Kotaku’s Impressions Of Wartales, A Huge Mercenary RPG For PC

Wartales is currently in Early Access on Steam. It’s being developed by Shiro Games, the French studio behind the Viking RTS Northgard. And it has been taking up a lot of my time this month.

There’s a lot going on in Wartales, a lot of influences getting thrown into a pot and swirling around each other, so the best (or at least most succinct) way I’ve seen it described is “Wartales is a medieval open world role-playing game with turn-based combat in which the player leads a group of mercenaries.”

It’s mercenary management, basically. With some fighting. And a story. It’s like the management side of XCOM added the dietary and resting needs of a survival sim, then decided it wanted to go on a little RPG adventure. I have heard people say there’s some Mount and Blade here. Others say this is very close to Battle Brothers.

I could go on. But instead of continuing to confuse and bury you in references to existing video games, please just watch this release trailer instead:

Wartales – Official Release Trailer

I’ve been playing the game all week, and—this part is important—what I’ve played has been fantastic. The turn-based combat, while not exactly breaking new ground, works well enough. Your travels are full of story-driven quests full of morally ambiguous decisions, which as anyone who has played medieval-adjacent role-playing games will tell you, are the best types of decisions. The survival-style management of your party, which means everyone can die and you can hire replacements, has the same Fire Emblem, XCOM-y pull it always does when a game entrusts you with a (digital) person’s life.

Fighting in Wartales is resolved through turn-based combat, in a way that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has ever played a turn-based tactics game

Fighting in Wartales is resolved through turn-based combat, in a way that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has ever played a turn-based tactics game
Screenshot: Wartales

Know why I’m loving the game, though? It’s that viewpoint. While the camera zooms in for battles and conversations, most of your time in Wartales is spent wandering around an isometric overworld, your party meandering their way through forests and mountain passes and lovely little rural laneways.

It’s well-established here that I am an enjoyer of good isometric video games, and this is one of the nicest I’ve ever seen. It’s a whole game based around those scenes in Fellowship of the Ring where you see everybody striding across mountains and grassy plains. It’s combination of lush landscapes, slow pace and wide horizons makes this game seem vast, like it’s a world so big and full of possibilities that you’re about to get lost in it, but that’s also so quaint and immediate with its concerns that you don’t mind simply walking around for ages taking in the sights.

It doesn’t feel like a stage, or a level, or a map. It feels like a world.

I emphasised “what I’ve played” earlier because, by a lot of people’s accounts who are a lot further into Wartales than I am, everything that makes the opening hours such a blast—the feeling of wide open spaces, the constant resting and eating to keep your soldiers happy and breathing, the overworld battles—starts to become a bit of a grind later on.

Maybe it does, and when this game gets out of Early Access and I get that far, I’ll see if that’s actually the case. But for now, around 15 hours in, the open-ended mission structure that lets you take on contracts at your own leisure means that, for all its potential as a day-waster, its actually perfectly suited to what’s become a pretty busy part of my life, as I can jump in, finish a contract or two, set up camp, save the game then revisit it the next time I get a chance.

Wartales is available now on Steam.

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