Yaga (Xbox One Review)

I am undeniably a massive fan of Versus Evil. The Banner Saga is up there with my top games this decade. So when the opportunity arose to dive right in to another title from that team, Yaga, I didn’t think twice.

Once again drawing from a part of European mythology we don’t quite see enough of in games, Versus Evil focus on the Slavic Folklore of Baba Yaga and how this hut dwelling witch leads our hero, Ivan, through his journey. Largely spoken in infectious rhymes, Yaga’s story focuses on Ivan’s struggle to satisfy the ever increasing demands of his Tzar. While the story warps based on the numerous reactions Ivan can choose in response to the Tzar and other NPCs, it always starts with the tale of the most unlucky blacksmith in all the land and the journey he sets out on. There’s also the continued pestering of Ivan to find a suitable mate by his mother, but that’s not the core focus. Thanks to this perceived notion of choice, you’re encouraged not only to finish Yaga, but to start it all over again with a fresh outlook just to see how it all plays out.

That would be a great idea if Yaga’s combat and general base wasn’t so repetitive. The combat is shallow, like majorly so. You can repeat the close range swings of your weapon, chuck your weapon at enemies Thor style, or utilise a small collection of additional items at the cost of stamina. While the interactions of your weapon come down to the intriguing nature of how you craft whatever weapon you choose to create, there’s no reprieve from the fact that Yaga is largely a very mashy one button game. Sure, you could use the unreasonably invincible roll ability and even kit out Ivan with some cool modifiers but it won’t really change much and it often feels like there’s one clear loadout you can aspire to that makes Yaga horrifically easy.

The majority of Yaga’s challenge literally boils down to luck, a rather egregious element of the game’s design. Your luck can be affected by healing, receiving a bless, and various other interactions throughout the world. Once your luck starts to deteriorate, you become a ticking time bomb. When the clock reaches zero you can lose your gold, weapon, items, and generally anything you have on your person. While it functions quite uniquely as a high level concept, the actual impact on gameplay is a massive deterrent. When you create a weapon that can break at a moment’s notice, it devalues the effort take to create that weapon – especially when this can snowball quite massively.

Even with the rather luscious art style and whimsical design of the enemies, areas, and the cutscenes they are all bite sized to a point where it doesn’t feel natural to play Yaga on a home console, in fact it wouldn’t take much to convince me that it might actually be a mobile title. The perpetual interference of loading screens and transitions impedes on the flow of Yaga and ultimately slows it down to a point of nuisance.

I tried to love Yaga, I really did. It has some interesting art, the storytelling is totally different from the norm, and the general story of Yaga is something I wanted to know more about thanks to her presentation. It’s just a shame that the game stands in the way of it a bit too much. Luck mechanics feel bad, the performance is lacking at times, and it just doesn’t hold a candle to The Banner Saga and I doubt much will for a very long time.

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