Breaking the Mold With Atmospheric and Historical RPG The Thaumaturge

The Thaumaturge
Reviewed On
Steam (PC)
Available For

I’ve been unbelievably excited about this game since it was first suggested to me, and I have to say, it lives up to the hype.

Plot Ahoy!

The world of The Thaumaturge is incredibly deep, so no matter what I do with respect to the plot summary, I will not be doing this title justice. First, let’s chat about the setting. The Thaumaturge takes place in 1905, which is a period in Polish history when the country was controlled by Russia, and if the date rings bells for you, it very definitely should because that is the year the first Russian Revolution began. The tsar at the time was Nicholas II who would later be executed. While Rasputin wasn’t deeply involved with the Imperial family at this point, there was a wide fascination with the occult and spirituality during this time. The Thaumaturge plays beautifully into that and in fact grants Rasputin a role in the game, which makes sense given that Rasputin wasn’t actually in St. Petersburg much in 1905.

You play Wiktor Szulski, a Polish thaumaturge, who has returned to Warsaw in the wake of his father Stanislaw’s death under mysterious circumstances. Wiktor’s purpose in Warsaw is therefore to determine how and why his father died, to acquire new salutors, and do battle with the Russian occupying force. For the unfamiliar, a thaumaturge, at least as far as the game is concerned, is an individual who has the inherited ability to see things other people cannot and who can also manipulate others’ thoughts and see a bit of their past as well. Primarily, the thaumaturge uses salutors, which seem to straddle the gamut between demons and other creatures from Slavic folklore. Salutors join themselves to individuals possessed of a strong personality flaw, usually one that would have led them to the dark side.

Warsaw itself feels like a character in The Thaumaturge. Your sandbox to play in is the city, which has been divided into districts, and you’ll spend a significant amount of time hoofing it from one location to another. However, the most interesting part of the title is the sheer variety of characters with whom you’ll interact over the course of gameplay. Warsaw in 1905 would have been an incredibly diverse and cosmopolitan location, the occupation notwithstanding, and The Thaumaturge does a great job of conveying the depth and breadth of the city’s disparate cultures and socio-economic strata. You’ll interact with nearly all of them.

Review Notes

The absolute first thing I need you to know about The Thaumaturge is that it’s gorgeous. It was developed in the Unreal Engine V, so it should be. The cutscenes are detailed, if a bit long, but The Thaumaturge is a story-heavy game. You should prepare yourself for a great deal of dialogue, and that dialogue leads into various decision-trees that will result in different endings. Most of your progress will involve quest completions that pertain both to the main and side-stories. There’s a lot, and I mean a LOT, of investigation mechanics baked into the game. Fortunately, these are fairly easily mastered.

The title does include a combat mechanic, but you should realize that it’s going to be a very slow back and forth in the style of whatever JRPG you prefer. You’ll face off against regular folks, other thaumaturges, and salutors. What’s interesting about the combat here is that your enemies don’t just go in for straight damage. In fact, the combat mechanics seem mostly to focus on the clever use of status changes. You can switch out your various salutors in each fight so that you can access their different abilities. Most of these will involve some function of either siphoning life directly or otherwise weakening the target, leaving them open to damage.

The Thaumaturge uses cards in its combat, and you’ll have the option of choosing attacks based on speed, where the faster the attack, the weaker it will be. The aforementioned status change attacks likewise pair well with a slower attack. The combat mechanic is easily the weakest element, but unfortunately, it’s necessary. Some of these combat events occur seemingly out of nowhere and don’t really make sense in terms of what you might be doing at that particular time. However, the combat isn’t too difficult, though it can be lethal. Remember, you’re a thaumaturge, possessed of a squishy body, so getting stabbed does in fact matter.

Above, I mentioned that the salutors are attracted to serious personality flaws. That’s not just important in combat; it’s also pretty key to how you investigate. The salutors can grant you insights into the people with whom you interact based on their ability to sense these flaws. I mention this because it’s a really fun mechanic. Persuasion is an important part of The Thaumaturge’s gameplay, and your salutors give you a leg up on it. However, you do need to pay attention to your own flaw levels. You can bet that your salutors are watching those numbers too.

The voice acting is pretty solid, and the sound design is atmospheric. However, again, the real appeal of The Thaumaturge is visual in nature given how beautifully things are rendered. I’m hardly an expert on Slavic culture, but the character designs are consistent throughout and do not feel anachronistic, at least to the untrained eye.


The Thaumaturge is a deeply atmospheric, text-loaded RPG. It’s generally isometric, but it’s peppered liberally with cutscenes. The gameplay is really slow, which is fine if you have significant amounts of time to sink into it. I’d argue that the combat system isn’t exactly straightforward, but once you learn it you are good because it doesn’t change much throughout the title.

The Thaumaturge retails for a pretty fair $34.99.

Stray Thoughts From Behind the Keyboard

  1. The graphics are good enough that you can see Wiktor’s sickness permeating his mien.
  2. There’s so much Polish pride in The Thaumaturge.
  3. The randomly appearing Upyr salutor is beautifully done and sometimes unnerving.
  4. I wish I knew more about Slavic folklore because I am certain there are Easter Eggs that I’m not tracking here.
  5. Rasputin is delightfully creepy.
  6. Wiktor’s father Stanislaw comes off as a jerk.
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