Solving Mysteries using Magic in Warsaw – The Thaumaturge Review

Home » Game Reviews » Solving Mysteries using Magic in Warsaw – The Thaumaturge Review

The Thaumaturge is truly an RPG at its heart. It has an intriguing blend of both historical fiction and fantasy, set against the backdrop of a politically charged Europe. The game’s main strengths in its characters, factions, dialog choices, and voice acting. There are many routes in the game and your decisions do have consequences. At times, however, the game’s lower budget does show, and the game isn’t the most polished. It really is a fun experience to play through, especially with its diverging route in optional quests and the main story and the various factions are very interesting.

We won’t spoil any of the game, we’ll only provide a premise of the first hour of the game. The game’s protagonist is Wiktor, a kind of magician specializing in thaumaturgy. He embarks on a quest to find a cure for his sickness and runs into a healer named Rasputin, who cures him using a miracle. This is just the first hour of plot, where the game then opens up. I really enjoyed how the storyline that intertwines real historical figures such as Rasputin. This game has my favorite depiction of Rasputin hands down.

There are demons that Wiktor can tame and recruit called salutors. Salutors take control of a person and can affect their personality, but thaumaturgists such as Wiktor can control them. Wiktor was born with a salutor, a skeleton looking one named Upyr who you see him talking to. People who are not involved with thaumaturgy or magic cannot see salutors, and think Wiktor is talking to himself when he’s talking to Upyr.

The graphics of the game aren’t the best on a technical level, but the art direction does convey the gloomy atmosphere well. You explore with a fixed camera angle (isometric view), similar to Dragon Age: Origin or Diablo games. While the graphics may not be groundbreaking, they do effectively set the tone for the dark and foreboding atmosphere of early 1900’s Warsaw. The artists did an amazing job showing dreary environments, especially the regions in poverty where all the NPCs are on edge.

I really like that the game isn’t black and white with its story and characters. There are many quests present with meaningful interactions and moral dilemmas, and often you’ll have to choose a solution where you can’t always please everybody. The CEO and Project Lead of Fool’s Thoery is Jakub Rokosz, who was a quest designer for The Witcher 2 and 3 and it really shows in a good way. Many of Fool’s Theory’s developers come from CD Projekt RED. Fool’s Theory is also the studio in charge of making The Witcher Remake.

The game really did a good job of addressing sensitive subjects such as antisemitism, portraying the darker aspects of early 1900’s society without ever condoning them. You have good people and also villains who are of all nationalities and creeds, which I really liked, and in general everybody is looking out for their own well-being. The game really manages to capture a dark and foreboding atmosphere and I always felt like something bad was about to happen.

The dialog choices are numerous and have a large effect by the end of a playthrough. There are main story quests and important side stories as well. There are also another category of tasks called activities, but these are more generic. Wiktor can pursue optional activities scattered throughout the city. They don’t really have any substance, Wiktor might just say a line of dialog regarding it, but they do provide illustrations that he draws and they look fantastic.

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Many of these illustrations are really well-drawn and showcase respites from the war-torn landscape. (Image Credit: Fool’s Theory & 11 Bit Studios)

Sometimes there are random encounters not marked on the map while exploring as well, where maybe a group of intoxicated people will get mad you and you’ll have to fight them, fight for a cab driver, or help save someone from being mugged. In general most of the enemy encounters are fixed encounters, which I appreciated since random encounters can slow any game down a lot. The game is absolutely not grindy at all.

There are several main questlines, so you can choose what order to do the story in. The main quests do eventually converge into a single plotline. Without providing spoilers there are varying endgame routes you can choose to do depending on how you treated certain characters and factions throughout the game. Each route has good and bad endings as well, and if you are wishy-washy with your choices or fall for tricks you’ll get backstabbed and get a bad ending which I really loved. On the other hand, if you are at the top of your game, you can even backstab your friends and get a good ending. When I want to play an RPG I want to have impactful choices and this game is definitely full of them.

This game had a lot of replay value and really is brimming with content due to how many ways its quests can turn out, and sometimes characters and factions can get wiped out due to your decisions. A lot of your choices do have real weight. Both the main and side quests have salutors you can recruit as well to expand your abilities.

The battle system is a turn-based system, which I thought was amazing. You can tell from a glance from the environments and character designs that it’s an Eastern European kind of game – but the twist is that it’s turn-based. I’ve seen both Japanese RPGs and Western RPGs that were turn-based, but seeing a Eastern European game with a more realistic style surprised me in a good way. It has characters from both sides lined up and performing stylish moves as if it were a JRPG!

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This is a turn-based Eastern European game, with characters lined up and waiting for their turn. It’s a very welcomed aesthetic, as I’m too used to fantasy settings. (Image Credit: Fool’s Theory & 11 Bit Studios)

You attack from selecting cards, and typically Wiktor and one salutor you control perform moves on enemies (you might have friendly guests too who act on their own), and the enemies will attack you as well. All commands have varying speed values, and typically more powerful moves will take more time to perform. It’s turn-based, but the order of turns depends on the speed values of the moves used.

The commands are stylized like a deck of cards, but it’s not really drawing from a deck in a traditional sense. Rather, you’ll always have access to the same type of commands, such as a quick move, a slower move that’s more damaging, a move to reduce an opponent’s focus, and a powerful fast move you can only do when an enemy has no focus.

Both you and the enemies have health and focus. If you lose your health, you game over and if you defeat the enemies’ health, you win. Focus are the yellow blips near their health bar. Enemies typically have 2-10 blips of focus. If you damage an enemy’s focus, it cancels their move for a turn and you can use special moves to deal high amounts of damage to them quickly. To damage focus you need to use moves that specifically damage focus.

It’s a strategy for whether or not you want to just go for an enemy’s health or go for their focus, or a mix. You can also inflict bleeding ailments onto enemies, which damages them each turn. Your enemies can also do all of this to you as well, so you can’t take too long in battles. Sometimes there are reinforcements but most of the time it was only 2 rounds of fights in total with the final boss being 3 rounds of fights.

Your salutors will have unique moves as well, which you recruit throughout the game depending on your decisions. You can switch freely between your salutors as long as they’re not in the middle of performing a command too, but you’ll never use all your salutors at once – you’ll just be commanding Wiktor and one salutor at a time.

Enemies might also have traits that can make them immune to ailments or take less damage, and you remove them by attacking with a certain salutor (it’s always labelled clearly). If you don’t have that salutor or don’t meet a Dimension level (a stat check with your salutor), you’ll have to use moves to damage the enemy’s focus instead to stun them and then deal damage.

Not having a salutor or not meeting a Dimension stat check is only a problem in the early-game, and the game does purposely throw in an enemy whose trait you cannot remove on purpose to act like a mini-boss. These Dimensions are categorized into Heart, Mind, Deed and Word, each having levels from 0 to 7. When you unlock new abilities for your salutors, these stats will grow as well.

Most of the game takes place outside of battle, where you control Wiktor on maps, through exploring and talking to NPCs in isometric areas. In most quests you need to find evidence by pressing the right trigger when you see red sparkles. This game can be a bit too lore heavy and does rely on you finding evidence too often, violating the “show don’t tell” rule and it’s excessive (even for a RPG). I found myself often mashing the scanning button and gathering evidence just to get to the good parts.

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Finding clues can be excessive at times, where you have to keep scanning the area whenever you see red sparks. (Image Credit: Fool’s Theory & 11 Bit Studios)

Although finding clues is annoying at times, the NPC dialog is really good. With the quantity of dialog lines in the game, some voices can definitely be off-putting and hit-or-miss (like the children’s voices), but in general I really liked the voice direction and the way the dialog is written. It really feels like you’re immersed in 1901 Eastern Europe. I really like how gritty the dialog is as well.

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This game plays like an RPG, with some of the most amazing dialog trees I’ve seen in NPC conversations. Shown in the image above some dialog options are locked behind decisions in the game, some have Dimension skill checks, some require you to find clues and make deductions, and some will just let you go right into a battle. (Image Credit: Fool’s Theory & 11 Bit Studios)

The environment is meant to be very eerie, and you never know who you can trust. Some regions are in extreme poverty and the NPCs are willing to do anything to get money for a meal. Children in this game will swear at you and try to rob you! Some scenes made my hairs stand on end. Even when dealing with rich nobles in parties there was a lot of politics and one wrong move would make everybody enemies with you.

It’s clear that the developers didn’t sanitize the dialog, and I mean it in a good way. The insults genuinely feel like insults and aren’t watered down, it really shows how people fought at the time and discriminated against people.

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The dialog can be outright hilarious at times. (Image Credit: Fool’s Theory & 11 Bit Studios)

The only time the dialog was poorly written was during one random event I encountered. Wiktor saw someone getting robbed in a back alley. I wanted to save the victim, so I chose a dialog option saying “back off”. I thought that it meant Wiktor would yell for the robbers to “back off!” and fight them, but instead Wiktor backed off from the situation and pretended like nothing happened, causing the victim to get hurt.

It’s not that bad at all though, and I just reloaded a save from earlier and you can save anytime except during conversations and battles. It was my fault for not thinking about the dialog more carefully. It’s definitely not like The Witcher 3’s “Push him, forcefully” causing you to permanently break someone’s leg.

The game has a leveling system that is very generous. Almost any action in the game will give you experience, and the game is never grindy if you’re just playing through it casually. Most of the enemies are fixed encounters either from the main story or from side quests. Only once in a while do you get a random event that has a battle, and sometimes insulting random NPCs enough will trigger a fight too.

Other actions that provide experience include picking up notes and making deductions (the latter is done automatically). You don’t need to match clues to evidence or anything like Sherlock Holmes games, you just scan the area with the right trigger, pick up the evidence, and the conclusions will be made automatically.

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The story is extremely intriguing, but you often have to collect notes to make conclusions. It can be overbearing at times due to the number of conclusions there are for simple quests. (Image Credit: Fool’s Theory & 11 Bit Studios)

You are required to collect evidence and make deductions to unlock more dialog options because it’s often necessary for main story progression or to unlock better outcomes. It’s not a detective story though, it’s more of a supernatural story where Wiktor can detect thoughts and feelings through items via thaumaturgy and hunt down the salutors possessing people. The amount of details in the quest can be compared to that of contemporaries such as The Witcher 3.

The salutors are recruitable and can be your party members in combat. They’re all unique, each with a quest where you solve a mystery to recruit them (they’re not generic monsters like Pokémon or Shin Megami Tensei). Many salutors are actually missable, either from timed quests expiring or choosing not to recruit them.

I thought it was an interesting gameplay loop, where Wiktor collects salutors that are affecting important story characters you meet. The side quests involving salutors are really detailed too and are on-par with the main story quests.

Salutors make the person who they inhabit possess a flaw, drastically altering their personality. If you’re clever, you can figure out who may have a salutor too if they have a strange personality, and it makes for really interesting mysteries and plotlines.

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You can observe characters’ flaws to figure out who has a salutor. (Image Credit: Fool’s Theory & 11 Bit Studios)

You don’t even have to collect salutors either except for a few main story ones. For instance, you can have allies if you let them keep their salutor, but if you forcibly take it away maybe now you’ve lost an ally, whether it was because you betrayed them or because they can’t defend themselves without their salutor.

You could become a mean character who betrays everyone and takes all the salutors for yourself, even if it makes Wiktor unstable. Your actions do have consequences in this game’s story and it really shows. If you’re able to get new salutors you can use them in combat, and each one have their own kinds of moves and upgrades.

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The salutors have a whole assortment of moves they can use in battle as well as in skill checks in dialog. They have really phenomenal designs! (Image Credit: Fool’s Theory & 11 Bit Studios)

Wiktor’s first and main salutor is Upyr, probably my favorite living skeleton since Brook from One Piece and the Grim from Maximo. Upyr and the other salutors never talk and only use body language. There’s a sidequest with Upyr where he shows flashbacks of Wiktor’s past, which I found essential to the story even though it’s optional content.

When you level Wiktor up, you can upgrade your abilities for both himself and for your salutors. There are speech Dimension skill checks in the game that are divided by your salutors (there isn’t a skill tree for speech like in Fallout).

One drawback was that I found myself flooded with skill points early on from exploring and pursing side content, and I couldn’t use my skill points because I had nothing to spend them on. I had already maxed out the upgrades on Wiktor and Upyr and another mandatory salutor you recruit an hour in. You need to recruit certain salutors to progress through the skill trees, which requires you to find the quests associated with them.

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There are four skill trees, which require you to find salutors to unlock later skills later in the trees. (Image Credit: Fool’s Theory & 11 Bit Studios)

It’s a minor nitpick, but I found that you had to nudge the main story a bit to get some of the unlockable salutors, then you can unlock more skill trees to spend your skill points. A lot of Dimension speech skill checks are locked behind the salutors, meaning you can lock yourself out of certain outcomes if you don’t meet skill check requirements.

There are also second-tier salutors too after you unlock the first batch of them which unlock even further skill checks. Thankfully, most of the game has multiple routes to get through the main story and side quests, so you don’t always have to pass skill checks.

For the endgame you do need to be careful because there are multiple rounds of convincing people and if you don’t have a few of these met you can get a bad ending.

The endgame is really amazing and in terms of routes and branching dialog it reminded me of the Landsmeet in Dragons Age: Origins, in the sense that it can go so many different ways depending on your choices. If you have allies and were nice to people the endgame can go well, but if you betrayed everybody important then you’re going to need to be able to pass many skill checks!

There’s another interesting speech option called Pride answers. If you keep giving Prideful answers to NPCs you’ll build it up and can unlock even more prideful responses later on, otherwise prideful speech options will be locked later. Pride answers aren’t universally good or evil, just prideful, which I found to be a nice touch, but you can make NPCs angry at times so you need to be careful. Still, I liked the ability to be prideful because you can be assertive and vain without necessarily being evil, (like how renegade speech options forced you to be mostly evil in Mass Effect).

One of my criticisms is that I wish you fought the salutors directly. Instead, you just fight NPCs representing the conflict with the salutor with the salutor debuffing you in the background. They are boss battles, but they definitely could’ve been better. When you recruit salutors for yourself, though, they have really great animations for their abilities that you can use on enemies.

The beginning of the game is also the worst part of the game and really doesn’t do the game justice. Wiktor starts off sick, and it makes you think that he’s going to spend the whole game looking for a cure. This isn’t the case at all, and within an hour you can beat the prologue where he gets cured by Rasputin. A lot of the later game is extremely varied, with Wiktor attending parties, meeting revolutionaries, going to religious institutions and more.

The best parts of the game are after the prologue when you get to the city, where you have your family house as well as an open area you can explore, with more regions being unlocked as you progress the story. Many of the side quests are very interesting too and reflect the era, such as 9one where you can choose to help a construction union who want to stand up for their co-workers who were unjustly fired.

The flying university side quest was another brilliant way of integrating a real historical event into this game. It was a university that was always moving wherever it could be hidden (a flying university) so that women could get an education. It always had to be on the move because it was against the law at the time. It’s also eerie at times because of the possibility of someone reporting the flying university to the police.

It’s a short game for an RPG. It took us 20 hours to get to an ending, and we spent another 10 hours reloading old saves to try out different choices and obtain different endings. If you slow down to read all the notes extremely thoroughly, this can also add further to the playtime.

This game does have pacing issues at times, where it’s paced rather well in the prologue and early-game. Unfortunately, the story’s pacing changes significantly in the last third of the game, where numerous plot events unfold a bit too hastily. It feels like the game ends just as it’s picking up steam. Without spoiling, the very last confrontation is very well done, but I wish that the end-game missions were more substantial. The side quests are amazing and have complete storylines and decisions you can make to change the outcome, but I also wish there were more of them.

There aren’t really any other fun activities either. You can do activities to find illustrations, but although it’s called activities within the game it’s really only finding collectibles. I wish there had been activities involving extra character dialog and fights. For instance, during the story you are introduced to a fight club, but it’s for the story scene only. I was hoping you could do extra fights later on for bonuses such as more experience and maybe the losers challenging you to a rematch, but it’s not an option.

Despite it being a bit on the shorter side, I really like how this game feels like an RPG. I explained previously regarding all the speech checks and such and although it sounds stressful it’s really not. This game has a really fun structure and you do need to make decisions at pivotal points throughout it. The best way to explain it is there are two routes, which each split into numerous good and bad endings, as well as a early neutral/bad ending. I do wish there was another route with some of the characters, and I did feel that the working class characters were underrepresented though they were built up as a faction.

I loved watching how changing my dialog options changed the game, it really reminds me of the factions and endings in Fallout: New Vegas. I replayed the ending multiple times and there’s so many ways the story can play out depending on your decisions and how you treated the story characters.

I really liked that this game took so many risks. Although its graphics and presentation don’t look like much, the game takes many risks and has many original ideas. It’s honestly a very fun game to play, albeit a bit unpolished at times. You can definitely tell the developers of the Witcher games worked on this title.

The Thaumaturge

Our Score: Amazing

Pros

  • The turn-based combat is easy to pick up and very addicting. The upgrades and salutor system let you customize your build.
  • The atmosphere is extremely well done, and the characters struggling in a war-torn country. There are numerous factions as well, from working class unions to nobles who want to stay in power.
  • The salutors are extremely fun to recruit and have amazing designs and skills.
Cons

  • Game is on the shorter side, taking 20 hours to complete.
  • Some of the game can feel janky and unpolished at times.
  • It can be tricky sometimes to find side content such as the other salutors.
  • There are too many clues scattered around the game, and the game does have a habit of telling instead of showing.
  • There is a great writing and plot twists in the clues, but reading through all clues for all the quests can become boring after a while.

Brandon Harris
Reviewed on the PC

Brandon is a passionate gamer and reviewer who respects the artistic and technical prowess that goes into creating interactive experiences. He enjoys playing the guitar, volunteering, and traveling to experience different cultures.


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