PC Games

Published on May 17th, 2024 | by Nathan Misa

Wartales PC review – Gritty Greatness

Wartales PC review – Gritty Greatness Nathan Misa

Summary: A creative merge of survival simulation, turn-based combat and tactical RPG.


Gritty Greatness

The moment Wartales felt special started with a desperate retreat into the mountains. My mercenary band, led by a giant brute I named Bluntly Does, were running ragged to evade a persistent group of cutthroat bandits, before a strange light engulfed them in a nearby forest.

Soon enough, ghost wolves ambushed me and my bewildered mercs, who, until that point, had made a living hunting down non-ethereal beings. Bluntly stoically held the line with his signature club before a red-eyed horned beast appeared, striking supernatural terror into my grizzled leader to unceremoniously abandon his friends after helping kill it. Bluntly did come back at the last second… only to drown his new fear of the red-eyed beast in drink, while group morale plummeted after I couldn’t fully feed my troops.

The next morning, the bandits came to finish the job. However, Bluntly bravely redeemed himself by rushing into the brunt of the archers’ fire, allowing my mercs to limp on and live to fight another day.

None of that experience was scripted, or had anything to do with the minimal background narrative Wartales offers. Instead, this is a strategy game that provides many scenarios to make your own stories, and it does a damn good job of it – even better than some bigger budget titles.


Wartales was initially released amidst a wave of high-profile triple-AAA titles in 2023, and has since received a number of substantial free updates, and two DLC add-ons –  Pirates of Belerion and The Tavern Opens (read my review), making 2024 the perfect time to dive in and see just what the fuss is all about, and as a fan of the strategy and role-playing game (RPG) genre, Wartales was quick to capture my attention with its player-centric systems.

For those unfamiliar, Wartales is a tactical RPG by independent French studio Shiro Games that centers around managing your own mercenary band in a low-fantasy, medieval open world suffering from a magical plague and several morally ambiguous conflicts. The objective is to survive, but how you accomplish that goal, and what you want your motley crew of killers-for-hire to become – battlefield glory hounds, wealthy merchants, criminals or even scholars – is up to you, thanks to the game’s emphasis on emergent gameplay. Its sandbox design lets you explore and play the way you want to, including whether you want an adaptive difficulty, which scales the challenge based on your level, or a set difficulty for each new region for more linear progression.

You start by choosing your mercenary group’s initial situation and stats, and customizing their appearance before being let loose into the first map of the game (there are multiple regions), the county of Tiltren beset by bandits and refugees, to figure things out for yourself. The overworld map is presented in a top-down point-of-view where you guide your humble band in real-time into the direction of points-of-interest (POI) in the open-world, including small towns, larger cities, private settlements, caves, mines, bandit camps and other, more sinister locales to look for work, gather valuable resources like food, meet (and or kill) interesting folk, go get paid, and repeat. Exploring the map is governed by a stamina meter, and when it runs out, you’re forced to rest at camp to avoid your mercenaries and their pack horses from dying of exhaustion.

Once your band engages with a POI, the action zooms into a smaller area, where you can click interactive elements such as NPCs, chests, plants and other items to talk, gather resources, trade or even steal valuables. Many of these buildings and areas are re-used throughout the game, but the characters you meet and the opportunities on offer feel very hand-crafted, often organically feeding into other quest-givers and relevant areas if you look hard enough. And while Wartales’ script feels leaner than most bigger titles, the parcels of lore and story you do get are well written and intriguing, and, surprisingly, fully voice-acted by several fantastic actors.

The camp is also its own special hub area, where you can view your customized band of mercs up-close and drag-and-drop them to engage with several interactable objects you can craft and find in the world, such as a cookpot, strategy table, tents, banners and hitching poles for the horses. These objects grant unique effects and bonuses, such as resources or boosted happiness, and some can only be used by mercenaries of certain secondary professions, which you can change at any time and level up by having them engage in the activity.

My brute of a leader, Bluntly Does, was the camp cook who went from feeding the crew crude wolf sausages to fancy ratatouille, while my thief, Whisper Quiet, became a pro at pick-pocketing salt from the market to keep up with the crew’s demand for red meat, especially from my two pack horses and domesticated bear companion (yes, you can recruit animals). Your mercs can also quarrel or bond with each other to develop unique bonuses, and special events may occur at camp which further alter their relationships and stats, depending on the choice you pick for them (my thief certainly liked putting aside her guilt of stealing from the rich in favour of partying).

It was a good thing my mercs got better at what they do, because running a mercenary band is quite hard; they constantly demand a lot of food to keep them going, as well as hefty coin to keep them invested, otherwise you face desertions and death. Some of your actions, depending on your character’s profession, are presented in the form of mini-games, such as thieves needing to manually lock-pick each box, and blacksmiths having to forge their weapons with carefully-timed clicks, lest you miss out on resources. This part of the game is akin to a survival simulator, and I quickly found the gameplay loop and the challenges presented to be thoroughly addictive. Watching the camp gradually grow in numbers, equipment and capability, and the game’s straightforward RPG and survival systems flow together naturally, is a lot of fun.

When your crew gets into a fight, the game shifts gears again into a turn-based combat system, where you manage your crew as units on the battle-field again from a top-down view. Fans of any recent turn-based tactics title (Expeditions: Rome, Jagged Alliance 3, Pathfinder) will know what to expect, with units taking their turns based on their individual stats, and each combatant having a variety of special attacks and abilities depending on their class and weapons. Combat is, by default tough-as-nails, as this is a grimdark world where only a couple of hits will kill your mercs, armor constantly needs repairing, and injuries stack up with debilitating effects if left untreated, tying back into the survival simulation aspect of managing resources carefully.

I honestly expected Wartales to grow a bit stale in combat, but as I progressed, the enemy variety, unique ways to manipulate the environment, and later-game combat abilities really spice things up. You can craft rope to tie up wounded enemies and turn them into the local prison for money or even recruit them, tame wild animals, lure unsuspecting foes into bear traps and falling rocks, or carefully lure the bulk of enemies to one side of the map with your fastest unit while you pick off the rest. The many varied special abilities are governed by precious valour points, which you earn both outside and on the battlefield, and this is a fun game of balance in itself; for instance, I classed my nimble spear-user, Styr Hardpike, to earn valour by ending a turn next to a friendly unit, while my cunning assassin, Sten Sharpest, earns valour with every back-handed kill. I leveraged both units to ensure I had enough valor points to unleash a clutch killing blow by my hulking tank unit, Sweet-Axe, who earned all those lovely points back by hitting multiple opponents at once.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of Wartales – there’s a ton more content, including ancient tombs to raid, puzzles to solve, secret bosses to kill, bounties to hunt down (and evade if you’re a criminal yourself), plague rats to burn down, and even a tavern to manage in the newest DLC. But the reason I gush about all of its gameplay mechanics systems is because the foundation is rock solid, and the result is a true sandbox that lets you play how you want, and fill in the gaps with your own stories; another encounter with a regular wolf pack saw my spearman Styr Hardpike tame the last wounded beast, turning him into Styr’s Shadow, a formidable scout. Both developed a bond that quickly turned to heartbreak as Shadow took a mortal blow meant for his master. The game promptly delivered the wolf’s corpse back to me as another item in my inventory. Cold move.

A quick note on the presentation: Wartales is a good looking game despite its modest-sized budget and development team, with a sprawling world map and detailed, interactable environments both on and off the battlefield. Character models are also nice, but with so few appearance options (for now), most NPCs and your mercs tend to blend together quickly. The voice-acting and musical score is superb in terms of setting the tone of grimdark medieval world, while the graphics options on offer are generous, with the usual toggles for shadows, texture quality and anti-aliasing, alongside reflections and weather and volumetric effects. My RTX 3060 ti and Ryzen 3600 were overkill here, able to push the game to play smoothly at 1440p/120 fps easily.

Are there flaws? Sure. The early game can feel a little dull and overly harsh, as you grapple for hard-earned resources in an extremely hostile open-world, and without the tavern DLC to bring in extra coin, I think my playthrough would have been a lot more frustrating than fun, though of course, you can always change the difficulty and try again. The heavily reused character models betrays the lower budget, but all in all, the sheer ambition and seamless execution of gameplay mechanics far outweigh the negatives, and with constant free updates and a content roadmap in-place, Wartales seems poised to continuously improve, and offer even more cool ideas with its unique survival simulation/tactical RPG hybrid approach to mercenary management.


The Final Verdict

Fans of tactical role-playing games have been feasting with the resurgence of the genre into the mainstream in recent years, but Wartales has made it clear again some of the best are from our indies. A must-play, especially if you love survival gameplay mechanics and a hearty challenge.


Game Details

Primary Format – Games – PC, Xbox Series X | S, Nintendo Switch
Game Genre – Tactical role-playing game (RPG)
Rating – MA15+
Game Developer – Shiro Games
Game Publisher – Shiro Unlimited

About the Author


A senior writer for ImpulseGamer.com and former writer for MMGN and Ninemsn, Nathan has been reviewing video games and interviewing talented developers since 2012. As a nostalgia tragic eternally tied to the glorious 1990s, he's always playing retro gaming classics whenever he's not entrenched in the latest RPG, or talking your ear off about why The First Law book series is better than Game of Thrones - to anyone who dares listen.

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