In-Depth Review

The Thaumaturge

Developer: Fool's Theory

Release Date: 04 March, 2024

Platform: Windows, Xbox S/X, PS5

Genre: RPG

By Chris Picone, 04 March 2024


The Thaumaturge is a new narrative-heavy mystery-solving RPG that I've been very excited about for a while now.  I was excited primarily because of the setting; although there are plenty of exceptions, I've found as a rule that games with Euro settings tend to have much deeper and more interesting lore than their generic or American counterparts. And Thaumaturge, set in a fictional 1905 Warsaw with the addition of salutors - essentially demons based on Polish mythology -  promises to be even more interesting than most.  Thaumaturge also features Rasputin, a favourite historical character of mine ever since I first learned of him in a history textbook, so 11 Bit really had me hook, line, and sinker.  A word for anyone familiar with 11 Bit's previous title, Seven:  Thaumaturge shares the same penchant for colonial undertones, mistrust, cruelty, and the seedier aspects of humanity, but otherwise they are two very, very different games.


Warsaw was an interesting place in 1905.  A Polish metropolis, it was under Tsar Nicholas II's Imperial Russian rule at the time - but at the beginning of the Russian Revolution.  So the city is filled with Russian high society, military, and police, while the streets are filled with poverty, rebels, and deeply patriotic but mistrustful Polish peasantry.  The city had its first power plant installed only the year prior, so it is also a city burgeoning into an industrial power with electricity and all the modern technological wonders that come with it.  But that's just the background.  While The Thaumaturge leans heavily on its historical setting, urban fantasy elements - thaumaturges and salutors, particularly - are a core aspect of the game.  I mentioned salutors earlier but didn't go into any depth.  They are like a sort of demon, each bound to one of the four dimensions:  Word, Heart, Deed, and Mind.  The salutors are subtle; ethereal, they are invisible, and unable to affect anything in the physical realm directly.  Instead, they bind themselves to a host and exert their influence on those around them, creating the sort of environment they thrive on.  Lelek, for example, thrives on chaos, and as a result those around him are more likely to engage in reckless behaviour.  Where you find any significant and powerful emotional event in the world, you will find a salutor.  Unsurprisingly, Lelek's presence is first discovered in a seedy bar which serves as home to a Polish street gang.  Thaumaturges are humans gifted with a sort of supernatural sense, have the power to see salutors, and to interact with and control them directly.  11 Bit have done a fantastic job of weaving history with fantasy in a very natural, organic way, that makes it feel like maybe thaumaturges really there all along (after all, why not? Rasputin was).  You play as Wiktor Szulski, estranged son of a Polish aristocrat and relatively famous thaumaturge.  For the past however man years, you have been wandering across Europe in pursuit of  a sort of self-imposed exile.  Until you receive news of the unexpected death of your father, prompting you to reluctantly return to Warsaw to unravel the mystery behind his death.  


The Thaumaturge is primarily an isometric RPG, with delightfully high quality modern graphics.  A few cinematics do feature, and the game also cuts to quasi-cutscenes during dialogue.  Combat's depicted in a similar manner, except with a strategic overlay.  The UI is minimalistic but fits the theme, and the whole thing's highly polished.  The game's very drab and grey for the most part, fitting the themes of loss and hardship, and presumably fitting the historical setting.  What I really love about the Thaumaturge though, is that it features a surprisingly diverse array of locations to visit - especially for an RPG in an urban setting.  You begin the game in a rustic village before travelling to Warsaw.  In Warsaw you will visit fancy parlours inside aristocrat's mansions, a number of increasingly seedy dive bars, fishing harbours, a cemetery, a whore house, a prison, even the train stations.  Each location is loaded with little details - swords and books adorn the walls of Wiktor's father's study; the harbour's covered in little puddles from a receding high tide, each pub feels distinctly different to the last; and they're all packed with workers and patrons.  The variety is absolutely marvellous but also does a fantastic job of bringing the city to life.  


You will spend a good chunk of your time exploring the map like any other isometric RPG, except there is a constant need to use your special thaumaturgic sense to locate clues as you go.  Ironically, this is probably the weakest aspect of the game.  The sense is triggered with a button push and the clues are scattered quite widely around the map, which means you really end up running around the map mashing that button, setting off a constant sonar.  A lot of the time, though, as you get close to a clue a little sparkle will appear, hinting at its presence.  Which is handy but then begs the question whether the sonar sense skill is necessary in the first place.  As you locate each clue a little window comes up giving you the story of that item - a thaumaturge can sense emotion and history even within objects and can use these like a scent to track the owner. When you have identified all clues linked to a questline, you will come to a "conclusion," which you will normally use in dialogue to advance a plotline.  In this way you both uncover the secrets of the world around you whilst also identifying murderers and helping unravel the mystery of your father's death.  The Conclusion process I found mildly frustating because there is no player agency; I would have liked to have observed the clues and come to a conclusion myself (perhaps from a short list of options).  However, most plotlines force you to make some sort of morally ambiguous choice to push forward - and the availability of these choices depend on which conclusions you have come to, so at least there is some player agency in that regard.  And in any case, the whole game - the clues, the conclusions, the dialogue - it's all exquisitely written and a pleasure to read.  There are lots of people to meet and talk to, and stacks of dialogue.   Your salutors come in handy here - once bound to you, you can use the salutors to manipulate the people you interact with.  But of course this comes with a price; every time you do so, you're essentially selling some of your soul to that demon, giving them more control over you as you submit to their influence, and these dialogue choices attract consequences later in the game.  The story, multi-layered as it is, tied up simultaneously in your exploration of Warsaw, your discovery of new salutors, and your investigation into your father's murder, will absolutely carry you through such mild complaints.  While The Thaumaturge is very much focused on the narrative, there is still plenty of combat.  And I've got to say that I was impressed with how interesting and nuanced the combat system is.  Combat is turn-based, with each action taking a set amount of "time."  You control both yourself and your salutors - only one at a time but you may use a different one every turn.  So you have a few things to think about already; quick attacks are obviously faster than slow attacks but do less damage; however, many of your attacks have conditional bonuses so it is often better to try to put the enemy into some sort of "status" to make the most of that.  The base ability for this is to fatigue your enemy.  Initially this does no damage and otherwise has no effect on the enemy but if you manage to burn all of their stamina they will become staggered, allowing you to use your finishing moves.  This might be handy against enemies who have low stamina, whereas against another enemy you might be better going for more direct damage.  Your salutors can help with this, but each has their own abilities based on their respective domains, so you really need to try to work out both where the most effective synergies lie, but also how to most efficiently use those abilities against the enemies' strengths and weaknesses. What makes this even trickier is that some enemies are immune to particular salutors' effects and attack types, although of course there are skills to get around this too.  Adding an additional layer of complexity, however, is that as you level up you gain a range of optional bonuses that you can add to each attack. So for example quick attacks might not do much damage on their own but you can add a stacking bonus so that a flurry of quick attacks might actually do a large amount of combined damage.  Alternatively, you might attach a status effect to your attack which might give your salutor some sort of bonus. It pays to work as a team.  There are a huge combination of possibilities to put to the test but in any case you will find yourself forced to adapt as enemies become more numerous or stronger. 

Fun Factor / Replayability

I'm having a fantastic time with The Thaumaturge; I'm a dozen hours in so far and absolutely plan to play through to the end.  The game's very open-ended with stacks of sub-quests that you're free to explore in any order (or ignore altogether) and there is so much flexibility built into the combat system that I think there's scope for replayability but I'm not 100% sure yet.  What this will really come down to, of course, is the longer-reaching impact of some of your choices that come with delayed consequences, and I'm not quite far into the game to appreciate this yet (the game's pegged for ~23 hours).  I remain hopeful and will update this review when I complete the game to let you know.


Although I'm not quite finished yet, I'm confident in saying that The Thaumaturge is shaping up to be an absolute masterclass, one of my favourite RPGs in recent years.  While not without its flaws it has such a unique setting, engaging story, strong writing, and surprisingly nuanced combat system that it's very much a top shelf RPG that I'd happily recommend to any of my roleplaying friends.

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