The Bookwalker – Thief of Tales review

This turn-based adventure immerses players in the dramatic story of Etienne Quist, a writer facing a severe sentence of writer’s block for his crime. Through its multi-perspective narrative, it explores themes of control, redemption, and the power of the written word.

The visual presentation is commendable, with the real world depicted in rich detail and the book world adopting a distinct and almost pixel-art style. The interconnected environments provide ample opportunities for exploration, rewarding players with crafting materials and shortcuts. Notably, the music manages to create an immersive ambiance reminiscent of ASMR, akin to the soothing tones experienced in games like Minecraft.

As you guide Etienne through isometric labyrinths of book worlds, they encounter unique challenges and perspectives. It introduces the concept of Bookwalking, where Etienne can use ink as a form of mana to bend the rules within the book world to his will. However, the shackles of his sentence limit his full potential in the books and overly relying on this power comes with the cost of causing him pain and “Rejection.”

One intriguing character is Roderick, a mysterious character sheet transported between worlds. Acting as Etienne’s mentor and guide, Roderick provides context, clues, and serves as a moral compass, urging Etienne to consider the consequences of his actions within the book worlds.

Choices within the book worlds hold significance, influencing the successful completion of jobs or potential setbacks for the client. However, the absence of a quick save menu or level select means players are committed to their choices until the end. To fully comprehend the plot and uncover finer details, multiple playthroughs may be necessary, which could be a sticking point for some players seeking a more rounded ending sooner.

Combat plays a secondary role to exploration, employing a turn-based fighting system that requires strategy but generally poses little risk when done right. The game’s strength lies in the book worlds themselves, each presenting unique environments, puzzles, and treasures to retrieve. The challenges are engaging without being overly frustrating, encouraging players to revisit rooms, and even manipulate time, in a way, to progress.

The control scheme, particularly when using a controller, can feel clunky and imprecise when aligning Etienne with interactive objects. Additionally, the interactive text may not stand out clearly against the backgrounds, potentially leading to overlooked items or requiring careful repositioning to make the text appear. The Steam version offers a more intuitive control method using a mouse, allowing players to hover over items and click to guide Etienne.

Despite its strengths, The Bookwalker – Thief of Tales falters in its writing at key moments, which is ironic considering the game’s focus on storytelling. The lack of satisfactory conclusions, and an underwhelming resolution for Roderick, create a somewhat hollow ending leaving unanswered questions and a sense of disappointment. It’s unclear if these issues stem from gameplay choices or are inherent flaws in the narrative.

Furthermore, while the story addresses character criticism, it falls short of fully developing its own characters, creating a noticeable discrepancy. This oversight detracts from the game’s potential for self-awareness and depth.

Locking the player out of a complete understanding of the story in a single playthrough, including vital details about Etienne’s past and his involvement in Bookwalking, can be seen as a failure. It places significant reliance on the community to invest in multiple playthroughs to unravel the full narrative. This approach may lead to player dissatisfaction and hesitation in dedicating additional playtime.

The Bookwalker – Thief of Tales is an intriguing adventure that offers the opportunity to make choices that impacts the loot they acquire. One scenario involves infiltrating the lair of a twisted alchemist who subjects people to his invincibility potion, perfecting the formula until they no longer succumb to torture. Surprisingly, the alchemist’s motive behind creating the potion is to resurrect his lost love (which doesn’t make a lot of sense if they’re already dead. I mean technically, you’re already invincible – you can’t get deader.) During this mission, players can choose to split the potion with him or keep it all for themselves. Opting for the split results in handing over Etienne’s share in a questionable old soda bottle, leading to a furious client but still securing future jobs.

However, the impact of these choices seems limited in relation to the broader narrative. The involvement of Roderick, who is revealed to be a notable character from an infamous series, with Etienne’s story is only vaguely explained. It’s not clear why Roderick was removed from his own book and how their paths became intertwined. This lack of clarity diminishes the significance of the choices made throughout the game, leaving players wanting more substantial consequences. I think you’re supposed to have had your suspicions about who Roderick might be early on, but there isn’t enough that gives it away that makes the revelation meaningful. I was surprised, but I felt like I didn’t understand the link at all.

I think clarity in storytelling is crucial for creating a cohesive and immersive experience. If elements of the narrative are unclear or leave players questioning their significance without providing satisfying explanations, it can be a sign that the game may not have achieved its desired impact or failed to effectively communicate its messages and themes.

While it’s true some degree of ambiguity can enhance intrigue and encourage exploration, it’s essential to strike a balance that allows players to grasp the core themes and narrative threads. If a lack of clarity hinders understanding or leaves us feeling disconnected or uncertain, it could be seen as a missed opportunity to fully engage and resonate with the audience which would be a big shame. Offering more explicit explanations or rounding out key concepts could help players grasp these elements without relying solely on multiple playthroughs unless they were achievement hunting.

On the positive side, it offers a degree of replayability. Some players may be motivated to dive back in and experiment with different choices, while others might hesitate due to the ambiguity.

The Bookwalker – Thief of Tales presents an engaging experience marred by the seemingly hollow impact of player choices and unclear character connections. While it offers replayability, the lack of a definitive conclusion in some areas may deter some players from investing additional time. However, if you are willing to explore different paths and can tolerate ambiguity, it still holds potential for an enjoyable experience while you’re in it.

Developed by Do My Best Games and published by tinyBuild The Bookwalker – Thief of Tales, is out now on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series, Xbox One, and PC.

SCORE
7