The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales — A Writer’s Life Through the Supernatural

Dive into the story deeper than ever.

Review copy of The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales provided by tinyBuild

It’s like Inception, but with books instead of dreams.”

That would be my elevator pitch for this game. If that doesn’t immediately interest you, maybe the long-winded explanation will. You’re a bookwalker, a man with the ability to dive into books, involve yourself in the story and world of that book, and you’re tasked to steal various artifacts from those books to earn your freedom. 

THE BOOKWALKER: THIEF OF TALES is developer Do My Best’s second game, and yet the amount of care and polish this game has will make you think they’re more seasoned people in the game development business. 

To preface this – I played this game on an MSI GF63 Laptop (i7-10750H, GTX 1650Ti, 16GB RAM, installed on an SSD) to give an indicator for performance, but you can run it just fine on most PCs if you’re playing it on this platform anyway. 

The game ran perfectly. I never noticed any big bugs or glitches, whether it be in gameplay or visually, but there was some framerate stuttering here and there.

Bookwalker: Thief of Tales

The core gameplay loop is broken down into two parts – the real world and within the books. In the real world, the gameplay takes up a 3D first person perspective that you use to navigate the apartment the player character – otherwise known as the writer Etienne Quist – lives in. In comparison, the gameplay within the books is from a fixed isometric camera perspective, where you essentially point and click to move, interact with the world, solve puzzles and engage in combat.

The bulk of the The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales takes place within these books, sometimes requiring you to return to the real world to obtain something and take it back to the game itself. The difference in style never feels jarring but rather complimentary. It makes sense that the real world portion of the game would attempt some style of realism, and to its credit, it succeeds. It’s no AAA level high end graphics, but it has no need to be; it’d be a waste of resources for a very small portion of the game. Even so, it serves its purpose and is never bad enough where it took me out of my immersion. You do not see any people, nor yourself, during this except very late into the game, and you’ll never see any hand animations, which I assume are for budget constraints, but it never bothered me.

Within the books themselves, the isometric camera angle shows off a more stylized art style. While this remains consistent throughout the books you progress – of which there are seven, it never looks homogenous. Each book looks different, from the very dystopian world of “The Spark of a Hammer” to the more steampunk “Heart of Sand.” This is all rendered in 3D, and it always looks fantastic, with a lot of neat visual effects.

Gameplay wise, once again, it’s a simple point and click adventure mostly. You click to move, click to interact, can craft things with the press of a button; the puzzles are all just clicking the right options. Within the format of the game, it works quite well, but I do wish the puzzles had more elements to it, or were even more difficult. At a point, I felt like I was mindlessly going through the game, only focusing on the story at hand while the gameplay acted as a backdrop.

Bookwalker: Thief of Tales

You collect various items through the stories. Some are key items required to progress, some that you can use for crafting, and some you can convert to ‘ink.’ Ink is the universal currency you use in the game – it’s what you use during combat and during big dialogue choices to make a huge impact. I love that it is ink, given that it’s a writer making changes to a book.

Through crafting, you usually just make four things: tools to interact with the world (crowbars, pliers, and lockpicks) as well as ink bottles that you can consume to quickly refill your ink meter. Again, something that I wish had more variety. I understand that there are only so many variations you can do with those three, but when one of the worlds – Black River Drifters – had variety in terms of the tool and the basic gameplay loop, it created the expectation for more, and I wish there was more in that regard. 

That isn’t to say that everything is the same when it comes to exploration. Each world has its own unique gimmick central to that world, for example, Timeless Mansion, where you need to jump back and forth through ‘time’ or through the pages of the book in order to unlock certain areas and such. It’s those little things combined that make all of them stand out, but I kept wishing for more.

Combat is turn based. There isn’t a lot of depth to it, but it gets the job done. You have four skills – slash, drain, stun and shield, which can be upgraded after completing a book. Other than drain, all four of these require the aforementioned ink to use, with drain allowing you to refill your ink meter by attacking an enemy. Each turn, before you take an action, you can either eat food from your inventory to heal or drink an ink bottle to refill your ink bar, but you can only do one in conjunction with a skill. Enemies start off with a simple attack but end up getting more skills, too, in order to counter your arsenal. I did notice that if you got lower on health, the game got easier, with the RNG getting more in favour and the enemies missing more hits. The two times I did lose fights, I managed to immediately jump back into the fray, which was nice. But it also made me wish that wasn’t the case because it meant there were no risks to my approach. Again, another in the big problem of the gameplay eventually feeling ‘mindless’ – so to speak.

The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales

The story is where The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales shines. The main character, Etienne, is given shackles, thus a very physical version of ‘writer’s block’, and he either has to serve his sentence for 30 years or he can take the shady deal and become a bookwalker and steal artifacts from other books. Thematically, it deals with so many parts of stories and criticisms surrounding stories – the entire narrative hinges on the idea of plagiarism, after all. It also goes on to explore the themes of writers being attached to their books and what happens when publishers interfere, and it’s all in fascinating fashion. 

My critique lies within Etienne himself, and his relationship with Roderick, this character who’s soul exists within a lantern that he carries around. While Etienne starts off as cold and ruthless in an attempt to be free of his shackles, Roderick is more disgusted by his very heartless attitude towards characters, and over the course of the game Etienne grows more sympathetic towards them. This growth is subtle, but it feels too subtle. His change of heart sort of jumps at you, and while you really do feel his regret later on while he has to kill or ‘erase’ characters from the text, it’s something that required more work for me to truly feel that attachment. 

Even so, the story pulls through. There’s some replay value here, given the number of choices you can make and the different paths you can take, but it’s not as much as I’d like. There’s a foundation here, but I wish there was more than just dialogue, although I do understand that given the story that’s being told here, more freedom would go against the growth of Etienne as a person.

I played The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales casually and beat it over the course of 5 and a half hours, and thought it was worth my time. If the premise interests you, I recommend you pick it up. It’s worth it for the story alone, even if the gameplay was somewhat lackluster for my tastes. That being said, this is a strong presentation by Do My Best, and I look forward to seeing what they have in store next.

By Zero

Big fan of storytelling through the B-Theory of time.

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