The Thaumaturge

When I was introduced to the concept of ‘The Thaumaturge’ I knew almost immediately that it would be right up my alley. A Narrative-focused RPG made by developers who worked on The Witcher and centred around people that could summon undead and demons to do their bidding, sign me right up! My experiences with the game then were mostly enjoyable and coming from a relatively small studio I am extremely impressed at the quality of the product delivered here. But let’s not waste any more time, let’s get straight into this!

The story of The Thaumaturge is an urban-fantasy plot centred in an alternate history early 20th century Poland in which people known as ‘Thaumaturges’ exist. They’re essentially wizards that have a knack for detective work by using their demon/undead assistants, known as ‘Salutors’, to trace the empathetic feelings of people from objects they have interacted with and, of course, being able to use these powers in combat scenarios too. You play as Wiktor Szulski, a Thaumaturge who is looking for the legendary Rasputin to help heal his afflictions and help him control his powers better. Following this he will return to the city of Warsaw to meet with his family and discover a conspiracy that will change the fate of both Poland and Russia. The story is easily the biggest strength of The Thaumaturge and the world they have crafted here is genuinely interesting, so much so that I would love to see more about this world in a sequel. The characters are all interesting and well developed, the protagonist, Wiktor, while a little dry at times is enjoyable to see in his element as it really gave me Geralt from The Witcher vibes at times as I see him doing detective work by using dark powers. The setting of Warsaw too was bustling and full of interesting side quests and activities to get involved with. It really felt like a fleshed out world and I for one am incredibly impressed by how much is in this title. I wish to see more here, and if that isn’t a good seal of approval then I don’t know what is.

Here is our protagonist, Wiktor!

Presentation is suitably impressive for a small studio but comes with its own quirks. The world of Warsaw is visually presented beautifully in this isometric perspective with impressive graphics, busy environments and detailed models. It gave a grungey-aesthetic to the world which considering the time period worked extremely well. The music too was excellent as old slavic folk tunes and orchestral pieces worked well for the scenes they were placed in and the battle theme too helped to hype up each of the encounters. I also liked the sound design, and especially the visual design of all the Salutors as they were suitably creepy and would fit in well into a world in which fantastical creatures from folk tales and religion actually existed. The only issues I had with the visual presentation were that animations felt a bit awkward and stilted at times, and this combined with sometimes blurry or undetailed character models to make each character feel a bit like a mannequin rather than a human being. It’s clear most of the aesthetic design was centred on the Salutors, which makes sense with them being the flagship part of the game, but other human aspects could have used some more work.

The gameplay of The Thaumaturge is a strange mix of elements. If I was giving a brief summary to people it’s like a mix of Baldur’s Gate, The Witcher, Persona and a detective game. The main elements of gameplay are split between 2 sections, with exploring and detective work being one side and combat being the other. As you go around the world and as you are in locations to complete quests you use your abilities to track down pieces of information or objects related to a person of interest and through deducting their feelings and emotions you can find out more about them and complete related quests. When you need to enter combat it becomes a turn-based RPG that sees both yourself and your selected Salutor perform actions to do damage, produce debilitating effects, heal or even reduce the sanity of your enemies. The detective half of the game is intriguing as it provides a lot of context and lore about the world and you can see through the deductive reasoning described to you that the writers clearly knew their stuff. However it can at times feel rather basic as instead of coming to a conclusion yourself you essentially just wander around a room, collect all the evidence, and then the deduction is automatically told to you. It can rob you of some of those ‘Eureka!’ moments which is a big shame for a game that focuses so much on this. The combat however is great fun and provides a large variety of tactics and Salutors to change up your gameplay style and it always felt slightly challenging without being incredibly hard. I never felt as though the fights were tedious and I enjoyed the flow that they provided making for a fun to play experience.

This is your main Salutor, Upyr!

While there were a few negatives I mentioned before the biggest issue I had with the experience was actually entirely on the technical side of things. Put simply, the game is a mess of crashes, extreme performance usage, weird audio bugs and general stiltedness that really detracted from the experience. For example, in almost every battle when a Salutor attacked I always had frames drop or freezes that took away from the really smooth and cool looking animations and in the dialogue department sometimes the voices just stopped working, requiring me to restart the game to bring them back. It’s a shame as it’s clear that these technical hurdles are caused by the game’s big scope being created by a smaller game dev team which meant that these issues were a result of wishing to do something great that they just couldn’t manage to reach. Still, I had several patches come up while I was playing that did address things like the extreme performance issues so with several more patches I could certainly see this game getting better and better which is great to see as there truly is something great here that is just being bogged down by performance and technical issues. While they did certainly give the game some quirky charm (I laughed every time I loaded up a new area and everyone proceeded to T-Pose briefly before going about their day) it’s certainly stuff that needs to be ironed out before I can call this a truly great experience.

Overall then this was a huge surprise that came out of absolutely nowhere. I enjoyed my time with this game and with a few updates here and there I think this could truly be something special. For the scope of the studio that made this I am hugely impressed with what they have done and if they ever plan to revisit this world you can bet I will be waiting in line for more. Keep an eye on 11 Bit Studios, there’s something great at work here…

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