Developer Fool’s Theory is cooking up a completely different role-playing game with The Thaumaturge. It combines a dark fantasy story about fighting hooligans and real demons in early 20th century Poland with a detective plot about uncovering people’s dark secrets in order to free them from their curses. A morally ambiguous and surprisingly humorous journey, it has all the makings of one of the strangest yet most fascinating takes on a Western RPG I’ve seen in a while.
I had plenty of hands-on time with an extensive questline from the early days of The Thaumaturge, which showcases an absurd take on a historically inspired RPG where you literally have to face your demons.
The Thaumaturge – First screenshots
Set in 1905 Poland, you play the role of the cunning and enigmatic Wiktor Szulski, the titular thaumaturge who can communicate and command spirits known as Salutors. These terrible apparitions can take over people and torment their lives, and only Wiktor can track them down. Wiktor is haunted by such a salutor named Upyr and forms a bond with him. He sets out to search for other demons and cut ties with their unsuspecting hosts, while also forging connections with his closest confidants in early 20th century Poland.
Wiktor’s journey takes him back to his hometown of Warsaw and brings him into contact with the city’s nastiest people – including a childhood friend with a foul mouth and a chip on his shoulder. The Thaumaturge’s take on pre-World War I Poland brings together a mix of real-world settings and fuses them with a dark fantasy story based on Polish and Russian folklore, creating a truly bizarre setting that’s quite captivating to explore.
It’s an intriguing premise, and after playing the game for over an hour, I was able to understand the atmosphere and tone that the interpretation of an absurd historical RPG sets off. It felt like a very western take on the Sega/Atlus Persona series, which is also about communicating with demons and building bonds with your closest allies.
But what The Thaumaturge does differently is focus on the protagonist’s journey and the morally compromising decisions he must make to best deal with situations. Wiktor is not alone in his search for the hidden Salutors, but teams up with his childhood friend, rival Abaurycy, and with captured demons who now fight on the thaumaturge’s side. Combat is turn-based, with you only controlling Wiktor and his chosen Salutor in a fight. There’s a decidedly more tactical approach to battles, where you monitor the turns of allies and enemies in the upper right part of the screen to see what attacks are coming and plan ahead how to forestall them.
This approach to combat has made me more aware of my decisions, especially given how challenging fights can end up being. I even died in a few fights as I was still learning to combine Salutor’s attacks with Wiktor’s. But once I did that, I was able to pull off some satisfying combo attacks with Wiktor and Upyr, and even switch to another demon in my arsenal that could sneak behind targets and unleash a devastating attack.
The Thaumaturge is a role-playing game set in a supernatural detective story, and the social and detective gameplay is as engaging as the combat. One of my favorite moments was when I met two citizens attacking a lamppost – who were unknowingly under the influence of a hidden salutatorian. You can try to talk them down, but instead I talked some sense into them through the fight, which opened up an amusing dialogue scene right after.
With Wiktor’s perception and magical abilities, you can find evidence and have conversations with key characters. Finding clues gives you insight into threads to investigate, which can open up new conversations with characters and even avoid potential conflicts altogether.
In one section where my group had to enter a bar, the bouncer refused us entry. During one playthrough, I was aggressive and fought him to gain access. On my next attempt, I decided to find clues nearby and even went to another meeting point to talk to Abaurycy about the current situation. After speaking to him, which led to a surprisingly tough but still important conversation between allies, we formed a closer bond and he stepped in to talk us past the bouncer.
I really enjoyed these character-driven moments in The Thaumaturge, and coupled with 20th-century Poland’s take on a demon-hunting adventure, the upcoming RPG offers some intriguing ideas for how to build an experience and a sense of place in a setting that seems so unconventional for an RPG – but it’s one that I want to explore further.
The Thaumaturge’s approach of letting you bend and permeate through social interactions and battle rowdy humans and monsters with your team of demons is a sight to behold. While we’re still a long way from the full release, it’s interesting to see what developer Fool’s Theory has in store for its strange and clever take on a Western RPG.