Roadwarden is an ”illustrated, text-based RPG (role-playing game)” in which you play as the titular character, who is tasked to travel around the northern peninsula of Dragonwoods, taking care of its dangers and paving the way for trade routes on behalf of the great cities and their merchants. While you don´t have too much say on how your character is “built”, you will make decisions on how your roadwarden sees the world they are inhabiting. From your past to your views on religion – the game does make the player take part in its narrative, as the world unfolds around them. Alongside your “main” mission, you can also choose what personal goals your character has.
The moment-to-moment gameplay is simple. At each location, in the style of a visual novel, you are given a text blurb to read, after which you have some choices to make. This simplicity is balanced by other variables, however. Your roadwarden has only ´till autumn’s fall (depending on your choice of difficulty, from 30 to 50 days) to accomplish their mission and as you move on the game map during the day from location to location, time keeps ticking away. You also have some stats to keep your eye on – from health to hunger to cleanliness, which all affect what options you have available during your choices. Challenge does not feel overwhelming, but an aspect of survival in the unknown is always there and gives off the right feel of “adventure”.
Mechanics are of course just a part of a whole and as any visual-novel-styled game lives or dies on the quality of its writing, I´m glad to say what´s on display here is excellent. There is a lot of text to scroll through during a playthrough but all of it is delivered in concise chunks and one part never overstays its welcome. Descriptions have just the right amount of detail and dialogue gives every character you meet a good amount of personality. The text weaves into existence a world that is gritty and rough, but not necessarily dark. The world is decidedly fantasy, but everything fantastical is subtle and some familiar concepts might not be what you expect.
My only gripe with the worldbuilding is the glossary section, into which much of the lore is stashed away. Some of this lore is never organically presented to the player during the narrative so to get the whole picture, the player must do some light extra reading. It is not necessarily something you MUST do to enjoy the story, but since the world itself is interesting, it’s a shame this scrolling through documents feels at least half-expected of the player.
It also should be mentioned, that while the sepia audio-visual style fits the game well, I would have hoped for some illustrations of the inhabitants of the world. While they certainly are well described in the text, I think some encounters with monsters especially would have had more punch with something more tangible to look at.
Small stylistic gripes aside, Roadwarden turned out to be a gem of a game that not only has great writing but also meaningful moment-to-moment decisions to be made and narrative paths to take. I believe every RPG fan who has patience for reading will find something to like here, even if their usual games of choice would be more action-oriented. Roadwarden holds within it a fantastical, melancholic world that (to its merit) sets it apart from many of its contemporaries.
Developer: Moral Anxiety Studios
Publisher: Assemble Entertainment
Platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac OS
Release date: September 8th, 2022
Pictures: Screenshots from the game, taken by Lauri Juuti. Featured image a promo picture from the game, https://store.steampowered.com/app/1155970/Roadwarden/
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