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The Thaumaturge Game review

Game review 05 March 2024, 08:59

The Thaumaturge Review - Not Only a Fine RPG, It’s Also a Wonderful Time Machine

Step aside, The Witcher! There is a new RPG game in town to promote Poland. The Thaumaturge may be no match for CD Projekt’s work in terms of renown and scale but it’s way bolder when it comes to having that certain “Polish” feel. Gameplay is decent too.

The review is based on the PC version. It's also relevant to PS5, XSX version(s).

I regret I decided to review this game. I wish I could play it for the first time in a year or two, when English will no longer be the only option for voice-acting. No, it’s not that bad (although it certainly could be better). I’d just like to play The Thaumaturge with Polish voices, as this game is so thoroughly Polish that hearing any other language feels like blasphemy here (similarly to the STALKER series and speech other than Ukrainian/Russian). Even The Witcher gets nowhere close to it in terms of „Polishness.”

PROS:
  1. unique setting and overwhelming atmosphere.
  2. a great deal of work in reconstructing Warsaw from the early 20th century;
  3. captivating story with great writing and many interesting choices;
  4. original combat design;
  5. charismatic and memorable characters (especially the protagonist).
CONS:
  1. the gameplay could use more interactivity or at least more engaging investigations;
  2. some minor hiccups in the narrative;
  3. poor English voice-acting, shoddy cut-scenes.

It’s a kinda odd way to begin a review, isn’t it? That’s because The Thaumaturge is something more than “just” an RPG game. This is actually a time machine that takes us back to Warsaw in 1905. Yes, it has monsters (salutors), magic (thaumaturgy), quests with choices, combat, character progression, and all that role-playing stuff. But most of all it has the city.

A Wonderful Time Machine

Fights in scenery like this feel very real and “grounded”. Even monsters at your side (visible only to the protagonist) don’t change it.Thaumaturge, Fool's Theory, 2024

To be honest, I’m not sure how likely you are to enjoy The Thaumaturge if you aren’t Polish, like me. I’m impressed by how far developers went in “Polishing” this game. What were they thinking when they came up with a character called Abaurycy Niedzic? How are English-speaking players supposed to pronounce that name? They also won’t understand a word from what’s painted on signs and walls (unless they know Russian; this part of Poland was controlled by Russia at that time so both languages co-exist).

It's clear that developers from the Fool’s Theory studio spent a great deal of time at archives and libraries, gathering knowledge required to recreate Warsaw from the early 20th century as faithfully as possible for a video game. I’ll leave judging the accuracy of that reconstruction to historians but the city feels authentic and is designed with great care of details. And it has an overwhelming, unique atmosphere.

This setting is truly one of a kind. However, if you’re not from Poland, then I can only hope you’ll find it as fascinating as I do. Devs surely did what they could to spark interest in Warsaw and this historical period, filling the game with pretty sights and cultural curiosities. They even based character progression on exploring the city, revealing its secrets, and reading notes or newspapers (some of them seem to be based on actual archival texts).

A Fine RPG Game

The Thaumaturge gives us a multi-layered look at Warsaw, not necessarily praising the city. On the contrary, in fact.Thaumaturge, Fool's Theory, 2024

What’s more important, the captivating game world hosts equally captivating story, with great writing and memorable characters. However, unlike with the city, it doesn’t rely too heavily on historical figures and events – with the sole exception of Grigori Rasputin. This well-known but mysterious Russian mystic was a perfect fit for this universe where invisible supernatural creatures (salutors) feed on our Flaws and bond with thaumaturges, people capable of getting support from these “monsters” and seeing the unseen.

You play as a thaumaturge, naturally. We meet Wiktor Szulski when he seeks help from Rasputin to restore the bond with his salutor (Upyr), ending a long journey across Europe, and then we accompany him on his return to Warsaw – a city he hates. It’s a politically unstable ground where Szulski tries to solve the mystery behind his father’s death (a man he hated too), catches up with relatives, and makes contacts among groups such as Russian secret police, Polish patriots from the underground, or Jews.

Several districts of Warsaw available in the game form a large semi-open world with a plethora of activities and broad spectrum of sights.Thaumaturge, Fool's Theory, 2024

All these factions make a very specific political landscape where there are no purely good or bad characters and choices feel unusually heavy. Unraveling the mystery and reaching one of several endings feels very satisfying, even if the story actually doesn’t branch too much and isn’t very long (it takes around 15 hours to complete it, although you’ll need much more time to track down all of Warsaw’s secrets). I also need to note that sometimes my decisions were met with unexpected consequences, deviating from knowledge the game gave me earlier.

You don’t need a fantasy setting to get “fantasy” sights in the virtual world.Thaumaturge, Fool's Theory, 2024

However, a longer story could only harm The Thaumaturge, as the game isn’t very rich gameplay-wise, unfortunately. Turn-based combat, fueled by fairly simple yet effective character progression, is accompanied only by exploration and a shallow investigating system. The latter would be much more engaging if the player had something more to do than clicking right mouse button and finding interactive objects, while Wiktor Szulski connects dots and draws conclusions almost entirely on his own.

VERDICT:

All in all, The Thaumaturge is a game I won’t forget anytime soon. I even intend to play it again from the beginning as soon as Polish VO is added – and that’s something I didn’t declare for any title in a very, very long time.

You can find all of our reviews on Metacritic and Opencritic.

Anyway, the unique combat design itself deserves to be praised in another paragraph. Despite having a bunch of mystical creatures by his side and using their powers, Szulski relies mostly on his fists when fighting petty bandits, bullies, drunkards, or Russian soldiers. It feels good to combine various skills and their upgrades to perform devastating combos, while it all looks like a pretty normal street fight for the most part, powered by well-crafted animations with cinematic flair (created in CD Projekt’s mo-cap studio).

You can make some political statements throughout the journey if you wish, but it’s not what this game is about.Thaumaturge, Fool's Theory, 2024

On the other hand, story cut-scenes look surprisingly bland against such spectacular combat. Their direction was sometimes so bad that I needed to read the following dialogue to fully understand what I just saw. And as I mentioned in the beginning, English voice-acting could be better. Much better, in fact. Many actors sounded like they could record perfect Polish dubbing but were forced to speak English and struggled with the language (which seems to make my wish for Polish voice-over easier to fulfill). But at least hearing Wiktor Szulski’s voice was a pleasure.

There are several salutors to “catch”, each with an individual set of attacks and other powers. It can give the game very slight Pokemon vibes.Thaumaturge, Fool's Theory, 2024

A Unique Mixture

All in all, The Thaumaturge is a game I won’t forget anytime soon. I even intend to play it again from the beginning as soon as Polish VO is added – and that’s something I didn’t declare for any title in a very, very long time.

This is Poland. Of course there’s drinkingThaumaturge, Fool's Theory, 2024

I especially praise Fool’s Theory’s courage in making the game as “Polish” as it gets, with worries about appealing to the worldwide audience not getting in the way of their creative vision too much. I wish more creators took an example from this work, reconstructing places and pieces of history of their nations while building well-designed, very enjoyable games around them. I’m eager to get acquainted with a bigger chunk of the world through the interactive medium. But first The Thaumaturge must prove to be a financial success. I keep my fingers crossed for it!

Christopher Mysiak

Christopher Mysiak

Associated with GRYOnline.pl since 2013, first as a co-worker, and since 2017 - a member of the Editorial team. Currently the head of the Game Encyclopedia. His older brother - a game collector and player - sparked his interest in electronic entertainment. He got an education as a librarian/infobroker - but he did not follow in the footsteps of Deckard Cain or the Shadow Broker. Before he moved from Krakow to Poznan in 2020, he was remembered for attending Tolkien conventions, owning a Subaru Impreza, and swinging a sword in the company's parking lot.

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