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Wartales

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Shiro Games
Developer: Shiro Games
Release Date: 2022

About Chris Barnes

There's few things I'd sell my soul to the devil for. However, the ability to grow a solid moustache? I'd probably sign that contract ... maybe ... (definitely).

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PC Preview - 'Wartales'

by Chris Barnes on May 27, 2022 @ 1:38 a.m. PDT

Wartales is an open-world RPG where players lead a group of mercenaries in search of wealth across a massive medieval universe. Explore the world, recruit companions, collect bounties and unravel the secrets of the tombs of the ancients!

With increasingly exorbitant development budgets, the gaming industry has seemingly become a homogenized sea of genre-blending releases in recent years. To make up for development costs, publishers are happy to appeal to as large of an audience as possible by releasing an open-world action-adventure RPG. Despite us drowning in this ocean of endless loot and customization options, so many fall short of capturing the magic that's present in the original tabletop RPGs of the '80s.

As I sunk more hours into Wartales and watched my ragtag group of mercenaries constantly face the various ups and downs that come with adventuring, I realized that Shiro Games has succeeded in making an RPG where most developers fall short. Many games with the "RPG" tag rely heavily on the character build screens.


Your character's role is predetermined before you've even played a single minute, and it'll likely stick to that same role throughout the entire campaign. Wartales takes quite a different approach. It's not about the appearance of the characters or the stats and weapons they so proudly boast, but it's about the journey.

You are greeted with a character customization screen at the beginning of a new game, but as you lose yourself in the organically unraveling narrative, the initial character builds become an afterthought. I remember Gunther, the brute of the party, who was as strong as a horse but shaped like a potato. He died when we were ambushed by bandits because we camped in a rather dubious-looking forest. There was Evlyn, the trite red-headed archer of the group. She'd been in the party for 20 days or so. She joined us on our trek down to Haven, fought hard in battle, and earned her place among her fellow comrades, but she never made it back home. Everyone was tired, and the party had run out of food. The hometown of Stromkapp was in view. They were so close to an inn where they could finally rest, so I decided to push them despite the little tent icon endlessly pestering me about the party's need for camp. Just as the town border drew near, she passed away from exhaustion.

It's moments like this where Wartales shines. It's not focused on realistic character models, elaborate animations, or detailed textures, but it focuses on the various systems and choices that can drive an emergent narrative. It create an experience that feels distinct to the player even when the quest log is as generic as "search for the missing loggers in the forest." The focus on the party's journey instead of the party members becomes clear within moments of starting a new game. With a panned-out isometric view of your party and the surrounding map, you don't get a microscopic view of the world but more of a macro glance at everything around your party. Despite the isometric perspective, I was surprised to find that there's no way to pan the camera. It's initially off-putting, but I eventually came around to this design decision, and I think it makes for a fun experience. There's no way to scout ahead as the player. You are just as blind as the characters in your party to what lies beyond view.


As you click on the map to move your party along, you'll uncover resources, buildings, enemies, and other parties. Doing so often rewards you with knowledge points that can be spent to unlock new abilities, such as sprinting or crafting better equipment. In addition to knowledge points, Wartales keeps track of your actions across different "paths." After enough combat victories, you may reach an additional level in the "Power and Might" path, whereas stealing a certain number of treasures unlocks the next level in the "Crime and Chaos" path. Like the knowledge points, leveling up your party's paths is another way to unlock traits and abilities.

A significant portion of the game is spent in this overworld and the management menus that clog up your screen, but you'll also get a more detailed perspective when entering buildings and battles. Because of the focus on the party's overarching journey, the details in these moments feel a bit lackluster in terms of visual and audio presentation. Interacting with the various NPCs is critical to advancing Wartales. Some may offer quests or decision points in an ongoing quest, whereas others offer goods and services like repairing damaged weapons. Entering town often feels monotonous but necessary for my party to continue with its map exploration.

And there's a lot of map to explore.

I spent nine hours trekking across the early parts of Wartales map, and there's still plenty left to explore. With four counties — more counties will be added in future updates — there are plenty of places to increase your knowledge, level up your party and hone your professional skills. The professions were something I enjoyed tackling during my travels. Each party member can be assigned a profession. My brute was a blacksmith, so each time I returned to town, I could use him to forge new weapons and armor. Doing so isn't resolved with a click of a button. Instead, a minigame requires you to carefully time when to swing a hammer. If timed properly, it can be the difference between a normal piece of armor versus a superior version with better stats and slots.


In addition to the towns and buildings that offer a more detailed view of the world, your band of mercenaries will also stumble into many battles along the way. The turn-based tactical fights are presented in a more zoomed-in isometric view, akin to games like X-COM or Final Fantasy Tactics. Each party member uses the abilities specific to their roles to overcome what are often grueling and uneven scenarios. It's common for your party of four to six mercenaries to fight a battle against nine or more enemies. It can be overwhelming at first, but as you wrap your head around the combat system and abilities, the uneven odds seem more manageable.

At first glance, Wartales feels like other turn-based tactics games that have come before it. A bar across the top of the screen shows the character turn order. Characters can move a limited number of meters from their starting position based on their movement stat, attack enemies to do some damage, and use class-based abilities to gain an advantage. As I dug deeper into the game, I noticed some admirable intricacies to its combat system. For instance, turn order isn't specific to certain characters in the party. Each character and enemy gets a turn during a round, but you can choose when in the order each of your party members take their turn. This is not static or predetermined at the start of battle, either. You can change the character order in each round, so there's room for flexibility. If an enemy flanks one of your characters, you can use an archer to finish off that enemy even if you initially had other plans for your archer.

In addition to basic movement and attacks, your characters have abilities unique to their class. Unlike other tactics games, your party shares a pool of action points to cast abilities, which include healing, special attacks, and evasive maneuvers. Having a shared pool of points makes for some tough mid-battle decisions. Do you want to burn your last point to heal an ally who's almost dead, or do you use it to perform a special attack that finishes off an enemy?


The game offers enough ways to regain action points. Keeping your party well rested and well fed while traveling the overworld map is key to regaining action points, but you can even regain some in a fight. When leveling up, each character unlocks combat perks that grant extra action points when they fulfill certain actions. Your rogue might add an extra action point to the party's pool if they end their turn adjacent to an enemy without being engaged in combat. Archers and spearmen might grant an extra point if they land the killing blow on an enemy. These perks open up a range of combinations in battle that make for riveting moments to turn the tide. You may have the chance to use your archer for a regular attack, burn your last point for an additional special attack, and regain that point if they successfully kill the enemy, so you can still heal a wounded ally in a future turn.

Learning the ins and outs of Wartales' systems is key to enjoying the game. There's a pleasing, almost painterly nature to the open-world map. I enjoyed Wartales, which felt like a single-player version of a D&D campaign with my friends. The main storyline quests may be a touch generic, but the narrative that's created as we embark on those missions manifests into something that no one else has experienced.



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