It’s like Darklands, only different.

Released: Steam Early Access
Type: Singleplayer
Genre: RPG, Strategy
Developer: Shiro Games
Publisher: Shiro Unlimited
Release date: 1 Dec, 2021

Ever wanted to lead a band of mercenaries, roaming a medieval landscape, helping or hurting whoever you see fit, and selling your services to whoever are willing to pay? If that’s something you’ve been dreaming of doing in a game, then Wartales might be the game for you.

This preview is based on the pre-Early access alpha build, and so the game is far from complete, and things are bound to change a lot over the course of development. Early access is just about to launch, and then the game is estimated to remain in early access for about a year, though anyone who’s got any experience with early access games knows that such estimates should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Combat really is the highlight of the game. Willyn, the guy who’s selected, is pretty green and only has access to two abilities, but with more experience and different weapons he’ll get access to more things to do

Wartales is an open world sandbox RPG set in a low-fantasy world that is in turmoil. An excellent place to be for a small band of mercenaries, as there’s no shortage of jobs in a place like this. In Wartales you’ll be the one leading this band as they make a name for themselves, recruit new members, and choose which sides to support in the numerous conflicts, large and small, that are happening all over the lands.

As the leader of the mercenaries it’s up to you to decide where to go. You can just go out into the woods and hunt wild boars if you want to, but a more sensible thing to do would be to look for work, or at least higher value targets. Find your way to a major city and there will be no shortage of work, as jobs will be posted on the notice boards. These usually involve hunting down some miscreants or helping someone with their troubles. But you don’t have to help people if you don’t want to, you can also become a band of highway robbers and attack people outside the cities, though that will get you unwanted attention from guards, who won’t take kindly to those who cause a ruckus.

The world is large and open for exploration. Some locations are quest relevant, others might just offer some nice loot or let you recruit new members to your party

Many of the jobs you undertake are randomly generated, and the job board refills regularly, but there are also jobs that you can undertake that have pre-written stories, and that advance the plotline for the region. These often let you make some kind of choice, like do you support the bandits who’s member are going to be executed for a crime that would not really warrant execution normally, or do you side with the people who are trying to bring a bandit to justice? Do you help a deserter who’s nearly been worked to death and want to get away from slave-like conditions and let him join you even if it means that you’ll be hunted by the army he fled from for the foreseeable future?

Combat is inevitable, be it when running into a group of highwaymen, hungry wolves or anything else that might have an interest in attacking your band of mercenaries. Combat in Wartales is turnbased and tactical. Both side takes turn moving their troops on a large grid, and each unit has its own set of abilities, some they get from their weapon and some they get from leveling up. Pre-early access balance aside, the game really is quite tactical here, and offers a good amount of depth.

Each character will individually level up and have their own equipment. What they can equip will depend on their class

Beyond fighting there’s a bunch of other things you can do. Different towns will produce different things and have different demands, so if you’re a fan of trading games Wartales has you covered. The trading here might not have the depth of say Port Royale, but as an addition to the game it’s not a bad thing. Characters can also have professions which lets them produce or do different things. A blacksmith for an example can make new armour and weapons, while a thief can use lockpicks to break into chests and steal stuff. All of this adds up to a lot of choices in how to actually play the game. Combat is the highlight, but the other stuff offers some variety.

Being the leader of a band of mercenaries, you’ll also have to care for your troops and keep them happy, as well as pay their salaries and make sure they get enough food. Adding more people to your group might mean that you’ve got more people who can fight, but it also will cost you a lot of money. Your band of mercenaries will never become as huge as say your army in Mount & Blade can get, it’s not quite that kind of game, but it can expand considerably from your small starting force.

You regularly get to pick sides

Closing Thoughts

Being a pre-early access beta I’m expecting a lot to change once it’s time for the full release, but even so I was really surprised by how good the game is already in this early stage. There’s a lot to do, and the game really does offer a sandbox experience, you’re not just choosing the order of which you’ll do certain quest chains. Combat is also really good, so good in fact that had this game just been a series of fights using this combat system and nothing else, I would have been more than happy to play that. But there is a lot more here than just combat.

Fans of Darklands and those who enjoyed the open world aspect of Mount & Blade should keep a close eye on Wartales. This is a game that has the potential to become great, and is even in its alpha state it’s remarkably fun to play.

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December 2021

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