Preview: Wartales

10 Dec 2021

RPGs have been among my favorite games for a long time, and today we have the chance to take a look at a fairly interesting one in Wartales, by Shiro Games, now in Early Access. My quick first impression is that it leverages some elements I really like from some unlikely other games I’ve played and creates a fairly fun and cohesive RPG experience out of things that wouldn’t have been too special on their own. Let’s expand on that a bit and hopefully you’ll understand what I mean.

Wartales is a pretty open-ended RPG. You start out by answering a few questions to decide what your initial party will be like, and then you’re dropped straight into an active, living overworld. This overworld strongly reminds me of Mount & Blade‘s overworld in its look and implementation, and I like this a lot. You have a top down view with click-to-move, and various friendly and enemy people and groups going about whatever business they have in real time, which I really like.

You’re free to go where you want and do what you want, be it hunt down bandits, take jobs from a tavern, go fishing, craft items, help people in distress, and so on. You can pause at any time with the spacebar, but I would prefer that it be paused when you’re not moving and instead hold the spacebar or press some other key to move time while standing still, like in the aforementioned Mount & Blade series.

Combat is a strong element of the game as well, with a fun round-based, tactics-type combat system. It’s fairly unique, but it feels a bit like a blend of Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy Tactics and Dungeons & Dragons without the dice rolling. It even reminds me a little bit of Solasta: Crown of the Magister, which we reviewed what doesn’t seem like so long ago.

Diving in, there were a few elements I particularly liked. First, the game puts a nice little spin on the typical grid-based system; the game uses a grid, but it’s much more granular than one unit fitting on one square. The grid spaces are much smaller than the characters and so movement feels considerably more free and open compared to what a grid system typically allows. Armor basically adds to hit points and must be repaired after battle, and wounds tended to. This does get a bit tedious and you need to carry a lot of supplies with you, but Wartales is clearly trying to create a more real-feeling world, with less fantasy, so I can respect that. I suppose this could also explain the music and sound being more ambient than a typical RPG. It’s rather subdued most of the time, but it’s well crafted.

I referenced Fire Emblem back there because characters that die are gone. While the game’s lore and story are not at all dependent on any of the members of your party (You can always recruit more, and there is no “main character”), more often than not you’ll likely find yourself reloading to try to do better and preserve your party.

Fortunately the game provides convenient checkpoints at the start of battles alongside auto and manual saves. You can also leave any battle at any time with no risk of death or other serious consequences, although such battles are considered lost and lower the group’s happiness, which could cause members to leave if it drops low enough. Still, this is one mechanic you may either love or hate.

Story isn’t all that essential to the game. You can seek it out and follow the scenarios that exist in the world’s major regions, but you can also ignore it entirely and get plenty of enjoyment. Your setting is a world that was once devastated by a plague (we can relate). In the aftermath of this the world is filled with lawlessness and instability. Your party is a group of ordinary people whom the game emphasizes are not heroes out to save the world and whom themselves likely undertook an unsavory way of life. While they may eventually go on to find and solve problems, their primary goal is simply survival, and this is clearly reflected in both the gameplay and the world lore, as well as the potential adventures you can have. For example, this one county appears to have a problem with refugees from other lands having their own way. You could help its people, but maybe you could help the refugees instead…

That you can enjoy the game in several ways is one of the main reasons I found it so compelling. While it doesn’t feel very story-centric for an RPG (perhaps a bit ironic given the name), Wartales has a lot going for it. If you want an RPG with a sandbox feel without being one of those cliché-at-this-point procedural builder games, I would certainly recommend giving it a look. While it’s in Early Access, it is thoroughly playable now and doesn’t have too many rough edges and that’s pretty good in my book.

Preview copy provided by Shiro Games. Screenshots taken by author.