Roadwarden – from developers Moral Anxiety Studio – begins with the titular protagonist approaching an outpost in a wild, untamed region known as the “Peninsula”. Far to the north of the “Ten Cities” and their fortified outskirts, it’s home to the ruins of prior colonisation attempts and many wonderous creatures that violently rebel whenever humans intrude on the natural order too swiftly.
Despite the risks, the region is still inhabited by hardy settlers – from all walks of life – that have learned to fend for themselves and have little interest in being governed from afar. Unfortunately for your “Roadwarden”, one of their primary tasks in the Peninsula is to prepare it for the arrival of the trading guild, by securing regions and establishing diplomatic links between the current inhabitants and the city of Hovlavan.
In contrast to the soldiers sent to fortify outposts, your Roadwarden is a solitary wanderer tasked with using their martial prowess, magical training, or wits to survive. Their title grants them a degree of respect and entrance to most settlements – but only their actions will earn them trust and information. With their predecessor missing, no official maps of the region, basic starting equipment, and coin in short supply, there’s no easy path forward.
Choices big and small
Roadwarden sticks close to the template laid out by classic text adventures, with the unfolding narrative, world-building, and gameplay unified by a text-heavy interface that relies on descriptive writing more than any other element.
As with the best RPGs, there are multiple mechanics to engage with and almost every choice feels significant. Primarily, you’ll be reading and (hopefully) absorbing extensive text descriptions during conversations with key characters or while investigating the environment. Sometimes you just need to be systematic and keep an eye out for clues you can follow or discuss with others; sometimes you’ll be selecting from several attitudes during conversations to earn someone’s trust; other times you’ll use class skills or inventory items to manipulate conversations, solve puzzles, and survive combat encounters using unseen dice rolls.
Your class is important and defines your approach to many situations but rarely limits quest outcomes. A fighter is tougher and better equipped early on, more capable of surviving direct combat or intimidating locals. A mage uses their powerful magic to slay foes, aid locals, and sense other magical contraptions but their reserve of “pneuma” (think mana) is limited each day and running out leaves you vulnerable. A scholar – the class I ultimately stuck with – can use their literacy, knowledge of the world, and alchemical concoctions to better understand and defeat beasts or persuade humans. However, many choices that have implications on the fate of major factions and NPCs are simply up to the player and their conscience.
To personalise the experience and encourage replays, you get plenty of opportunities during the journey to define your Roadwarden’s past experiences, beliefs, and personal ambitions that can affect future interactions with the diverse populace. There are also survival elements like vitality, nourishment, armour durability, and appearance to maintain; light inventory management; and plenty of puzzles or secrets for those that explore thoroughly. Even less obvious stats, like the number of times you’ve lied or the wildlife you’ve spared, can have a bearing on the potential outcomes for the region and your Roadwarden.
The text-driven interface and brisk pacing make for an unexpectedly intense and sometimes daunting experience as you weigh up every choice – be that how to deal with power struggles in a village or simply deciding on what to buy with your limited coin before an excursion deeper into the Peninsula.
The experience stands in stark contrast to so many modern and lavishly-produced RPGs that, no doubt due to production costs, offer few significant ending variations. By sticking to text, Roadwarden offers incredibly deep lore and extensive world-building; a massive glossary; unique conversations based on variables like your background, trust level, or time of day; and dozens of ending variations for the Roadwarden, significant NPCs, and entire communities.
Autumn is coming (or not)
Roadwarden’s tense, minute-to-minute gameplay is driven by a time limit that forces you to prioritise quests and consider your route as you traverse points of interest across the map. Time passes as you travel, explore your surroundings, or engage in actions like foraging for food and assisting locals with basic tasks. On the default difficulty, your Roadwarden needs to return to the city of Hovlavan within 40-days, so managing time is just as essential as your survival meters.
In theory, the Peninsula is small enough to be crossed in only a day on your trusty steed, but the shortest routes are the most dangerous, travelling after dark is riskier still, and several quests enforce deadlines or force you to return at a later. Admittedly, arbitrary delays are not my favourite mechanic, and my time management skills are awful, but while the region feels vast and threatening, it’s small enough that you can get a lot done before nightfall. The challenge is keeping track of your journal entries, using the archive to refresh your memory of important encounters, and optimising your route.
Thankfully, for those interested in the story or just seeing as much of the world as possible in a single playthrough, you can select an easier difficulty that removes the time limit and provides additional supplies at the start. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a challenge that better reflects the tough life of a Raodwarden, you can limit yourself to 30-days and make travelling after dark suicidal.
Talking of difficulty, Roadwarden sits in a strange middle ground. On one hand, it’s never as unforgiving as classic titles that encouraged save-scumming thanks to instant death choices. There’s usually a chance to flee encounters or the game will simply refuse to let you take actions at inappropriate times or with insufficient stats. On the other hand, the survival elements mean that playing recklessly can see you left starving and dishevelled, with no coin for supplies and no vitality to complete strenuous tasks (horde your healing potions).
Some will relish the challenge but for those of you with little patience, be aware that Roadwarden requires a cautious and conservative approach if you want to survive and make the most out of each day. Even when playing as the warrior class – who benefits from improved combat dice rolls – it’s wiser to avoid combat early on. Completing early fetch quests for the coin to upgrade your gear is essential or, even better, spending that coin on employing skilled locals to do a dangerous job for you.
As tempting as it is to rely on the easily accessible quick-save/quick-load shortcuts, I’d strongly recommend making a manual save at the start of each day in case you stumble into too much trouble or forget a time-sensitive quest.
Imagination is key
Roadwarden reads, plays, looks, and sounds great so long as you’re judging it as a classic text adventure, in which the interface and audio-visual experience are designed to enhance the writing and spur on your imagination – not dictate the developer’s vision.
The experience is entirely mouse-, keyboard-, and menu-driven, making Roadwarden both accessible and intuitive. Unlike so many of the iconic text adventures of yore, you can access your inventory quickly, check your character attributes, access your journal, or even an archive populated with important information on locations, NPCs, and creatures for quick reference. There are times you’ll even be asked to type in what you want to do – such as use an item or pick a conversation topic – but the game is reasonably accurate when it comes to determining your intentions.
The pixel-art visuals and user interface feel authentically retro and minimalist (especially with the pixelated text option), but they’re still effective and informative. It’s not entirely static either and there are simple animations to represent exploration, time of day, or changing weather – adding a bit of dynamism to the world. That said, it’s the descriptive, embellished writing, coupled with multi-layered ambience and music that does the heavy lifting when it comes to generating atmosphere and immersing you in Roadwarden’s text-heavy world. The soundtrack is a particular highlight and despite feeling repetitive, there are more than enough variations for every encounter type.
It all comes together to ensure Roadwarden feels like settling down with an engrossing novel and I was impressed at how quickly my mind started to fill in gaps (like the absence of human or creature sprites) and embellish the simplistic, pixelated backdrops.
Come prepared to read
So many classic text adventures offer great characters, epic stories, and intriguing new worlds. Very few manage to balance their narrative splendour with a compelling gameplay loop that can hold your attention for long stretches.
Roadwarden manages just that by looking to the past for inspiration but modernizing the user experience. There’s all the classic and variable text-driven adventuring and impactful stat- or choice-driven outcomes you could hope for – just with a user interface feels more modern, accessible, and informative.
Ultimately, Roadwarden is a compelling if minimalist text-based RPG that moves at a brisk pace while still ensuring every action feels important. Of course, it’s still a text-based adventure, so just make sure you’re in the mood for a lot of reading.
A review code for Roadwarden was provided to gameblur by the publisher.
Roadwarden (PC) ReviewRoadwarden (PC) Review
Visuals8/10 Very Good
Audio8/10 Very Good
- A substantial text adventure with branching dialogue, varied quest solutions, and multiple endings
- The fantastic and authentic presentation that enhances the excellent writing
- Traditional role-playing and survival mechanics to juggle
- An IP with rich lore and the potential for future games
- Several interactions involve reading through walls of text
- Juggling multiple time-sensitive quests
- Dice roll actions feel too obscure