Open-world survival crafting experiences with a massive sandbox to explore aren’t the newest thing in gaming. However, games like Valheim and even V Rising have showcased what’s possible when melding those elements into a brand-new experience with unique settings. Of course, they also place a big emphasis on combat to keep you invested.
Muse Games’ Wildmender is somewhat similar, set in a desolate world where the sea has dried up and there’s desert for miles. You’re an unknown quantity, meeting a Guide Spirit and trying to understand what’s happening. There are hints of your character having lost much from whatever did all this, but for the most part, you’re alone.
"It’s also one of the initially engrossing parts of Wildmender – that feeling of discovery as you explore various environments and try to make sense of what happened to the world."
You start in a spring with a destitute tree and learn the basics of the crafting system while planting a few seeds and filling up your bottle with water. A stave and sickle are used for digging and chopping wood, but there’s also the magic mirror. This charm allows for firing projectiles from a distance and reflecting long-range shots at enemies.
From there, you set off to discover the origins of the various meteors in the sky, and while it’s all pretty mysterious at first, one thing is quickly apparent – water is everything. You need it to survive the scorching sun rays, craft potions and other items, use it as an offering, and farm and sing to plants to cut down on their harvesting period.
Because the sun is so oppressive, staying in the shadows and conserving water is important (otherwise, you die). Of course, you only have a set amount in your bottle, which means returning to the spring regularly to refill it. At first, this means a fair amount of backtracking, but you soon unlock various teleportation pads which can return you home (and even be repaired to act as fast travel points).
Food is also necessary, and some of it can reduce your water meter, so you need to think carefully about what to consume. Carefully navigating the world while taking shelter in abandoned houses and structures to seek shade while scrounging for materials helps improve your survival rate. It’s also one of the initially engrossing parts of Wildmender – that feeling of discovery as you explore various environments and try to make sense of what happened to the world. Movement may appear somewhat janky at times, especially when trying to jump while climbing up a cliff face, but it feels responsive and on point most of the time.
"Eventually, you have to investigate other regions and discover what happened to the other gods. It’s here where the wonder of discovery starts to fade."
The so-called “meteors” lead to malevolent structures that must be destroyed. Doing so awards shards, and upon returning them to the Guide, they remember they’re called Vidyas. This is where the game begins in earnest, as you’re directed to the temple of Naia, the Goddess of Rivers, to seek help in rejuvenating the world.
Before and after that, several other tasks emerge, from learning how to slide down slopes to acquiring and using new tools like the Memory Seed. They’re nothing crazy but help expand your exploration of the world in various ways. Eventually, you have to investigate other regions and discover what happened to the other gods.
It’s here where the wonder of discovery starts to fade. You venture to other locations with harsh conditions – like Desiccation in the Salt Flats draining your water faster – but nothing that fundamentally changes the game or asks anything beyond “gather X material” or “craft Y potion.”
Even the points of interest you discover don’t offer much more beyond some chests with scant materials or a grave whose spirit you could visit at night to obtain Memories (which unlock new Skills in the Survival, Arcane and Spiritual trees). I did like meeting the frog, who could gather materials without my assistance, and the Spirit Darter, who provides Life Sparks to revive plants.
"It’s not like it has to compete with the Valheims and V Risings of the world, but some more enemy variety would go a long way."
It’s also where a fundamental part of your adventure will go into building and maintaining your base. Unlocking new recipes and buildings is fun, but a fair amount of time goes into ensuring your crops stay safe from Wraith attacks and the walls around the spring are still standing. While there are other water sources in the world, this is the cleanest and most bountiful.
As such, trying to establish a base in other parts of the world feels difficult and less rewarding, which only makes the backtracking to the spring that much more cumbersome. If that weren’t enough, digging ditches and redirecting water around the location is a chore rather than intuitive or enjoyable.
While you can create trinkets that regenerate mana (at the cost of wearing out) or increase inventory space, the gear feels incredibly underwhelming. One of the nicer gameplay loops in titles like Valheim and Terraria is obtaining better gear, becoming more powerful and engaging with tougher threats. Wildmender’s equipment is far from that, sadly.
Then again, it’s somewhat understandable, given how combat works in this game. You can fire with the mirror or reflect projectiles at enemies. Some will have telegraphed melee attacks to avoid, but that’s more or less it. Other items like Blazing Seeds can deal damage, and you can upgrade the sickle to reflect attacks, but mechanically, there isn’t much that the combat has to offer. It’s not like it has to compete with the Valheims and V Risings of the world, but some more enemy variety would go a long way.
"If you’re keen on a new setting and don’t mind the performance issues that come with it, Wildmender may be worth checking out while taking a break from other titles."
Wildmender does have a decent aesthetic, as the world’s architecture stands out. The lighting and shadows, not to mention phenomena like the Aurora Borealis in the sky, are also done well. The only downside is that some textures, like when heading to the Salt Flats, feel ugly and low-detailed. Also, despite the visuals not being high in fidelity, they definitely require more optimization. Even on medium settings, the frame rate feels like it’s tanking even when nothing is happening. At least the music suits the atmosphere of isolation, even if it can cut in and out at odd times.
Overall, Wildmender has an interesting premise that needs more time to grow into its own. Some aspects, like the construction and terraforming, can be improved over time. However, in terms of progression, combat, exploration and immersion, it’s competent enough without breaking the mold or drastically changing things up, even a few hours in.
If you’re keen on a new setting and don’t mind the performance issues that come with it, Wildmender may be worth checking out while taking a break from other titles. Otherwise, it’s a serviceable but ultimately forgettable sandbox experience.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Aesthetic looks nice with decent lighting and shadows. The exploration and sense of discovery are on point, at least in the early going. Water mechanic, which necessitates avoiding the sun, is unique and challenging. Intriguing mechanics like reviving dead plants, generating vines to climb and more.
Some environmental textures look extremely substandard. Iffy performance, even when playing on Medium settings. Starts to feel a bit stale after the opening hours, especially with lackluster enemy variety. New biomes also don't feel all that interesting. Gear is mostly lackluster and combat is dull. Building and terraforming don't feel very intuitive.