The Thaumaturge Review: Perfect Blend of Fantasy and History

No matter the vast genre of games out there, I have always gravitated towards single-player experiences from the start. Combine that with my immense love for RPGs and it makes for an amazing gaming session. This is exactly why when I heard about The Thaumaturge, a story-driven RPG, I knew I had to try it out. Set in a dreadfully dark world with a morally ambiguous character, The Thaumaturge ticked all the right boxes for me. At this point, you might be wondering what boxes I am talking about.

Well, thanks to a copy provided by Fool’s Theory, I have been exploring pre-WW2 Warsaw for over two weeks now. This is the publisher’s second original game and an earnest attempt at story-telling. Equal parts compelling and annoying, there’s a lot to discuss in The Thaumaturge. Let’s talk about it in my review below.

Wiktor and His Dilemma

The Thaumaturge takes place in 1905 during the Russian occupation of Warsaw. In a world fraught with tension between the Poles and Russians, you play Wiktor Szulski, a Thaumaturge. Known for their dark allure, a Thaumaturge is a person able to perform sorceries, influence people’s emotions, and perceive things others simply can’t.

While you can call him a magician, it goes deeper than that. Wiktor belongs to the illustrious Szulski family but has been away from home for 15 years to hone his Thaumaturgy. As he returns to Poland, he ends up getting in trouble.

While The Thaumaturge is an RPG, you play as a fully voiced pre-determined character. While one would think this goes against RPGs and boxes us in, it had the opposite effect on me. Playing the game from Wiktor’s perspective immediately helped me understand and connect to his turmoil. For Wiktor, his problem starts with a troubled relationship with his father.

The Thaumaturge Wiktor
Image Courtesy: Fool’s Theory/The Thaumaturge

While the main story is about fictional family conspiracies and deception, the game smartly uses a real-world timeline and setting. If there’s one thing I love in story-telling, it’s a plot rooted in real history, making it all the more believable. This is exactly what Fool’s Theory does with this game, and I love it.

The game tries to dive deep and even include real-world Warsaw political problems and personalities like Rasputin. The Thaumaturge adds to the lore by tastefully dropping in the literature that adds further context. These further expanded the game’s universe and helped me get reeled in.

Rasputin The Thaumaturge

However, much like Wiktor’s family, not all is good with the game’s story. The Thaumaturge did tend to go through inconsistent pacing. At a few points in the game, the story felt dragged out or tended to slow down just as something interesting was happening. While slow-burn lovers will like it, this was a minor problem for me.

Nonetheless, the choice of setting, premise, and the plot as a whole created a universe I thoroughly enjoyed in The Thaumaturge.

The Characters Mostly Do Their Due Diligence

No matter how beautiful an RPG setting is, it can immediately feel incomplete without the proper characters. The Thaumaturge mostly does a good job of populating its world. The operating word here is “mostly.”

For starters, almost every character in the game has proper voice acting. However, much like the plot, there are some inconsistencies. While Wiktor and the supporting cast have stellar voice acting, the other NPCs provide a mixed experience. A good example of this is an army general we met in the beginning. Speaking to him, it felt like he was reading off a script with poor delivery. That really got my goat.

There are many such examples littered throughout the game. However, because it’s inconsistent, your experience will be too. So, while sometimes you will run into some amazing voice performances, other times you will be doubting Fool’s Theory for its screenplay. While, for the most part, the characters pull through, a little subtlety would have helped.

Control the Salutors for Your Gains

While I did just gripe about the voice acting, kindly allow me to shift gears. The gameplay in Thaumaturge provided quite a satisfying experience. The game opts for an isometric camera view. This naturally eliminates first and third-person perspectives. Depending on what kind of a gamer you are, you might love or hate it. I was the former. During my time with the game, I never found the camera angle off-putting and actually enjoyed it.

The camera of The Thaumaturge

Besides the camera, the gameplay is tanked up by certain systems that are in place to ensure Wiktor becomes a proficient Thaumaturge. This included exploring the maps for lore pieces, solving problems, and naturally finishing the main story. All these grant you XP level-up points that let you tank up Wiktor’s Thaumaturgry.

The Thaumaturgy upgrade system is divided into two sections. The first is the actual upgrade tree, divided into four sub-sections. Upgrading a particular section results in becoming proficient in that discipline. So, a player upgraded in the heart tree will easily breeze through a situation that requires it.

  • The Thaumaturgy skill-points
  • The attack upgrades

The second are the upgrades you get from the Thaumaturgy. You can assign these to the available attacks. You can call them modifiers and mix and match these to get a desirable set of choices.

Compared to creations like The Witcher 3, the RPG elements of The Thaumaturge feel a little lacking. However, taken as its own thing, The Thaumaturge provides an in-depth gameplay system where you can build your perfect Wiktor with flaws and quirks and breeze through the game.

An Intuitive Turn-Based System Spices up Combat

We told you Wiktor can perceive things others cannot. These come in the form of Salutors, supernatural entities that Wiktor can tame and befriend. Players get eight of them, and each Salutor’s powers can be used for a particular task. Yes, this also includes battles.

Salutors in game
Image Courtesy: Fool’s Theory/The Thaumaturge

Combat in The Thaumaturge follows a turn-based system from a third-person perspective. However, the game adds its own quirk to it. The game has a handy bar located at the top-middle of the screen. Called the duration bar, this element shows the point at which an enemy will attack. Depending on the duration of your attack, you might get an advantage or disadvantage against your enemies.

For instance – using a light attack on your enemy before they can begin theirs will give you a chance to land the first hit. Here, Wiktor can bring his Salutors with unique traits to further delay the enemy’s attacks and open them up to some divine beating. Veteran RPG players can tell that this is a spiced-up turn-based system which I loved.

The general combat of the game

I as a gamer have had mixed feelings on turned-based combat systems. However, after what seems like a long time, I found the one based in The Thaumaturge’s refreshing. Getting into engagements with the Salutor Upyr was a very fun loop where we both doubled down on the enemy and effectively locked their turn. This is made better by the fact that you can experiment with modifiers unlocked by improving your Thaumatargy points and have even more fun.

Overall, the gameplay in The Thaumaturge is a pick-and-play experience you can modify and bend to your own will. With elements like proficient yet fun skill trees, a turn-based combat system, and Salutors with dark powers, the game ensured my experience was different from other players while still being equally if not more fun.

Graphics and Performance

The Thaumaturge is exclusively coming out on Windows PCs. Thankfully, I had my trusty gaming rig ready, which served as this experiment’s hotbed. Here’s what the game ran on:

Test Setup: CPU: AMD Ryzen 5600
RAM: 8×2 DDR4 RAM @ 3600MHz
SSD: WD SN570 500GB
Monitor: 1080p

The game saw a CPU/GPU symmetrical utilization hovering around 62-65%. This stayed consistent with a minor difference of 1-2%. However, after booting the game, the temps GPU hit the 62-degree mark, jumping from its idle of 52 degrees.

We tested the game with and without upscaling and frame generation. When we played The Thaumaturge without and with DLSS ultra-quality, we experienced a frame rate range of 84-92FPS. When we turned on frame generation, this number jumped up to 130+FPS.

You can play this game effortlessly if you have any RTX or an AMD/Intel equivalent. You can use FSR and XeSS, so if you are not on an NVIDIA card, you can still take advantage of the upscaling technology. As such, my experience with the game was thoroughly satisfying.

Verdict: Is the Dark Descent into Poland Worth It?

11-Bit Studios is known for frequently finding diamonds in the rough and bringing them to the limelight. Their past published games like Frostpunk, The Invincible, and This War of Mine have introduced me to some amazing experiences. As it stands, The Thaumaturge is another one of those experiences from the studio.

Whether it is the immersive yet dark setting, the gripping characters, or the refreshing turn-based combat, there are a lot of things the game does right. While The Thaumaturge does suffer from some pacing pains and inconsistent delivery, it isn’t something that ruined my experience as a whole.

Add to that plentiful additions to the world in the form of lore pickups and an overall satisfying gameplay system, the game impressed me and then some. The Thaumaturge will find its home among RPG lovers who are looking for a different take in a world chock full of similar options. Heck, even people who don’t enjoy turn-based combat should give it a try. So, as far as my experience goes, I can happily recommend The Thaumaturge to pick up as your next adventure.

Pros and Cons
The Pros
Gripping story that masterfully blends history and fantasy.
A simple yet intuitive RPG system that everyone will enjoy.
Turn-based combat encouraging experimentation.
The Cons
Plot occasionally suffers from pacing issues.
Animations sometimes look and feel stiff, creating some awkward moments.
Final Verdict
The Thaumaturge
The Thaumaturge by Fool's Theory blends a great fantasy story into real-world history, introducing us to some eccentric, yet alluring characters that do not feel dull for a moment. While the story can feel slow at times, the gameplay and simple RPG mechanics makes up for its problems. Overall, the studio's attempt to create a great RPG is mostly successful, and everyone might enjoy it, given the chance.
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