Wytchwood Review: toil and trouble
Oh good, you’re awake. Finally. You’ve been sleeping for aaaaaages. Or not. Hard to say really, as time seems to flow differently around your… rather humble abode. Anyway, to business — I’m here to collect. You know, our agreement? Why are you looking at me like that, did you hit your head or something? You owe me, and I’m saying it’s time to pay up. I don’t care if you’ve forgotten about our contract, a deal’s a deal. So while you’re running around and fulfilling your half of the agreement, maybe something will spark in that memory bank of yours and remind you why you asked for my assistance in the first place… and why it comes with such a heavy price.
So begins Wytchwood, a story-rich crafting saga spanning 8+ distinct and lovingly illustrated biomes. Available on PC and consoles for a fair price of $19.99, Wytchwood allows players to take on the role of an old witch so they may “explore a strange countryside, collect magic ingredients, brew sorcerous spells, and pass judgement upon a capricious cast of characters.” A roughly 10 – 15 hour romp through the woods, swamp, fields, graveyards, and more, Wytchwood is surprisingly addicting, time whizzing by while traipsing around these enchanting worlds.
As mentioned above, Wytchwood has players taking on the role of a lone witch who has suddenly awaken from a suspiciously deep slumber by a rampaging goat. Shaking off the drowsiness, the witch shoos the goat out of her home, only to notice that it had eaten all but one of the pages in her grimoire. Upset, she launches outside to chase the goat, only to learn that the goat can speak! Startled, she asks the goat why they’ve eaten practically all the pages in her magical spell book and why they’ve even intruded upon her home. The answer surprises her even more — the goat has come to collect on their part of the deal they’d struck — a deal the witch has no memory of making. Forced to find out more on her own, the witch obeys the goat’s commands: gather the souls of 12 animals, such as the bear, ox, leech, and snake, and bring them back to the goat. Or else.
Although it’s dangerous to venture out into the unknown with only a healing spell to her name, the witch is wise and quickly remembers potion and crafting recipes during her travels. Good thing, too, as gaining the souls of the animals means less fighting with brawn and instead with brain, the witch outwitting her targets through use of mystical items, magical concoctions, everyday tools, and the help of a handful of colorful characters. It’s a tough job, but apparently the witch has to do it!
So what does capturing the souls of the animals look like? Well… it’s like this. Each animal is wreaking havoc in its little corner of the world in one way or another — for example, the leech is busy sucking the blood out of people and blaming their deaths on a mysterious plague, while the bear has held an entire platoon hostage to its recreations of victorious battles, quite literally drunken with power while doing so (honey mead). The way to their souls is either interestingly circuitous or downright tedious depending on how much you love fetch quests, as this game is essentially a long, long, loooooong chain of them. To get to the bear, you’ll need to bribe the guards with coins you found in another area, then throw increasingly complex ingredients into the brewery vat, starting with things you found on the ground and moving up to things you’ve crafted several times to get to the end of the line. It’s a constant cycle of resource gathering, crafting, and then storyline, with about a 60%-30%-10% spread, respectively.
Speaking of story, the writing leans heavily into fairytale territory with moments of humor sprinkled throughout. Wytchwood’s sense of humor is on par for what you’d expect a children’s storybook made for adults to be, as the content isn’t necessarily childish but the humor relies predominately on outlandish situations. Crafting a literal humble pie for a bandit makes him realize he never wanted to be a thief and confesses, through tears and a mouthful of food, that he’d rather be a dancer. A woman loses her husband to the “mysterious plague” and, upon delivering the bad news, isn’t grief-stricken and is instead annoyed at the fact that she (you) now has to go to all this trouble to reanimate his corpse so he can return home to her. The word choice and pacing may read like a fairytale, but the twists and turns add some laughs that the normally grim stories don’t typically offer.
Although I personally found Wytchwood to be rather enchanting, I enjoy me a good fetch quest game. If the idea of hoarding ingredients, brewing potions, and crafting items to solve NPC problems like a haunted mansion or a greedy landlord isn’t your cauldron of witches’ brew, you’re not going to have the best of times roaming the forest, swamp, and catacombs doing just that. Luckily, the respawn rates for items is unusually high, so if you make the rounds in an area for 10 – 15 minutes you’ll stock up on all the necessities pretty quickly. In this sense, it can feel a bit grindy, but it’s better than traipsing all the way to one end of the map, only to realize you’re missing a single ingredient clear across on the other side (thank goat for the fast travel option).
Despite the unavoidable tediousness that comes with these types of games, Wytchwood was a surprisingly lovely experience that I couldn’t put down. Let’s face it — there aren’t many games that allow you to play an old, no-nonsense bog witch, a role I’d sincerely been seeking for some time. Coupled with a whimsical art style and serene soundtrack to match, Wytchwood was wonderfully engrossing and a genuine delight to play. And with the bonus of all achievements being progress-based, Wytchwood will please the crafting crowd, the narrative driven, and completionists alike.
Wytchwood may only be a 10 – 15 hour romp, but those hours are packed to the brim with exploring, crafting, puzzle-solving, storytelling, world-building, and more. A subtly magical experience, Wytchwood’s secrets slowly open up over the course of the game in such a nuanced way, you’ll be eagerly watching out of the corner of your eye for novelty from start to finish. Wytchwood made my bog witch dreams come true, and if you love a good fetch quest game, I’m positive this will be your cup of witches’ brew too.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC (reviewed); Publisher: Whitethorn Digital, WhisperGames; Developer: Alientrap; Players: 1; Released: December 9, 2021; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Wytchwood provided by the publisher.