Deconstructeam creates games that feel like a new kind of noir, each one draped in pixelated shadows and filled with philosophical innuendo, short and slow-burning. The studio is known for Gods Will Be Watching and The Red Strings Club, two narrative titles that play with concepts of morality and manipulation in harsh futuristic environments. These games ask players to dictate the fates of friends, lovers and enemies, and then they provide languid scenes of rumination as the violence and betrayal unfolds. Deconstructeam’s latest project, The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood, elevates these concepts to a grander plane.
The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood begins with a witch who lives on an asteroid. Her name is Fortuna, and she was exiled from her coven after her prediction of doom angered the witch in charge; the game begins on year 200 of Fortuna’s 1,000-year sentence. Fed up and lonely, she summons an ancient Behemoth to help her escape the space rock and enact revenge on her former sisters. It all plays out in classic Deconstructeam style, with densely detailed, vibrant pixel art.
The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood feels bigger than previous Deconstructeam experiences, layered with divergent gameplay styles, characters and narrative branches. A main mechanic in its first hour involves building a deck of divination cards, choosing the backgrounds, main symbols and supporting elements based on a rich grimoire of the combinations and their interpretations.
Designing the cards can be as tedious a process as you want, and I thoroughly enjoyed taking my time to create a deck that I found to be beautiful (and creepy) as well as powerful.
At its core, Cosmic Wheel is a visual novel with narrative paths dictated by the player’s choices. The immortal Behemoth, Ábramar, is Fortuna’s main companion in the demo — but our little witch is actually incredibly social, for someone who's supposed to be exiled. As Fortuna rebuilds her deck with Ábramar, she reads the fates and fortunes of visitors that find her asteroid, and players are able to dictate, to an extent, what each card will reveal. These moments give Fortuna an upper hand, even in interactions with the massive god peering through her window, and they nicely supplement the standard flow of conversation.
Ábramar suggests multiple times that Fortuna’s decisions in conversations will “dramatically” affect her fate, and even in just an hour of playtime, I saw evidence of this feature. At one point, there’s an opportunity to lie to an authority figure in charge of auditing Fortuna’s sentence — the deception doesn’t fit with statements Fortuna has already made, but in games like these, often the “(lie)” option is the correct one, regardless of logical flow. That’s not the case in The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood. The lie is immediately spotted, much like it would be in a real-life conversation with a member of a parole board.
In another instance, Fortuna is given the option to destroy her coven — but the choice is provided before we’ve met any other witches involved, when the sisterhood is a vague entity filled with faceless enemies in the player’s mind. Only after this decision, Cosmic Wheel introduces players to some of Fortuna’s former friends in a camping-trip flashback, allowing ample time for any guilt and regret to fester. The conversations these friends have, pre-asteroid and pre-coven, are amusing and authentic, and the information they provide is relevant to future tasks.
Pay attention to the details in The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood. Lie only when you’re sure you can get away with it, listen to your companions’ stories, build a beautiful divination deck, and go ahead, seduce an immortal god of gods (that last one is less gameplay advice, more wicked encouragement). The demo comes to a close after that camping trip, with three friends watching the stars appear above a tranquil lake, laughing about life and making plans. The weight of the choices you’ve already made, more than 200 years in the future, linger in the chill air. Above it all, Ábramar waits.
The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood is due out in 2023 for PC and Nintendo Switch, developed by Deconstructeam and published by Devolver Digital.