Gather your band of mercenaries to explore the massive open world in Wartales. A turn-based RPG about exploration, war-torn lands, and making enough money off contracts to keep your companions happy.
You start off in Stromkapp. A nice little town with all the necessities a starting mercenary would need. They have a blacksmith, an Inn and even a market. You promptly find that the quickest way to make money is going to be taking contracts from the local emissary. However, you also discover that most of the contracts and problems around Tiltren County are caused by refugees from the nearby war. Do you help the refugees, or do you side with the people of Stromkapp and fix their refugee problem?
Wartales does not give any clear designation on the good or bad choice, like many other RPGs. All choices are left to the player to decide and discover. Will you reap the rewards or deal with the consequences of your decision? Stromkapp is just the start though. The world of Wartales is vast, with many more towns and possibilities ahead. What will be the legacy left behind by your band of mercenaries?
Before setting foot in Stromkapp, the game starts off with a few choices for the player. As with any good role-playing game, you get to select the background of your starting mercenaries. These backgrounds will give your characters both buffs and debuffs. You will make decisions that affect what classes your starting party will have: if they will have a good reputation or wanted by the local guard; and even if they are cunning fighters or have an uncommon bout of bad luck.
Next, you get to set a few difficulty settings. One of the coolest options that you get to pick from is the type of exploration you want to have. If you like games with a set difficulty level at each region, you would select the Region-locked Exploration path. But, if you like to have the freedom to explore the world as you see fitfully, then you would select the Adaptive Exploration option. This opinion will dynamically scale the enemies to your party. Makes for a challenging fight, but not limiting you to a specific region until you level your characters up enough to move on.
Aside from that, there are also the combat and survival difficulty settings. These can each be set to novice, experienced or expert. It is nice having them as separate settings. That way, you can fine-tune the game to your playstyle. Maybe you want every combat to be gruelingly difficult, but don’t care so much for the survival aspect of the game. Or you want more of the survival aspect with lighter combat. Of course, you can max out the difficulty of both if you really want a challenge. There are also different save mode options for limited, free to save whenever, or even Ironman for hardcore gamers. It is always great when games give their players the ability to play the game the way they want.
Lastly, is customizing your starting characters before the game begins. You could leave the default settings for your starting characters. But let’s be honest, this is an RPG, and customizing your character’s background and looks is an important part of the game. You are able to change each character’s name, gender, face, hair, facial hair, and skin tone. Currently, there are only a handful of options in each category. However, you can also change some characters’ starting weapons and secondary skills and give them some positive and negative traits to add more to their individual stories. Lastly, don’t forget to name your pony. You can also change its appearance and give it the stocky trait so it can carry even more of your loot back to town for you.
Once you are happy with all of your customizing, you jump right into the game and get ambushed by some bandits. Now here is where the turn-based comes into play. The combat is based on a timeline of turns that is set at the beginning of the battle. The interesting thing about the timeline is that your turn is set in the timeline instead of your characters. What I mean is that you can play any character you want when it is your turn. This allows you to strategize what character you should play next based on what enemy has its turn coming up on the timeline. Of course, you can only play each character once per round. This does allow for some cool strategies, like being about to rush and lock an archer into hand-to-hand combat before they can get a shot off.
Another important aspect of combat is the setup. At the very beginning of combat, there are a bunch of blue squares on the battlefield. These are positions that you can move your characters to before the fight begins. Picking the best spot for each class of character can make a big difference in battle. Are you going to put your archer in a choke point so that she can overwatch as the enemy slowly comes in? Or perhaps pull all of your team out of the middle of the battlefield to prevent being surrounded in the first round?
The combat in Wartales is very enjoyable. A big part of that is due to their different classes and skills. Each class, from archer and warrior to ranger and spearman, plays differently. Even two characters of the same class can feel different in combat as you level them up. You can have one archer focused on beast mastery and staying close to the animals while another archer is focused on keeping distance and taking kill shots to collect Valour. Yes, I said animals. Who doesn’t want a giant bear or a pack of wolves on their team? Valour Points are for using special skills during combat. Rather than a cooldown for skills, you have to generate Valour to use your special skills. They can be generated from resting at camp or from doing certain things in combat, such as getting the kill shot for specific characters.
Most of the game at the beginning will be fetch quests. Getting a bounty from the emissary to eliminate a gang causing problems and return for the next bounty. Now, that can be a downside for a lot of people. Once you get to a slightly higher level though, things really start to open up, and other sources of income and food become available. The bounty system is set up quite well actually. When you talk to the emissary about their available jobs, the list of bounties shows a description and a general location of each, as well as a reward. After selecting one of the bounties, a small map appears and slows the location in relation to your current spot. That location is also updated on your map. This made it quite easy to get those first couple of bounties done quickly.
Once the world opens up after Stromkapp, that is when things start to get even more interesting. You will find that there are all sorts of things in the world of Wartales to fight and discover. Arenas to fight in, ancient ruins to explore, a lot more than just boundaries to chase. You will quickly find out if you were truly prepared for the expedition.
Since this is an open-world RPG, we can only hope that the world looks good. And it does. The birds eye view of the world, while you watch your party walk from location to location, does look good. After a few hours of playing, it does give you a better appreciation for all those walking scenes in The Lord of the Rings. But the game really shines when you get in closer.
When you get into battle, the battlefield is affected by the location you were at in the world. There appear to be a lot of different locations with several different environmental effects. So if you were in the swamp during a thunderstorm, you have to look out for mosquito swarms and lighting strikes that will kill anyone standing in its range when it strikes. All of the battlefields are set up nicely, and the camera’s freedom makes it fun to explore each environment before beginning the battle.
Other great places to explore are all the buildings and other locations around the map. Each location is a small diorama that you can move around. It is always fun to look at all the detail the developers put in while designing each location. It can also be beneficial to move the diorama around, as there might be hidden items that you did not see from the starting angle.
The same can be said for the campsites. The campsite does change depending on where you set up camp for the night. The site is also customizable. As you continue throughout the game, you will be able to build useful features for your campsite. These give you boots in combat or other bonuses in the game. You can build a hitching post for your ponies. They will get a boost to their carrying capacity if you stand them next to it. Or you can build a strategy table where you can position your captain to get bonuses in battle.
Overall, I enjoyed the visuals while playing the game. It was nice to see that no small detail was left out.
As nice as the game is, there are still a few things I hope to see added to the game after release. One of those is, of course, more character customization. As I mentioned, this is a role-playing game. I want to have a few more customization options in each category they already have. It would also be nice to be able to have some additional categories added, such as the height or build of the characters.
One of my favorite parts about the game is recruiting animals. As soon as I found out I could recruit bears and wolves to my party, I did it regularly. I do wish that there was a little bit more customization to the animals, though, such as armor or other gear, and not just a satchel for each of them to carry more. My polar bear is the best fighter in my party. I want it to look and feel the part.
As nice as the world is, your camera seems to be locked to your party when you are in world view. This seems a little odd since you have a free camera during combat. It would be nice to be able to have the camera free to look around the map and possibly look ahead to plan your route for your party, or even enjoy the views.
Along those same lines, it would be really nice to be able to zoom in more. This is for both the worldview and during battle. I think the graphics in the game look good. It would be nice to be able to enjoy them a bit more. Occasionally in combat, an action camera will activate during a finishing blow. I really enjoy these and think they look really good. It would be nice to be able to zoom in and see the animations during the whole fight instead of just the occasional action camera, especially since they took the time to give all the characters idol combat actions while locked in combat with another character.
Wartales had a bit of a slow start, as many role-playing games do. But once you get through the first handful of bounties and out of the first county, the game really opens up. There is so much depth to the game. The player really has the freedom to do whatever they want. Each character in the game not only has a class but also a job that they can specialize in. There were just so many opportunities to have a really in-depth role playing experience.
The combat was definitely a big highlight for me. While the worldview was real-time, the combat was strictly turn-based. There was so much strategy embedded into every combat. It wasn’t just about playing your characters on their turn. The strategy started even before the first ax was swung. I really enjoyed finding the perfect starting place for each character. Making sure that they could reach their intended targets, creating those choke points for the enemy, and finding the best way out of a bad situation. With the right strategy, I knew I could come out on the winning side of a losing battle.
Don’t get me wrong though. The game is tough. You can quickly lose control of combat with just a few wrong moves. But that is what made the game fun for me. All the details of each character made losing them that much harder. You get to know the characters and their relationships as the game goes on.
Out of all of it, my favorite parts of the game were the decisions you had to make with your party at camp. If your archer makes a bad shot and hits one of your characters instead, they are going to remember that. That’s where the game really shines for me. The swordsman that was hit by the badly shot arrow will bring that up later. Are they going to hold that against the archer, or are they going to let it go this time? What about when you don’t have enough food to feed the party? Someone is going to complain, and you have to figure out what to do about it. Do you eat the pony or take the fatigue in the next combat? As much as I came for the combat, I enjoyed these aspects of the game the most.
I know I will spend many more hours in the world of Wartales. I can’t wait to see what else lies ahead for my band of mercenaries and where their story leads me. If you are an RPG fan or even a turn-based fan in general, definitely give Wartales a try.
Disclaimer: The key for Wartales was generously provided by Shiro Games.