Wartales from developer Shiro Games was released on Steam in April, and I had every intention of reviewing it almost right away. After all, I really enjoy open world RPGs, and this seemed like a natural fit. The problem is that Wartales is an incredibly slow burn. After spending over 50 hours with the title, my company of mercenaries only had an average level of about five, and I had only just completed its second area. So, I had to really buckle down and push ahead. But that is not a bad thing, especially if players like to explore game worlds and build out their party at their own pace. Wartales won’t ever push you but will provide plenty of adventure if you roll up your chainmail sleeves and head out into the land to find it. All told, there is about 200 hours of content in Wartales, especially if you play like me and explore absolutely everywhere while enjoying this new world.
In Wartales, players have an entire company of mercenaries to manage. You start off with four people and can go through a little pre-game choose-your-own-background type of process to help generate everyone. You might be starving farmers looking for a new profession, lower-level squires who want to set off on your own adventures or a few choices in-between. Different backgrounds earn bonuses or penalties to start off with, but you will generally always start with a tank-like fighter, a rogue who does big damage but who is also fragile, an archer and a heavy melee type warrior. And while the rogue and archer are locked into their starting weapons, the warriors have a few choices in terms of specialization like spearmen, those who fight with clubs, people who wield two-handed weapons or those with a sword and shield. Again, each has advantages and drawbacks, and the key will be working together later on in the game’s abundant turn-based combat encounters.
Apparently, there is a background story to Wartales, but it matters little either to players or their characters. Basically, there was a plague many years ago which wiped out many of the central governments which were originally part of something called the Edoran Empire. Today, the world is divided up into several self-governing provinces, none of which is particularly lawful or organized, and quite a bit of knowledge has also been lost. It’s basically like the Dark Ages timeframe from human history. That’s bad news for most of the people trying to survive in that dark world, but good news for mercenaries because it means plenty of work if you don’t care too much about things like morality and are willing to spill a little (or quite a lot) of blood in exchange for coin.
I have to say that it’s refreshing to not be the hero or the chosen one in a title. Nothing against games like Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, the Kingmaker RPG, King Arthur: Knight’s Tale, The Waylanders or so many others. I enjoyed most of those aforementioned titles and many more besides, but it was nice to just focus on building up a company of adventurers, keeping everyone fed and happy (both big challenges in a world like this) and, of course, getting paid. In several of the provinces I visited, I ended up taking jobs for both sides of whoever was in conflict as well as whatever normal missions (assassination, exploration, delivery, etc.) I could find in the local taverns. The goal was to keep strengthening my troop, expanding them with new members when needed and keeping alive in this dark world. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of the classic Darklands computer game from 1992, and I have to wonder if that influenced the creation of Wartales.
You start off with just four mercenaries but can recruit more people as you travel by spending both gold and influence – resources you earn by going on missions. And you will probably need more than four people because in addition to their combat specialty, each character can also have a professional job. So, if you want to make your own weapons and armor (you will certainly want to do that to get the best gear) from all the wood, ore and other materials that you find, then you will need a blacksmith. If you want to catch fish for extra food when you pass by rivers, then you need an angler. Other professions include woodcutters, miners, cooks (having one is pretty much essential), tinkerers, bards and scholars. The scholar is an interesting profession because they can research all that lost knowledge and turn the broken parts you find in ancient tombs into some of the most powerful weapons in Wartales.
My troop quickly ballooned, with a person from every profession, a captured wolf, a tamed bear, a warhorse and three ponies whose only job was to carry all our stuff, like the tons of food I needed to lug around to support my company. Honestly, a smaller company might have been better, but I kind of liked having so many people traveling the world with me because it gave me a ton of options in combat where two or more people could mutually support one another.
For example, my speedy wolf would race across the field and tie down an enemy archer, forcing them to engage in melee combat (which they are very weak at doing) instead of firing off powerful shots with their bow. Meanwhile, my knight would engage a powerful foe while my ranger snuck up from behind for a backstab. Elsewhere in the battle, a heavy melee fighter was supported by a spearman who shared bonuses with them for holding the line.
The turn-based combat in Wartales is sometimes challenging, but it’s easy to figure out the rules, as well as different strategies to help make your troop fight above its level by using clever tactics. After a battle, both experience points and loot is distributed, and if you earn enough XP, you can further specialize your troops, leading to some really over-powered builds if you are careful about it.
There are two main game modes in Wartales. The first mode has the game scale up with your party as you adventure, like Skyrim or other RPGs where players are offered a consistent challenge. The other mode is called region locking, where each region in the title has its enemies fall within a range. So, in the first region where you start, the enemies you encounter will generally be between levels one and four, while the nearby regions have combats where your opponents will be between levels five and six. That is the way I liked to play Wartales because it made it seem more like my troop was getting stronger, especially when I revisited previously conquered realms again. I liked that style of play as opposed to enemies always being close to my level at all times. If I wanted a challenge, I would simply march into a new realm, and if it was too difficult, I would make a quick retreat until I leveled up some more and then try again.
The world itself in Wartales is really beautiful and makes exploring it really fun. There is so much to discover that sometimes you may find yourself just exploring for the heck of it (although exploring in a direction of a paying job is far better). The developers are also adding content to the game world over time as well. For example, they recently added the massive city of Gosenberg as a playable area, and it was so well-done that it brought to mind adventuring back in the heady days of Baldur’s Gate.
In addition to combat and exploration, a big part of Wartales is the management of your company at camp. That is where you need to rest when your troop gets tired (there is a meter that tells you how fatigued everyone is getting).
In camp you will feed your troops, work on things like stretching out animal skins into usable leather, keep the morale of your troop high, launder your stolen items (if you have a thief, which is another profession one of your company can follow) and several other activities. Most activities require that your tinkerer build a station to practice it, like a desk for your scholar or a cooking pot for your chef. And most of those stations are upgradable, so you can increase their efficiency over time as long as you learn the crafting recipe and collect the required materials. In any case, you will be spending a lot of time in camp.
Inside the camp is also where your mercenaries’ individual personalities will be revealed as they sometimes interact with one another, directed by the player in terms of responses, which like everything else in Wartales, could earn bonuses or penalties. There is not much in the way of true inner-party RPGing, but it’s still nice that this was included a bit in the camp area.
Wartales is an incredible game for the right kind of player. If you enjoy open worlds where you can do whatever you want, then this will do that. You also need to have a healthy respect for turn-based combat and more than a little bit of skill in company and resource management. For me, that makes Wartales just about perfect. It’s quite a title if you want to plop down and play for a few hours at a time, and don’t mind it being a bit of a slow burn. It’s also nice that you are not really trying to save the world, just attempting to make your way through it, and maybe earn a few thousands gold coins along the way.
Wartales easily earns 4.5 GiN Gems for its war chest, and I can’t wait to see how it will continue to evolve and expand.