The Thaumaturge review – lacking polish

The Thaumaturge review – lacking polish
Alex Raisbeck Updated on by

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Early 20th Century Warsaw. A small yet burgeoning revolutionary fervour is brewing among the Polish working class while the Russian occupiers scramble to protect the Tsar’s interests. Beneath the surface, supernatural beasts feed on the vices present in each individual. At the centre of it all, you as The Thaumaturge must navigate the storm.

You play as Wiktor Szulski, the eponymous thaumaturge. To some, he is little more than a magician peddling cheap tricks, while to others, a dangerous, demonic presence on Warsaw’s streets. You learn early on that the key to your powers are Flaws – negative traits possessed by everyone you meet. For most people, Flaws are effectively harmless. But when these Flaws are fed too heavily, they conjure up Salutors.

The Thaumaturge review: Wiktor sitting at a dimly-lit table, writing in a book.
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Salutors are spiritual beasts born out of powerful Flaws, feeding off them and wreaking havoc in the physical world. As a thaumaturge, you seek them out, looking not only to stop them, but to tame them for yourself, turning their otherworldly strength into a weapon.

This is the core gameplay loop of The Thaumaturge. Wiktor hears tell of some rogue goings-on before heading out to hunt down the offending Salutor. To do this, he first needs to find the person whose Flaw is summoning it. Using your senses, you prowl around the area looking for objects that bear traces of that person. Once you’ve acquired enough of this spiritual essence, you can piece together a person’s personality, allowing you not only to bring out their Flaw, but to manipulate them into doing your bidding.

The Thaumaturge review: A conclusion message showing a description of Rasputin's personality.
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These investigations are generally quite passive. The objects themselves can have interesting descriptions, as can the conclusions you draw. But the act of investigating boils down to little more than running around a room and interacting with a few objects. I never felt like I had investigated anything because it was all effectively done for me.

You’ll also meet a cast of regular characters who aim to help or hinder you throughout the main story. Some of these characters are immediately likeable – I was never disappointed to have to visit Rasputin (yes, that one). But I found many to be fairly forgettable. At worst, some characters even came off as outright dislikeable, with Wiktor’s clear friendship with them making me dislike him a bit more, too.

The Thaumaturge review: Wiktor and his Salutor in combat against the Bukavac.
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Once the Salutor is located, you enter a battle to try and tame it. The Thaumaturge uses a turn-based combat system where you and your Salutors take on groups of enemies. There’s a semblance of a combat triangle at play, as enemies have Flaws that can make them more powerful, requiring you to disable those Flaws with your Salutors’ attacks. 

You’ll need to make the most of your Salutors to fight effectively, rotating them in and out across a fight to methodically take down your opponents. As you level up your Salutors, you both unlock new abilities, letting you hit harder or dish out status effects. 

If you play your cards right, you can combine status effects and regular attacks to devastating effect, which is very satisfying to pull off. But try as I did to make use of my entire arsenal, I found that the best approach is often to simply choose the hardest-hitting attack. It’s a bit less viable in boss fights, especially later on in the game, but did put a dampener on my experience with the combat. It’s a generally fun system, but it could be better.

The Thaumaturge review: The Bukavac about to bite a man's neck.
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The initial premise of the story is lacklustre. As previously mentioned, Wiktor is returning to Warsaw after his father’s death and must search for his father’s lost Grimoire, a tome precious to thaumaturges. To do this, Wiktor returns to Warsaw high-society to pick up gossip. He trawls fight clubs and bars to draw out the intrigue present in the city’s underbelly.

I wasn’t particularly taken with Wiktor’s story initially. The start of the game is heavy on exposition, telling us how much Wiktor hated his father, Warsaw, and more. But it always feels like the characters know far more than we do, making it hard to truly connect with them. Sure, Wiktor hates his father, but I don’t know anything about him, so why should I care?

One aspect I found intriguing was Wiktor’s dreams, or perhaps nightmares. At certain points in the story, Wiktor dreams of a twisted version of the world around him, which you briefly explore before happening across a cutscene at the end, the purpose of which I won’t spoil. These story elements are always a treat, but unfortunately occur far too infrequently.

The Thaumaturge review: Wiktor having a conversation with a woman about secrets.
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As the story progresses, it becomes clear that this isn’t just about the Grimoire. Before his death, there was a lot that Wiktor’s father didn’t tell him. Soon, Wiktor starts to embroil himself in political intrigue, in a revolutionary movement, and hunting down those who would see him dead alongside his father. The story shifts from investigating the past to dealing with the present, something I felt was much needed.

The Thaumaturge’s story certainly picks up over time, largely thanks to its increased importance in the world around you. Between main missions, you have the chance to explore Warsaw, performing side quests for certain NPCs. These are often bursting with character, and are a quick and satisfying way not just to get some XP, but to dive a little deeper into the city’s culture.

The streets are filled with little nods to Polish culture. Posters advertise events showcasing folk music and dances with mazurka and polonaise. Street vendors sell pierogi and cigars to passers-by. The music of Chopin graces the drawing rooms of the upper classes. As someone relatively unfamiliar with much of Polish culture, this was a joy to experience, and those with a keener interest are sure to find plenty to love here.

The Thaumaturge review: A drawing of a man and boy playing the balalaika, with a pipe smoking in the background.
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And this gets to the centre of my frustration with The Thaumaturge, as it repeatedly feels as if the developers were focused on the wrong things. Where Wiktor’s spats with story characters failed to capture me, his exploration of the city and interactions with strangers on the street did. Simply being fed exposition about Wiktor’s past was rarely interesting, but experiencing it in his dreams was each and every time.

When The Thaumaturge is on form, it knocks it out of the park. Warsaw is a delight to explore, and when Wiktor engages with it seriously, both on a historical and cultural level, the game is at its best. But the insistence on following Wiktor’s personal drama meant I often enjoyed the side content more than the main questline. The story does pick up and is aided by fun, if simple combat, and a few memorable characters. But ultimately, The Thaumaturge feels like a game so focused on the story it wants to tell that it forgets to develop the things it does best fully. 


The Thaumaturge shows plenty of promise, but lets itself down somewhat by failing to play to its strengths. Warsaw and its history and culture is a joy to experience when the game properly engages with it, but an insistent focus on a comparatively dull main story ultimately detracts from this for a fun yet frustrating experience.
6 Unique and intriguing setting Fun and strategic combat, though can be simple at times Main story can be a little uninteresting Forgettable characters Passive gameplay loop