It’s hard running a mercenary company. For one, you’re constantly in battle and exposing yourself to danger. Food and supplies are often hard to come by, and you’re looked down upon by any other military force in the area. It’s not all bad though: when push comes to shove, you’re better fighters than they are. Probably. Live by the sword, hopefully not die by the sword. That is Wartales.
Wartales is an open world RPG set in a low fantasy medieval setting. You are in charge of a mercenary company that sets out to explore the world, still reeling from the collapse of the Edoran Empire many years earlier. A huge plague devastated the land, bringing civilisation to its knees and causing the political situation to fragment. Several successor states rose up in the wake of the collapse of the Edoran Empire, and your job is to leverage your combat skills with these states for the only things that matter; fame and coin. In battle you’ll command your battle hardened mercenaries in turn based tactical combat, utilising every advantage you can find in order to be the last one standing.
From Humble Beginnings
To begin with, you’ll need to choose your starting companions and the theme of your group. There are several choices, such as bandits or farmers, but each come with their advantages and disadvantages. For example, farmers start with additional food, making the early game slightly cheaper on upkeep for your company, but they start with reduced happiness which means it’ll take longer to improve the happiness of your company to a point they will gain extra experience. Each party type has a set group of starting companions, so the aforementioned farmers would have a brute, two spearmen and an archer; this adds additional nuance to your choices and means you’ll need to choose carefully what you want your starting composition to be. Along with your starting 4 companions, you’ll also get a pony for carrying any loot you may find. The next two choices are also important, as you’ll need to choose one buff and one nerf which will affect your party throughout the campaign; these range from needing to pay additional money to your companions, to improving the amount of experience you gain in battle.
Once your initial setup in Wartales is done, you then need to choose how you want to play the game in terms of difficulty. There are two choices: adaptive exploration and region locked exploration. Adaptive exploration constantly adapts any encounters you may have to your company’s strength, although you will still encounter some hard battles here and there such as elite bosses. Region locked exploration, on the other hand, makes it so that the difficulty level in each region is at a certain level, and you’ll need to tackle them in order of their strength in order to clear them. Once this is done, you’ll need to make your final choices on where you start (to begin with only Tiltren is available, in future runs once you’ve been to a place you can start there too), what difficulty level you want to play the game at for both combat and on the campaign map, and whether you want to be able to save freely or play in ironman mode. The very last thing you can do is tweak your starting companions and their starting traits, which is handy if you want to specialise them in certain things such as increasing their experience or some of the attributes.
A World To Explore
With all your starting choices completed, its time to start your run. First, you’ll need to find your bearing and start exploring the map around your start location – there is generally a couple of starting encounters you may have against weaker enemies such as low level brigands, and these are a good source of initial experience and loot. You’ll find locations which will be marked on your map (M) and this can be used to plan any further exploration – locations range from bandit dens to ancient tombs to beast covens. Fairly quickly though, you’ll need to find the local town as you need to keep your companions well fed and equipped, and they’re generally a good jumping off point for missions in the province. It’s generally a good idea to look around the towns and speak to any NPC’s present for missions, although important NPC’s with a mission for you will have a purple outline around them.
In Wartales, towns contain all the services you need for the upkeep of your company. Merchants for buying and selling goods such as food, forges to craft yourself armour or utilise the NPC blacksmith to repair your own and save on using valuable supplies, alchemists for medicine and potions and so on. Many of these services you can do yourself, such as crafting equipment and medicine, if you have collected/bought the materials and have specified the relevant profession on one of your companions. Most of these professions come with minigames you need to complete which can increase the quality of your haul, such as mining needing you to click at the correct time to stop a circle within a circle. Doing this well will net you additional resources, or in the case of forging equipment improving its quality.
To keep track of all of your professions unlocks, amongst other things, you’ll need to keep an eye on your Compendium. The Compendium is used for unlocking new potions, equipment and knowledge buffs for your company, and need to be unlocked by using knowledge points (which are generated by exploring and finding new locations, as well as from various books you’ll find lying around the world). Some of the buffs are quite powerful, such as unlocking a sprint feature allowing your party to move faster temporarily, or allowing you to improve your attributes on your companions further once they level up. Early on I didn’t have enough of these, but once you’ve explored a couple of regions you should have plenty of knowledge points lying around to unlock whatever you want.
It’s All About The Money
Another important mechanic you’ll need to keep an eye on is Paths, and these grant you further buffs and unlocks as you level them up. There are 4 different paths, each helping with a specific playstyle in the game – Power & Glory, Trade & Craftsmanship, Crime & Chaos, and Mysteries & Wisdom. Each has certain things you must do (such as kill a certain amount of enemies, or forge new equipment) that give you varying amounts of points towards that path, and once you’ve earned enough points you’ll gain a level. At certain levels (4 and 7 especially) you’ll get access to additional capabilities such as re-specialising your troops or unlocking a quick travel mechanic between towns. These are fun, but the problem is they generally level up unevenly, especially for Crime & Chaos, and some tweaking to bring their progress in line with each other would be welcome.
Making sure that you have enough money to pay your companions and for any materials and supplies you need is paramount. There are a few ways to ensure this, such as completing any missions you may find or selling any loot you’ve ‘acquired’. You can also steal from vendors if you fancy going down a more nefarious route, but this will alert the local authorities by increasing your suspicion level, and if you do it too much or get too bold you’ll have problems with the local law. Others methods include selling trade goods, or ransoming captured prisoners at the jail. Whatever your method, keeping a steady stream of gold is extremely important, as gold is used for everything from paying wages, to buying goods, to upgrading your special and unique equipment you may find on your travels. Early on, money is easy to come by, but once you’ve expanded your company and progressed later into the game it does become difficult to stay afloat.
You’ll be wanting to put this equipment to good use as soon as possible, as the world of Wartales is tough and unrelenting. In order to survive in this, you’ll need to rely on your companions; each specialise in a certain weapon type, and will be able to choose between light, medium and heavy armour to guard themselves against the world when they’ve levelled up slightly. Each companion has attributes which can be levelled up over time, such as strength for additional damage with strength based weapons (maces, axes etc) or constitution for additional hitpoints. Learning which attributes to level up on each companion is key, and you’ll need to further specialise them with perks over time to make the most of their skills.
A Clash Of Arms
Once you inevitably get into combat, you’ll be fighting turn based tactical battles against the various enemies you encounter such as wolves, bandits and inquisitors. Each entity on the field (except for elite bosses, which get many per turn) gets to choose its actions once per turn. Movement allowance can be used any way you see fit, and doesn’t have to be used all in one go, allowing for a fluid choice in combat each turn. You’ll be able to choose 1 basic attack per turn, as well as any additional support abilities you may have that cost valour points. Valour points are used for various powerful abilities such as multiple backstab attacks with daggers, or a strong ranged attack with pushback with bows. They’re generated by resting in camp, which can be used anytime, or temporarily in battle by actions such as killing an enemy if your companion has the relevant perk. These temporary points can be used freely, as they expire once the battle has ended, whereas your permanent ones you’ll need to be more careful with and save until other encounters where you really need them.
Combat in general feels pretty good, with plenty of nuance to battles. Armour protects your (and your enemies) hitpoints but certain things can bypass it; poison, bleeding and so on. Many of the valorous abilities you can use utilise these powerful effects and allow for powerful synergies later on in the campaign. For example, I found an axe that inflicted heavy amounts of poison on enemies, and then I found a dagger which used these poison stacks to vastly increase its own damage. Finding these synergies is fun, and exploiting them required for some of the harder encounters you’ll find yourself in, such as elite bosses. I’ve mentioned these a couple of times now, and they’re hard encounters where the elite boss can move and use its abilities multiple times in a single turn, making them extremely dangerous to your company. The loot is good, however…
Once you’ve completing an encounter or two in Wartales, you’ll need to head back to your camp to rest. Your camp is the heart of any run and is used to rest your weary troops, make sure they’re fed and paid, as well as making sure their equipment is in tip top shape. As you progress you’ll unlock further options such as researching archaeological finds from tombs, producing alcohol and building a workshop to produce smaller items such as lockpicks. You’ll also get random chats with your troops after a rest which could result in an additional trait, more valour points or additional happiness. Happiness is important to keep as high as possible, as if topped out you’ll gain additional experience each battle and you’ll generate more influence from resting. Influence is an important resource used for persuading NPC’s you encounter in quests to complete certain actions, but overall I think its a resource that I never hurt for and more could of been done with it.
An Unfortunate Stumbling Block
Moving on, progression in Wartales takes time. As you level up your companions, improving their skills and capabilities, you’ll be able to take on harder encounters and earn additional loot and yet more experience. Over time, you’ll need to craft or loot better gear to survive these encounters, although crafting is better and produces better items once you’ve levelled up your blacksmiths skill. Progression does feel really slow overall though – it can take a long time to level up after the first 3-4 levels, and generally there aren’t very many upgrades you’ll find on the field in terms of loot either. All of this culminates in a feeling of boredom at times, as the fights don’t really have too many stakes to them when you can easily beat them but there isn’t much to be excited more afterward, and you’ll need to grind out a lot of these fights in later levels to progress.
In addition, there were several bugs I encountered. Whilst loading up battles, the game would frequently crash, especially if I tabbed out. There were quests I couldn’t complete, enemies that occasionally sat and did nothing, text that completed, and items whose effects were broken or just not working. This was a pre release 1.0 version of the game for reviewers, so I’m hoping that these are fixed in the full public release.
Next up, the graphics and sound in Wartales are a mixed bag. The sound design in battles is great, and weapons and combat ambience in general feel meaty and rewarding, but the music feels a bit forgettable and becomes a bit repetitive – some more soundtracks to increase the variety on offer and so you don’t hear the same music over and over would be nice. The graphics are good but not great, although there is a problem at times that everything feels like it has mist or fog hanging over it which makes it visually hard to distinguish whats on the map.
The last thing I want to note here is that I wish companions had more depth and interactions to them, as they don’t really feel too distinct from each other and are honestly a bit bland. Even though they’re randomly generated, some additional dialogue to flesh them out would be great and make them feel more of a part of your company and a unique person instead of a nameless companion.
On the other hand, there are plenty of things that Wartales does right. When you actually find them there are plenty of fun weapons you’ll find in the game, and finding the synergies between your abilities and companions is great fun. There are some really fun encounters you’ll find, and the minigames for professions were an interesting and mostly well implemented twist. The world the game takes place in is pretty interesting, and I hope they expand upon it in future.
In conclusion: Wartales is a mix of great ideas tempered by some questionable design decisions. I really want to love this game, and there is plenty of fun to be had, but I can’t help but feel like there was a missed opportunity to make a good game a true great. For fans of the genre I do recommend picking it up and giving it a go, but I really hope that the game gets expanded upon in the future to let it live up to its full potential.
Wartales is available now on PC via Steam.
Developer: Shiro Games
Publisher: Shiro Unlimited
Disclaimer: In order to complete this Review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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