Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Wartales by Shiro Games and Shiro Unlimited is an evolution of classic isometric RPGs. Billed by the developer as “an open world RPG in which you lead a group of mercenaries in their search for wealth across a massive medieval universe”, this is one early access game where that is exactly what the player will get. From the zoomed in isometric combat view where players can micro-manage every character and action to the zoomed out party-as-tiny-sprites worldview, anyone who has played other isometric RPGs (Pathfinder, Pillars of Eternity, Tyranny, Icewind Dale, etc.) will quickly feel right with the way Wartales presents its world.
Taking on the role of a band of mercenaries, players are challenged to survive, grow their group and explore the world. From collecting harvestable resources on the world map for sale to fulfilling combat contracts to theft or raiding merchants, the player needs to choose (and keep) a steady income stream in order to pay their troops. Failure to pay or provide other necessities and comforts will create unhappiness in the band, eventually leading to troops leaving. The game provides a bit of pushback against large parties by having each member of the troop provide a small happiness malus, leading to a cap of around 10 troops unless the player goes hunting for specific traits that sidestep this in their recruiting. Given the need to micromanage every character’s movement and actions during combat, this is really quite sufficient, as larger groups take ever longer to get through each combat round.
Wartales nails quite a few elements of the classic isometric RPG in its core design, and the core game feels quite polished for an Early Access title. Movement, iconography and actions on the world map are clear and intuitive, and there is a sense the world is inhabited with merchant caravans, bandit groups and others moving about. Towns are handled as a halfway level between world movement and combat – zoomed in enough that you can see the buildings and select specific locations, but clear of sprite movement and character micromanagement.
Selecting particular locations (either in a town or finding them out in the world) brings the player into a third level of detail – a fairly static, 3d-like tableau where individual characters or crates and objects can be interacted with. This is what you’ll see when you find a marketplace, forge, or enter a mine – mousing around to see what highlights as interactable and what is just window dressing. Many of these locations contain mini-games for the player – mining and forging are two that are introduced early in the game, and give the player a measure of control over the quality of their output.
Combat in Wartales follows tried-and-true recipes that have worked before, and they still work here without feeling dated. Every character is individually controlled by the player, with available actions and abilities determined by a combination of their equipment and base class. Turn order is represented by a series of icons always visible in the bottom left of the combat UI, showing how many characters the player can use before the next enemy (or NPC Ally in some cases) acts.
A nice extra that Wartales uses here is that the icon for the enemies shows either the specific portrait of who is going to act and highlights them on the map for the player to see on selection ahead of time, or in the case of special “champion” (aka boss) units will show what ability will be used and gives a tooltip description of the effect. These allow for attentive players to plan their own actions around predictions of enemy actions – killing/disabling/debuffing enemies before their turn, using terrain to block LOS, avoiding upcoming charge-up attacks and similar tactics. Combat maps in Wartales use a variety of palettes to illustrate biome, and include both terrain that affects pathing/LOS as well as hazards like ground-based traps and benefits like old spears that can be scooped up for a one-off free ranged attack.
If there is an area that Wartales is weak in right now, it is how it handles pathing on the zoomed out world map. Pathing on this map is very much clicking a point and the party sprite will try to move in a straight line towards it – which means that it can get caught on terrain and the player will then have to point-by-point guide them around to a safe path. Similarly, there are skills that the party can learn that increase movement speeds on roads, but no way lock the party to actually use these, so it’s back to point-by-point clicking to keep the group following the curving roads through the world.
Finally, there isn’t any way (or if there is, it isn’t clearly presented to the player) to set up waypoints or similar routing, so you can’t just set up multiple points to approximate the road and let it go – you have to click each point in turn in front of the party, as they get close. A bit tiresome if you really want to take advantage of the ability you spent time to learn, but really quite a minor irritant in terms of the overall gameplay. I should note that the in-combat pathing doesn’t seem to suffer from this weakness, with the game able to automatically handle movement paths that curve around objects and enemies without trouble.
Overall, Wartales is an enjoyable take on a medieval setting, presented in a hybrid isometric RPG form. Clean, easy-to-understand icons and visuals make jumping into the game fairly quick and intuitive if you have done any gaming previously, and a short-term official roadmap (released on Reddit) gives clarity on where the developers are going to be further fleshing out the game. Overall quite polished for just having entered Early Access, the only fault I can find with this title is a bit of weakness in pathing on its world map – a very minor complaint for a game at this stage of the development cycle.Score: N/A
In a world of games that get 70-80% review scores due to unfinished or buggy content at release, Wartales is headed solidly for the 90’s if developer Shiro Games can maintain the level of quality they have shown so far.