I’m trying to divine the intentions of a massive Behemoth that’s older than the universe using a tarot deck. Picking out a card I designed just a few minutes earlier, I place it down on the table in front of me and am presented with a choice of interpretations. Being massively immature, I decide to accuse the Behemoth of only being interested in trying to seduce me.
The god-like creature, its body entwined around the floating, interstellar house in which I’m imprisoned, laughs maniacally at me through the window I’m facing. Once it’s regained its composure, it denies my accusation, but not before uttering the immortal line: “I admit I have a strong fetish for witches.”'
Spell my witch up
In The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood, the latest narrative adventure from studio Deconstructeam, you play as a witch named Fortuna. Citing the likes of the manga ‘The Tarot Café’ and the show ‘Big Little Lies’ as inspirations for its mood and themes, the game begins with Fortuna having been banished from her coven for forecasting their future destruction and openly spreading word of her prediction. As such, she spent most of the short demo section of the game I played gradually regaining her magical powers of divination via a forbidden pact with the already mentioned Behemoth, Àbramar.
Through a series of daily elemental rituals, I watched this pair gradually get to know each other, until they were bantering back and forth like old friends. Each of these rites was kicked off by an exchange of magical power between the two, preceded by a philosophical multiple-choice question that allowed me to shape Fortuna’s personality and desires in a manner the game promised would have consequences later on.
Was she desperate for vengeance against the coven leader that’d cast her out? Did she crave to be pitied or feared by others? What was she prepared to sacrifice later on in life as payment for the completion of Àbramar’s pact? This opening sequence takes on the unenviable task of both establishing an isolation-heavy atmosphere around Fortuna’s imprisonment and introducing the player to a litany of characters and concepts that bring to life the unique and fantastical witching world, inspired by the likes of Netflix's ‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ and Aki Irie’s manga ‘Ran and the Gray World’, in which the wider game is set, but does a great job handling both of those extremes.
Mixing fire and ice
One of the things that struck me about how the game handles introducing itself was how well its dialogue trod the line between the serious and the silly. As someone who’s tried their hand at writing fantasy fiction before, I always felt like I had to stop myself from adopting too sober and lore-heavy a tone, because I was so desperate to both establish the universe I’d created and convince the reader to buy into its legitimacy.
During this sequence in particular, The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood came off as a work that wasn’t at all preoccupied with this insecurity, thoroughly convinced that it could get me on board by expertly splicing nuggets of info into quite casual-feeling conversations ripe with down-to-earth barbs and witticisms.
“Humour is an integral part of existence and very common in any kind of conversation, even in professional settings, so I don't shy away from it while developing any kind of universe.” said Deconstructeam’s writer, Jordi de Paco, when I asked the team about finding this balance, adding that 20 years of overseeing TTRPG games bequeaths: “a lot of experience in keeping a group of players amused but immersed at the same time.”
The result of this strategy, in my case, was resounding success, as I found myself laughing along with the gags, eagerly absorbing the tidbits of info, and being drawn in whenever things suddenly became a bit more serious. For example, I carefully chose each of my answers to the questions outlined earlier and then got to make a custom divination card, imbued with elemental power, to add to the ever-growing deck I soon ended up using to read characters’ fortunes.
The turn of a friendly card
Much like their preceding queries, the creation of cards in The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood offers you a great chance to bring some unique personal flavour to the game, with the composition and design entirely up to your preferences. With a sea of mysterious background locations, fantastical characters and interesting props, all of which come with descriptions that offer more clues as to what lies beyond the confines of Fortuna’s cosy cell, to choose from and arrange as you see fit, the artistically-minded will likely be entertained for hours.
If I’m getting picky, it might’ve been extra cool to see the completed cards come with some animated movement, just to give them a bit more of a magically-tinged visual pop, but this would only be extra icing on a cake that’s already pretty delicious. Regardless, the few bits of divination I got to do with the deck I’d assembled were fun, with different cards giving me different options of readings I could give, each of which prompted a unique reaction from the subject.
In one instance, I divined that Àbramar was depressed, prompting a nice little tone shift, as Fortuna offered the Behemoth a chance to try and talk out its frustrations. Meanwhile, during a different soothsaying session, the answer I’d given to one of the ritual questions earlier on also influenced how an Arbiter visiting Fortuna to discuss the banishment reacted to the reading that she received, proving that that game sticks to its guns of making you pay for off-handedly declaring you’d like to be feared by everyone.
The team cite “the very process of studying the (Rider–Waite) tarot deck and its meanings” as having “been pivotal in developing all the magic systems for the game”, so there are probably a lot of little nuances and homages to be gleaned from making cards and magically manipulating them if you, unlike me, have actually dabbled in tarot at some point.
Let's go to the beach (each)
In the second section of the preview, the booming, pensive tones of the excellent soundtrack were swapped out for something a bit more upbeat and high-tempo, as the action switched to Earth. Kicking off midway through a riveting conversation about a ludicrously long orgasm that reminded me of several exchanges I love from Disco Elysium, this chapter saw three female friends head to a deserted beach in order to take in a meteor shower.
Highlighted by a pizza-making minigame that resulted in some gentle nagging when I accidentally forgot to account for one of the trio’s dietary requirements and a tarot card reading on the lofty subject of humanity’s future, this short adventure seemingly served mainly to reveal a bit of Fortuna’s backstory prior to becoming a witch. While I didn’t find it quite as engaging as the interstellar pact-making, it certainly accomplished its goal, providing a pleasant way to finish off my time with the game, for now at least.
Put under a spell
Once the story elements available to me were exhausted and I’d taken up its offer of sticking around a little longer to do some more experimenting with the card creator, I was left a little dismayed that I’ll have to wait to see all The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood has in store for Fortuna. I even ended up giving the demo an extra playthrough, partially to check out a few of the other choices on offer, but also just because I was having a really nice time.
Now I’ve torn myself away, I can only conclude that these feelings were evidence of two possible outcomes. Maybe I’m now really looking forward to getting my hands on the full version of the game when it comes out. Or maybe I’m starting to develop my own version of the not-at-all perverted witch fetish that afflicts Àbramar…