Saturday 14 January 2023

Roadwarden: So You Want To Be A Hero?

I watched someone stream a bit of Roadwarden, because at first I wasn't sure if I was gonna like it or not. There are very limited graphics, just some small, pixel-art for locations and items, things like that. Most of the game is essentially a text adventure. It didn't take me long to want to buy the game and play it myself.

There's a real charm to this game, and it really captures that RPG-style Choose-Your-Own-Adventure thing. There were these "Fighting Fantasy" books I read as a kid that were kinda like that, like a small adventure, usually in that case there were a bunch of ways you could fail but only really one way to progress all the way to the end.

With Roadwarden, there are three different classes to pick from, each with slightly different equipment and abilities. The minor differences are what sets them apart, giving you a potential option to get past tricky situations. The fighter can use some brute force, the mage can use some basic magic, and the alchemist can read stuff (actually quite important!) as well as make potions.

For my playthrough I picked the mage, as I usually do with RPG style games. I keep saying "RPG style", because the game isn't really much of an RPG, there are quite limited stats and stuff, but what stats, items and character development it does have are super important. Your health, your appearance, your hunger, how much money you have, how much time you have, all this can make a big difference to the choices you want to make or may be able to make.

You also fill in some of your backstory as you progress through the game, when characters ask about you sometimes you'll be given an option to say where you're from, what colour your horse is, or other small details that help your character become your own. There may only be small changes between all of these options, but it really does help for me to be able to inhabit a character as I play.

The Roadwarden of the title is you, and you are tasked with investigating this northern peninsula on behalf of the merchant's guild. The wealthy merchants are from a big city further south, and are looking to expand trade to new areas. The game takes place in a wild corner of the world where people have settled, but they are far from the domain of the cities that the merchants represent, and far from the potential prosperity they might bring.

Alongside this you have a personal goal, do you want to be a hero? become rich? there are a few choices here, and your actions as part of the game will determine if you achieve your goal. I'm not entirely sure I picked a good option, but it was the one my heart desired, and basically in any game like this all I want to do is go around and help people, and so I tried to do so.

Early in the game you'll meet some friendly folks, soldiers from the pass into the peninsula will give you a brief overview of the troubles in the area, and potential risks you might face. This also provides a little tutorial to explain how the basics of the game work. After that first night, you kind of are on your own, free to move in almost any direction from the start. You can take the advice of the soldiers, or completely ignore it.

The game is very good to provide plenty of autosaves, the ability to quicksave, and tons of other save slots, so don't worry about making a short term bad decision, as you can always go back and retry an encounter. Longer term stuff on the other hand... well, if you pick the normal setting at start you get 40 days to complete all your tasks and return to the merchants with your findings. I really found I could do with some extra time by the end, there's just so much packed into this little game! If you're interested in that, you can either choose the unlimited time option at start (also makes some other things slightly easier), or use a console command to just increase the time limit.

In my little adventure I managed to help quite a lot of people around the peninsula, and meet so many wonderful characters. I also managed to seriously piss off three groups of people, to the point where in a couple of cases they threatened to kill me if they ever saw me again. I'm sure there were things I probably could have done to improve situations, but sometimes it does feel like you have to make a hard choice and pick a side. Not everything in the game is an easy choice, but that really makes the impact of those choices stronger.

Early on, by staying on the safer western path, I found a destroyed village. Uncovering its secrets took a long time, winning the trust of many people to uncover the truth. In the end I wanted to make a really tough choice but it didn't exactly go the way I'd hoped. To contrast with that, there was another village on the other side of the map who I kinda wish I could have just stayed with at the end of the game and continued to help them, as they sought to build and improve their small village into a larger and more sustainable place. The writing is so evocative, the music beautiful and the characters so memorable that I couldn't stop thinking about it.

While my playthrough had some great highs, such as dealing with a plague and some undead, it also had some more melancholic lows, especially towards the end of the game. As much as I felt my character had done real good here, in the after game text (similar to what you get in the Fallout games) my character seemingly tried to go on one adventure too many and ended up dying out in the wilderness. I know there are a lot of variations here, depending on what you say to people during your adventures and what state the peninsula is in when you leave. I really enjoy when a game gives you that little bit of post-game text to let you know the consequences of your actions.

I would definitely recommend this game, it really hit the mark for me (melancholy ending aside!). It's really cheap on Steam (I got it for £6.21 in the January sale), and gives you a bit of replayability with the choices you make. I also really like that there is an unlimited time mode for those that get very anxious about tough time limits!

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