I’ll be the first to admit that Vagrus – The Riven Realms took me by surprise the first time that I played it. I was expecting a fairly deep strategy title similar to something like Darkest Dungeon, WARSAW, or even Iratus: Lord of the Dead, but with a much stronger focus on text-based story development. I quickly learned that I should’ve acknowledged that there was far more weight behind the developers’ claims that you need to buckle down for a heavy reading experience. As such, my first experience was a bit jarring.
My second attempt went more smoothly. After dropping my former expectations and embracing the fact that I was playing a choose-your-own-adventure with a few lighter strategy elements, it became clear to me that Vagrus had potential than I’d originally given it credit for.
Load Up Your Beasts of Burden
As the new Vagrus, it’s up to you to lead your caravan in its survival and, dare I say, success. The world is a post-apocalyptic one, and although decently developed civilization exists, much of the land is inhospitable and extraordinarily dangerous. Nasty creatures and even nastier humanoids stalk vulnerable travelers across the wastes and any group with an understanding of what they’re up against will journey fully prepared with trained warriors and sturdy equipment to protect themselves. Even worse, some of the foulest foes that a Vagrus may find themselves up against aren’t outside of city walls, but within them.
That said, the vast majority of your engagement with the world is through text and the variety of choices that you have for interacting with it. The locations that you visit are more often than not packed full of places to visit and they frequently reminded me of Sunless Sea with the way that visiting a city felt like you were truly visiting a city; I often felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of areas to explore. Even with it being almost exclusively text, it often had me nodding my head in approval due to the clear passion that the developers had in building their setting. Although I haven’t put enough time into the title to see how much of an impact your choices have and how vastly different your tale may become by choosing alternatives, I can say that I’ve at least felt like I’ve been reading a story that’s semi-unique to me. There were always several ways to resolve any situation that I was faced with and it never reached a point where I felt that my hand was being forced for anything. As a matter of fact, even in situations that I found myself in that, I didn’t want to be in, there was almost always an option for getting away from it as long as it would have been reasonably possible. This title leaves most of its peers behind by the sheer volume of choices available to you at every turn, a good trait for a text-based adventure.
Caravan Management and You
Managing your caravan properly is integral to your survival in Vagrus – The Riven Realms. Slaves, free laborers, and warriors make up the core of your group’s composition with others such as the named hero characters that you’ve picked up along the way throwing in some additional benefits. You’ll decide where they travel, when they’re paid, how much they’re fed, how intensely they keep watch of your camp, and so forth. Each of these has its own pros and cons that you’ll need to balance depending on circumstances at the time. For example, feeding your people less preserves resources but reduces the caravan’s morale. Similarly, assigning fewer guards results in better rested and happier followers, though the risk of threats catching you by surprise increases. Choices like these are made frequently, every time you camp to be specific, and will forever be something that you’re juggling and tweaking to maximize the efficiency of your caravan.
The setting not only feels like a passion project, but also one that has plenty of depth
A Dying World and Its People
The world is bleak in Vagrus – The Riven Realms and you’ll feel the desperation and desolation throughout your time in it. Though most of the experience is defined by the plentiful text that you sift through, the art style is particularly fitting for the setting and I was impressed by how well it added to the atmosphere. I didn’t quite find the sound design of the title to be quite as thrilling, though it certainly did its part well enough and didn’t interfere with the rest of the mechanisms that worked in unison to tell a dark and exciting story that I felt in control of.
The Bottom Line
It’s a challenge to discuss the intricate details of Vagrus – The Riven Realms as much of the experience is progressing in your own direction through the deep, text-based storytelling. Detailing anything more than the gameplay mechanics, atmosphere, and the overall setting would be rife with spoilers of varying intensity and it’s my intention to give a brief glimpse of what to expect without infringing on any part of the story itself for those who want to be kept in suspense.
Needless to say, if you’re thinking about picking up the mantle of Vagrus, you have to be fully prepared to read and read a lot. I can’t stress this enough. It really is a choose-your-own-adventure text game more than anything else. However, if that sounds like something that you’d be interested in, you could do much worse. The setting not only feels like a passion project, but also one that has plenty of depth, unique aspects that break away from many of the tropes that we’re used to, and excellent writing. If all of this sounds like a good time, you’ll likely have a good time with Vagrus. If any of this had made you question if it’s a title that you want to jump into, I would highly recommend waiting until it’s on a good sale as its design is pinpoint focused on providing an experience for a niche group of gamers.