Wartales – Early Access Impressions

Wartales is a tactical turn-based RPG by Shiro Games. It’s easiest described as a mix between Battle Brothers, Mount & Blade and Darklands, and like those you create a mercenary group to set out for riches, power or maybe even infamy. Recently they released a major update for their game, so I thought – why not give it a go (again)? And here I am giving my impressions after clocking in 22 hours or so, which to be fair has me only scraping off a bit of the top of the content provided. It’s a big game already!

Let’s start with the story, and setting. Unlike Battle Brothers, which is much more sandbox narrative wise, Wartales does have a more structured story to take part off. While Battle Brothers has its world randomly created at the start of the game, Wartales has a set map, and quest structure, but the initial creation of your company is totally free-form and only provides the most rudimentary background stuff. I can see this working against Wartales in the long run, but at them same time, there are plenty of quests, and at least two sides to pick on each map sector, and personally I find it nice to have a narrative accompanying my sandbox experience. I do adore Battle Brothers, but when playing, it does feel “loose” at times, especially if you try to role-play – there isn’t much guidance since everything is created on the fly. But both ways have their merits and faults, of course.

Are we there yet?

When your company has been created you are trusted into a very nice, and cozy looking 3D space, much like Mount & Blade, and here you get to wander, explore, picking items, and picking fights! The game comes with 2 choices for this segment of gameplay – free or region locked. If you pick free, the enemies will level up with you, this allows the game to be challenging throughout, and it also allows you to explore freely without the risk of running into overpowered monsters, hence the name. Region locked, the setting I personally prefer, has a set difficulty, which has areas that can be too difficult before you get stronger, but it also allows for a more satisfactory leveling system in my opinion. Since now when you actually get stronger, it feels like it, and this is without having every rotten bandit on the map matching your abilities, Oblivion style.

After each fight, job, and such you get XP, and when you get enough you get to level up, all very standard, but with one little oddity. All your mercenaries have different classes, which comes with different abilities, but they also have a set number of stats that they all share that you get to level up when reaching a new level. For some reason, though, these stats get randomized when gaining rank, only making you pick from a few. I find this very odd, since most of the stuff otherwise is completely up to you. Want to make a barbarian with low health, but massive strength, aka a glass cannon? You better pray to RNGesus before you level up then, and hope he listens.

Hey, we share a trait!

The fighting, which is the main thing about Wartales is in turn-based mode, but unlike Battle Brothers it has more of a board game flavor. With that, I mean, it leans more to the arcade/gamey direction than to simulate any kind of realism. There is no RNG when it comes to hit or damage, everything is presented to you. It’s all about mitigating damage, and locking dangerous enemies down, instead of relaying on chance. It works, and is fun enough, even if I prefer the more classic way as in Battle Brothers or OG X-com. The main difference to me between the two systems, is that the board game style of gameplay can feel a bit spreadsheet at times, while I think chance has a bit more of a real life nuance to it. It also allows for more tension based situations – will your man make the 20% dodge, or will he die? Yet, it works fine, and suits the game, and I can’t complain too much about it, except that some abilities/classes seems much better than others.

All your mercenaries can also have different kind of jobs, and beyond providing a stat boost, it also allows them to perform job activities based on context. Like if you have a miner in your party, you will be able to mine for iron ore when in caves if there are any “mining spots”. These jobs also provide XP, but only for the job in question, but unlike leveling up your warrior abilities, leveling up a job goes pretty fast. Each job have different kind of bonuses and abilities, so a good idea is to match class to each job, depending on what kind of stats you want for your guy, of course.

Picturesque, except for the filthy farmers turned mercs

Some fun things you can do with your party, is that you can capture animals, and other men. Captured animals always turn to your side, which allow you to use them in battle. They gain their own XP, and skills when leveling up – if they live long enough, that is! Captured men you can either turn in for bounty, or try to recruit, and this can be a great way to expand your group without having to spend too much precious gold. The only problem is that each extra hand in your group will require more food each day. This can escalate very quickly, especially if you manage to capture a whole herd of wolves at the same time. So be prepared and keep your pantry stocked with food.

Another fun thing that was recently added is a dynamic relation system, and this mean that your men form relations with each other. If you accidentally hit another with say a stray arrow, the two men involved might form a dislike. This can escalate to bad things, but if two men become friends they get all kind of bonuses on the battlefield, like bonus damage to attack if they are next to each other. It’s a fun system, but at the moment I find it a bit spartan, yet, it’s a great foundation and I do hope they expand on it greatly since it adds needed role-play flavor.

The yearly dance party quickly turned nasty

Now, to round up this impression, let us talk about the visuals and sound. Graphically, I think the game looks wonderful, the map sector exploration has a nice scale to it. It’s supposed to be representative, but I think they nailed it balance wise between keeping it to a realistic scale and simulate a larger landscape. Forests, mountain ranges and rivers look nice, and feels the part. And thanks to this, I think exploration is one of the Wartales the strongest parts, especially since everything starts concealed by fog of war. So you will never know what lurks behind the next bend, or in that picturesque forest that look so very cozy and suitable to camp in.

Other aspects of the visuals that impressed me is the weapons and armor, what does falter a bit, though, is how few faces there are. You will see the same kind of female face all over the country, and unfortunately it does take away a bit of immersion – it’s like someone cloned all the women in a vat, or maybe they are all related somehow? Who knows, but it should be worked on, I think.

A good drawn map always makes me happy

The sound is good, and provide needed ambience while traversing the land. Wartales got a few good tunes as well, one that reminds me of The Witcher 3, specifically the opening from that game. While I think the soundscape works, the battlefield feels a bit quiet. It’s like developers are afraid of adding barks, and cries, so at most we get some muted grunts when taking damage. Remember Medieval Total War II? In the older games of the series, you had men constantly cry out due to different things, from anger towards the enemy to happiness when the battle was over. I wish we would get some of this, but that is just wishful thinking from my part.

Do I recommend getting it? Well, as it is now, it’s loaded with content, and the game in general have a well-thought-out design, which nowadays isn’t something you always get with mismatching mechanics and so on. So that feels refreshing, but you have to take in mind that the game is in the dreaded Early Access phase, which could mean basically anything. It does look like the game is being worked on, steadily going towards an eventual final release, especially considering it got a substantial update recently. Nonetheless, it also means that the game isn’t complete, and you will be playing an inferior version. With the map, quests and such set in stone, there is a clear risk for burnout before the game comes out fully.

Besides all that, though, I find Wartales great already. If you have any interest in Battle Brother or X-com like games with perma-death, a big focus on exploration and looting items to upgrade your men, this game will be right up your alley!

Thanks for reading.

/Thomas


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