The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: tinyBuild
Developer: Do My Best
Release Date: June 22, 2023


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PC Review - 'The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales'

by Cody Medellin on June 21, 2023 @ 8:00 a.m. PDT

The Bookwalker is a narrative adventure in which you play a writer-turned-thief with the ability to dive into books and jump between a first-person real world and isometric book world.

Stephen King is quoted as saying, "Books are a uniquely portable magic." This is often true when you consider how often other forms of entertainment are adaptations of novels and short stories, both new and old. The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales seems to run with this concept, weaving together an interesting world with gameplay beats to match.

You play the role of Etienne Quist, a writer who's been barred from practicing his craft due to committing an undisclosed crime. With 30 years to his sentence and the fear of his skills being diminished, Etienne turns to a crime boss that can help erase his sentence. In exchange, he has to go into the worlds of some novels to steal legendary items while teaming up with a sentient page to help him along the way.

The main story proves to be interesting because it doesn't outright explain how this world works. It assumes that you know the rules, and it is only through events that you start to discover those little tidbits. There are mentions of a great war, the presence of the internet but the death of television, a police force specifically for writers, the ability for some people (other than yourself) to dive into the written world, and rules for jumping between the real and literary planes. The world's details are drip-fed while leaving with questions that drive one's curiosity to keep going to see what happens with Etienne and learn more about this alternate reality. At the same time, the stories of the novels you jump into are intriguing on their own. Whether it's a tale that takes the Arthurian legend into space or gives Norse mythology an industrial slant, the worlds feel rich, and you experience enough that you wouldn't mind seeing these stories play out in full. At the same time, you wish that there were more than only six stories; it would be neat to see what else the developers could've come up with.

The Bookwalker takes on the role of a narrative adventure split into two perspectives. When the game begins, you take on a first-person viewpoint that's limited to your apartment building. There's not much here, as you can only explore your cramped apartment, two floors, and knock on various doors while never seeing your neighbors. Aside from clicking on hotspots, there's not much to do aside from performing tasks like picking up suitcases and answering phone calls to push along the narrative.

The second perspective the game takes on is the classic isometric one, which will comprise a majority of your time in the game. For the most part, the game takes on the properties of a point-and-click adventure, where you'll go around from scene to scene, examining parts of the environment for interesting bits to pore over and items to take with you. There are also quite a number of characters to talk to for information to solve puzzles or move the story forward. Most of the items you'll need to solve puzzles are in the books you infiltrate, but there are moments when you'll need to step out to the apartment to find something before using it to solve the problem. Aside from the key items you find along the way, you'll discover crafting stations where you can transform some of the common junk found in the books into more useful items, like lock picks and crowbars and pliers, to help you obtain bonus items for later use.

The focus on puzzles is something we've been seeing pop up in more narrative-focused adventures, but that doesn't mean that The Bookwalker has taken on the logic of a point-and-click adventure title. Just about all of the puzzles have solutions that are easy to solve. Some of the solutions are laid out via the choices presented when interacting with something, while a majority of the others rely on actual logic versus something that only makes sense in the point-and-click format. Your choices also don't lead to dead ends, so there's no way to get yourself into a situation where the solution escapes you, making this a game where even non-puzzle fans will be able to easily figure out what to do in every scenario.

A purely puzzle-based focus would've been fine, but the game also adds in some turn-based battles to spice things up. It works just like an RPG in that you select your attack, pick the target, and let the command go through before the enemy does the same to you. Your attacks range from one simple hit to a stomp that stuns everyone, but what makes this different is the reliance on ink for your moves. Everything costs ink, and while you can replenish ink with items, you'll rely on one of your moves that targets one enemy and delivers damage in exchange for a partial refill of your ink meter. Since that move costs nothing, it ensures that you aren't left helpless if you're bad at managing ink levels in a fight.

Don't expect the combat system to be too deep. You don't have any XP system, so your ink and health reserves never increase. You get one new move until the very end of the game, and those moves only get one upgrade from beginning to end. The combat doesn't get very deep, and while there is a good chance that you'll die, jumping back into the book and trying again simply places you back in the fight, with the enemy having kept all of their damage from the previous fight. Those expecting to get some challenge from the combat won't find it here, but it remains a nice feature to have since it still performs its basic functions without much difficulty.

There's not too much else to grouse about that wasn't touched on earlier. While there appear to be instances where choices matter, it's more superficial, as it only changes some of the dialogue and whether you get locked out of some Achievements instead of drastically changing the story outcome. The pacing of your adventure takes on a very familiar pattern and only manages to change things up by the game's halfway point, when it finally introduces some wrinkles that never get used again.

The presentation teeters between ordinary and interesting. There's nothing super special about the world from the first-person perspective. It looks decent enough, and due to the drab colors being used, it isn't that eye-catching. The isometric viewpoint makes the graphics pop thanks to the different worlds bringing in a wider gamut of colors, and the level of detail is excellent. The use of lighting and shadows also makes things pop, but the location of said lighting can be puzzling at times. As for the audio, the music is haunting but subtle enough that it doesn't overwhelm. It also does a great job of giving each of the worlds their own identity. The only knock would be the mumbling that passes for voice work in the first-person scenarios, as the game does a fine job in using the lack of spoken dialogue to drive the rest of the story.

The good news for Steam Deck users is that the game works on it right out of the box. There's nothing to change in the Options setting, as the ability to toggle Fullscreen mode and even Resolution are non-functional, but the game renders at the device's resolution just fine. The game runs at a constant 60fps, but there are a few dips when you're in first-person mode in the real world. The different perspectives also do different things to battery life, as the first-person mode drains the game faster, but you'll get nearly two hours out of the game unless you start changing system settings. The only other issue is that the game doesn't have cloud saves, so it isn't possible to start the game on one PC and continue on the Steam Deck and vice versa. You'll need to commit to one machine unless you want two separate playthroughs.

In the end, The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales is fascinating. The emphasis on puzzles makes the gameplay feel more involved than most narrative adventures, but the ease with which said puzzles can be solved and the surface-level focus on choice makes it tolerable for those who want to focus on the narrative. Players will find something special here, as the stories told in the overall game and the books you dive into are rich and well written. This six-hour adventure is very much worth experiencing.

Score: 8.0/10

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