Wartales is a gritty, turn-based RPG developed and published by Shiro Games. Originally launching in Early Access, it became a full release in April of this year.
I’m a gigantic sucker for tactical sims, war games, and sandbox games, so when Wartales first launched in 2021, I clicked the buy button so fast, my laptop cried. So did my bank account. Not that I think Wartales is overpriced or anything like that. For the 29.99/35EUR/40USD, players can experience a solid, well-designed game that offers plenty of bells and whistles. While the game isn’t perfect (because what game is?) with slight tedium regarding late-game combat, the breathing open world, solid writing, and myriad of options make Wartales an easy recommendation.
Wartales takes place in a dark, somewhat broken fantasy world of Medieval culture, a land torn by strife, and where cutthroat mercenaries are king. In this tactical, sandbox RPG, the player is tasked with forming their own mercenary company. It reminds me a lot of Mount and Blade Warband — one of my favourite sandbox games in living memory. Instead of real-time battles, Wartales employs turn-based combat, with characters utilizing a wide range of abilities to slay enemies. Another game like Wartales is the excellent Battle Brothers, a hardcore mercenary company RPG.
The game begins with several customization options, difficulty settings, and the like — player choice is important! There’s also the option to pick between free exploration and region-locked exploration. In the latter, the world grows more dangerous the further away from home you are, while free exploration mode sees the world level up as the player advances.
In the overworld map, the player takes their mercenary company through the world, making camp, forging a reputation for themselves, and carrying out contracts. There’s no underlying narrative in Wartales — this is all about forging your destiny. Because there’s no overarching story, this can be a detriment. As much as I love sandboxes to make my own, I’ve found my gaming tastes have changed in recent times. I prefer having a story to follow. Not that this move by Shiro Games is bad: far from it! This is a highly enjoyable game. I just wish some larger questlines mattered more. There are plenty of bounties to fulfill and multiple side quests, some well-written, but I know many gamers prefer having a story to follow. They provide an anchor to keep playing.
There’s plenty to do while managing your mercenary company. Characters can take on several professions, such as fishing, woodcutting, crafting, cooking, and petty thievery. With the unlock system for many bonuses and additional crafting options, there’s a wide range of ways players can roleplay. On the campaign map, there are resources to scavenge, dozens of locations to explore, and little events pop up to keep your journey interesting. The company requires food and payment frequently — starving and broke mercenaries make pissed-off folks, so managing income and supplies is important. This mechanic is fairly easy to manage on easy mode, while more challenging on higher difficulties. With so many ways to get money and food, I’ve played harder survival management games. It is just enough to keep players on their toes.
Combat Strengths and Pitfalls
Characters can be a mix of different combat classes. There are the usual gubbins — rangers with powerful archery attacks, thieves who can launch ambushes and sneak attacks, and barbarian warriors with heavy armor. While the game offers a lot of freedom in how to spec characters, you can’t just equip anything to these. A ranger for instance isn’t going to wear that giant suit of plate mail armour! Combat is turn-based, and while your party size starts small, that rapidly changes as you pick up recruits. I have nine people in my company, not including pack animals. And yes, you can get your pack animals to fight too!
Wartale’s battles can get big. Even with my relatively small party, fights can take a while. Especially when enemy parties start building up, and they will outnumber you often. In late games, battles can go on for a while, and in a game where combat is often, this can get tedious. I hope in future patches, Shiro Games can balance this out, or at least give more options to speed up combat.
Overview and Conclusion
While Wartales isn’t perfect, I’ve enjoyed playing it. This is a chunky and well-designed RPG, with plenty to enjoy. The medieval setting and the open-world survival mechanics make exploration a high point of the game. Managing my little company on their quest for whatever they want to achieve is incredibly absorbing. No story? Create your own! This is the true strength of Wartales. I take my party to towns to stock up on supplies and carry out missions, while working out where to go next. Do I have enough food to last me? My team of mercenaries needs paying at some point. Have I got enough resources and medicine to get my company through the attrition of war? My company has little conversations while camping for the night, and these small events keep the journey spicy. This is a game where the journey matters most — not the destination.
With full co-op support, Wartales offers an equally engrossing experience for both solo parties and friends, a rarity in this genre. I’m hoping for mod support in the future. In conclusion, Wartales is one of those success stories of Early Access. We often hear about disasters, but there are so many great games out there that I focus on the positive sides of life. With its dynamic open world, great management mechanics, and solid performance across the board, I recommend it for any strategy game fan.
Final score: 4/5.