For a game with a brilliant setting, inventive art style and dystopian tones, The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales has managed to fly under the radar since its release in June this year. It’s a surreal point-and-click adventure mixed with a dash of RPG elements that launched alongside titanic sequels like Final Fantasy 16 and Diablo 4, and deserves a bit more attention than it got.
Set in a bleak world where writing is a commodity controlled by an authoritarian government, The Bookwalker puts you in the shoes of former writer Etienne Quist, sentenced to 30 years of writer’s block for an unnamed crime. Writers do not survive the harsh labour that comes with the punishment, so in his desperation to regain creative freedom, Etienne agrees to steal several legendary artefacts from various novels for a mysterious client.
In each chapter, Etienne is given a briefcase with the novel at hand, the artefact he is tasked to heist and a place to put the artefact in. Here, you can explore his apartment in first-person, finding letters, newspapers and interactive objects that tell you more about The Bookwalker’s setting. They’re completely optional, but give a lot more depth to the environment.
Entering the novel kicks off the game’s main loop, where you now control Etienne in top-down third-person. Like most point-and-click games, movement and interaction is now done through clicking and interacting with objects will reveal items or new areas to explore. Progressing the story is done through solving the current problem, like opening a locked door or fixing a broken vehicle.
Some puzzles require you to “wake up” from the novels and grab items from Etienne’s apartment complex, which provides the “sense of travelling” in a game about diving into novels. Since the option is always available, not just during certain story beats, it gives the sense that I can exit the novels at any moment and look around my surroundings. It’s strangely empowering, with the only cost being a small space on screen that is usually left empty anyway.
While exploring, Etienne comes across his main companion, an unnamed character inside a metal cage that prevents him from merging into the stories. This companion is soon dubbed as Roderick, and helps to keep track of various objectives, providing nifty hints if you’re ever stuck and as a moral compass for Etienne’s (and your) actions.
As for the RPG elements I mentioned earlier, Etienne may find himself in situations he has to fight his way out of. Combat here is turn-based, using Ink as a resource to fend off multiple enemies at once. There’s not much depth to combat, but it manages to create short moments of tension in the middle of puzzle solving.
Over the course of the game, Etienne is given tough moral choices to navigate, and there are plenty of opportunities to meet with the inhabitants of every novel. Roderick, as your moral compass, acts as a compassionate foil to Etienne’s harsh desperation, but is also powerless to stop you should you choose not to listen. It’s a great dynamic that adds more depth while keeping the player agency.
There’s a dreadful gloom to The Bookwalker’s visuals, filled in a distinctly muted colour scheme that pairs really well with the environmental themes. Nothing is overtly bright in the “real world”, highlighting that dystopian feeling, but neither are any of the settings in each novel, a place where most people escape to from the real world.
The slow, ambient calm from its soundtrack also adds to that gloom, emphasizing Etienne’s hopelessness in the beginning. The developer duo from DO MY BEST managed to nail environmental storytelling on its head, combining elements of sight and sound to create a realistic fantasy world.
With a playtime of 7-8 hours and price tag of US$11.99, The Bookwalker, Thief of Tales was a narrative adventure with an original premise that was engaging throughout its runtime. It’s a game that I would highly recommend most people try, since it can be finished over a weekend and rewards you with a story full of mystery and commentary on creativity in today’s society.