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WarTales is a gritty mercenary epic from the makers of Northgard

During the PC Gaming Show, Shiro Games—the studio responsible for Northgard, Evoland, and Darksburg—revealed its next project, WarTales. A strategy game in a medieval setting, WarTales gives you command of a mercenary company, challenged with keeping them fed and paid as you explore plague-ravaged kingdoms. It's got a strategy layer that's part survival, part management sim. Then there's the turn-based battles, of course.

"I was always a fan of the good old Heroes of Might and Magic game series," says game director Nicolas Cannasse. "We wanted to have interesting fights between different troops but of course we wanted it to be in a different setting, with larger maps, not hexagons, and more freedom for the player to fight, and to do it with skill. So we also looked at games such as Baldur's Gate 3 and Divinity, which are more from a traditional RPG style. We wanted to find a blend between classical strategy, a very tactical strategic game, and RPG games where the emphasis is on player choice."

(Image credit: Shiro Games)

The engagement mechanic is an example of that. Once in close combat opponents are locked together, which makes manoeuvring matter, but your mercenaries have abilities that might let them escape engagement, or force enemies to switch who they're engaged with. Those mercenaries are randomly generated, with "different jobs, different weapon styles, different skill sets", and can be trained further at camp. 

Those skills will be necessary to defeat WarTales' toughest enemies. "We also have a concept of a champion," Cannasse says, "which is a single unit like a boss fighter that can play several times per round and is very powerful. You have to find a very different way to approach this kind of character."

Though it's taking inspiration from RPGs, don't expect WarTales to have magic or elves. "No wizards, or no goblins or trolls," Cannasse says. "It's not the classical fantasy universe you will have in many, many games. It's really medieval." This gritty setting contains its own version of medieval organizations and events, like the Church, and the Great Plague, but with a different spin. "For instance, in our universe the plague doesn't actually kill people." No, it just gives them a hunger for meat that, if unfulfilled, robs them of their minds and essentially turns them into zombies.

(Image credit: Shiro Games)

Expect a grim world, then. One where wolves and thieves prowl the wilderness, leaving the road is unsafe, and starvation can be a concern. While there is "definitely a survivalist aspect in the game", Cannasse says the studio toned it down a bit in development "because initially it was very, very hard and we kept on dying."

If you'd rather make WarTales more brutal, iron man mode will be an option, and the default difficulty setting only gives you two checkpoints—one at the start of your most recent battle, and one at the last village you visited. "When you save it just overwrites your current save and you don't get to save anywhere you want," Cannasse says.

You can, however, travel anywhere you want. Each region on the map can be visited in any order, though some encounters will be tougher and you'll want to come back to those later. But it won't mess with the plot if you do. "Unlike some other open-world games, WarTales doesn't have a main storyline," says Cannasse. "Each region has its own side story and they all make up together a big story of the world."

WarTales will launch in Early Access on Steam later this year, and should stay in Early Access for "about one year, one and a half" before it's done. Only some of the regions will be available in this version, though each will be complete before it's added. Cannasse estimates that even at launch there should be at least 10 hours worth of exploring, fighting, and trying not to starve in WarTales, "but of course the final goal for the game is much larger than that."

A demo of WarTales will be playable during Steam's NEXT Festival, which runs June 16 to June 22.

Jody Macgregor
Jody is that guy who will try to convince you to play some indie game you've never heard of with a name like Extreme Meatpunks Forever. He is also on a doomed quest to play every Warhammer game.