Preview: The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood
I’ve always been a fan of the occult. Fortune telling, folk magic, fell creatures from beyond, a world lurking just beyond our own. So when I saw Devolver was publishing a new game all about these themes, of course I was interested. The developers, Destructeam, are no newcomers either, having made Gods Will Be Watching and The Red Strings Club.
The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood follows the tale of Fortuna, a witch condemned to exile with her tarot deck removed by the leader of her coven for foretelling the end of the coven and helping her fellow witches to prepare. Or as her leader would put it, sowing chaos and panic. After 200 years of loneliness in her 1000 year sentence, she decides to invoke a forbidden rite and summon Abramar, a behemoth from the void. Partly for companionship, and partly to regain her magic. Over the course of the game you attain visitation rights to your prison and start to receive guests, and through them explore what fate has in store for you.
Gameplay can largely be divided into two parts: conversations and fortune telling. Things primarily play out like a visual novel, chatting to other characters and making responses to move the plot forward. Every so often, however, you’ll do some fortune telling and that’s where the other half comes in.
Through your pact with Abramar you’ll acquire energy for each of the four elements, and use that energy to create cards for your deck. You select a setting, a significant individual, and a tool or accessory before deciding on just how your card appears. You can drag around the setting to set the background for your card and, depending on your individual and tool, you’ll have various objects you can place. You can freely rotate and resize the objects, and in addition to a few that must be placed you’ll also have a number of additional objects you can add as well.
That said, I do hope they’ll refine things a bit more before release. I found myself often wanting to be able to zoom out on the setting to fit more on the card, and I’d prefer a system where you needed a certain number of objects from the individual and tool rather than having specific objects you MUST find a place for, which led to me making some rather bizarre choices like parking a motorcycle inside a bar.
Now, that’s simply creating the cards. Once you have them, doing a reading involves pulling cards from your deck and placing them on the questions asked. Depending on the card you’ll have a number of different ways to interpret it for your client, garnering different responses and different energies for more cards. Now, this system has both more and less nuance than one may expect. On the one hand, your choices for the card will reflect its elemental balance and name, and different cards do offer different choices. However, not every unique combination of card elements has a different name (which is understandable, there’s a few thousand combinations), and the card you place has less to do with what you’re predicting and more with how you present it… though perhaps that’s the point.
When fortune telling, you have a few options to give, and it’s easy to see how they’re all related to the same event. For example, one reading I did had three ways to respond: A war will break out, my client will be forced to kill another witch, or they’ll suffer a permanent injury. It’s possible all three are correct options, and from the same event no less, but I got to pick just one to tell them about. In a way, it makes sense. You’re a fortune teller, not a fortune maker, what will happen is going to be the same regardless of what card is drawn. It just flavors how you’ll interpret the same event. It does mean the narrative may be a bit more straightforward than the freeform card creation mechanic would lead one to believe, however.
That all said, the main thing The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood has going for it is the vibe. There is some fantastic retro-style art and music on display, and the world building is top notch. Through conversations and the options for your cards, you’re given glimpses of a world where our modern world has a fantastical side to it just out of sight of common mortals. A world where beings from across the stars are more the dragons, golems, and fantastical creatures of myth and legend than the green space aliens of sci-fi.
There’s also the way the game explores its themes. There’s an emphasis on the importance of community and emotions, and while the topic of sex is brought up it’s more as an aspect of people’s lives rather than something just to titillate the player. It feels different than a lot of game writing. It’s more personal, a conversation between us and the author rather than just something to move the gameplay forward.
Sadly, the demo I had ended way too soon, just as the world was starting to open up. I look forward to seeing where things go when the The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood finally launches, but this is already a really solid start.
The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood is set for release later this year on PC and Switch.
Preview copy provided by Devolver Digital for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer, featured image courtesy of Devolver Digital.