It’s awful when you have a clown on your team, isn’t it? I spent most of this morning fighting alongside two of the worst players I have ever encountered. We were at the bottom of a hill and the horde was descending. Again and again my team-mates proved unable to thin the ranks. The simplest things were beyond them. Again and again we were overwhelmed. And the worst thing? Those other two players were both me.
Echos! One of the great tricks of Wicca is the ability to rewind time and then fight alongside an echo of yourself. At heart, Wicca’s a tower defence game, even if it never truly feels like one. Step back enough though, and there it is: creeps move along a path and you have to wear them down before they get to the end of it. Summoning echoes is one of the most thrilling ways of doing this. You wade in, take a bunch out, and before you’re overwhelmed you jab a button and rewind, then you record another echo, taking out more of the baddies before you’re almost overwhelmed again. Then repeat.
In the end there will be a bunch of you against a bunch of them. Much fairer odds. Just one brilliant idea in a game that’s full of them. The sheer nervy pleasure of it!
I have been waiting for Wicca for, oh, about a decade. Astonishingly it’s been nine years since Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves came out on Steam. I had just bought my first decent PC, and this odd Quebecois game about two lumberjacks fighting off beasts in the frozen Canadian winter absolutely encapsulated everything I was realising I loved about PC games. Here was a game that was thoroughly weird and thoroughly wyrd. Nobody had been constrained by focus testing or worrying about how the box art was going to go down or what the key pillars were. You had a farm and a month leading up to Christmas. By day you earned money and bought traps. By night you stitched together a plan to tackle the invaders and then you headed out into the snow to keep your plan on track. It was a personal game, transporting, a doorway to a world and a history I didn’t know anything about. And to play it was to engage in something willful and elbowy and difficult to master. It’s still one of the most rewarding games I have ever played. It rides very high in my personal top ten.
Now part of the team behind Sang-Froid have made a spiritual sequel. In Wicca you are thrust into the Highlands of yore. Monsters are thronging the forests and you’re a witch with the power to unleash spells and fight alongside the rocks and the trees. There are so many delightful ideas it’s hard to know where to start. The game at times seems overwhelmed by its own imagination – even the tutorial is a proper timeloop headfuck, Back to the Future 2 with a pause button. But the key to the fun is probably this: alongside all your powers, you have a terrible weakness. You go into battle with but one hit point.
One HP. At first I was terrified, and then I realised this was the crux of almost all the entertainment. Wicca is complex, but it is never a slog, because when you’re overwhelmed you’re overwhelmed. Back to the checkpoint. Try again. Life is hard, death is brisk and magic can only do so much if your wits aren’t sharp enough. I love this.
Then there are the maps of course. Sang-Froid offered a farm that got steadily bigger as more territory opened up. Wicca plays out across some truly colossal wild spaces. The sense of wilderness – cruel winds, rain, dark masses of noble firs – is intoxicating. At any point you can hop up into the air as a kind of geist and patrol the area. As wild as the land is, it’s also a world of perfect information. Here’s where the baddies are. Here’s where they’re headed. Use mana, gathered from wandering spirits, to raise rock walls and change their paths. Funnel them through chicanes where you can use mana to bring the trees to life and whomp the horde to pieces. Cast huge monsters who lurk at corners and smack any remainders around. Victory, as a good friend of mine likes to say, is assured.
All the while you can drop back down to the ground and wander around on foot. You can take on foes with your own magical bolts or do a knockback spell that has a truly hideous cooldown. You can create echos if you have the resources. You can stitch together breaches to fast travel between different parts of the map, a sort of witchy subway system.
For ages, I had watched videos of all of this and some of the team’s wonderful GIFs and pondered how manageable it would be. What a game to look at – all those ideas going off, time folding back on itself, monsters pulled down out of the sky. But wouldn’t I be overwhelmed? The answer, I am glad to say, is yes. Wicca lives in a beautiful state where it’s constantly almost too much to take. Too much to handle. Too many threats. Too many possibilities. But with that single hit point and the sheer thrill of what you can do at any moment, I constantly fight through the panic. And then of course I realise that the panic was the whole point of it. I cannot wait to play more. This wonderfully weird thing has classic written all over it.