.
Which you happen to need right now as the long nap you just took had an unforeseen side effect.
It caused you to lose your memory.
Which of course means you no longer remember the spells and magic you spent your whole life collecting.
Luckily this goat, or devil, or demon, or whatever it’s supposed to be, reminds you of a few things.
It seems you and it made a deal long ago.
Hidden away behind your house, in a magically sealed cave, is the sleeping form of a beautiful maiden. Even though you don't know exactly who she is, you know she's important to you. It turns out the goat has put her under a sleeping spell of protection, to save her from some dreadful fate, and she'll only wake up again when you fulfill your part of the deal.
Which is to collect souls.
But not just any souls. These are powerful souls. Specifically, the souls of 8 magical creatures hidden around the world, creatures the goat wants dead so he can own their very essence to do with as he will.
And collecting these souls involves, yip you guessed it, a ton of crafting.
It starts simple enough, as it usually is in these games. You quickly get a set of tools for basic gathering. Shears to cut reeds, vines, and hair. A shovel to dig in clods of earth for clay and stones. An axe to chop up logs and tree stumps. A net to catch bugs, frogs, and so on. You need to use the right tool for the job or you won't be able to collect the resource you're trying to harvest.
You can also pick up a variety of objects in each biome, twigs, fruits, nuts, berries, and various fungi can all be collected, each unique to their area and with their own use. Knot a few vines together and get a rope. Combine the rope with some branches and get a trap. That trap lets you catch certain small woodland creatures and harvest their meat. Mix that meat with a soporific toadstool and you've got a bait that'll knock out a wolf.
Quickly though things become more complex. The items required to complete quests become much harder to get, requiring rarer materials and more complex recipes. You need to collect a lot of low-level items, craft with them, use the resulting spells and tools to collect the next layer of items, which allow you to collect the next, and so on. It quickly becomes a real grind to get the required crafting materials, you spend ages gathering the basics, and moving up the chain.
There are also monsters and animals to deal with. However Wytchwood doesn't have combat in the traditional sense. You don't have a sword or magic bolts. No arrows or fireballs.
What you do have is rather useful though.
At any time you can pause the action and every interactive object will be highlighted on the screen. Even better though, by hovering your cursor over the object, you also get a description and a listing of what items are needed to harvest it. As long as you have knowledge of the item beforehand, that is. This applies to any object, loose ingredients, harvestable items, and more, but where it really comes in handy is when you encounter a creature.
Creatures, whether it's wolves, goblins, tree monsters, or whatever can all do damage to your character and will chase her around if they spot her. They're easy to avoid for the most part but you will have to deal with them at some point, simply because they all have essential crafting parts you'll need to certain quests.
So how do you deal with them if you don't have weapons?
Well, just like everything else in this game, they're overcome by crafting. By using your witch's sight ability you'll be told which item is needed to defeat that creature. So wolves need drugged meat to knock them out. Tree monsters need makeshift firebombs. Leeches need spike traps. And obviously, all these items are crafted from lower ingredients. This increases the grind exponentially, each creature you need to kill for ingredients requires other ingredients to be harvested to craft the relevant item that defeats them. Finding yourself without the necessary item, especially in later biomes, can require a huge effort of collecting, crafting, collecting again, crafting again, as you try to move up the crafting tree to the item you need. You can hold a ton of ingredients, much more than other crafting games, so there's no dealing with item limits but the sheer amount of collecting, with nothing else to break it up, can get very monotonous by the end.
You will have plenty of nice art to look at though.
The action takes place from an isometric viewpoint, with the area being packed with beautifully done sprite work to admire. Everything has a hand-drawn look, with a "cut from paper" style that really fits the fairytale setting. Character designs, whether NPC quest givers or enemies, are excellent and fit the feel perfectly. Your character, the witch, has particularly good styling in my opinion. Her helmet, with its 4 glowing eye slits, feels particularly unique and it was nice to see that they didn't go the usual stereotypical route of green skin and a wart on the nose.
The environments too are very detailed with each biome being packed with little elements to catch the eye. The forest for instance is covered with the expected trees and foliage, with roots, flowers, and vines scattered throughout. These provide greenery and spots of color that both look great and serve as hiding places for both enemies and collectibles. If there's a downside it's that some parts of some biomes can be a little too cluttered, with leaves and trees obscuring your view when collecting resources. The Witch's Sight is great for negating this though, highlighting them despite the busy background.
In the end, Wytchwood is an interesting and relaxing game but unfortunately gets a little repetitive and grindy in places. Collecting resources and discovering new spells is very interesting at first, creating the needed traps and spells rewarding. It becomes a chore though. When a creature has a needed resource but requires you to track down a ton of resources and craft a load of items. Going through the whole routine of collecting, crafting, killing, crafting, collecting, and crafting again becomes a real hassle especially if it means going through a whole bunch of biomes. You do always know exactly what you need to do and where to go but this sometimes adds to the frustration. Knowing how much running around you'll need to do before getting the required stuff can be off-putting. Simply walking around the world can be a joy. Exploring the gorgeous biomes and seeking out new resources is as rewarding as in any game of this type. Character designs are great and environments detailed.
If only there was more to do than just crafting. With no puzzles to work out, combat to deal with, or bases to build, the game becomes a constant "collect and craft" type experience. Those expecting more might find Wytchwood a little disappointing but those who love a pure crafting experience might find some fun here. Just be warned, it can get a bit grindy and repetitive in the long term. Keep this in mind and you'll be good.
Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review
Xbox Store Page: https://www.xbox.com/en-ca/games/store/wytchwood/9p40fjdr9bzr
Final Score: 7/10
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