The Thaumaturge

Review: The Thaumaturge

After several back-to-back open-world RPGs, I needed a break. Something smaller, focused, and manageable is what I wanted from whatever I wanted to play next. I have choice paralysis sometimes, leading me to return to familiar titles when unsure of what to play next. Thankfully, exciting games are sometimes sent to your mailbox when you need them the most. That’s what I found in The Thaumaturge.

You play as Wiktor Szulski, who holds the title of Thaumaturge. Wiktor can perceive and interact with spirits known as Salutors, who reside in various parts of the world. Each Thaumaturge is attached to a specific salutor that feeds off an inherent Flaw of the individual. Wiktor’s flaw is Pride, which affects his responses to various situations. As the story progresses, Wiktor acquires additional demons and flaws that impact the game differently.

The Thaumaturge’s Unique Setting

The Thaumaturge is set in Russian-controlled Warsaw, and Wiktor returns home to find himself. It isn’t long before he meets the Tsar, and with the help of Upyr, his salutor, he is soon pulled into the locale politics and situation unfolding in his hometown.

At the beginning of the game, players come across a weakened Wiktor, who aims to restore his powers by relying on the infamous Grigori Rasputin. Following this, players are introduced to a minor mystery that acts as a vertical slice of the game’s loop focused on investigation, dialogue choices, and combat. The Thaumaturge expands when Wiktor receives news of his father’s death and returns to his hometown of Warsaw.

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Using an isometric view, Wiktor has access to many of the districts within Warsaw. Much of the side content is worth visiting as it adds new layers to the world and characters. As you move through the various sectors. In most areas, some quests help make this rendition of Warsaw feel much more alive.

Quests involve investigating both ordinary and mystical objects to gather “observations.” These observations serve as clues that can be used to identify the people who interacted with the objects based on any emotional residue left behind. For example, one may notice lingering emotions on bedsheets. While this process primarily relies on the player’s perception to investigate glowing objects, the accompanying writing often adds a sense of drama as players work to piece everything together before receiving confirmation.

The narrative in the game is designed to branch out and offer different avenues of progression for the player’s character, Wiktor. Wiktor can accrue experience and skill points by engaging in combat and exploring the game world, which can increase his proficiency in four dimensions: word, heart, deed, and mind.

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These dimensions can be considered skill trees and offer additional combat abilities and speech and environmental checks, depending on the player’s proficiency in a particular dimension. However, the progression options are not always clear, as the titles of these dimensions are vague and similar to the categories in Disco Elysium.

As you become more potent as a Thaumaturge, so do your powers. Learning of lingering emotions and following through with a series of objects in a location unlock hard truths of the situation and can help shape the story with added dialogue trees and more powers to discover.

The Thaumaturge can sometimes feel a bit narrow but that’s because the plot focuses on the passing of Wiktor’s father. Despite the common use of the dead relative plotline, the game manages to draw emotional investment from the player. Although the premise may sound dull, the game avoids that feeling and remains engaging throughout. In part, this is because Warsaw is filled with memorable characters you’ll want to meet.

Combat has potential but still needs improvement

Of course, you’re not just snooping around town as a detective, and Wiktor will often find himself at arms with the residents of Warsaw. You’ll control your salutor alongside Wiktor, who can use both light and heavy attacks, both having their pros and cons: light attacks are fast but deal lower damage, while heavy deal more damage but take longer to recover from. Salutors shake up the combat in The Thaumaturge by slotting in various roles in battle. Boss fights tend to be more difficult encounters when compared to the regular enemies.

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Wiktor can use a combat skill during each turn and have his salutor engage. Players can either focus on causing damage or use a skill to reduce the enemies’ Focus. If the enemies’ Focus is reduced to zero, they become vulnerable to a more powerful attack from Wiktor and his salutor. You can add status effects to the enemy, which can help turn the tide in battle, and you should expect to use status effects if you wish to succeed.

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When the initial buffs of enemies are nullified, they remain inactive for the rest of the fight except in boss fights. Consequently, all enemies become vulnerable to the same attacking strategies, and combat reduces to the most efficient method of ending the fight. This issue is noticeable in Wiktor’s combat sequences. As Wiktor advances, new abilities can be incorporated into existing attacks. However, these abilities become active after the second or third usage, leading players to choose an attack they prefer and rely on it to maximize Wiktor’s most effective impacts.

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There isn’t a traditional way to level up your character, either. Instead, you focus on finding items in the world, using Perceptions, and so on to gain experience. When you do enough to satisfy the constraints, you earn points to use for Wiktor in his skill tree. The skill tree boosts health, combat skills, and various bonuses.

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Verdict

The Thaumaturge has a lot of significant elements with a solid and engaging story set in a unique setting. Exploring Warsaw is a ton of fun, and discovering the various salutors hidden throughout the city is excellent. I appreciate Fool’s Theory’s work put into the project because it is clearly a labour of love for the country and the city it inhabits. There’s even some inspiration from Persona to make it feel familiar to those unfamiliar with the developer. Despite the combat taking a step back to allow the storytelling and exploration elements to step up, you’re getting a complete and exciting new series to enjoy this year.

Recommended

[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]

Reviewed on: PC

The Thaumaturge
Review: The Thaumaturge
Summary
The Thaumaturge has a lot of significant elements with a solid and engaging story set in a unique setting.
Liked
A great and original setting to explore
Fun but somewhat basic combat
Captivating story to experience
Didn't Like
Some narrative decisions don't pan out in a satisfying manner
Combat is basic