'Wartales' Review: An Intoxicating Gritty Open-World Adventure Led By Player Decisions

Anthony Jones - Author
By

Apr. 18 2023, Published 10:30 a.m. ET

Giant monster spinning across a snowy forest in 'Wartales'
Source: Shiro Games

As the sky rolled into dusk, a fierce blizzard swept across an ocean of trees, forcing my mercenaries shoulder to shoulder. The ragtag group had suffered months of marauder ambushes, near starvation, and nasty injuries.

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Those situations helped mold them into hardened fighters and masterful crafters out of necessity. A ruin peeking out of the icy foliage nearby was yet another adventure for my band to overcome, steeped in intrigue, danger, and bountiful rewards to sate any daredevil explorer.

Mercenaries sitting around a campfire talking in 'Wartales.'
Source: Shiro Games

Mercs catching their breath before setting off again.

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On the surface, Wartales is an adventurous romp through regions teeming with unknown structures and scenarios to test players. Yet under its crust bubbles deeply thoughtful management and progression systems that keep the exploration cycle intoxicating throughout.

Many of its little parts elevated the gameplay and made Wartales a fantastic journey shaped by mindful player decisions and unforeseen circumstances.

Wartales

Our Rating

From its chess-like tactical combat to the expansive open world, Wartales offers a gripping journey with vital progression and management systems to elevate its gameplay.

Developer: Shiro Games

Publisher: Shiro Unlimited

Platforms: PC

Release date: April 12, 2023

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Launched into Steam early access in late 2021, Wartales by Shiro Games is a medieval open-world tactical RPG where players can create a customizable mercenary warband with class-based characters and traits.

Players will step into this world a century after the Great Plague, a widespread illness killing many and leaving those remaining to fend for survival.

During these harsh times, a player’s warband will seek work from local taverns, scour new territory, and engage in turn-based battles hinged on strategy and positioning.

Wartales has multiple neat systems and ideas reminiscent of the world exploration in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, entangled with cunning combat and management from the XCOM series.

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After spending months fine-tuning these aspects, Shiro Games has fully released Wartales with game-changing tweaks and a new late-game region called Alazar, a country facing a mysterious new plague.

From a top-down perspective, players will guide their small party throughout an overworld with traveling caravans and aggressive mobs during a rotating day, night, and weather cycle.

Mercenaries exploring a tree-filled countryside in 'Wartales'
Source: Shiro Games

Following pathways will lead to villages and safe havens, but beware of ambushes from the trees.

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Rolling fog will create mists concealing enemy troops amid battle, while mystical clouds at night spawn otherworldly foes with unique crafting items. The rotating feature injects an edge of randomness to spice up the gameplay that will regularly lead players into unpredictable encounters despite being familiar with their surroundings.

The same goes for the turn-based combat in Wartales, designed as a simple but addicting chess game of shifting priorities based on battlefield circumstances.

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Mercenaries fighting off bandits invading a town in 'Wartales'
Source: Shiro Games

Players can decide who goes when on their side to prep for enemy movements.

Character classes like Warrior could spend Valor, a shareable bar between the mercenaries, to ram through two troublesome enemies. Meanwhile, the team’s Archer snipes an opponent blocking a choke point, giving players room to reposition the mercenaries against reinforcements.

Planning moves, stringing together powerful attacks, and defensive buffs are satisfying to blow open formations and reward players for outwitting the enemy AI.

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Team customization and synergy outside of combat follow assigning characters professions like Blacksmith and Tinkerer to make new equipment. While managing those professions, players must keep their mercs happy, well-fed, and rested.

These elements aren’t intrusive to the player experience but are rather ways of amping up the role-playing aspect of Wartales, nailing home the gritty vibe of commanding a squad through a dark medieval time.

A shop in 'Wartales' that sells food to keep mercenaries well-fed and happy.
Source: Shiro Games

Buying supplies is just as important as looting them out in the wild. Players can choose which they prefer.

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The main scenario quests expose much of the game’s bleak period: Refugees fleeing from war would later raid farmlands to survive, and holy armies slaughter innocents labeled as heretics for a self-righteous greater good.

The descriptive and thematic narration in Wartales executes its raw implementation of a world ripped from end to end by savagery and illness, throwing players neck-deep into situations to choose sides for their own means.

But unfortunately, the punch of choosing which groups to support becomes an all too familiar formula after a while.

Many main scenario choices boiled down to solving an issue by selecting one of two choices, such as either killing villagers or supporting refugees. Before long, players will encounter another scenario with the same “them or us” decision, forgoing any third option or unique twist to helping someone besides offering resources.

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Mercenaries doing different camp station activities before resting in 'Wartales'
Source: Shiro Games

Camp is the perfect place to craft, recover, and strategize for upcoming battles.

Those choices build points that eventually complete a region’s story, prompting a scenario dictated by decisions made in the past. The process hardly changes between zones, feeling safe rather than pushing boundaries.

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For players hoping for more of the same, the new Alazar region scratches that itch well, but it became predictable. However, that flaw doesn’t stop the essential Wartales loop of going out and exploring from losing its thrilling streak.

Outside of restrictive narrative beats, Wartales is an impressive player-driven experience peacocking a grisly world with outlandish marvels and events. Challenges lurk on the open roads and when directing mercenary resources, demanding a healthy orbit of organization and grumption aimed at gamers hungry for adventure.

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