Wartales – Mercenary Adventure Review

Rosinanta was a pony with big dreams. In our mercenary band, she started out as an ordinary pack mule, hauling food, materials and goods on her shoulders. But the peaceful life of a draft horse was not enough for Rosinante.

Wartales is a captivating strategy RPG that mixes genres brilliantly. One moment you’re managing your own company of mercenaries, making sure your people have enough food, paying wages on time, and having enough raw materials to repair damaged armor.

Soon, in turn-based battles, you perform strategic maneuvers, use special overwhelming attacks, devise the ideal course and development of individual mercenaries and their unique role in your bandit gang. Which inevitably leads to you forming a bond with each of them, much like how it worked in modern iterations of XCOM, for example.

And last but not least, you create your own story in Wartales. A link with which the group is recorded in the chronicles of towns and villages. Will you help the weak like the bandits of Sherwood? Or will you dedicate your life to raiding caravans? How about starting a cult of cannibals that eats slain enemies and enslaves captives? Your mercenaries can be all that and more.

source: Photo: Shiro Games

A collection of short stories

Rosinanta watched with interest from a distance as we took the fort where the bandits had taken up residence. As we exterminate dens with a plague of hatchling rats, as we try to unravel the mystery of a murdered aristocrat. Until one day she said to herself: “Enough! My lot is not to carry saddlebags. The blood of a warhorse pulses within me!”

Wartales has no goal. It’s not about saving the world or winning the hand of the princess with half the kingdom to go with it. Instead, he tells small isolated stories and adventures. Almost every location on the game map will present you with a series of decisions and offer no fewer ways to solve them.

For example, in a refugee camp, you will be followed by a group of woodcutters who were supposed to supply the camp with fuel for the winter. But you arrive in the adjacent forest at the exact moment when a angry crowd of old settlers is about to tear up the wood chips. The forest is sacred. Who will you help? Which side will you lend swords to at the right price?


source: Photo: Shiro Games

And the way Wartales (not) works with the story is by far the best thing about it. It will allow you to fully immerse yourself in the fate of the group, build a relationship not only with the characters as such, but also between them, constantly consider and reevaluate who your bandits actually are. Will they be good guys who distribute food to impoverished villagers, pragmatists who don’t shy away from occasionally crossing the line of the law, or terrorists for whom nothing is sacred? The decision is up to you.

Duel like from XCOM

Skulls crack under hooves and bones break. Rosinant fiercely bites and kicks the bandits. He helps defend the village against a pack of hungry wolves, setting his own body in the path of arrows. Once a draft horse, he grows stronger with every fight and becomes an integral blade of our scarred band.

The management part of Wartales is regularly alternated with catchy turn-based battles with some original elements. One of them is the so-called attack. In practice, this means that if you attack a loose enemy, the characters will lock themselves in a sword fight. Until only one remains alive, you may continue to attack only the attacked opponent and vice versa. Others, of course, want to frequent the locked opponent with slashes and jabs.

That’s a great way to send a shield-bearer encased in heavy armor to meet a deadly two-handed guy. Prioritize the archer so he can’t rain arrows into your ranks. Or just “naaggro” a loose opponent who threatens to run into your own archers.

The initiative is also solved interestingly. The sequence of moves in each round of combat is not limited to specific mercenaries. You know how many characters you will drive before your opponent’s turn, but which units you will use to perform the action is completely up to you. This opens up interesting tactical dilemmas. Do you pull the archer first to weaken the enemy, or do you prefer to charge forward with the spearman and try to hit two opponents at once?


source: Photo: Shiro Games

Endless possibilities

At first it seemed like Rosinanta would be a huge help. We even commissioned the production of plate armor for horses from the village blacksmith. We had such confidence in her abilities and contribution to the group. Oh, I wish Rosi had a brain as big as her heart.

Each mercenary has a profession, gains experience, levels up, unlocks new passive abilities as well as active attacks that cost action points shared by the entire party. He can also control the entire line of crafts. From mining to blacksmithing, alchemy, cooking, scholasticism, fishing or even thieving.

Each craft then has its own pleasant unique minigame, unlockable recipes for new armor, tinctures and food that you can use to strengthen your company. Add to that the fact that after a whole day of marching, you rest in the camp, which you can improve with new buildings. You will find that Wartales is overflowing with content and various layers of gameplay. There’s also difficult dungeon exploration reminiscent of old-school dungeon crawlers, and you can even play a gritty version of medieval football!


source: Photo: Shiro Games

You always have something to do, so it’s very easy to forget about the passage of time. You will discover a new location, solve a task in it, defeat bandits and give out levels. In the camp you then repair the armor, cook food, feed the soldiers, exchange a few words with a few of them and finally check on the chained prisoner. Before going to sleep, you will then give out knowledge points that unlock new recipes and abilities. Well, it’s a new day and you’re riding this whole dopamine merry-go-round all over again. Wartales is damn addictive.

He just doesn’t give you entertainment for free. Tutorials or tips to get started are basically non-existent and you have to figure out a whole range of mechanics yourself by experimenting and looking for tips on the internet.

Over time, for example, you will also drag all kinds of junk with you. Ribbons, statuettes, exotic wines. But you won’t want to part with the items, because what if you ever need them? And often you will also need them to unlock hidden options to solve certain tasks. I would appreciate, for example, a filter that clearly tells me that I can sell the flute with a clear conscience and I won’t need it in ten hours to complete some side story.


source: Photo: Shiro Games

Diorama of the world

Rosinanta rushes into battle without regard for her own safety. He runs into the flames with a jet. We can’t even count how many times we had to free her leg from the bear trap. How many times in narrow corridors did she effectively block not only the opponent, but also her comrades-in-arms. A blessing turned into a curse.

The picturesque landscapes of Wartales evoke plastic dioramas from tabletop role-playing games. Each homestead, mill or town welcomes you with a screen with a cutout of the building where you can talk to people, search (and loot) chests, an anvil corner and the like.

At the same time, the graphics side is the weakest part of Wartales. While the missing details are lost on the world map thanks to the chosen stylization, the gaps are most visible in the fights and cumbersome animations.

I would like to see a greater variability of opponents in the game over time. Although you’ll also encounter some wild-faced fauna and a handful of supernatural monsters, the vast majority of encounters will be against human opponents. And even if the fights are fun even after dozens of hours, there is still a certain degree of repetitiveness, since there are not many professions and classes.

Artificial intelligence would also deserve attention and tuning. Computer controlled comrades are as dull as a log. They will run into traps, get hit (and killed) by lightning, falling rocks, and rush into the crowd of opponents with gusto. It’s also the story of the war horse Rosinanta, whose suicidal tendencies had me restarting more than one fight before I ran out of patience and let the poor animal go down for good.

Although you can tame animals, in practice they are useless due to weak AI, as they die very quickly.

source: Shiro Games

Not every gamebook has to be D&D

It was during one particularly difficult encounter with the Plague Exorcists that we almost didn’t make it out alive. Lightning streaked the sky and heavy rain turned the battlefield into a muddy river. As our battle group withdrew from the fight to regroup, Rosinanta, at the edge of her strength, dived headfirst into a cluster of enemies where she was impaled by an enemy spear.

Wartales most evokes the gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston in their approach to building a story. It is stylization, strong RPG elements and an often binary approach to solving situations as well as imaginative storytelling, where you fill in a lot of empty spaces with your own imagination.

At first glance, the absence of a stronger narrative motivation and weaker graphics may deter you from playing, but this is completely balanced by the overview of Wartales with rich and complex game mechanics. It’s basically the ultimate sandbox for shaping the fate of one mercenary group. If you give it patience and time, you will be rewarded with stories that you will not easily forget because they will be yours alone.

Since Rosinante’s death, our company has had no other warhorse. Rest in peace.