Hidden Gems of Gamescom: The Cruel Whimsy of Yaga

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One of the best things about Gamescom is just strolling the halls, aimlessly looking for something to play. It’s been a mad dash for Sam and me, often having to sprint past hordes of fans just to make it across the wildly enormous convention centre to be on time for your next appointment. It’s a special kind of professional adrenaline and as exciting as it is to walk past lines of people, flashing the media badge at security to get access into places barred behind barriers, it’s frantic and draining that leaves little time to actually enjoy what you’re seeing.

So during this trip, I’ve valued the quieter moments. The gaps in the schedule that have involved walking around the centre, dipping my toes in games I’ve never heard of and discovering some real gems. Yaga was one such game I have the pleasure of stumbling upon and despite not having heard of it before today, it might just be one of my most anticipated titles of the coming year.

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Yaga is an action role-playing game set to the background of slavic folklore where you play as Ivan, a one-handed blacksmith looking for a golden apple. No no no, wait it was the Tsar he was looking for. Actually no, I think he wants to find a wife for himself this time. Yaga is a game about folktales, stories passed down through generations that change and adapt to fit different storytellers, locations or themes. Certain elements are always the same while many of there smaller details warp and shift depending on who’s playing the story. Developer Breadcrumbs set out to create a game that really emphasises the narrative, character progression and player decisions yet wanted to craft an experience that’s also challenging with plenty of potential for unique strategies and replayability.

Rogue-likes aren’t exactly known for their well-constructed narratives but rather mechanical intricacies that keep the player invested, so I was instantly intrigued when I found out about Yaga having this kind of playstyle with a strong narrative and even stronger roleplaying elements.

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Which is why folklore is such an inspired decision for a game such as Yaga. Stories that carry significant weight across multiple generations that are capable of shifting and changing based on a whim while always retaining some level of familiarity. It’s such a perfect fit for a roleplaying rogue-like that explains the gameplay on a meta-level that I’m surprised no-one’s thought of it before. This isn’t just to say that Yaga is idea beyond substance because from what I played of the game there’s enough content to keep things fresh for ages.

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Multiple weapons and side weapons with unique perks based on how they’re crafted, blessings that grant Ivan passive buffs that sometimes persist or disappear upon failed runs and a variety of ways to approach the characters in the game that lead to different levels, encounters and entire endings. Conversations can be solved by being aggressive, helpful or selfish and you’ll be punished if you decide to just take the easy way through the game. Breadcrumbs wants you to role-play your Ivan properly, so although you can choose whatever option you want, choosing what may be the simplest solution despite going against the character you’ve specced for will have dire consequences. It’s a neat way of promoting proper role-playing; rather than barring certain options like many other games might, you’re still free to choose whatever you want as long as you’re willing to take responsibility for going against your established rules.

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It’s really late at night now and I’m exhausted. It’s been a day of fighting crowds in rooms that just aren’t ventilated enough and I’ve spent the past three hours writing up a lot of my experiences. I didn’t have an official appointment with Breadcrumb, in fact, it was a very lucky break they were free when I stumbled upon their display at the Versus Evil booth. Despite that, I still wanted to give them a shout out for what they showed me. Yaga was a genuinely surprising gem of a game and I’m really pleased that I had the opportunity to get hands-on with it, experiencing a project that has clearly had a lot of time and passion poured into it. It’s gorgeous, sounds great, has a charming script and was just so damn addictive to play. I started today having never heard of Yaga and it was the first game I added to my wishlist when I got back to the BnB.

Last Updated: August 23, 2019

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