The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales Review – A real page-turner of a game

Gare – Wednesday, July 12, 2023 7:38 PM
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Rarely does it happen to me that I finish a game and immediately wish it had a couple more chapters for me to enjoy, but here we are. The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales was a game I immediately took interest in due to its intriguing premise – you’re the titular “bookwalker”, a man capable of literally diving into various novels in order to interact and interfere with their stories and characters, almost like he was a literary version of the protagonist from Inception. As you might imagine, this lends itself to quite a lot of possibilities, and I’m glad to say The Bookwalker mostly delivers in that regard – albeit it perhaps could’ve done a touch more with its themes and ideas. But does that make it any less enjoyable of an experience? Not really.

Wonderful worlds of fiction

In The Bookwalker, players take on the role of Etienne Quist, a condemned writer stripped of the ability to write through a set of magical shackles, all because he committed a grievous crime, the nature of which isn’t explained until much later. So, in order to avoid having to serve his 30-year sentence, he instead makes contact with a criminal organization that tasks him with stealing various legendary artifacts from a number of books in exchange for getting rid of that pesky shackle. This more or less defines the six-chapter structure of the narrative: at the beginning of each chapter, you’ll get a new book to infiltrate and a new item to steal for your client, and this brings me to perhaps the strongest asset of The Bookwalker – variety. Every book you enter provides a wildly different experience, so in one chapter you might be exploring a futuristic spaceship that puts an interesting sci-fi twist on the Arthurian legend of Excalibur, while in another you’ll find yourself stranded on a desert planet where people travel across the sand-covered wasteland in trains, hoping to scavenge for useful items to sell. The developers knew they could really allow their creativity to run rampant, and it shows: every time a new mission rolled around, I was excitedly looking forward to what kind of new and unexpected world I’d be plunged into this time.

The pen is mightier than the sword

The Bookwalker’s gameplay is separated into two segments: in the real world, you explore your apartment and its surroundings from a first-person perspective, picking up items, looking at things and occasionally interacting with a neighbor or two. Once inside a book, you get an isometric, bird’s-eye view of the world, and things become a touch more video game-y. That said, the game is primarily being advertised as a “narrative adventure game”, and I can kind of see why. There are dialogue options, you have an inventory, there’s a simplistic crafting system, some light puzzle segments, and you even engage in turn-based combat from time to time, but none of it is particularly deep. In combat, you can attack, defend, drain ink (ink is the “mana” you use to execute attacks) and unleash a stun move, and that’s about it, although you do get gradual upgrades to said abilities at the beginning of every chapter – so, for example, your shield skill can receive an added heal effect, your physical attack can get a damage boost and so on. The puzzles are fairly straightforward, with the game showering you with crafting materials that can be used to create just the item you need to progress, and even when there’s a seemingly important dialogue event that might allow for a bit of roleplaying, I rarely felt like my choices really mattered all that much in the grand scheme of things. To summarize, these RPG elements are mostly just there as fluff, existing only to add some extra splashes of variety into the mix, and admittedly they do a good job of that, but the real highlights of The Bookwalker are the books themselves – the stories, the worlds, the moral dilemmas and existential conundrums.

The game’s overarching theme deals with the question of fiction versus reality – can we empathize with fictional characters to the point they become “real” people? Are they just characters, or are they “alive”, in a sense? This, of course, is explored alongside Etienne’s own backstory and the mysteries surrounding his shockingly harsh 30-year sentence, although sadly, the game doesn’t quite spend as much time on this as I would’ve liked. That’s probably my only complaint about the title: considering how important of a role Etienne’s earlier actions played in the story, I would’ve preferred to see more of a deep-dive into his past – maybe through a flashback sequence – as opposed to a quick dialogue scene that just goes “oh yeah, this and this happened”.

Final thoughts

The Bookwalker: Thief of TalesPlatform: WindowsGenre: AdventureDeveloper: DO MY BESTPublisher: Zoo GamesRelease: 06/22/2023The bottom line of this review, nonetheless, remains unchanged: The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales is a wonderful narrative game with an endlessly imaginative premise that hooked its fangs into me and held my attention throughout the entirety of the campaign. Each book you delve into is fundamentally different and provides a small slice of a universe that could very well be a separate title on its own, but – like a literary tourist of sorts – you hop in, do what you need to do, then leave, thus lending the game a satisfyingly episodic structure where nothing ever overstays its welcome. The writing is solid enough, and the light RPG elements and combat mechanics are simple but competently done, never really feeling out of place. Lastly, while the storyline and its themes – particularly Etienne’s past – could’ve used some more fleshing out, The Bookwalker still manages to stick the landing with an epilogue that puts the perfect period at the end of a genuinely entertaining journey. All in all, if the premise alone catches your attention, I’d very much recommend checking this one out.

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