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The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales Review

The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales Review

I’ve long since had this dream of being able to hop into beloved books and games, getting to experience their worlds first-hand and interacting with the people within them. Typically, I’ve been able to indulge in this fantasy vicariously only through such avenues as self-insert fanfiction. However, The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales, an adventure title from developer DO MY BEST, offers a fantastic new way to indulge in that fantasy, even though the actual content of the game delivers a far darker interpretation of this classic wish.

The world of The Bookwalker is an interesting mirror of our own world: literature reigns supreme and there exists a dedicated police force that focuses entirely on crimes surrounding — and within — books. That may sound odd at first glance, but the reason behind this is that authors have the ability to physically enter the world of any given book and mess with them, their changes becoming apparent in every single other copy of that story. As an example, Etienne Quist, our protagonist — since “hero” would be a misnomer — and a former author himself, can hop into a book and take a given item back to the real world with him. It is this power, among others, that has made writers like him so appealing to the criminal underworld, as mysterious forces wish to make a lot of money by stealing powerful items from beloved books and putting them in new and unoriginal tales, thereby saving their uncreative authors from years of work.

This is not a quest that Quist himself respects or even wishes to do, but it is the only way he sees to get out of his own predicament. Once a famed writer in his own right, Etienne was caught committing a heinous crime that has landed him with a pair of writer’s block shackles that keep him from writing anything new. The law has further decreed that he shall not be able to remove them until he has engaged in 30 years of work of book-related labour with a publishing company of their approval. Knowing that even authors that have had to go through 10 years of similar work simply haven’t been able to return to their writing afterwards — if they even survived — Etienne has decided that the only way he’s going to get out of this is if he does six of these thieving jobs for a man who claims he can remove the shackles himself. After all, who’s going to care if important objects are taken from book worlds? There are no real people in there to hurt, just characters.

Overall, The Bookwalker offers this fairly straightforward story in this odd world, but with Etienne’s own strong characterisation and mysterious crime coating his past, there’s a lot to chew on throughout. That’s not even getting into the odd sentient cage he picks up as a partner in his work or all of the varied worlds he hops into. The cage, which Etienne names Roderick after a short while, is actually a modified character from another book that has lost some of his memory, and he acts as a fascinating foil for our protagonist, questioning his moves and motives at every turn. Being a character himself, it’s very hard for him not to empathise with the people inside of the books that Etienne hurts with his work.

Those worlds themselves are also filled with equal depth, offering a variety of distinct themes and settings. They each take on a unique look, usually based on a real-life famous work or two, but with their own flair that helps to make them distinct, both from each other and their real-life counterparts. The overall setting outside of the books may be overrun with boring and repetitive stories that don’t hold any creativity, as Etienne believes, but the few we get to see inside are imaginative and a pleasure to see, even as they iterate on existing concepts.

Of course, The Bookwalker itself tells a fascinating story, even as it is bolstered by each of its book worlds. There are a multitude of stunning twists and turns, even a couple that result in that amazing feeling where everything clicks together and you know something without having to be told it, only to have that information confirmed minutes later. Additionally, the atmosphere is beautiful, even outside of the books. Etienne’s desperation comes across quite strongly, and the world around him constantly feels as though it’s closing in on him, from only learning that a neighbour was a fellow author when their apartment is being emptied to never even getting to see any of his other neighbours face-to-face. Even the mumbling that takes the place of more typical voiced dialogue works to make Etienne’s life seem blurred and incomplete.

Now, while the story and presentation are absolutely amazing throughout, there is also the matter of the actual gameplay. The Bookwalker is primarily a point-and-click adventure game, switching from a 3D environment outside of the books to a sort of top-down, 2D view inside of them. There’s a little bit to do in the outside world, but that’s primarily regulated to events before or after each chapter is completed and the occasional obvious moments where you need to grab an object that doesn’t exist in the world of a book.

The bulk of The Bookwalker is then in that 2D style, with a tiny Quist running around the worlds of the books, collecting various items that can be used to solve problems, and interacting with characters and objects, usually through a series of numbered choices for every available action. Throughout this process, the player also has the option to spend ink to perform certain feats. This involves Etienne sort of pushing his will or being into objects and characters to change them in some way, imposing his skill and craft as an author himself onto another’s book. This mechanic starts off with a few simple ideas, like forcing doors to become unlocked, but the ink does wind up being used more creatively in a few places throughout. One very nice detail is that most things that can be done with ink can also be done by using items found in the world or coming up with other clever solutions. One less nice detail is that opportunities for ink use dry up toward the end of the story — I myself only used ink six times throughout the entire game. There are even moments where ink is required to progress the plotline, but which don’t actually consume any ink; these moments only exist in the story of The Bookwalker, not the gameplay. This is probably good for avoiding situations where players may have run out of ink and would be softlocked otherwise, but I found it annoying since I had plenty to spare. In a sense, this can also reveal a piece of the artifice behind the game: the choices narrow as the story progresses, and the player finds themselves unable to have as much of an impact.

Thankfully, ink is used quite heavily in the other style of gameplay The Bookwalker implements, which is turn-based combat. At a fair few moments throughout, Etienne can engage in battle against book characters and even fellow authors diving into the world. At this point, the player has a small handful of options but is also thankfully able to tell what Quist’s opponents will do on their next turns. The battle mechanics are fairly simple for the majority of The Bookwalker, with stronger attacks against single enemies, weaker attacks against whole groups, and the ability to stun foes for a single turn, but they are complicated slightly, with most of the more powerful moves costing ink to use. There is also an action which allows Etienne to drain ink from his enemies while also dealing a minimal amount of damage, which I found very useful for topping his ink off at the end of a battle. The fights are quite fun and the player even has the opportunity to upgrade Quist’s abilities between books, which helps to adapt his fighting style to the player’s preferences. I know that I was able to finagle his moveset such that I was able to stun my enemies over and over again while I healed and inked up Etienne, and I further know that I loved every second.

The fighting mechanics start becoming more varied with special optional items at the very end of the plotline, so it certainly seems as though there is a lot more that could be done with this relatively simple system, but it works for what The Bookwalker is: an exploration- and story-focused title.

Choice and morality are also major factors in The Bookwalker. They do sometimes seem to take a backseat to the story, where Etienne either is forced to hang morality and complete his work or makes a decision all on his own, but choice and morality are still always there as themes. However, the game does still allow a variety of choices to be made — particularly with many side plots throughout the various books. Sure, there’s a pivotal moment in each book that determines what Quist’s situation will be following a successful or unsuccessful delivery, but the story marches onwards, and Etienne hits most of the same character beats either way. These smaller moments, where the player can bring a robot they sacrificed back to life, can allow a starving man to keep his last few remaining pieces of money, can save a bullied professor — after helping said bullies lock said professor in a room for hours — and so many more moments that aren’t strictly necessary help to flesh out the world beyond the immediate puzzles that the player has to engage with and do a much better job of incorporating the player themselves into The Bookwalker’s themes of characters being people than the base storyline can.

Yes, the ending sequence of the final books makes for a fantastic story that had me smiling and wincing in equal measure, but I’m still very impressed with the depth of player interaction in the side content. The Bookwalker, in many ways, works very well as a story, and the playable aspects, as enjoyable as they are, can sometimes feel like they don’t add all that much to the experience due to their simplicity and the narrowing of player impact on the storyline. However, it is through this side content — these experiences that Etienne and the player can have with the very normal characters, people, in the books and the ability to show them or deny them empathy; how the player can touch the lives of the characters within — that The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales proves why it should be an interactive experience, not a kinetic one. And what an experience it is.

9.50/10 9½

The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales (Reviewed on Windows)

Excellent. Look out for this one.

The choices lose a bit of their variety as the story goes on and the combat can be a tad simplistic, but The Bookwalker is a beautiful exercise in exploring the humanity of fiction and why we, the audience, should feel for the characters on the page.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Erin McAllister

Erin McAllister

Staff Writer

Erin is a massive fan of mustard, writes articles that are too long, and is a little bit sorry about the second thing.

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pucechan - 03:30pm, 24th November 2023

This sounds really neat. Definitely going "on the list"! Really enjoyed the review :)

Erinsfrustrated - 03:38pm, 24th November 2023 Author

I'm glad you enjoyed the review! Honestly, yes, it's really neat; I loved every minute of my playtime. I hope you get a chance to play through it yourself and that you like it even more than the review. :D