A pop-up picture book with a lovely feel - but busywork intrudes too often.
I am repeatedly drawn to games with strong visuals, and Wytchwood was no exception. In its very first moment, you wake up as a witch, herself a plump figure with what looks like a pot for a head, in a hut that looks like it comes straight out of a fairy tale pop-up book. Everything from your bookshelf to the cauldron bubbling away on the hearth looks slightly two-dimensional, and yet the setting seems to be teeming with life.
To soothe the witch's creaking bones, you gather a few ingredients and learn how to mix a potion using your grimoire, a nicely intuitive process with simple controls even on consoles. An annoying goat turns out to be a demon that orders you to collect souls if you want to fulfil your contract with it - a contract the old lady unfortunately can't even remember.
What she does remember, though, is how to mix potions, and how to use her witch's eye to tell you what different creatures you come across are weak to. And so you explore a number of beautiful landscapes and...kill most of the creatures within them for parts. The witch can build and lay traps for critters, chop wood, catch pixies with a net and pickpocket people given the right tools, and much more. The materials she gains are then used to make more complicated items, both regular and magical in nature. On your travels, you will encounter different people and anthropomorphic folk that will ask you favours or swap you items you need to make something else down the line.
In the spirit of any good fairy tale, these tasks can turn quite morbid - you have to craft a few digestive tablets, for example, in order to get the frog king to burp up the corpse of an old woman's husband. All in a day's work. The different characters never talk to you for long, but they really come to life thanks to some excellent portraits with a really memorable visual style. The writing, too, is tonally really well done, capturing the atmosphere of a fairy tale perfectly with some pitch-perfect prose, although it can get a little too goofy sometimes - the race allegory about black sheep being bullied by white sheep didn't really land with me, and neither did the vegetable farmer with the German accent. But it's all harmless, which unfortunately also applies to the general plot.
Here's the real catch - Wytchwood is essentially a whole game of busywork, the fetch quests other games can afford to tag on to artificially lengthen playtime. For five of the roughly ten hours, I found the gameplay very relaxing in a mindless sort of way, but then I delivered my first set of souls only to find I had to go do the same thing over again in different locations.
Had Wytchwood ended there instead, I would have remembered it as a game with a lot of love for the craft - excellent foley design and controls (although quests in the onscreen UI can be a little hard to read), a soothing soundtrack and a lot of interesting item combinations, largely accessible quest design.
Instead, I came to slightly resent it as a game that would not end, and that sent me back down a well for water... well, more often than was fun, because no matter how many materials I tried to collect just in case, I would always miss just that one thing and start a rather tedious backtracking process for it. In many ways, Wytchwood accomplishes what it set out to do by being exactly what it says on the tin, an adventure about crafting. It just overstays its welcome by quite a large margin to fit all of its ideas in, stumbling over its own grand fairy tale.
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