Usually I'm happy to win a fight in a game, but in Yaga, the new action-RPG from Romanian developer Breadcrumbs, killing the last enemy on the screen makes me a little sad. That's because I'm in love with Yaga's combat music, which is from Romanian hip-hop band Subcarpați and composer Argatu'. The soundtrack is embedded below, so make sure you give it a listen. It's so darn good it makes me wish the fights never ended.
Yaga tells the story of an unlucky blacksmith, Ivan, and his quest to please his Czar (who wants Ivan to bring him a gift) and his grandmother (who wants Ivan to find himself a wife). Armed with just a hammer, Ivan has to make his way through a dangerous, procedurally generated overworld fighting bandits and beasts inspired by Romanian folklore. I'm only a couple hours into Yaga, but it's been fun so far. I haven't found Ivan any romantic prospects yet, but I've certainly met my share of monsters, marauders, and even the infamous witch Baba Yaga herself.
Luckily, Ivan isn't just a helpless craftsman. He can fling his heavy hammer and have it return to his one good hand, and he can also forge new, upgraded hammers at his anvil while resting in camp. I added some silver ore I found to make my hammer a holy weapon—it even looks like a cross and does more damage to cursed creatures—and a wolf tooth for some extra bite.
There are other ways to buff Ivan's weapon and create new tools. I acquired a broken pitchfork and with a length of chain it now acts as a grappling hook mounted on my severed arm, letting me pull myself across gaps to reach areas of the map I couldn't otherwise. The grappler can be upgraded to latch onto and injure monsters, though crafting ingredients in Yaga aren't all that plentiful. Some gathered ore here, a pilfered silver fork there—the scarcity of resources makes me give careful thought to anything I craft at the bench, and it also means I'm not constantly tinkering but spending most of my time adventuring.
Interacting with local farmers, traders, and other citizens in towns or out in the wilderness is rarely straightforward. Through dialogue options you can determine who Ivan really is—a helpful and goodhearted neighbor, a completely self-interested adventurer, or a downright jerk—and these decisions also shape Ivan's reputation with the general populace. I'm playing as nicely as I can because Ivan just doesn't feel evil to me: he feels more like the cuddly teddy bear type.
At one point I helped locate a missing farmer, who'd been kidnapped and robbed by bandits, and after freeing him and recovering his money I had the option to lie about it and keep it for myself. (I didn't.) When I encountered a giant chicken blocking my path, I could have stolen an enchanted corncob from a sleeping farmer to convince it to move, or wake the guy up and make a trade for it. (I did.)
Being nice isn't always the easiest path to take, but it can be more rewarding in the long run.
This is true even with some of monsters you meet, who you can attempt to work out deals with to avoid violence or make other bargains. Rather than killing a group of goblin-type creatures who'd imprisoned someone, I tricked them into thinking some delicious human children were nearby, and they ran off, letting me free their prisoner without a fight. And after defeating one massive, terrifying boss monster, I was given the option of sparing his life, which I did. In return, he gave me a flute I could use to summon him for help, which I used during my next boss fight. It's pretty cool to be able to call in one boss to fight another, and I only got to do it because I decided to act mercifully earlier.
One thing I'm not crazy about is the procedural map generation in the overworld, which has sometimes bitten me in the ass. Monsters appear on the map in a puff of smoke and barriers close off all the exits, meaning there's no option to flee. But due to the map occasionally generating narrow corridors of hedges or trees, sometimes I wind up completely boxed in between monsters and the barriers, which doesn't allow me to roll out of the way of attacks or backpedal so I can fling my hammer. Even the best combat music doesn't help when the fight itself isn't fair.
Apart from that occasional issue, I'm enjoying Yaga a lot. The combat is fast and fun, the artwork and music are both excellent, and the story and characters have a lot of charm. It's currently available on the Epic Store, and it looks like it'll be on Steam in 2020.