I have been extremely unwell this past week. In between bouts of curling up on the sofa as my face ached from the constant sniffing and coughing and my restless eyes were barely able to concentrate on the fifth rewatch of Nathan For You, I tried my best to finish work. Wartales, a game I had the pleasure of trying a little while ago, was on my dauntingly ever-increasing to-do list. So, in my fleeting moments of lucid thought, I prised open my laptop and booted it up. Miraculously, despite my destitute state, the immersive and phenomenal world of Wartales saw me persevere through even the worst moments of my winter cold.
“Its dynamic landscapes offer a comforting and bucolic look at a deceptively sanguine fantasy world.“
It is hard to break down the basic components of Wartales into a passing statement. It isn’t simply one thing, but rather a playground in which the player is free to do as they please. Its framework and general concept of managing a band of mercenaries could be considered the baseline of which one should initially judge the game. However, to misguidedly assume that Wartales is nothing more than this would be to miss out on the unparalleled sense of freedom and depth it offers.
Its vibrant and immersive world feels truly alive and is both superficially and intricately beautifully. On a surface level, Wartales’ visuals are striking. Its dynamic landscapes offer a comforting and bucolic look at a deceptively sanguine fantasy world. Verdant valleys and cascading hills line the bases of jagged mountaintops where packs of wolves and ragged bandits roam wild. Forests run parallel to the ebbing rivers that twinkle in the sun’s reflection and lone desolate towers crumble beneath their own weight in the frozen tundras to the north.
No matter where you go, Wartales’ world offers a phenomenal sense of fantastical escapism, the likes of which hasn’t been felt since The Lord of the Rings. From the gentle melodies that underscore your journey to the wandering NPCs that populate the dense and detailed environments, Wartales does everything it can to immerse you within the boundless confines of its captivating world.
“Perhaps where it excels the most is in the humanising of its central cast of characters.”
Fortunately, outside of the superficial, Wartales continues to exceed expectations. Its detailed world is home to a litany of fantastic ideas that coalesce to create a meaningful and intricate web of compelling design. Each facet of Wartales serves to offer the player a plethora of unique ways in which they can approach their experience within its world. They combine to add a layer of personality and realism in order to make a far more captivating game.
Perhaps where Wartales excels the most is in the humanising of its central cast of characters. Your band of merry mercenaries will populate your experience with melancholic memories and rollicking good times. They’re neither faceless nor nameless unlike in other titles in the genre. Instead, your company is comfortingly small, merely a handful of well-meaning, dastardly cunning and brutally vicious people. Wartales’ small scale close-quarters combat, job system, and various survival elements combine to make each and every one of your companions feel like real people.
Through dangerously deadly combat and by perfecting their particular profession, you’ll see each of your mercenaries grow. Wartales makes a point of humanising your soldiers to the point that it can be genuinely affecting when they inevitably leave. Because, for all its grandeur and splendour, Wartales’ world is unforgiving to the unprepared. Losing a beloved ally is an intensely heartbreaking experience that extends beyond simply missing out on a series of statistics or numbers. The death of a teammate often triggered restarting my entire experience. It genuinely felt impossible to continue without their presence in my party.
“The sheer amount of freedom afforded to the player in Wartales is astoundingly impressive.”
From a very mechanical perspective, developer Shiro Games has gone to impressive lengths to ensure that the user experience is as smooth and entertaining as possible. Seemingly insignificant alterations to gameplay, such as the inclusion of objective markers on your map, make Wartales a far more accessible title within its genre. Every piece of necessary information has been streamlined into an incredibly manageable UI ensuring that your immersive experience never feels overburdened by statistics and factsheets.
Furthermore, the sheer amount of freedom afforded to the player in Wartales is astoundingly impressive. Within each region, the player has an exhaustive list of possible actions they can take as well as a seemingly indefinite amount of roleplaying opportunities. You can pillage passing peasants, target travelling traders, eradicate raging rats, exhaust bandit bounties, build a booming trade empire. take sides in a war, fish, forge, cook, tinker and so much more.
There is also a central narrative unique to each region which itself affords a whole new layer of freedom. Within most of these compelling stories, you’ll have to make difficult decisions that will shape the world you inhabit forever. These larger decisions never overshadow the smaller choices you’ll make. Ultimately, each and every one will truly determine what kind of people you are.
“Wartales’ gameplay has been perfected to create an immersive experience that is exceptionally entertaining.”
All of these phenomenal aspects of Wartales come together to make it the truly genre-defining game that it is. Which is all the more impressive when you remember that it is an early-access title. I found throughout my many hours with it, that there isn’t much that Wartales could improve upon. The only element I hope they add are intimate interactions between your mercenaries such as conversations by the campfire. However, even with their omission, it still manages to be a truly compelling experience.
Wartales’ dedication to player choice and willingness to place importance in the liberating freedom of exploration makes it a genuinely phenomenal game. Its many intricately designed systems coalesce to create a deeply personal experience in which you will become emotionally attached to your various mercenaries in a way that simply hasn’t been mastered before now. Each and every aspect of Wartales’ gameplay has been perfected to create a masterfully crafted immersive experience that is exceptionally entertaining.
Wartales is available now for PC via Steam.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the Publisher.