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Wartales Review

Hard To Start, But Is It Fun To Finish?

Mitch Gassner Posted:
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Tabletop gamers and cRPGers alike, take note - with Wartales, Shiro Games has put together a blend of RPG and survival mechanics that will surely have you rolling for initiative. Light on story and deep on game mechanics, Wartales is a grand open-world adventure where you take a band of budding mercenaries and try to achieve a single goal - survive. I’ve spent the last few weeks exploring what Wartales has to offer, and I can tell you that meeting that goal isn’t as easy as it might seem.

Party Creation

Your first step to adventure in Wartales is creating your party. Instead of meticulously hand-crafting each party member, Wartales uses a much quicker approach. First, you must pick your group's origin story. There are five starting groups to choose from, each with a preset assortment of classes, including Brute, Swordsman, Warrior, Archer, and Ranger. Each party begins with four companions. Your background also determines your starting resources. For example, you can be a group of unhappy farmers looking for a better life to get some extra food, while deserters running from the war will have additional raw materials but start the game wanted by the watch. You also get to pick a starting bonus for your group, such as reduced fatigue or increased constitution, along with a debuff like an increased chance of attack during rest or reduced knowledge XP gains. 

As for individual character customization, you can choose each member's gender, adjust their appearance, and change their name. And although you can’t swap out the predetermined classes, some classes allow you to start with either a one-handed weapon and shield or a two-hander, and all classes also get to pick a utility skill to aid you on the battlefield.  You can also select two positive traits, such as Bloodthirsty (increased crits) or Thick-Skinned (increased guard). The first trait is free, but the second is optional and must be offset by choosing a negative trait for the character.

Your starting party also comes with a horse. Like your human companions, the horse’s appearance and traits can be adjusted. Other animals can be purchased or captured during your adventures and can become an integral part of your team, serving as battleground assets as much as they are beasts of burden. This is just one way that Wartales stands out from the crowd.

With party creation out of the way, you are almost ready to be thrust into the harsh open-world gameplay of Wartales. Before doing so, you can choose precisely how harsh that environment will be. Your first choice is whether to have region-locked or adaptive exploration. The region-locked option is similar to an MMO, where each area is penned for a specific character level. Entering a new region before your troop is ready will spell certain doom, while staying in one area too long will find your party over-leveled and the rewards too little to sustain the cost of your enterprise. On the other hand, adaptive exploration will continually adjust the world to match your group’s size and power.

On your first attempt, your party will start in Tiltren County, a small independent state. As you adventure to other regions, they will also become available as starting areas for future playthroughs. Regardless of what region you start in, you can set the combat difficulty and survival difficulty. There are three options for each = Novice, Experienced, and Expert - and both settings can be changed independently at any time during your playthrough. There are also three save options: Limited, Free, and Ironman. Ironman is your typical hard mode where your save point is deleted when you load up, and a party wipe is game over. Limited gives you a little more freedom in that you only have a single save, but you can restart a battle or return to specific checkpoints. Free mode is exactly what it sounds like - save as often as you like and reload from any save point you have created.

Storyline

Your band of mercenaries calls the medieval, low-fantasy lands of the fallen Edoran Empire their home. Ravaged one hundred years prior by a great plague, the world you find yourself in is dark and deadly. As you explore outward from your starting point, there isn’t any central plot guiding your actions. Each region is dealing with the post-plague era in its own way, and conflict abounds. Brigands roam the countryside preying on the weak, locals squabble amongst themselves, and post-plague horrors still haunt the lands.

Without some heroic story guiding you, how you find your way through Wartales, be it champion of the weak or lackey of the powerful, slayer of brigands or assassin for hire, is your choice alone. As you struggle to scrape together enough coins to pay and feed your troop, tests of morality will always be present. Do you spare some coin or a few loaves of bread to help a refugee family, steal everything they have, or worse yet, slay them and use their corpses to feed your starving party?

Along with the minor squabbles and encounters needing your attention, each region does have some sort of major scenario for you to interact with, should you choose to do so. For example, the starting region of Tiltren County has a refugee problem, and it’s up to you whether you wish to aid the poor or help the local government. In this case, I helped the refugees most of the way, but when push came to shove, I stood behind the provincial government to earn my free border pass into the next region; money is hard to come by, and the refugees couldn’t pay for my loyalty.

Wartales: The Combat Simulator

If I had one word to describe the turn-based combat in Wartales, I would say it is detailed. If I had three words, it would be very, very detailed. Or almost excruciatingly detailed.

Each battlefield is procedurally generated based on the biome, with obstacles and terrain effects to hinder movement. When the battlefield comes into view, your party and the enemy units are pre-placed around the map. If you can surprise your target, then the enemy will be grouped together with your available spots surrounding them. A more common battle setup is a few groups of your units and enemy units spread across the map. Before the start of combat, you can freely move your units from spot to spot to maximize your advantage. And once you feel like you have the perfect setup, moving a character or using one of their skills locks everything in place. 

During each character’s turn, they can move, use skills, and attack. Unlike many rigid turn-based games, Wartales lets you perform your actions in any order. You can move three meters, use your basic attack to finish off an enemy, move again to engage a second enemy, attack, use a debuff, and then scurry away if you have movement points left.

During each round of combat, all combatants can take a single turn, with enemy turns dispersed throughout the entire round. Although the enemy combatants work through predetermined order, you can cycle through your party members as you see fit. And with each party member's skill set synergizing with the buffs and debuffs of other troop members in various ways, choosing your order of attack is very important if you wish to win a battle efficiently.

Skill synergy is one of many things you have to manage if you wish to end a battle with all of your team alive. The rules of engagement also encompass movement restrictions like running through mud or fire, flanking, attacks of opportunity, battle-inflicted ailments (burning, poison, etc.), and friendly fire. On top of that, you must also manage a combat resource called Valor Points. Valor Points are used to fuel your skills and special attacks. Without Valor Points, your character can move and use a single basic skill each turn. 

You have a pool of Valor Points to share across your entire troop; use them too soon, and you won't have any points left for battle-changing maneuvers later in the round. Valor Points aren't restored at the beginning of a new round. Valor Points are regained in combat through specific active and passive skills, like attacking multiple enemies at once or ending your turn next to an ally or enemy.

All of this makes combat very easy to understand but difficult to master. Plan your battles effectively and maximize your Valor Points, and all of your party members may come out the other side alive. But simply coming out of a fight alive isn’t enough in Wartales; you have to minimize damage to your armor and characters themselves, or the cost of repairing and healing could easily outweigh the rewards earned. 

Wartales The RPG: Character Progression

Rule number one of Wartales: don’t get too attached to your characters. They can die at any time. And depending on what difficulty you are playing, you might not have an old save to go back to.

Assuming you can keep your characters alive long enough to train them, you will find Wartales has a simple-to-learn yet intricate character progression system. At its core, there are but five classes to choose from. At the start of the game, the only noticeable difference between the five classes is their starting weapon options, with that choice dictating your basic combat ability and whether the character will fight as melee or ranged. 

Levels two and three are where you determine each character’s playstyle. You will choose your first special attack and armor type at one of these levels, solidifying whether the character will primarily be a damage dealer or tank. You will also get to choose your Valor Point-generating passive skill. Which choice you make at level two and which one is left for level three is determined by your character’s class, but both levels are gained fairly quickly, so it doesn’t really make much of a difference. You can choose additional passive skills to round out your character at levels 5, 8, 10, and 12 (maximum level).

Gearing up your characters is just as important as the skills you choose for them while leveling up. As mentioned earlier, a character’s weapon determines their basic attack, be it a single-target or an AOE-focused attack. This is an important piece to consider when outfitting your character. The last thing you want is to realize your planned backstab is actually an AOE attack that will also hit some of your party members.

Your party members can also level up a non-combat profession along with their combat skills. There are ten professions in total, ranging from resource gathering like the woodcutter and miner to crafting professions like cooking or blacksmithing. Unique and powerful weapons are few and far between, so you’ll need a good blacksmith to craft high-quality armor and weapons to arm the bulk of a larger party.

Along with raising your stats as you level up your character, your character’s profession will also add bonuses to your character’s attributes. For example, Blacksmithing increases your Strength, while Thievery increases your Dexterity. This bonus increases as your profession level rises, so picking an appropriate profession and sticking with it will affect your combat readiness along with your increased prowess in your non-combat skill.

Wartales The Survival Game: Party Progression

Rule number two of Wartales: money makes the world go round. Or in this case, money keeps the group together. Your band of mercenaries can only take on a few contracts at a time, and with the clock constantly clicking towards dinner time and payday, you’ll be lucky to break even if you don’t find ways to reduce the amount of gold you spend. Fortunately, Wartales has a few systems in place to help you manage your costs and grow your group’s self-sufficiency.

First and foremost, you can gain Knowledge Points (KP) to purchase buffs, blueprints, patterns, and recipes from the game’s Compendium. You gain KP by exploring, crafting recipes and blueprints for the first time, and by acquiring knowledge books out in the world. These points are then spent on various options, from basic buffs like the ability to run while traveling on the world map, increasing carrying capacity, or the option to take on additional bounties and negotiate their payouts. They are also used to purchase blueprints for more powerful gear, cooking recipes to improve the quality of your meals, and much more.

Another way to spend KP is by purchasing blueprints for camp upgrades. These include items such as a workshop to craft consumables, a tent to generate Valor Points outside of combat, as well as other items to enhance the happiness and health of your companions at each rest.

Finally, you have four Paths to level up. Each Path has a set of challenges to complete to generate Path Points (PP), which are, in turn, used to purchase additional party buffs similar to those found in the Compendium. Each Path - Power and Glory, Trade and Craftsmanship, Crime and Chaos, and Mysteries and Wisdom - focuses on a specific aspect of survival or combat, and depending on your playstyle, some will advance faster than others.

Final Thoughts

I struggled when I first started playing Wartales. The first few minutes of my first attempt went smoothly until I stole a few items from the marketplace in the first town I came across. When I say a few, I mean I took everything that wasn’t bolted down until the game wouldn’t let me steal anymore. Over my carrying capacity and with the guard actively hunting me, I was soon starting my second run. On that second run, I quickly found myself in a fight I couldn’t win. Time for try number three, which ended after a couple of in-game weeks because I grew my group too fast and couldn’t afford to keep everyone healthy and happy.

Simply put, my first few tries at Wartales were like playing Dungeons and Dragons without a Dungeon Master to protect you from your own stupidity. The world of Wartales is more complex than it first appeared. Once I settled down and paid attention to the depth that Wartales offers, I finally started to enjoy my time playing. Wartales is full of rules and mechanics to master. There is plenty of land to explore and mischief to be had, and although the character and party progression seem thin at first, there is a wealth of advancement options layered into the gameplay.

And at every point where I started to become bored with what was offered, I found something new hidden away and waiting for me to discover it. The low-fantasy setting does mean that much of the combat will be repetitive, and with a large party, a single encounter can take what feels like forever to complete. But one-off encounters, arena battles, and many more secrets await those willing to invest the time to patiently grow a merry band of adventurers. Let’s just hope the freedom to do what you want, when you want, doesn’t lead your group of mercenaries to an early grave.

Score 8.5

Pros

True open world design

Well crafted combination of RPG and survival elements

Great flexibility in difficulty level

Cons

Combat can be drawn out and repetitive

Early game can be difficult to navigate

Low fantasy setting can be a little boring for some

8.5Great
Pros
  • True open world design
  • Well crafted combination of RPG and survival elements
  • Great flexibility in difficulty level
Cons
  • Combat can be drawn out and repetitive
  • Early game can be difficult to navigate
  • Low fantasy setting can be a little boring for some


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Mitch Gassner

Part-time game reviewer, full-time gaming geek. Introduced to Pac-Man and Asteroids at a Shakey's Pizza in the '70s and hooked on games ever since.