Yaga has finally made its debut on Steam after a year of Epic Games Store exclusivity. While not a new game for PC fans, the Steam version offers tons of new players a chance to try out the Slavic folklore-inspired game from Breadcrumbs Interactive and Versus Evil and leverage all of the improvements made over the intervening months since it first arrived on EGS.
The game centers on Ivan, a terribly unlucky bloke who has caught the eye of the Tsar who, in turn, has been cursed by Baba Yaga for his egregious greed. She has informed him that Ivan the Blacksmith is the unluckiest man in the world and that he will bring the Tsar to ruin. There is a catch, however, since this is a Slavic version of a fairy tale: If the king opts to have Ivan killed to alleviate the bad luck, he will see his entire kingdom turn to sand. The end result is, of course, that Ivan has to stay. That doesn’t mean, however, that he has to stay safe.
Ivan is sent off on a series of impossible quests any one of which could see him expire, hence solving the Tsar’s problem. Fortunately, Ivan’s baba is a wise and intelligent woman and she’s figured out a way for Ivan to complete these impossible tasks while simultaneously staying safe. Baba tells him that he needs to seek out Baba Yaga herself.
The game’s story is probably its single best feature. Slavic folklore is hugely underrepresented in gaming these days and it’s fascinating to boot. Think Grimm’s fairytales here but with a dangerous edge that has been dulled in western European lore over the ages. These people don’t mess around. For instance, we learn that Ivan has lost his arm to a cannibalistic witch who was getting ready to snack on him. It can be that gruesome but the tension is relieved by hysterical lines and side-quests that give players plenty of interesting reasons to keep playing the game despite some of its shortcomings.
When it comes to questing, players will find a surprising number of choices that will have an actual impact on the game. Each dialog offers players a choice on how Ivan will respond. He can be honorable, selfish, angry, or vague with each option altering the way Ivan’s personality develops across the game. In addition, some quests offer a different way to complete them by choosing to befriend the NPC, be aggressive towards them, or spare them from your wrath. Lastly, Ivan can choose when he ventures out into the world. Going out in daylight or nighttime offers him different perks depending on when he heads out.
Gameplay, however, is much less interesting than the setting, story, and lore of the game. Combat feels uninspiring and it brings nothing new to the genre. It’s not bad exactly, it’s just not good. It is further hampered by PC controls if you’re a mouse/keyboard user. Those who opt to use a gamepad while playing on PC will be much more comfortable but MKB players will find Ivan’s directional movement a challenge from time to time. But perhaps the worst part of the combat system is that it is, despite changing out Ivan’s tools and weapons, pretty much the same throughout the game. There are few nuances to how each battle is approached, though the dodge system is quite good which is a good thing. Enemies attack in large packs and combat consists of throwing the hammer and dodging out of the way. Rinse and repeat and you pretty much have the totality of the game’s combat system.
Wear and tear on Ivan’s weapons is punishing. There is no option to craft. It is a necessity as items break due to his bad luck that can be exacerbated throughout the game based on his choices and just the simple fact that he’s an unlucky guy. Players are forced to craft new weapons to offset bad luck and curses that he picks up at an alarming rate. The more hammers/tools/items that he carries with him, the better. I found that ranged hammers were much better in combat than close-quarters melee equipment, hence the “throw hammer, dodge” gameplay loop I found myself in.
There is also one huge, glaring omission from the quality of life in the game: There is no overworld map to keep track of your place in the world. Players are forced to rely on the small map in the HUD display to orient themselves which can lead to a lot of backtracking when trying to find a way out. The fact that an overworld map isn’t included is curious and annoying but not necessarily a game-breaker.
Overall, Yaga is a fun game with pros that mostly outweigh its cons if you can stand the repetitive gameplay. From my perspective, the setting and lore make it all worthwhile, though I do find myself playing in short sessions over longer ones. Yaga is $24.99 on Steam and is also available on Epic Games Store, Nintendo eShop, Microsoft Store, and Apple Arcade.