Review: The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood
Back in April I previewed The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood, and found myself immediately fascinated by it. Coming from an established publisher and developer and dealing with occult matters in a fleshed out fantasy world, it was just a taste of something that promised to be far greater. So how could I turn down checking out the finished deal?
The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood was developed by Destructeam and published by Devolver Digital. It was released on August 16, 2023 for PC and Switch. The PC version was played for this review.
Written in the Stars
As previously covered, in The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood you play as Fortuna, who’s been exiled to an asteroid for foretelling the end of her coven, something which she doesn’t see as a crime. Naturally after a couple hundred years she does what any of us would do: turn to the dark arts to summon a behemoth older than the universe and sign a dark pact with it partly so she can do fortune telling again and partly just to have someone to talk to. Perfectly relatable.
Shortly after this, Fortuna finds that visitation rights have been granted to her asteroid, and she begins having all sorts of guests who need a little guidance to find their way. All too soon however, offering guidance and counseling to friends makes way for guiding the coven through its biggest trial yet.
It’s hard to go into too much detail without spoiling much, as this isn’t a very long game. Six-to-ten hours most likely, depending on how thorough you are about exploring optional things. That said, it’s some quality few hours. The writing is top notch and manages to tell you so much about the world and the people involved without feeling TOO rushed. Well, for the most part anyway. There are a few occasions where there’s a problem that feels like it’ll be a long running thing that takes a lot of work to get through, only for it to be fixed in like… one draw of the cards and a bit of encouragement.
I have to give my kudos to the worldbuilding. It’s a fantasy world set in the near future, and takes many of the usual fantasy trappings like witches and magic and fantastical creatures and adds a twist to them. Witches are female magic practitioners, yes, but they’re also immortal and become witches through ascending into a higher state of being where they forsake their planet for the stars. Also there’s many inhabited planets. There’s magic, but each person’s is highly individualized, and finding out just what your powers do is a big part of growing into your own as a witch. There’s fantastical creatures, but they go unnoticed by mortals mostly because they live among the stars and are basically aliens.
There’s also a certain vibe that comes across in the writing. There’s a strong emphasis on community and emotion, and it has no problem with casually bringing up sex. It honestly feels pretty personal, something quite different from a lot of other game writing out there. It felt more like picking up a book, with strong themes by a central author that tell you a little bit about the author themselves.
I would largely categorize The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood as a visual novel. Primarily you’re talking to people, getting to know them, and responding accordingly to make decisions and move the plot forward. That said, it’s far from all you’ll be doing. The other core mechanic involves not just using tarot-style cards for divination, but MAKING them as well.
As you progress through the game, you’ll acquire energy that you can use to make cards. Each card is made up of three different parts. The game uses fancier terms for them but it’s easiest to call them setting, character, and tool. Each of these has different elemental requirements, and they flavor which aspects the card has. Later on you can unlock a method to see exactly what aspects a part will bring, but early on just using the elements required and part description can still give you a good idea of the end result.
Once you’ve selected the three parts, you’re actually given a decent degree of freedom in choosing how to assemble things on the card. There are a few things that MUST be placed for each part, but there are then several more optional objects you can add for each part, and you can freely scale, rotate, and flip them as well.
That said, a few of my issues from the preview still stand. The ability to zoom out on the setting would be greatly appreciated since the current zoom is too close to make out many of the landmarks, and a smaller list of required objects (Maybe just a “minimum number of objects” from each part?) would be appreciated since sometimes a required object just doesn’t really fit the scene.
A few other issues with the fortune telling have to do with its implementation. So, the game clearly wanted me to make lots of cards. Energy to do so was often a reward, and giving up some was touted as a major cost. I’d occasionally get new parts, and other characters would directly or indirectly tell me, “Hey, why don’t you go make some more cards?”
However… there really isn’t a large incentive to do so, outside of doing so for its own sake. In fact, due to a choice I made early on I wound up with a REALLY good card that just gave me all the options, and at that point I felt like I wanted to make my deck as small as possible to ensure I got the card I wanted, like one does in any other deck builder. If you find making art with the tools the game hands you fun, you and the game will be on the same wavelength, but if you’re more interested in the story well… I think I had maybe ten cards by the time I was done.
Now, that all said, the final game does implement another major mechanic, though it’s one I’m going to be a little bit tight-lipped on since it’s a major twist for the midway part of the game. But it is a big one that kinda becomes the main mechanic from that point onward. So, without spoiling too much, you’ll find yourself looking to present yourself favorably to different groups of people. You might write some off as a lost cause to focus more of your attention on other groups, spread yourself thin, focus on a few core groups, you can play nice and earnestly reach out to folks, or play dirty with sabotage… it’s a pleasantly robust system for something that was completely absent from the preview.
The art has a beautiful semi-retro style to it that I’ve come to associate with quality indie titles, with the jaggedness and minimalism of pixel art but with more detail and fluid animation than anything you’d see in actual older titles. The closeups and cutscenes in particular are chock full of little details and animation, and alongside the sound design adds so much flavor and mystique to this world.
I’m really at a loss for anything to criticize here. The presentation is spot on, all I can really say is I want more. More characters, more locales, more options for cards. It’s all beautiful, simply beautiful.
Good While it Lasts
The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood is one of those games I wish got made more often. Rather than spending dozens of hours simply being ok, it chooses to spend what little time it has being fantastic. It’s the kind of game that sticks with you for ages after you’ve put it down.
I know that contrasts with what I just said about wanting more, but at the end of the day I think it’s far better to be left wanting more than to have a forgettable time.
Review copy provided by Devolver Digital for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.