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In Depth: Yaga

James Lees on how this interesting game doesn’t really go anywhere.

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Image Credit: Yaga/ Flaviu Haitonic / Breadcrumbs Interactive

Yaga follows the misadventures of an unlucky one-armed blacksmith named Ivan and his quest to avoid banishment. This unfortunate event is instigated by the titular Baba Yaga’s powers, a figure of some renown from Slavic folklore and famed for her house with chicken legs. Originally an Epic Game Store exclusive it’s now made a move to steam.

Ivan must fight his way through a series of semi-randomised dungeons to find an item or person. The only break to this is to search out hidden secrets and take on side quests for a string of colourful characters.

Yaga is a dungeon running, real-time combat-focused RPG with a couple of exciting and unique twists. The main one is the ‘bad luck meter’ filled up by a bunch of different scenarios such as using items or buying powerful abilities. If this becomes filled, then you’ll be hunted down by an evil figure who will destroy some of your hard-won items. So you’ll want to balance your actions against their effect on your luck.

The more interesting twist is the hard RP of the RPG. There is a raft of different dialogue options which fit into several categories: Greedy, Angry, Foolish and Righteous, as you may see in many a game. However, the difference here is once you’ve gone for the same option a few times Ivan begins to settle into the character and now picking an option outside of your established character type results in a bump of bad luck. So do you really want to be a goody-two-shoes when you could instead steal something, but knowing that you’re not far away from having a high enough luck to be hunted down? It’s a fascinating mechanic that allows you the freedom to choose and helps you stick to an actual character rather than having a personality that flip-flops around as best suits the situation.

Yaga has an interesting setup and a striking (if not totally unique) visual style. It looks like a twisted children’s storybook, something that carries through to the writing. Much of the dialogue is written in rhyming couplets, but some are jarring hits and misses. The words themselves and the way the voice actors deliver them make it feel like you’re listening to a children’s story. This may have been the intention, and if so they did it expertly, but this quickly led to me skipping the cutscenes (which it even gave me an achievement for).

When it comes to combat options, Ivan has a lot of them. As a blacksmith, he is able to whip out a forge and craft himself new weapons with different buffs, abilities and enhancements using the materials he beats out of his enemies. Here there are a LOT of options: runes, Enhancements, different weapon types and various ores. Sure your weapon is going to break but when it does why not make it rain beer? Outside of the weapons you’ve also got a lot of different opportunities for upgrades. For each dungeon run, you can pick from a few different buffs just for that run, and when it’s over, you’ll get to determine a more permanent buff based on your chosen character traits and what you did in the dungeon. Add to all of these various foods and magical items. There’s a lot to choose from! It’s just a shame it doesn’t necessarily matter.

If you were generous to Ivan, you might say that his take on combat is deliberate. Even a quick swing of a weapon can take quite some time, and you’re vulnerable for all of it. This leads to a coming in for a swing and then leisurely dodge rolling away (the shield an option but like in dark souls is just a worse option), then another swing or two before rolling away. Rinse and repeat. Even further into the game when you use the high-level ores and materials to craft a mighty hammer and are buffed up to the nines with magical hammers flying all over the place it still feels like taking a swing or two then dodging away. Somehow despite the overwhelming choice, it all feels the same.

There is a lot of charm to Yaga, and it’s clear that a lot of love went into it. The visuals and overall feel of the game are fantastic and backed up by a unique soundtrack. The deluge of crafting options, buffs, and abilities is irresistible, but it is all let down by dull core combat, leaving the game as a bit of a slog.

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