Everyone loves RPGs. Sometimes they might be dressed up as NBA games or First Person Shooters, but really experience points and those RPG stats have seeped into pretty much every genre out there. Wartales is the latest title from Shiro Games, whose last Viking-centric release Northgard proved to be one of the best strategy games of recent years. Now in Early Access, Wartales sees you lead a band of medieval mercenaries across a fictional landscape in search of adventure, glory, and money. Lots of money.
You start your adventure by choosing who you and your companions are. Whether picking ‘apprentice friends looking for an adventure’ or ‘deserters fleeing an abusive captain’, each selection carries both a bonus stat and a negative one, while giving you access to different companion classes to begin the game with. Once you’ve made a selection you carry on with a nice bit of party building, deciding on their best and worst qualities to craft a group unique to you.
You can immediately see Wartales’ RTS heritage, with Shiro Games taking some clear pointers from its predecessor Northgard. Movement through the overworld is a simple case pointing and clicking, the drawn back view a pleasing nod to both RTS games and classic RPGs of old. As you move around this landscape you find various resources to collect and add to your inventory, while you’ll also encounter various combatants who want to take them off you.
Combat, meanwhile, switches to a tactical turn-based affair, with each member of your party able to move within a set area before then dealing out whatever type of punishment they’re proficient in. Each of the classes, whether Ranger, Brute, Archer or Warrior, boast a particular affinity for different weapon types, and making sure they’re properly equipped is a swift and unfussy task. Each party member will also develop a range of skills that you can use to help turn the tide of battle in your favour.
While the combat is well done, the toughest thing early on in Wartales is keeping your companions happy. They’re a needy bunch, by which I mean they want paying on time, feeding, and they seem to want to make camp every single night, grinding to a halt if you don’t let them rest. Once or twice I did wonder exactly what standard of adventurer I was on a journey with. My early show of altruism in helping some refugees meant that I couldn’t pay my party, eventually seeing one of my key fighters leave. Managing your inventory and your party’s happiness is a key part of the experience, with the effect being that it all feels that bit more realistic.
As you wander the land you’ll come across an array of different characters, and pretty much all of them want something from you. It’s a gentle realm for exploration, and the way that events feed from one into another is done very well, often surprising you with a further outcome to your actions. The land of Tiltren has become home to a number of refugees fleeing from Edoran, and whether you decide to help them or ignore them will set you on different narrative pathways. Whichever tasks you undertake you gain influence as you journey, and with it you can persuade people to let you have your way, or recruit new companions to your cause.
I really like the atmosphere that Shiro Games has created so far with Wartales. It’s a grounded, lived-in world, that feels realistic and inviting. The subdued soundtrack helps to emphasise this quietude, with melancholic strings and wind instruments giving way to the enveloping sounds of the world itself.
The lived in world is reflected in the visuals, and it’s all suitably medieval and grimy. Very few of the characters you encounter look like they’ve had a wash recently, and I really enjoyed the visual design of each outpost, farm, or tower as you explore. There’s often secrets to be found amongst them, or loot to be stolen if you don’t mind being in trouble with the law. Think carefully though, as they’ll be straight after you if you happen upon them in the open world.
Wartales has made a fantastic start on its road to RPG greatness. The grounded atmosphere, tactical combat, and its inviting, story-filled world should appeal to tactical-RPG fans. I can’t wait to see how it all expands as it progresses through Early Access.