There’s nothing quite like opening up a thick fantasy novel – the type that sits enticingly on library shelves, as thick as your forearm and filled with plenty of adventure and magic. If that book were a video game, it would undoubtedly be Roadwarden. An upcoming interactive fiction game from Moral Anxiety Studio, Roadwarden is an illustrated text adventure that promises everything you’ve ever wanted from your fantasy excursions, set on a grim peninsula with a wide array of characters and dangers.
Upon starting a game, the player is immediately dropped into their new position as the local roadwarden of a rural peninsula. As roadwarden, it’s your job to help those who need it, travel the roads, and keep things safe. Strangely, the previous roadwarden seems to have simply disappeared, and while an early death isn’t particularly uncommon in such a profession, it is strange that no one knows where or how he might have died. Upon taking his place, you’ll need to set to getting to know the area, finding shelters, and earning trust among the people.
Roadwarden is a true text-based adventure, occasionally requiring you to know names or places you want to inquire about, or enter information based on the clues you’ve found. But it’s also a very approachable text-based adventure – and this is coming from someone who has traditionally been pretty terrible at them. Most of the time you just need to focus on picking your options or directions, and the text inputs are always there for you later if you want to come back after finding a new clue or inspiration. The result feels like a solo D&D game, where it’s up to you to decide how to react, how to act, and what to focus on, shaping your story as you go.
Even your character is a blank slate, and as you go you’ll write your background, belief systems, and even your personality to become your very own roadwarden. You can greet people in five different attitudes (and switch it up for different audiences) and choose when and how you want to be an honest worker or bend the truth.
What was most interesting to me on my playthrough is that I didn’t really feel like I was on a linear journey. There were quests to finish and directions to go, but most of what the game asks of you at first is to investigate the previous roadwarden. From there you’ll find towns, run errands, and fight fearsome creatures as you explore the peninsula to learn more about the land and your predecessor. There are a lot of side storylines to complete, and it didn’t take long before I was committed to solving mysteries and helping the people. The map is large and varied enough to feel like a real exploration, but also manageable – you can get anywhere within a day, and there’s usually a shelter somewhere within range to get to as well.
While I completed a playthrough, I’m certain there are things I’ve still missed, and I still have some unanswered questions to go back and explore. You also can make choices in the game that will affect your character’s relationship with the area greatly – will you save Old Pagos? What happens if you make an enemy of the White Marshes? Trust is a valuable commodity that might pay for some information, but you’ll have to earn it, and sometimes earning trust from one party means losing trust from another. Roadwarden encourages you to come back and try new things next time.
There are three difficulty options to choose, which will affect not only the challenge you face, but also the immersion. The easiest choice is to have no limit of days, while a normal playthrough gives you 40 in which to complete your work and hard gives you 30 days. Because of the time limit, I chose the easiest option and don’t regret it.
The world of Roadwarden is packed with lore, secrets, and sidequests – things I wanted to take my time experiencing. Knowing that I had endless time to travel the roads and uncover places really let me get into the story. You will still have limits for how many days to complete certain errands, but you can continue the game even if you fail to complete a quest on time. I loved that this was an option – it lets players choose if they want the extra challenge, or if they want to read Roadwarden like a book, finding as much as possible on their own time.
Where I really faced difficulty was with handling money. I can’t tell if I just didn’t find some of the best ways to get more dragons or if the grind to make any to begin with was just meant to be a struggle, but it felt like I was constantly watching my coffers go down at inns and picking up food, while interesting story options were asking me to pay huge sums that I hadn’t even seen so far. It felt like there was a lot I needed to uncover, but I had no idea how to even approach it if I couldn’t afford items or help. You can work menial tasks here and there, but they pay either about the cost of a night at an inn or less, while diminishing your vitality and appearance so you need to turn around and spend it quickly unless you’ve managed to unlock free nights at a place nearby.
Over time, I got a better hang for the micromanagement of things like vitality, cleanliness, and armor, but it slowed me down a lot in the beginning, especially before I was able to start putting together which spots might be dangerous and how best to fight certain creatures.
Roadwarden is a lush world that will leave players feeling like they just stepped straight into a high fantasy novel and lets them write their own story. For fans of text-based adventures or darker visual novel games, I think it’s a fantastic match. My best advice if you pick it up is explore everywhere and lean into the mundane nature of the roadwarden’s work doing tasks for villages – you’ll find a lot of surprising things.
Interested? There’s a demo to try out right now, or you can pick up Roadwarden when it releases on September 12th!
*Please note that the release date for Roadwarden was readjusted today from September 8 to September 12 – this may be subject to change! The team has been updating the steam page with current release plans.