REVIEW: Face Your Demons in ‘The Thaumaturge’

My skeletons will stay firmly in my closet, thank you very much

Credit: Fool's Theory / 11 bit Studios

RPGs have been a mainstay of gaming as an art form since nearly the beginning. Hailing from tabletop games and classic novels, RPGs typically offer “sword and sorcery” style fantasy. Well, hold the sword, add some extra sorcery, with a pinch of horror, and you get the latest from 11 bit Studios and Fool’s Theory: The Thaumaturge.

Historical Dark Fantasy

The Thaumaturge takes place in Warsaw, during the turbulent year of 1905. This gives way to plenty of opportunity to explore the unique time and place, as well as the people in it. That includes historical figures, a buddy cop dynamic formed with the infamous Rasputin proving a particular highlight. However, the most compelling character is the one players will find themselves controlling, Wiktor Szulski.

Wiktor is the titular Thaumaturge, a sort of magician that wields the power of “perception”. Thaumaturges may use this power to investigate the past of others and draw conclusions about their lives. Likewise, they may use the very same power to magically manipulate the emotions of others and influence their future decisions. The third ability granted to a Thaumaturge, and the one most central to the game’s identity, is the ability to tame esoteric creatures known as “Salutors”. Salutors bolster the previous abilities, along with aiding the player in combat.

The game begins with a prologue that hooks the player and introduces every major mechanic at a deliberate pace. Wiktor is in a decrepit state. He’s lost his relationship with his only Salutor at the moment and is losing his grip on reality as a consequence. He’s isolated from nearly everyone he knows, and his relationship with his past haunts the narrative. Seeking to heal his ailment leads him to track down Rasputin. After forging a tenuous camaraderie and solving a few local problems, Wiktor receives some terrible news. This news serves as the framework for the majority of the game that follows, and players will instantly recognize it as the last thing anyone would want to hear: Wiktor must return home after years of absence, and for a family gathering no less.

I Put a Spell on You

The Thaumaturge proudly proclaims itself as “a story-driven RPG with morally ambiguous choices”. This is expressed primarily in Wiktor and the player’s ability to influence his choices in conversation. However, the game also brings along the turn-based combat native to the RPG genre. This combat even comes with a dynamic twist, thanks to Wiktor’s Salutors operating on a turn economy parallel to his own. Combat aside, during story segments of The Thaumaturge, it reveals itself to be an isometric detective game at heart. Considering the goal of blending supernatural combat with social intrigue, The Thaumaturge largely succeeds at delivering on its premise.

Wiktor is without a doubt the highlight of the game, and that’s a good thing. You meet Wiktor at what is without a doubt the lowest point of his life. Just as things start to look up, you watch as Wiktor is delivered a gut punch that is too emotionally confusing for him to be called “upsetting”. In a story-driven RPG that asks you to consider moral ambiguity, it’s important to have a compelling protagonist. After all, players need to know who their decisions are affecting, and deeply care about influencing those consequences. Thankfully, The Thaumaturge absolutely delivers in this department.

Credit: Fool’s Theory / 11 bit Studios

Salutors Assemble

Wiktor’s growing roster of demon-like companions are just as much of a highlight. Their designs alone would be enough to draw players into the “dark” aspect of dark fantasy. Even one of them would be enough to justify a player’s interest for the entirety of the game. The Thaumaturge is kind enough to provide the player with a whole roster of the beasties.

While at the beginning of the game, the combat may seem like it’s taking a small while to get interesting. However, players must keep in mind this is simply the game taking the time to introduce its systems. The roster of Salutors available grew quickly, and the early introduction of a generous upgrade system gave way to a skill tree that kept things fresh. Likewise, Wiktor and a tamed Salutor’s ability to influence the enemy’s turn order creates a combat system that becomes more fun and dynamic the further you explore it and develop your skills.

Credit: Fool’s Theory / 11 bit Studios

Resolving a “Flaw”

The Thaumaturge posits that within every person lies a “Flaw”. These Flaws can be tracked like a scent to aid Wiktor in drawing conclusions. As any other person, Wiktor bears an inherent Flaw: Pride. He also possesses the ability to gain more Flaws throughout his journey. Different Flaws unlock new routes in conversation. However, the game urges caution, as selecting these new decisions will also strengthen the Flaw they indulge.

Between the Flaws Wiktor gains from others and the upgrades he gains from his growing roster of Salutors, The Thaumaturge offers a pretty engaging system of social interaction. Decisions feel meaningful, and conversation is very much sculpted around those decisions. There is the occasion where a player may get in over their head, sparking a conflict they didn’t intend. However, this is very much part of the fun, and situations where outcomes are genuinely out of your control feel relatively rare.

Ironically, the immediate quality of complex conversation in the game reveals its only real flaw. By contrast: sleuthing segments can feel a little linear. From time to time, drawing conclusions is simply a matter of pointing and clicking in a circle until you collect as many text boxes as you need. This is where the success of the roleplaying segment of this roleplaying game shines through again. When the game flirts with simplicity, the matter of customizing into different segments of the game’s skill tree creates another system of unique paths. As with conversation, some options of exploration are only open if you’ve dedicated the resources. This further lends to the weight of your actions both within conversations and within the systems of the game itself.

Credit: Fool’s Theory / 11 bit Studios

Final Thoughts

The Thaumaturge is an experience that should prove fun for any fans of the RPG or “point and click” genres. Between the systems and designs surrounding the game’s Salutors, you’ll really want to step into the boots of the titular Thaumaturge. Those boots are more than worth stepping into, with a sufficiently interesting story and significant ability to alter how you navigate it, Wiktor Szulski’s story of recollection and redemption is one worth looking out for.

The Thaumaturge, the latest from developer Fool’s Theory and publisher 11 bit Studios is available now on Steam.


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An enchanting isometric RPG rich with historical fantasy.