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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (473)

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Tiny Tina's Wonderlands 3.5/5
Ratchet & Clank: Rift A... 4.5/5
Super Mario Bros. Wonder 4.5/5
The Alliance Alive 2/5
Catmaze 4.5/5
Turnip Boy Commits Tax ... 4.5/5
Seasons After Fall 3/5
Rayon Riddles - Rise of... 0.5/5
World to the West 4/5
MechWarrior 5: Mercenar... 4/5
Streets of Kamurocho 2.5/5
Aeon of Sands - The Tra... 2.5/5
Greak: Memories of Azur 3.5/5
Yaga 2.5/5
Riverbond 3/5
Bug Fables: The Everlas... 4.5/5
Front Mission 1st Remake 1.5/5
Middle-earth: Shadow of... 3.5/5
Bladed Fury 3.5/5
Ruzar - The Life Stone 3.5/5
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin 3.5/5
Mighty Switch Force! Co... 2.5/5
Aegis of Earth: Protono... 3/5
Torchlight III 2.5/5
Cyberpunk 2077 3.5/5

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Yaga   PC (Steam) 

Bad Luck    2.5/5 stars

“Yaga” is the inaugural development effort and currently only game release from Romanian Indie studio, Breadcrumbs Interactive, published by prolific Indie booster, Versus Evil. “Yaga” is, much like certain other big-budget “AAA” titles (like ‘The Witcher’ series), part of the growing trend of games developed in Eastern Europe by people who come from a Slavic cultural background. I don’t remember when I first became aware of “Yaga’s” existence, as the game was originally released way back in 2019 (before the Plague Years), launching on Apple’s App Store before being ported to console e-shops a month later. It wasn’t until 2021 that “Yaga” managed to finds its way through the Dark Forest of walled-garden ecosystems to Steam and the Epic Game’s Store.

Being half-Slav, I’m always interested in games and stories that focus on the broader spread of Indo-European mythology, instead of fixating so rigidly upon Anglo-Saxon tales of Knights in Shining Armor, so “Yaga” should have been right up my alley. And, from the perspective of someone who enjoys a good myth, it is. Too bad the actual game in there isn’t particularly good.

Presentation
“Yaga” is a Unity game assembled by an untested Indie studio. In spite of what we have been conditioned to expect from that particular combination of things, it doesn’t really have any major/noticeable Unity quirks or other minor issues. The art style is an almost painterly, hand-drawn affair, with plenty of unique style and personality of its own. Unfortunately, the animation engine that underlies the game’s action isn’t particularly impressive. So, while environments, characters, and monsters all look quite charming in static screenshots, in motion, everything tends to look a bit stiff and awkward.

Audio is likewise a mixed bag. There’s plenty of unique Slavic flavor in the game’s original soundtrack, but there are an equal number of bizarre choices, such as a track that features modern day sirens and a general tendency for the background music to feel like a poor match for the game’s classic, old-world visuals. “Yaga” is fully voiced, which is novel for an Indie game, and features solid performances across the board.

Technically, “Yaga” is solid. It never crashed on me, and the worst Unity quirk I encountered was the fact that the mouse cursor takes a few seconds to disappear from the startup placards leading up to the title screen. The game features native Xinput support, and never gave me any guff about using it. “Yaga” does, however, feature one DLC expansion that isn’t included in the base price, and which I didn’t buy or play because I was unaware of it until after I was finished with the base game, and didn’t really have a desire for ‘more.’

Story
“Yaga” tells the tale of an unlucky blacksmith named Ivan who lives during the Tsarist era, when witches, undead, and monsters roamed the land outside of cities, while corrupt Orthodox priests, worthless politicians, and ignoble nobility roamed inside the cities. One day while out in the woods near his village, Ivan is accosted by a one-eyed cannibalistic witch. He manages to escape, but loses his right arm at the elbow in the process.

Tales of Ivan’s terrible luck manage to make their way to the Tsar’s ear, who learns from the master manipulate (and titular character), Baba Yaga, that his rule will falter unless he removes the unluckiest man from his realm. The Tsar then sets about getting rid of Ivan by sending him on a series of increasingly-impossible quests, where Ivan will either bring back potent magic to strengthen the Tsar’s rule or die in the process. Win-win, from the Tsar’s perspective.

While each of the quests the Tsar inflicts upon Ivan are static and always come in the same order, the player is given significant leeway in determining what each quest’s ultimate outcome will be. This is one of those “choices matter” games where the choices actually do matter quite a bit, ultimately leading up to one of several very different outcomes for the story as a whole.

Because there are numerous ways for each of the game’s chapters to play out, it does seem like Breadcrumbs is trying to encourage replaying “Yaga” multiple times in order to make different choices and see how they affect various story threads. As such, in spite of the game’s brief 10-hour runtime, I can see players who get really invested in the story tripling or quadrupling their time with the game while exploring the plot’s varying branches and hunting down all the achievements.

In general, “Yaga” does a great job of exploring the dark and morally-gray nature of Slavic mythology. It takes things even further by having a number of central characters – typically witches – speak in rhyming couplets. It’s clear a lot of effort went into the writing.

Gameplay
Unfortunately, while the presentation is spiffy – if not a little bit weird – and the writing it well-executed, those two aspects are bolted onto gameplay systems that are never particularly fun.

“Yaga” purports to be some sort of “Action RPG,” but really feels more like a simplistic Beat ‘em Up with a variety of irritating RNG-based mechanics.

The game is presented from a top-down, birds-eye perspective, with the player guiding Ivan through a variety of procedurally-generated environments on his various quests for the Tsar. None of the environments feel particularly memorable or interesting, and the way in which they’re attached to Ivan’s home village feels abstract and nonsensical. Upon leaving the village, Ivan simply spawns into a procedural maze and must travel from procedural-room-to-procedural-room, beating up a number of enemies that spawn inside each room. Enemies typically drop kopeks (money), body parts (money used to trade with witches), and occasionally crafting materials. Some of the ‘rooms’ that spawn into any given environment contain NPCs who offer a side-quest or extra objective for Ivan to complete, but many of these appeared over and over and over in my experience.

Because Ivan is a blacksmith, he makes his own tools. While he starts with nothing but his forge hammer, throughout his quests for the Tsar, Ivan will pick up a small number of tool, which he attaches to the stump of his right arm, providing him with options in combat and the ability to interact with certain environmental obstacles. Ultimately, I found nearly all of the tools useless except for the grapple fork, which not only allows Ivan to move rapidly between enemies and the environment in battle, but stuns enemies, providing for valuable hammer-time. Ivan’s hammer and every unlocked tool can be used as templates to forge unique, powered-up variants at any of the anvils scattered around the game world. To forge a new weapon, the player only really needs a chunk of ore, with each of the game’s variety of ores providing a unique base ability to the new weapon. Then the player can choose to add up to three enhancement items and up to three runes to the weapon before completing it. Enhancements come in a mindbogglingly large variety, but I ultimately found the sieve upgrade that causes Ivan to throw 3 hammers instead of 1 to be indispesible, while runes can only be found in bandit caves (also procedurally generated and plopped into the game’s world).

Crafting weapons doesn’t always feel particularly rewarding, however, as Ivan’s bad luck causes everything he makes to eventually break. Crafted items don’t have a durability meter, but do flash a warning message when they’re about to break. Damaged items can be repaired (by spending another copy of the base ore) or salvaged (to get back a copy of the base ore and maybe some of the enhancement items used), but items that break simply disappear, which is kind of poopy. In order to improve his smithing abilities, Ivan must upgrade his anvil (which apparently affects all anvils, somehow) by spending specific combinations of ores and an increasing number of kopeks. This further leads to feeling like making new gear isn’t worth it until near the bitter end of the game. Even worse, the only item I found worthwhile to craft was hammers, as the basic, non-breakable versions of the various tool items always felt good enough.

Combat is very basic in “Yaga,” with Ivan able to swing his hammer in melee, throw a homing hammer (like Marvel’s Thor), utilize his equipped right-arm-stump tool (read: always grappling fork), and dodge-roll out of danger. Ivan has two oddly-named bars which represent the bog-standard health and stamina stats. Hammer attacks don’t consume stamina, but dodge-rolls and tools do.

Ivan’s luck is the other major mechanic in the game, and managing it can feel quite cumbersome early on, but by the end of the game I had practically forgotten about it. As he goes through combat and dialog trees, Ivan’s actions can generate bad luck. Upon completely filling his bad luck meter, something generally terrible will happen, such as all of his crafted items breaking or all of his blessings disappearing. Blessings and Curses are accumulating buffs that the player can acquire for Ivan by completing a quest segment, running through an infinitely-repeatable environment, making a dialog decision, or simply giving enough body parts to a witch. Most of these buffs are fairly forgettable, but some of them are particularly annoying. There’s a curse that causes Ivan to randomly drop 2 kopeks at various times as he runs around the world, forcing the player to stop and pick them up again. Perhaps my worst experience with the game, though, came in the form of a supposed ‘blessing’ whose vague description said “allows your wallet to absorb a few hits for you,” which turned out to be an absolute economy killer in the early game, as being hit by anything would rapidly deplete Ivan’s supply of kopeks to zero, leaving him unable to buy items or anvil upgrades.

Overall
While “Yaga” has a unique presentation and its story presents a heart-felt dive into the world of Slavic myth and legend, the entire experience is dragged down by the drab and lifeless gameplay. The over-reliance on procedural generation and luck for everything makes the entire game feel tedious to play, so much so that, in spite of the branching story and choices that matter, I doubt I’ll ever touch it again.

Presentation: 3.5/5
Story: 4.5/5
Gameplay: 2/5
Overall (not an average): 2.5/5

 

 


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