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Monday, December 11, 2023

Roadwarden feels just like cracking open a huge fantasy novel

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If Roadwarden had a smell it would either be setting-appropriate horse manure or the crispness of a secondhand but new-to-you 600 page paperback. I’ve recently been getting back to my roots reading fantasy novels the width of my forearm and just an hour with the demo for this narrative adventure RPG feels similar. Roadwarden’s medieval fantasy story leads with proper nouns and a glossary to study them with, ambient guitar tracks, and pixelated art in muted colors to round out the dense fantasy vibes.

Solo developer joint Moral Anxiety studio explains that it “tells the tale of an explorer hired by a powerful merchant guild, tasked with journeying to a mysterious peninsula to spread the guild’s influence.” Roadwarden’s developer says it borrows from the stylings of RPGs, visual novels, and interactive fiction. The center of the screen displays all the text and dialogue while the left is a pixel art rendering of the setting that evolves as you progress through the scene with your choices and occasional text prompts.

Taking up the role of a Roadwarden, I chose my name and background for wading into a world of magic (pneuma), dangerous beasts (griffons), and several religious factions where just keeping the roads safe for trade is an unenviable job. I won’t recount the rest of the lore bits for you. Either you’re into that sort of thing, in which case Roadwarden will give you more than enough on its own, or you aren’t and I’ll avoid brewing you the setting soup. Suffice it to say it’s got the texture of dark, dangerous RPGs of old—monsters and magic and beleaguered innkeepers and all. 

In conversation, I was able to opt for various dispositions—playful, polite, distant, threatening. Different encounters call for their own measures, which I found when getting to know the guards and proprietor of an inn along the road. The guards were happy to have a joke at my expense and responded well to my playful banter though they warned me their boss didn’t take as well to levity. As time passed with my actions, I also managed my health, pneuma, appearance, and food, along with an inventory of useful items and a quest log of loose ends. Even deeper in my journal, personal statistics like “spared animals” and “gambling experience” promised as much character development as I could want to wrap my mind around.

Roadwarden has just launched a new demo on Steam for you to try all this for yourself if you like. It’s also slapped a September 8 launch date on its store page, so the full release—which Moral Anxiety Studio has estimated is about 40 hours of play time—will be available in short order. 

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