Mirthwood was one of the first appointments I made in the weeks leading up to PAX West. The teaser trailer (see below) is beautiful and the gameplay reflected so much of what I love about the genre; pair that with my love of Indie games, and this was a must-play for me. I’m happy to report that the game was more nuanced and intricate than I could have imagined. People will love this game.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Daron Otis, one of two developers at Bad Ridge Games, the team responsible for Mirthwood (Michael Brown is the co-developer); Otis guided me through the game and answered my questions as I experienced the Action-RPG adventure.
Building Your Character
Otis explained that the developer team sees Mirthwood as Stardew Valley meets Bethesda RPGs. The high-fantasy setting allows players to escape into an imaginative world and play at their own pace, to choose activities that feel right, and to have a zen experience with adventure available on a whim. When asked about games that inspired the team when creating Mirthwood, Otis cited Xbox’s Fable as a big influence.
The opening of the game grants players a wide latitude for character creation, allowing choices of social class, character class, and even hometown origins, all of which combine for a unique avatar with a complex personal history.
After character creation, Mirthwood invites players into the action immediately. I found myself wandering off the path and forgetting my objective as my curiosity piqued by the world around me. I must sheepishly admit Otis had to get me refocused, so I wouldn’t run out of demo time before seeing the rest of Mirthwood; but hey, that’s a good sign for the game, right? There’s just so much to do.
Bad Ridge Games explains the expansive gameplay features for Mirthwood as the following:
- Homestead – build a farm, plant and harvest crops, rear animals, and upgrade your facilities to craft items and gear
- Explore – explore an open world comprised of six diverse regions and three distinct towns, with much to discover
- Fight – take up a sword or ready your bow in real-time combat, Mirthwood will pit you against a variety of enemies
- Adventure – embark on quests, encounter dynamic events, and investigate mysteries across the world
- Socialize – meet and befriend (or insult) any NPC, and unlock new social interactions as your relationships grow
These five pillars of Mirthwood allow the player to create a unique gameplay loop of their choosing, not unlike Breath of the Wild where there’s always intrigue around the corner or a beautiful distraction past the river.
Pretty quickly into the game demo, it became clear that Mirthwood offers players extensive control over their experience. This applies not only to the larger story threads of exploration, combat, farming, etc., but also in the way each of these activities is carried out.
A good example of the nuanced autonomy granted to players is the conversation options available when speaking to an NPC. Player interactions with NPCs will affect their feelings of friendship or romance toward the protagonist. When in range of a particular NPC, a clickable icon appears above their head which gives information upon the current relationship status.
Each NPC has a unique personality with particular interests, preferred topics of conversations, and appreciation for specific gifts. Discovering what motivates each NPC can unlock further gameplay options or assist players on their journey.
Unlike many games that give players two or three dialogue choices, Mirthwood gives players five interaction categories when striking up a conversation with NPCs. Players can choose from the following: Chat, Jest, Romance, Gossip, Influence. Within each of these main categories are a number of sub-options that become available. Mastering the art of conversation takes time; don’t forget your NPC relationship tracker!
A High Fantasy Life Sim?
One of the unique aspects of Mirthwood gameplay is the need to feed your character and sleep to recharge your energy. While other games, such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom have utilized food to help players navigate environmental hazards, Mirthwood takes this concept further.
On the lower-left corner of the UI, players will notice three bars tracking key metrics: health, energy, and food. Players will need to tend to each of these as they journey through the world. Eating food and sleeping will keep these bars at a healthy level; failure to upkeep these will cause the player to perform poorly and experience consequences such as a slow health drain or a reduced combat effectiveness.
While I wasn’t able to get a sense of the larger narrative of Mirthwood during my time with the game’s demo, I did get a sense of the gameplay loop and the unique Indie-feel of this fantasy RPG. The experience is engrossing and will certainly attract a lot of gamers who enjoy the beautiful and whimsical side of the medium.
I’m curious what the larger storylines for Mirthwood will be in the final version of the game, which is still in development and set to release on Steam in 2024, though the develop hopes for a wider release some time after. My hope is that there is more narrative to this largely sim-like experience. I recognize that it can be challenging to communicate the gameplay mechanics and the story in a 30-minute demonstration; and I really appreciated my time with Otis and the Bad Ridge Games team.
Sources: Bad Ridge Games, PAX West 2023