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Wildermyth is a turn-based tactical game that begs for one more turn

What if Civilization, but with procedurally generated narrative?

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Fans of the Civilization series rave about its addictive appeal, how it keeps pulling them back for “one more turn” before they call it a night. Turn-based tactical games, on the other hand, are rarely quite as sticky. They keep trying to rope players in for another mission, but committing upward of an hour to a tense urban engagement in XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is a far cry from hitting the “end turn” button in Sid Meier’s Civilization 6 to see what those punks in Thebes are up.

For all its intensity, Civilization’s rounds are far more passive than in other strategy games. Thebes is out there living its best life, and the player is just there to bear witness most of the time. But what if you could have it both ways? What if a game was seeded with moments of dramatic, turn-based tactical gameplay that demand attention while also delivering the kind of wild narrative swings that come courtesy of a rich, complex world spiraling out of control?

Wildermyth, currently in Steam Early Access, is searching for this middle road. The narrative role-playing game blends micro-doses of thrilling turn-based action with lengthy, comic book-style narrative. It’s all driven by procedural generation, with care taken to tie long-running storylines together into something coherent. If it all comes together, it could be something very special.

A procedurally generated character sheet for Colyvien, the poetical romantic farmer. “The tale unnerve all who heard it. The woodcarver emerged from the witchling forest in the starlight, holding an infant daugher. ... A tea-breathing stranger spoke to her in a dream about the future. ...
The writing in Wildermyth is surprisingly good, with flashes of humor throughout. Character backstories tie into stats, and give the procedurally generated narrative weight and meaning.
Image: Worldwalker Gamers

When you begin a game of Wildermyth, you’re given control of a party with three characters. Each of them have their own unique backstory and their own unique personality, which contributes to their alignment. While more traditional RPG stats like strength and dexterity contribute to the game’s combat, personalities impact the storyline. That story plays out on screen as a series of comic book-style panels, each frame featuring an accurate image of my character at that point in the story.

What’s remarkable about Wildermyth is just how much ground it manages to cover in a short amount of time. In the opening hour of my first campaign, two members of my party fell in love, one of them merged with a fire spirit, and another became a half-raven. By the time that hour was over I had also fought a half-dozen challenging turn-based battles, and embarked on an epic quest to rid the land of a monstrous threat.

That first hour concluded with a wonderful little boss fight, before rewarding my characters with “nine years of peace.” During the interlude, the party went their separate ways, learning new skills and even building their own families. And all of it was explained by those same clever little comic strips.

Aumdia Marten is now a Bronzehorn Hunter, says the prompt, allowing the player to choose a bard subclass, a heroism perk, or a new combat skill.
At the end of major arcs, individual characters transform by adding on new perks and skills. There’s always at least one or two options to pick from that make sense for that particular character’s journey.
Image: Worldwalker Games via Polygon

Then, in my second hour of play, the narrative picked up right where it left off. The party came together once more, before embarking on an entirely new questline. The main characters each edged closer to retirement, and were joined by their children on the trail of a new set of monsters. By the end of that hour I had two different parties traveling through the world, each one contributing to the evolution of the game’s narrative, which became more and more complex as the adventures piled up.

It was at the beginning of my third hour of play that I began to feel that tug, the desire for just one more turn. But it wasn’t because I wanted to explore more of the game’s turn-based combat — which tends toward short and sweet. Instead, I wanted to see how the lives of my little characters played out.

A field of cards shows all the Calamities in play right now. They’re divided into stacks, like a game of solitaire, with a row for each of the game’s monster types.
As the story progresses the larger world becomes a more dangerous place. Enemy buffs, called Calamities, stack up. The only way to remove them is by succeeding at quests and spending party experience to cancel them.
Image: Worldwalker Games via Polygon

The challenge for Worldwalker Gamers, the team making Wildermyth, is cramming more potential stories into the game itself. Every playthrough needs to feel unique, but so does the storyline of each generation of characters within that single playthrough. While the characters and the map itself are all randomly generated, the stories are all handcrafted, then laid out one after another like stepping stones by the game engine itself. To beef up the selection, developers have opened up their design tools to the community itself. Now anyone who purchases the game can contribute to its development, making new quests and events to be considered for inclusion by the developers.

Worldwalker says it expects Wildermyth to be in early access from six months to a full year. That puts the final release some time in the second half of 2020. You can pick it up right now on Steam for just $19.99 and on for $20.

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