The Yawhg is a fascinating game. It hides its depth behind simple mechanics but once you start to see the scope of the work it’s breathtaking.
Ostensibly, The Yawhg is a “choose-your-own-adventure” game with multiple paths and multiple endings. It’s designed to be played either alone or with friends, as up to 4 players can play together, taking turns and making decisions that will shape the future.
The game is broken up into 6 weeks, with each week offering each character an opportunity to choose where they will spend that week. You can choose to visit the hospital, where you can then choose to be a doctor or a custodian, or you can choose to visit the bar, where you can drink away your sorrows or become a bartender. Each choice opens up a scenario, and each scenario has its own set of choices, typically culminating in some type of surprise or twist.
The whole time, the eventuality of the titular Yawhg’s arrival weighs on you, and as the game progresses, the signs of the arrival of The Yawhg get more pronounced, via the game’s gorgeous art.
There’s a melancholy to the narrative here, but the impending doom also frees players to make whatever decision they want and to try things just to see what might happen. It also doesn’t hurt that the game takes anywhere from 15-30 minutes for a single playthrough (although subsequent playthroughs wind up ratcheting that playtime up drastically). The seeming inevitability of the destruction of your small port town actually seems to lower the stakes from other games based on decision making such as the Mass Effect series. Your characters have stats that ultimately play a factor in the endgame, but you’re not building towards anything tangible in terms of stopping The Yawhg. Your magic or strength or wealth are ultimately just numbers, and this reduction of pressure allows the player to just experience the story and the weird directions it takes.
It’s difficult to talk more about The Yawhg without giving away its secrets, and the discovery of those secrets is part of the fun, but it must be stressed how liberating the experience feels. The limited timeframe all but guarantees that players will make it to the end no matter what decisions are made, so that decision to explore a dark wood or otherwise put your character in harm’s way is just as viable as any other. You make decisions in The Yawhg just to have the story to tell, more often than not, as opposed to desperately trying to min/max stats in order to ensure a better outcome. Granted, it’s possible to play The Yawhg that way, but it’s certainly not the ideal way to do so, and the hope is that players who get to that point with the game have already wrung out of it as much as they can.
The Yawhg is an homage to some of my favorite experiences growing up, and the twist of adding a multiplayer component to what is typically a solo experience is genius. It’s not a game to be rushed through and “gamified,” it’s a game meant to be played, discussed and treasured.
A copy of The Yawhg for the PC was provided to the reviewer for the purposes of this review.