Xbox Game Pass Just Quietly Released the Best Anti-Hero RPG
Wartales Parties Hard
Fate is a four-letter word. It’s equal parts prison and hallucinogen, used to trap people into thinking there’s something special going on and that you, yes YOU, are a part of it. Our modern era has largely rejected the notion of fate (astrology notwithstanding) in favor of science, free will, and hedonism. Our video games? Not so much. Fated and fabled heroes still populate many of our favorite tales, and while the escapism is nice, the trope has long since worn out its welcome. Especially in RPGs. So where do you go if you’re looking for an “Oops! All Side Quests” vibe?
Enter Wartales. The latest offering from Shiro Games, which just dropped on Game Pass, gives you all the adventure with none of the celestial pressure. Your hardy band of travelers isn’t on some world-saving sojourn or Hail Mary scheme to vanquish a once-in-an-epoch-level evil. You’re just people trying to find work and not starve in a world that is challenging and indifferent. Relatable.
Wartales’ gameplay is a mix of open-world survival mechanics and turn-based combat. While there is no mainline narrative thread, you do make choices. The very first thing you’ll do before starting the game is choose a backstory for your party, are you a group of adventurous friends? Soldiers who deserted the army? Straight-up rogues?
Each path offers some predictable buffs and liabilities. But to be honest, it's hard to gauge exactly what’s valuable and what’s not on your first playthrough, which is fine because the lack of a BIG STORY HERO makes you comfortable with scrapping everything and starting fresh if you need to since you won’t have to retread a bunch of expository tutorial beats if you get off on the wrong foot.
Another key choice you’ll make is how tough you want the survival and combat to be. These are separate decisions, which is a smart design choice. Crank up the survival and you’ll need to find lots more food and gold to keep your party happy, increasing the combat difficulty will lead to some very intense battles. Both systems are well-balanced and generally feel fair, and there is a lot of depth that isn’t obvious at first. Still, there’s nothing shocking here either. You’ve got big tough guys who take hits and do damage, sneaky rogues who can backstab, archers who do DPS from a distance, etc.
The charm of Wartales comes from how readily you’ll attach yourself to characters in your party. Customizing them is a lot of fun, with a nice range of options for looks, traits, and temperament. In addition to combat skills, each character has a profession. These are crucial components of the camping system in the game. You’ll need to rest during your travels, which is when you’ll have to pay and feed your crew, and different campsites offer different opportunities.
Your tinker may be able to craft materials, or your cook might prepare meals. Some professions come in handy outside of camps, too. Your angler can haul fish at fishing sites, your blacksmith can craft weapons at a forge, your alchemist can make potions at a shop, your scholar can unlock magic artifacts, and your thief can steal from, well, everywhere. This adds value to characters beyond their combat stats, which makes recruiting far more dynamic.
While there isn’t one big narrative, there is some story involved in each region you travel to. Regions can also be customized at the start of the game to be either level-locked, so some places are too tough to venture into right away, or scaled to adjust to your party’s current level. Where Wartales does fall short, for better or worse, is the lack of hand-holding when it comes to these systems. If you’re familiar with Shiro’s game Northgard you’ll understand what I mean. Don’t expect helpful pop-ups or a “here’s how everything works” starter mission. You just dive in and start, and the game assumes you’ve played video games before so you won’t need an explanation for every little thing.
Wartales has the spirit of a Choose Your Own Adventure book, with a solid foundation of mechanics familiar to anyone who’s played a low fantasy turn-based RPG in the last decade. It’s got a lot of good, small ideas that coalesce into something special… even if your character isn’t. Play it ASAP.