Roadwarden Review

Roadwarden Review – Civil Servant Vs Fantasy Wilderness

Text adventures are brutal. The combination of intuition, guesswork, and luck won’t hesitate to murder us if we neglect the feral monkey flinging dung at us three paragraphs ago. While most text adventures have transitioned into hybrid isometric games like Divinity 2 and Disco Elysium, where text is a prelude to combat or silly antics, few expect readers to study every line of prose.

Enter Roadwarden, a grim fantasy RPG and faithful recreation of retro text adventures where every piece of text is crucial to our survival and success. This fierce text adventure pulls no punches, compelling us to scour a wild peninsula in search of peace, riches, and salvation.

For those looking to brave the dark and bring civilization to the wilderness, pour yourself a hot cup of tea and get to reading; our adventure awaits.

Welcome to a Roadwarden Review.

Roadwarden Review

A Frontier Fantasy Tale

Encompassing a unique blend of fantasy, pre-colonialism, and zombies, Roadwarden succeeds in crafting a strangely fantastic world as wonderful as it is dangerous. For our part, we play the role of a hardcore civil servant, titled Roadwarden, tasked with uniting the several struggling settlements in an isolated peninsula and coercing them into joining the civilized world. While our job primarily consists of clearing roads and removing monsters, we also investigate missing persons and uncover horrific atrocities.

Although some of the narratives ended abruptly, locating the previous Roadwarden and convincing White Marshes felt unsatisfying, I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and narratives surrounding each settlement. Familiarizing yourself with the well-written quirky townspeople governing the world’s edge was a delight, especially when I saved their settlements and convinced each to join civilization. Better yet, the epilogue at the game’s end ensured our hours of toil were worth the narrative payoff.

Frontier Fantasy Tale

Overall, Roadwarden’s narrative is its strongest feature. The need to unravel the peninsula’s mysteries only intensifies the more we play, culminating in several grand revelations that left me horrified with the people I’d come to serve and protect.

I highly advise checking the game out for those looking for a well-written fantasy adventure with grim overtones and an optimistic outlook.

Gameplay: Homeless Civil Servant

Fiercely deceptive and brutally unapologetic, I loved Roadwarden’s intense gameplay. While the game may play as a text adventure, it compelled me to employ careful management of my supplies and gear, condemning me to starvation or death by apes if I neglected my character’s wellbeing.

We can divide this gameplay into three elements survival, combat, and investigation:

Man Vs Wild Survival

Man Vs. Wild Survival
Image by JT Hussey

Encompassing most of Roadwarden’s gameplay, surviving means maintaining our character’s Vitality, Hunger, Armor, and Appearance or risking death. While I had no trouble meeting these meters over time, working with a time limit of 40 days (30 if we pick Hard) compels us to learn and abuse our world’s economy.

Working for a settlement may earn enough for the night’s rent, but it wears down our vitality and worsens our appearance, raising prices. Likewise, fishing traps aren’t a reliable food source, and paying for a day’s meal can deplete money we could have spent on a new crossbow.

Overall, learning to survive Roadwarden was a challenging yet enjoyable process that reinforced the savage cruelty of our environment. Even if we find the challenge too much, demonstrating our resourcefulness to the nearby towns compels them to feed, bathe, and shelter us after a few days of intense work.

RNG-Driven Combat

RNG-Driven Combat
We can mitigate risks in combat by arming our character with crossbows and potions. Image by JT Hussey

Despite its limited occurrences in the game, combat is a rare but necessary feature to get rid of monsters and make the roads safe. I had mixed feelings about combat; while some fixed encounters tested what items I had in my inventory or my knowledge of the bestiary, others relied on RNG and dice rolls to beat.

Though I appreciated the game rewarding me for my preparation (ie, potions, weapons, and a jar of troll urine), having the game result to dice rolls felt insincere, especially when I could reload a quicksave for a better outcome.

Overall, while I wouldn’t recommend Roadwarden for its combat, its limited use throughout the game ensures we never have to suffer it too long.

Noir Style Investigating

Noir Style Investigating
In the smaller, more insidious parts of our investigation, Roadwarden forces us to critically think about what we’re looking for and manually type in the name of the desired place, person, or item. Image by JT Hussey

I loved when Roadwarden delved into the detective mystery genre. Looking for missing persons can often uncover new secrets or bring up new sides to a character that let me view them in a new light. Likewise, the feature for searching for characters, places, or objects forced us to type in the name by keyboard.

While this was frustrating when I only knew a few people, getting creative with my choices and consulting the names in my journal led to some fantastic outcomes that filled me with delight. I’m still ecstatic that my whimsical impulse to search for a “trapdoor” in an abandoned temple led to a treasure trove of supplies that helped me cure a plague and save an entire settlement.

Although the lack of handholding and guiding certainly isn’t for everyone, players that put in the due diligence will get to feel like real detectives by the end of our journey.

Visuals: Brown Trees and Homey Towns

Brown Trees and Homey Towns
The world map is an excellent indicator of our options, goals, and progress. Filling out blackened areas makes you feel like you’re reclaiming civilization from the wilderness. Image by JT Hussey

Though Roadwarden relies more on its prose-rich text to characterize its world, the limited pixel visuals work well enough to approximate the world for readers with limited imaginations. To its credit, I appreciated when Roadwarden slowly revealed pieces of its local map and world map to give me a sense that the game was learning more about the world just as I was. While this was a minor feature that’s easy to overlook, it was enough to convey the plight of the struggling settlements surviving an all-encompassing wilderness.

Unfortunately, the visuals can impair the depictions of characters or fights when all we have to work with is a basic image of a town or road. While the text took great care to address every facet of a character’s appearance, behavior, and manner of speech, the main characters deserved a personal portrait to give a face to the treacherous mayor Thais or zealous bandit-leader Glaucia.

The one exception to this trend was the visual depiction of the discovery of the previous Roadwarden that left me in complete tears after spending a dozen hours of relentless investigative research to reach that point. Overall, while basic, Roadwarden’s visuals are just detailed enough to communicate its story, characters, and world. Though they would benefit from more detail, the visuals never failed to portray our environment.

From Starving Vagabond to Entitled Hero

From Starving Vagabond to Entitled Hero
Do enough good deeds, and we’ll never have to worry about paying rent, finding food, or taking baths ever again. Image by JT Hussey

Progressing in Roadwarden can feel rewarding, verging on unbalanced. While we’ll spend our first few days struggling to keep ourselves fed, healthy, and clean, settlements won’t hesitate to provide for us after we’ve proven our worth. Likewise, clearing the roads of debris and monsters enables us to travel far more quickly than before.

Although I appreciated the game not forcing me to waste hours of my adventure in areas I had finished exploring, I missed the man VS wild aspects that characterized the first third of the game. Exploring the peninsula after making the roads safe led me to focus on my investigations rather than finding enough food to eat.

All in all, Roadwarden succeeded in creating a rewarding progression system that mitigates repetitive menial chores and pushes forth the more exciting parts of the story. Still, I advise playing with a time limit of 30 or 40 days to combat these imbalances. Once the game gets easy, the challenge never returns.

Revenge of the Sad Guitar

Sad, mysterious, and moody, Roadwarden’s mix of light guitar and piano succeeded in making me feel at home in the wilderness. The music never deviated from its somber, calm tone (except briefly for combat) and was interesting enough to listen to for hours on end.

While it wasn’t overly bombastic or exciting, the music, and eerie wilderness sounds, were distinct enough to tell me what part of the world I was in and how I should feel about it.

If you like contemplative music that builds to deserved emotional climaxes, you’ll love Roadwarden’s splendid mix of melancholy and hominess. I could easily see myself listening to the soundtrack apart from the game as a stress relief or backdrop for studying.

UI: Smoother than Undertale

Roadwarden’s style as a text adventure means we’ll face no issues with graphical requirements or stuttering. I personally reveled in the seamless nature with which we could reload quick saves without breaking the game’s flow or music. The only issue I found in playing the game was saving before an unwinnable enemy encounter and losing 15 minutes after reloading a previous save.

While I enjoy having more choice for when and where we can quicksave, Roadwarden could benefit from a feature that prevents us from making a fatal gameplay error if we’re playing on a single save.

Overall, though we’ll likely face zero stuttering or crashes, we can expect to softlock ourselves out of the game if we save just before entering combat unprepared or sleeping in the wilderness without food.

Beware Our Second Playthrough

Beware our Second Playthrough
Roadwarden’s distinct classes ensure each playthrough has unique interactions unavailable to the other two. Image by JT Hussey

Playing Roadwarden again can reconceptualize the entire game. While much of the mystery and charm is lost on a second playthrough, Roadwarden’s three classes (Fighter, Mage, Alchemist) ensure our character can now survive combat, employ magic, and even read! Relying on words rather than brute force can often lead to interesting, more satisfying conclusions unavailable to other classes.

Unfortunately, going into a second playthrough already knowing the right questions to ask, how to make money, and the answers to the grand mystery can ruin the investigative, economic challenge that made our first run special. While some of the solutions to our problems will have to change (instead of shooting monkeys, we’ll throw blinding powder at them), the overall narrative and gameplay are the same.

Although a player who struggled through the previous run will appreciate being able to confront every problem confidently, those who got everything right the first time may feel disappointed by the lack of variety. Overall, I’d recommend Roadwarden for a second playthrough, but I’d hesitate to recommend it for a third or fourth run. If we fail to save the peninsula the first time, we can redeem ourselves on a secondary playthrough.

Alternative Read-a-thons

To be blunt, Roadwarden isn’t for everyone. The sheer amount of text can intimidate even the staunchest reader, and players lacking an imagination may suffer through the lack of detailed visuals. Instead, I advise checking out other games with more detailed visual design and art or more interactive combat.

While these games can play drastically different than Roadwarden with movement or narrated lines, they also employ a great deal of dialogue to match Roadwarden’s grand text adventure or go for the same creepy wilderness aesthetic.

Here’s a few titles like Roadwarden listed below:

 

Overall Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Gripping Stories and World
  • Investigating Feels Rewarding
  • Emotional Investment in Narrative
  • Rewarding Epilogue

 

Cons

  • Low-Quality Visuals
  • Takes Time to Get Invested
  • Accidentally Softblocking Game
  • Subsequent Playthroughs Lose Charm

Play Log

JT spent 20+ hours protecting settlements and saving the peninsula. He convinced every major settlement to join civilization, discovered the whereabouts of the previous Roadwarden, and made the roads safe for traveling and commerce.

Plus he has also outfitted himself with the most expensive armor, weapons, and potions and has slain nearly every enemy in the bestiary. He intends to scrounge for secrets and hidden interactions on a third and final playthrough in the coming weeks.

FAQs

Question: When Does Roadwarden Release?

Answer: Roadwarden was released on September 12th, 2022. I advise trying out the free demo if this is your first time with a text adventure, the sheer amount of reading isn’t for everyone.

Question: How Long does Roadwarden Take to Finish?

Answer: A full playthrough of Roadwarden can take about 10 hours, though methodically reading through every line of text in the game can add several more hours. However, players uninterested in saving the peninsula can finish the game anytime after returning to Tulia for a 2-hour playthrough.

Question: How do I find the Previous Roadwarden Asterion?

Answer: Asking the Monastery about Asterion’s whereabouts after saving Old Pagos reveals the location of a secret settlement that knows where to find him. Asking after this settlement uncovers the site of a hidden island, we’ll have to travel by boat to reach the previous Roadwarden. Be warned that traveling to this island is extremely dangerous and kills those left unprepared. 

Question: What’s the Goal of Roadwarden?

Answer: To save an isolated peninsula from the monstrous denizens native to the secluded countryside and the wrath of the inquisition. While we can pick our character’s personal aspirations (ie get rich, protect the innocent, start over, etc.), the overarching goal of uniting the peninsula remains the same.

Roadwarden Review [PC]: Verdict/Score

Roadwarden PC Review
Giving our character the ending they deserved left me relieved over the long, treacherous journey. Image by JT Hussey

Score: 7 Good

Overall, Roadwarden delighted me with its fantastic mix of story, survival, and gameplay. I never once grew bored from the sheer volumes of text I consumed and felt rewarded for my investment in the game’s story and ending.

Although Roadwarden can be lost on players that dislike reading or 2D pixel art, it’s easy to fall in love with the quirky settlers amidst the fantasy forest backdrop. Looking at the comprehensive world map at the end of my adventure was enough to fill me with a sense of satisfaction following my struggle to reclaim the goblin-infested ruins and ape-ridden forests.

I’m looking forward to replaying Roadwarden after I’ve forgotten the exploits or when the developer adds new content. Though I’ll never enjoy it as much as my first playthrough, I can still appreciate the rewarding character-rich story and detailed heavy environment. I’ll forever treasure giving my Roadwarden Leto the home he deserved in the civilized wilds of Leto Land.

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