Witch Strandings is the second official “strand-type” game, a genre (but more like an ideal) first introduced by Hideo Kojima’s transportation-focused Death Stranding. Like that other game, Witch Strandings makes you traverse a ruined, perilous landscape in order to deliver things. Unlike that other game, Witch Strandings is bare-bones, berry-colored squares and creatures are all heavy on the pixels. At first glance, its mission as a “strand” game is not intelligible, so I put together a list of five things you should know before you play.
1. You are your mouse, your mouse is you
Officially, you play Witch Strandings as a delicate pinprick of light, but in reality, you are your computer mouse. You cannot play this game with a controller or a keyboard, so don’t even think about it. You can click, and you can drag.
How fun this limitation is depends on your relationship with your mouse. Mine is a bit sticky when moving on its pad, which is unfortunate, since sliding your mouse around is what this game counts as its main method of travel. You can change your mouse sensitivity, and whether you’d like to pick up items with a click and drag approach or through toggling, but whatever you pick, it’s a good idea to clear space for your mouse to move. Get out your smoothest, widest mouse pad. Prepare for movement.
2. The map is small but dangerous
To your mouse’s benefit, there isn’t a whole lot of traveling to do.
When you create a new file, the fairly lovely story of the game appears as a brief message: “Dark things live in this forest—and you are not one of them. You arrive quietly, in a cloud of dust and magic, conjured by the forest itself at its very heart. A spirit of light to confront the dark of the witch who ruined it, one miracle at a time.” The forest is indeed dark, with all its square components appearing in deep shades of autumn. It has different areas marked by certain items or terrain (the Killing Fields are strewn with shriveled up carcasses, the Riverhead angled with grass), but it’s not big, especially if you use your mouse’s scroll to zoom out all the way. It’s also unchanging. Days pass, and time is measured by a ticking grandfather clock in the bottom right corner, but it makes no significant difference to how the forest looks or acts. (If you’ve noticed something I’ve missed, please let me know in the comments!).
Because of the tiny map’s repetitiveness, I frequently got impatient while looking for things, and found myself crashing often into hostile terrain, all of which is marked by different colors or patterns and have effects on your mouse movement. Mud, for example, is represented by splotchy brown blocks and is a slog, forcing you to trudge your mouse through with jerky physical movements or face remaining where you are. Even more inconveniently, accidentally hovering over areas made up of rushing water, poison, or hot pink hexes will quickly drain your health bar until you die (your bar regrows quickly if you pull away in time). Be patient and deliberate when navigating this tiny but deadly map.
3. You desperately need a tote bag
Your main purpose as a little speck of light is to restore the forest to its full potential, which you can track by watching the bare tree in the bottom left of the screen. By delivering items, you will gradually restore forest creatures and structures to their former glory, shown by the filling of the tree. However, at the start that’s one item at a time. Eventually, you get a pouch for storage. The pouch can carry one more item.
Let me level with you—I’m a very impatient person, and bringing the game’s despondent woodland creatures their curative treats, no matter how silly fun their names were (my favorite is a bunny named “Chad Shakespeare”), was so fucking annoying. My impatience, of course, brings us back to my rushing through terrain issue, and I died a lot. I died twice in the tutorial.
It is helpful, however, to make a habit of memorizing where you typically see certain items so that you don’t waste time getting lost in a bunch of poison pixels. But get that tote bag as soon as you can.
4. People love to take and take, don’t they?
If you get great at knowing where all the remedies and tchotchkes are, you’re still not completely in the clear.
Passing days signal changes in forest creatures’ needs—if they were disturbed yesterday, today they might be hungry and thirsty. They are like helpless babies named Chad Shakespeare, and while you’re a benevolent beam of light, if you get tired of all the moaning, you can kill them off by using a skull item you can find in a hollow tree.
Murder earns you a tragic -4,023 points compared to helping’s 200 points, but if you decide to take the evil route despite the game’s wishes, know that I, personally, will not judge you. Otherwise, make use of your pouch.
5. I FEAR DEATH
This is my most important tip: if you die, keep pulling your cursor to the bottom of the screen until you come to a burst of white light and sound that will transport you back to the forest.
As established, I died too many times in my first playthrough, and each time made me want to sledgehammer my boyfriend’s $3,000 gaming computer. But it isn’t Nvidia’s fault that Witch Strandings has such an obtuse resurrection process. It’s poignant, sure—flying your light through the pitch black death screen makes you feel like you’re in universe soup, flying to your humanity, but in terms of my carpal tunnel, dragging my mouse across eternity was unideal. Just be aware, OK?
And let me know what you think of Witch Strandings, or if you have any other helpful tips. We, culturally, are still getting to know the “strand-type” game.