Wartales Deep Look
Wartales provides a compelling power fantasy despite its lack of magic or fantastical creatures.
Developed by Shiro Games, Wartales is a tactical RPG that tasks players with creating a group and making a mark on the world. But unlike most games, the player does not create heroes capable of fighting off hordes of bad guys or monsters. Instead, the first group of mercenaries looks like ruffians chosen from a nearby town, farm, or mining operation. Even a small group of bandits can become a considerable obstacle for this new mercenary group. However, as the group grows, they will hire new members, learn new skills, and spread their influence to become a powerful force. As a result, Wartales provides a compelling power fantasy despite its lack of magic or fantastical creatures.
Wartales is set against the backdrop of the fall of the Edoran Empire, which collapsed a century ago after a plague swept through the people. The world has become a dangerous place to work in, opening a great opportunity for mercenaries and bandits. The player’s group starts off with one task, to simply survive. However, it is not long before that focus begins to change. Refugees are pouring in from nearby lands, and the townspeople ask players to push them out. However, the refugees have their own stories to tell and a different set of requests. Alternatively, the player may ignore those requests and take on work in the open world, growing their party and developing their skills.
And there are a ton of new skills, both in and out of combat, waiting to be discovered. As the companions fight, they level up, allowing the player to assign attribute points and choose new skills to use in combat. As the player mercenaries comb the landscape, they earn knowledge points, which can be used to unlock new recipes and upgrades for the camp. These are very satisfying as they really open up gameplay. Career Planning, for example, allows the player to spend a bit of prestige to add points in attributes during the level-up process. Researching a workbench allows the player to do crafting from their camp rather than trekking all the way back to a town. New food recipes can be used to create wonderful dishes that satisfy the troops.
Many of these improvements help the group become more combat-ready. Combat plays a major role in Wartales, and tactics are king. Upon the start of combat, players begin by setting their units up at designated locations on the map, introducing some strategic considerations right off. There’s a timeline showing what order enemies will take their turns in. In between the enemy icons are player icons indicating that a party member of the player’s choice will take a turn, as long as they have not gone this round. The ability to choose what order your party fights in combat adds an additional layer of strategy, aside from positioning and management of resources.
Character death is a very real possibility and quite permanent. Thankfully, the party can hire new mercenaries in nearly any town. In fact, group size can grow quite large. However, all of them require a salary and food. Numbers can help win battles, but they can also cost all of the coins earned in the fight. With that said, characters earn experience and learn new skills as they fight, so players would do well to minimize losses as it can be hard to find someone else of a comparable level to hire.
Exploration plays a huge role in this game. As the group travels, they find new events, resources, and groups to trade with. Creating new gear and cooking interesting dishes often require ingredients that can only be obtained this way. Some of these recipes allow the party to craft new improvements for the camp, such as a workbench to craft new items or a tent to increase happiness while resting. These upgrades seem mundane but have a profound impact on the team’s overall effectiveness.
Starting off as a rag-tag band of mercenaries and working up to an influential group feels very satisfying. Opening up new parts of the world, meeting new NPCs, discovering new quests, and growing in power all go hand in hand. Despite the low-magic setting, the power fantasy works quite well here, and players feel accomplished as they work their way through.
There are two possible negatives that could dissuade some from joining this epic journey. First, the inventory management feels a bit clunky. There’s a small item bag the party uses to store items, with carrying weight dependent on the strength of characters and the types of horses they bring along. Constantly having to choose what to carry around due to that limitation is a chore. However, the problem is exasperated by the poor interface and Tetris-like inventory system. A more elegant solution would have gone a long way to rectifying this problem. Second, combat slows down as the game progresses. Players start out with a small group, fighting just a few bandits at a time. By the mid-game, it is common to have about a dozen mercenaries fighting well over a dozen enemies. As a result, late-game fights in particular may feel like a slog compared to earlier ones. With that said, the fights themselves feel tough but fair, regardless of the numbers.
Graphically, the game looks well-polished. The environment looks rich, with nice weather effects helping to further immerse the player. Attention to detail in the design of both the graphics and the game itself really draws one into the experience. The music does a great job as well, using folk music in a town and switching to a faster beat with drums in combat.
Despite a few shortcomings, Wartales feels well-polished and provides an entertaining experience throughout. It has many systems that, at first glance, do not seem to relate well to one another. However, these different parts come together to form a greater whole, making for a fantastic experience rarely seen in many role-playing games. RPGamers looking for a novel take on the classic RPG formula should certainly take a close look at this title.
Disclosure: This article is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher.