A Big Yea for Yaga

Fun fact, this is my first experience with reviewing a DLC (downloaded content) piece in addition to being my first experience with the Yaga Roots game altogether. On the one hand, you’d think doing a review of DLC would be easy, but really, I hate to say, but you’d be entirely incorrect.

Part of that’s because I’m not entirely certain what’s been covered, and part of that is trying to tailor this review appropriately because Yaga is bananas in all the best of ways.

Yaga, if you don’t know, is a game about a one-handed blacksmith who lives in the world delineated in Slavic mythology. The “Yaga” in the name refers to Baba Yaga, a figure most renowned for her ambiguity, and she and her sisters are explicitly linked with a character named Ivan.

Plot Ahoy!

In the myth, Ivan is a merchant’s son, not so much a blacksmith. He’s looking for the “thrice tenth kingdom,” and no, I don’t know exactly what that is, but he encounters three sisters, all known as “Baba Yaga,” asking about this mysterious kingdom. The first two sisters don’t know, and the third simply decides to eat Ivan, in that quintessential fairy-tale fascination with cannibalism. He convinces her to allow him to blow three horns, with the last summoning birds, including the mystical Firebird who bears him to safety.

I guess what I’m saying here is that the developers did not choose the name Ivan by happenstance, and the game certainly seems to take after the Russian version of the myth rather than, say, the Polish, considering that the tsar sends Ivan the Blacksmith on a series of quests. That said, if you’re unfamiliar with Eastern European folklore but have seen Netflix’s Witcher series, you’ll recognize some of the allusions. For example, in the DLC, Ivan encounters issues in Oakvale, a village that has been completely overrun by beasts. The locals suspect what gets translated into English as “leshy,” but that’s probably better translated as “leshen.” The Polish term is “leszy,” and refers to the same forest spirit that—spoiler—kills Eskel in season two. However, everything is not quite so straightforward as the villagers would have you believe.

The DLC content asks you as the player to evaluate whether you’ll listen to the hysterical villagers or the huntsman, who maintains that the leshy is innocent of wrongdoing, and as with most Eastern European myths, the answer is not going to be simple. The game, while seemingly simplistic, fundamentally asks players to determine what they believe will be the best path. Yaga doesn’t presume the existence of a right and wrong so much as asking the player to determine the boundaries within which he or she can find a workable solution. If you’re looking for an easy choice system, Yaga may not be for you.

Review Notes

You play Ivan, who loses his hand due to Likho’s influence; Likho is a complex figure in Slavic mythology, but she is tied to the concept of bad luck, which has a much greater significance than it does in western culture. That’s important to note because Ivan struggles with “bad luck.” That luck leads him to lose his hand, and it makes for a significant game mechanic in Yaga. You do have to monitor your “bad luck” meter. Each of your decisions has the potential to increase your bad luck rating, and if your bad luck level reaches a certain point, that triggers a Likho encounter. She’ll come out and either steal or break equipment, which is extremely frustrating given that there’s no in-combat equipment menu.

Ivan, being both one-handed and a blacksmith, has developed a series of tools that he can attach as a prosthetics, and you as a player can use his abilities to imbue and upgrade these tools. Death does cause Ivan to lose some of his equipment, and the map will reset. This results in replayability, but the combat system in Yaga becomes repetitive. Even the DLC fails to improve on what is definitely the game’s weakest element. Basically, every fight comes down to appropriate use of Ivan’s ability to throw his hammer and dodging. I’m not particularly good at dodging, so I found the gameplay to be especially annoying. Your mileage may vary.

Aside from the less than inspired combat, you do end up with some really interesting dialogue options and the inexplicable ability to summon a particular boss to help you when you have need of that help. Yaga, generally, and in the DLC as well, spends a decent amount of time on worldbuilding, and if you can look past the monotonous combat, you’ll find that Yaga channels a certain dark, Eastern European sense of humor. You’ll also find other cultural staples in the game, such as the “blessings” mechanic which feels like it was straight up lifted from my husband’s babcia’s day-to-day practice.

The game adopts a hand-drawn art-style that takes me back to the animated stories that graced my television in the early nineties. It fits beautifully with the game’s mythological roots. While you get some pretty hilarious dialogue options, depending on how you play Ivan, you’ll find that most of the characters remain fairly one-dimensional. Sure, that fits nicely with the folktale feel of the game, but it can become as monotonous as the combat.

TLDR

If you liked the Witcher and the world Geralt inhabits, you’ll find a lot to like in Yaga in the sense that the stories share both the same mythological underpinnings and a certain worldview. However, you’ll definitely have to weigh your love for worldbuilding against Yaga’s extremely predictable gameplay. In an RPG that depends on combat for most of its appeal, that’s a real problem. However, if you’re in the right headspace, Yaga’s Evil Roots DLC makes up for that monotony with a fascinating look at a world most of the Western world never gets to see.

In terms of menus and controls, you’ll find Yaga to be nicely streamlined; there’s no real waste here, which appeals to me. However, the combat system relies very heavily on dodge, so if your twitch reflexes aren’t what they should be, you might find Yaga to be an exercise in frustration.

As always, your mileage may vary.

Stray Thoughts From Behind the Keyboard

  1. The original Ivan wasn’t a blacksmith, and as a result, he doesn’t get nearly the same number of hilariously weird weapons. Trust me, that’s a perk of the game.
  2. There really isn’t one good way to build Ivan. Basically, you do the best that you can with what you’ve got and embrace the fact that the world is entirely stacked against you. I honestly can’t imagine a more Eastern European philosophy than that.
  3. Maybe there’s a metaphor in the gameplay? I don’t know.

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