Review: The Thaumaturge

Playing a thaumaturge as the main character in a game doesn't sound like it would be that impressive. Thaumaturges are basically magicians that perform parlor tricks, and I’ve gotten used to mages wielding elements and hurling them at my enemies in flashy graphics. It turns out, however, that having what is equal to a magician’s power can make for some pretty compelling gameplay, especially from a storytelling and investigatory point of view.

The Thaumaturge is a top down CRPG style roleplaying game. In it, you play as Wiktor Szulski–a thaumaturge that is Polish as hell. In fact, most of the game takes place in and around the streets of Warsaw, Wiktor’s old stomping grounds. He’s come back because of the death of his father who was also a powerful thaumaturge. Wiktor, who is returning after decades travelling the world, has to contend with family and old friends as he explores Warsaw, being haunted by figurative and literal demons.

Screenshot: The Thaumaturge

I bet you’re wondering what a thaumaturge can do–trust me, I was too. It almost feels like you’re a clairvoyant Sherlock Holmes who is able to call upon horrific entities to aid him in combat. By horrific entities, I mean the demons that follow around Wiktor–and do his bidding. These creatures known by many names–including demons—are called salutors. They enhance Wiktor’s fighting abilities while enabling him to manipulate people–if you can pass the proper skill check.

As a thaumaturge you mostly engage in investigations, aided by your clairvoyant abilities. If you touch an object, you can get a sense of who it belonged to through its “trace.” You can also glean information off of it that would be impossible otherwise. As you investigate items and/or talk to people, Wiktor can eventually draw a conclusion–leading you to be able to find a missing object, confront someone who is lying, etc. 

Screenshot: The Thaumaturge

It sounds great on paper–and would make an interesting TV show or Movie–but in practicality, in game, it means there’s a lot of hitting the “thaumaturge button” so you can continuously sense items around you. Much like the Batman vision in the Arkham games, it was a mechanic that I felt compelled to use everywhere I went. When you press the button Wiktor snaps his fingers and red petal-like particles float out. If there is a point of interest the petals linger around it. 

Investigations, therefore, are a lot of clicking–both for the thaumaturge powers, and all the investigations. It sounds like something that would bore me to death, but the story intrigued me enough to keep going. It’s really unlike anything I’ve encountered, and I think that’s mainly due to its pedigree. 

Screenshot: The Thaumaturge

It’s not something that I was exposed to much in western media, but this is a Polish made game that lovingly emphasizes its roots. In fact, the parts of the game that weren’t crafted for the story were made as an homage to Warsaw itself.  Unlike other RPGs where you get most of your XP through skill checks like combat or social interactions, in The Thaumaturge you can get it just by wandering the streets of Warsaw and interacting with the environment where indicated. Just buying doughnuts, looking at a pretty building, reading notes or listening to a street performer will yield XP.  

While there are multiple paths you can choose via dialogue, you’ll eventually find yourself fighting. Or, if you’re like me, and play Wiktor as a no nonsense asshole, you’ll be fighting a whole lot. In fact, Wiktor will be stopped at random to perform in novel combat more often than you think would be possible in a day. 

Screenshot: The Thaumaturge

Combat in The Thaumaturge is a little strange, and can be a bit samey. It’s turn based, and Wiktor always has the first move. Enemies will cue up their moves as shown in an action order bar at the top. Wiktor himself can use his thaumaturgey to disrupt and hurt enemies, or he can go in for damage either with his fists or pistol. You can’t change what weapon he uses: Wiktor will do whatever attack makes the most sense for his distance from the enemies. Fine.  But you don’t change your distance to enemies, even though spacing matters because enemies are forced to move up to you. The best part, however, is the ability to use your salutors in combat.

While combat in The Thaumaturge can feel tedious, having salutors do your bidding really helps create some fun moments that are actually visually exciting. Watching a golem smash a man into the ground, or using your wraith-like salutor to freeze your enemies is fun as hell. It’s strange, however, when it comes to story implications. Sometimes combat is deadly, while other times you merely knock people out. You can’t choose what the outcome will be–the game decides that for you. It really lends itself to the feeling of being a “choose your own adventure” type game instead of a full fledged roleplaying game.

The Thaumaturge’s story unfolds over multiple acts–and your actions have consequences that will shift the entire story. Even offhand remarks can lead to repercussions down the line. And in my playthrough, I made a lot of enemies as Wiktor. Diplomacy was not an option. I don’t want to spoil any major story elements–but let’s just say Wiktor ends up spending a lot of time with Grigori Rasputin. Rasputin, of course, has his own goals and machinations that leads to some interesting dilemmas.

There are skill points you can distribute as you gain levels, but I found that I levelled so quickly and often I could spread my points around to all trees instead of specializing in one. Combat abilities are gained through the skill tree, but they can be tweaked using skills you purchased. For instance, you can use a skill that reduces the enemy’s focus, and use an ability to modify that power to give a 50 percent chance of interrupting your target’s action. It’s a fun way to modify your abilities, and come up with some powerful synergies as you're brawling through the streets of Warsaw.

I really liked the concept of salutors in The Thaumaturge, and I made it my goal to seek out all of them. The optional salutors have some amazingly brutal combat abilities, and are definitely worth pursuing. Despite the enemies it made along the way, I ended up playing The Thaumaturge like a Pokemon game. When it came to Salutors, I had to catch them all.

The Thauamaturge isn’t going to make waves like Baldur’s Gate 3, but it’s definitely a solid story-based CRPG. For someone that isn’t too familiar with Polish folklore, there is a bunch of novel concepts here that elevated it beyond a traditional roleplaying game. I really liked catching salutors, and the investigations that lead up to those moments. While not a perfect game, I found myself compelled through it just to find out how it ends.

If you’re interested in a more story focused roleplaying game, you should definitely check it out.

A Steam key was provided to us for this review.

The Thaumaturge is a available now on PC via Steam, and coming soon to the Epic Games Store.

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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, and video game historian. He is also a small streamer, occasional podcast guest, and writer.