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Wildmender Review

Wildmender Review

When I first heard the basic premise of Wildmender, I was dubious at best: the thrill of adventure, the anxiety of survival, and the lofi chill of gardening seemed like mixing mashed potatoes with your vanilla ice cream. Can Muse Games pull it off, or is this another mishmash of genres gone wrong?

Let’s start from the beginning. In Wildmender, you wake up next to an oasis in the desert. You are surrounded by nothing but sand, rubble, and a giant, withered tree from which the only source of water seems to seep. Before you can get your bearings, you meet a spirit of sorts that gives you the details. The world has been turned into a big wasteland by evil Wraiths, corrupting and killing the land. Vidays, for that is their name, tells you that they don't remember much, as the ne'er-do-well are using fragments of them to power “outposts”, which are the source of the corruption. Tasking you with going to one of the nearby outposts to check it out, you are set on your way, though not before learning the ropes. As a disclaimer, this game can be played with up to three friends online, but since I have none, I stuck to it solo.

Oh, what could have been!

The gameplay of Wildmender can be divided into two sections: survival-adventure and gardening. This is fitting, as the game also features a day and night cycle, with each being optimal for one type of gameplay. To start things off, during the day, the two prominent features of the game are most present: gardening and surviving. In terms of survival, you have three metres to track, which consists of thirst, hunger, and health. If either thirst or hunger hits zero, you’re going to have a bad time, as your health will shortly start ticking down until you either fix the issue or fall to the floor. This is doubly important to keep an eye on during the day, as the desert sun is quite warm, to put it mildly. Thankfully, one of the first things you craft (yes, the game has crafting) is a water bottle to keep some life-giving water with you. Be wary, however, as that little bottle will be empty very quickly, meaning you may find yourself in a canoe with no water to paddle on. In my experience, the hot days were, instead, best used for gardening!

Many survival games feature some sort of gardening in their mechanics, usually boiling down to creating farms for both crafting materials and sustenance. Wildmender’s approach is somewhat different, though, as it doesn’t focus on resource gathering to the same extent. Don’t get me wrong, you get resources for crafting and food, but that's just a bonus. The main goal of gardening is to slowly return the area to the verdant green it used to be! It works like this: you start off with the aforementioned oasis and a small clump of soil. During your adventures, you’ll come across the basic survival stuff, i.e. rocks and sticks, but additionally, you’ll find seeds. Bring these seeds back with you, and you can get to planting! You are free to place the seeds as you like within the area (or even in the desert, if you want), with the game giving you some info on how the plant would prosper in said spot.

Thunk it down and waited a while, then bam! New tree, flower, or mushroom. Each plant has variations, such as wild — a sturdier plant, or giant — beeg. Given time, the plants will then produce more seeds, which you can then use for crafting, eating, or planting. I enjoyed the system quite a bit more than I expected, as I found myself planning my no-longer-so-little garden to a fair bit of detail. The gardening is simple enough that you can just plonk down plants and forget about it, but offers enough minutiae, such as some plants liking shade and some light, that you can find your own level of involvement. And to be honest, seeing my first bit of Dunegrass evolve into a mighty garden with varying biomes and little frog buddies was very satisfying. Full points, Wildmender!

So, using up the paralysingly hot days on gardening is all well and good, but what about the night? Well, before I get into that, let me just say that the game is absolutely lovely to look at during the day. The lighting is beautiful, and the amber desert sands shine beautifully, which is offset by the dead flora in a sad but stunning way. But just wait, as the night is even better. When the first night fell during my first day of play, I was honestly speechless. The plants you have nurtured suddenly come to life with lights and all of the dead plants in the desert come to a ghostly white bloom. It is hard to describe, but it is one of my top 10 gaming moments of the year.

Vidays does not approve of flying dragon squirrels!

Though it's completely possible to do whatever, whenever you want, adventuring during the night is advisable for two reasons. One, less draining on your water levels. Two, ghosts. No, you didn’t read that wrong: ghosts! During the night, spirits of denizens past will roam the land, waiting for you to find and interact with them. These spirits are, thankfully, friendly — unlike the Wraiths — and hearing their story will net you a Memory, representing their skills and knowledge and your primary resource for levelling up. More about that in a bit.

Anyway, night. The accursed sun no longer reigns supreme, so it's time for some adventure! Exploring in the game plays out much like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: you can run around freely, climb walls, and chop down trees and plants to your heart's desire! It’s not very complex; it gets the job done and is enjoyable, at least after a while. In the beginning, you are a bit slow, have few resources, and have no way of getting home fast, so going too far from your starting point can be disastrous! Thankfully, playing the plot of the game far enough will net you the option to use Sigil Gates, which acts like a quick travel network. I encountered a few bugs here and there during my playthrough, but they were minor things, like clipping into the wall while climbing or being stuck in an animation pose.


I'm Mushroom Poppins, Y'all!

So, Memories. These resources come in five flavours: Survival, Spiritual, Arcane, Secret and Guidance, each representing an aspect of gameplay. Ghosts and graves can provide memories of the first three, with the others being a bit more complex. Survival skills, as may be expected, focus on tools and construction. Arcane focuses on the use of sigils and mirrors, and Spiritual skills consist of communing with the spirits of both flora and fauna, allowing you to befriend creatures and improve the wellness of plants.

The Secret skills are analogous to achievements: grow enough variations of a certain plant, unblock spring, or almost die of poisoning! The requirements for each skill are hidden until you do something related to it, and the rewards are often passive buffs. The final category, Guidance, represents in-game progression; by clearing outposts and completing quests, you will gradually unlock new abilities and modes of transportation. I don’t want to spoil what they are, but these skills especially helped me keep playing, as the benefits were usually great in terms of gameplay and exploration! In addition to spirit small talk, another way to earn memories is via combat!

The combat in Wildmender is very simple. You have a mirror charm, with which you can do two things: pew out a projectile of light or create a small barrier around yourself to deflect incoming missiles. These two skills, with the addition of a dodge, are all you have in your basic arsenal, but it’s honestly all you need. The combat is very basic, with enemies telegraphing attacks clearly and not doing nor taking that much damage. The combat is clearly not meant to be the focus, though I wonder if the game would have been better with or without it. Nevertheless, defeated enemies drop resources, some of which are scrolls which give you precious extra memories, so there is some incentive to fight instead of just running off.

So, during the day, you tend to the garden, and at night, you wander around, simple as that! While the actual game has more depth than this, the basic gameplay loop is fun and satisfying even with this basic mechanic. The plot of the game is not a constant presence, usually hopping up whenever you complete a major quest, but it felt like I was free to engage with it as much — or as little — as I preferred. The musical presentation was pretty good, though there is a notable lack of voice acting, which made all the interactions somewhat dull.

After a while, you may even encounter horrid dust storms! SO COARSE, ROUGH, AND IRRITATING!

Finally, I also have to mention that the game does a fantastic job in terms of difficulty and acceptability management. Instead of the classic easy, normal, and hard options, Wildmender lets players tweak the settings to a more thorough degree: for example, you can tweak how much damage you take, how much health you regenerate, which events can happen, and so on, making it easy to make the game fit your comfort level! Additionally, you can select what kind of cursor and crosshair you prefer, in addition to dialogue size and other options.

Before we go into the final summary of my thoughts, there is an ecological elephant in the room. Yes, the game has an environmental message to convey, which should be obvious by the cooperation Muse Games has been doing with the Rainforest Alliance. The message of the game is, to its credit, subtle. You are in a world without plants, due to which the seas have dried; the land has become inhospitable and is ravaged by dust storms. To remedy this, the best way is to return trees and plants to life and revive the land. It works as just a fun game, but if you stop to think, the implications are pretty obvious, which I respect! It’s not in your face about it, instead being mostly implied.

Restoring the forests, one cactus at a time!

Wildmender is a beautiful game with a lovely soundscape. The world is fun to explore and the skills you unlock are a happy surprise each time, especially if you’re not expecting them. Watching your little garden grow and change was honestly a treat and strangely captivating. The combat is a bit dull and the lack of voice acting was a bit of a bummer, but those were minor issues in the grand scheme of things. Wildmender is a game I didn’t expect to like but ended up becoming one of my favourites of the year.

8.50/10 8½

Wildmender (Reviewed on Windows)

This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.

Wildmender is a beautiful game that manages to balance cosy gardening with epic adventure and ruthless survival. One of my favourite games of the year. And you can hug frogs.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Martin Heath

Martin Heath

Staff Writer

Professional Bungler

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