The Thaumaturge review: a monster taming RPG with a mature, dark, and moody twist

You can catch 'em all, but only if you're strong enough to bear the burden of their flaws.

The Thaumaturge screenshots
(Image: © Cole Martin/Windows Central)

Windows Central Verdict

The Thaumaturge's gritty, demon-taming take on the monster collecting genre is a welcome twist. Taking place in 1905 Poland, there is certainly some language and actions in the game that can feel uncomfortable, but it all works with the overarching theme of struggling with mental health and personal flaws. Despite the sensitive nature of the story, Fool's Theory does well to not over sensationalize traumatic story beats. Gameplay is simple and engaging, and the combat is easy to learn but can be challenging on higher difficulties.


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    Player choice has lasting effects.

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    Turn-based combat that is easy to learn.

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    World feels like a beautiful, expansive dollhouse that is truly alive.


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    Visual quirks like character models clipping and NPCs t-posing in the background.

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When it comes to the monster-taming genre, many of the options are bright and colorful RPGs with adorable little critters that eventually evolve into big tough guys. From Pokémon to Cassette Beasts and TemTem, there's been a pretty standard aesthetic.  To a degree, we saw a break in this with the Palworld. The inclusion of guns in the monster-taming game was a source of contention for players and a unique twist that helped it stand out in the crowd. The overall aesthetic, however, was still bright and relatively cheerful.

The Thaumaturge, however, cranks the dial on monster taming to "full gothic". Developed by Fool's Theory and published by 11 bit studios, The Thaumaturge is a narrative-driven RPG where players take on the role of Wiktor Szulski in 1905 Poland.  But is this gritty and dark take on the genre worth shelling out $35 for?

Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by 11 bit studios. The company did not see the contents of this review before publishing.

What is The Thaumaturge?

The Thaumaturge

Key art and logo for The Thaumaturge

(Image credit: 11 bit studios)

Price$35 at GOG
Developer: Fool's Theory
Publisher: 11 bit studios
Genre: Story-driven RPG
Install size: 29.82 GB
Playtime: 25–30 hours
Platforms: PC, Xbox, PlayStation
Reviewed on: Steam
Release date: March 4, 2024

The Thaumaturge (pronounced thaw-muh-turj) is the sophomore release from Polish studio Fool's Theory. The studio previously released the action RPG Seven: The Days Long Gone and has worked as a support studio on titles like Outriders and Baldur's Gate 3. The Thaumaturge is an isometric, story-driven RPG built in Unreal Engine 5 and set in 1905 Warsaw, Poland, at a time when the country was under the control of Russian Tsars. Players step into the (very fancy) boots of Wiktor Szulski, the "problem child" (with an inflated sense of pride) of a wealthy Thaumaturge from whom Wiktor inherited his powers. 

The history of thaumaturgy is loaded with mystery and intrigue, as those afflicted with the ability are capable of reading others' traces and flaws, making thaumaturges incredibly skilled at collecting clues and solving problems. There is a dark side to all the spell casting, however, and that's where taming monsters comes into play. People's flaws can present themselves as demonic Salutors (sal-YOU-tors), which can be captured and then used by Wiktor in combat, but collecting flaws and demons comes at the cost of his grip on reality.

The Thaumaturge: Gameplay

The Thaumaturge features upgrade options for Wiktor's attacks and salutors. (Image credit: Cole Martin/Windows Central)

Much of The Thaumaturge plays out as an isometric RPG, with the player able to move around various neighborhoods of Warsaw surrounding Wiktor's childhood home. Wiktor can travel via trams or carriage when moving from one district to another. Players can explore Wiktor's family estate, but other areas like pubs, brothels, and cemeteries become available, as well. Because The Thaumaturge is a story-driven RPG, some areas can become cordoned off and inaccessible based on the player's choices in previous conversations, fights, and quests.

When exploring Warsaw, players can utilize Wiktor's power of perception to pick up on traces and clues in the world that may help them track down salutors. These traces are often designated with red particle effects that increase as the player moves near, making them easy to see. For players afflicted with color blindness who may struggle to see the particles, there are adjustments in the game's accessibility menu.

Combat is turn-based, with players selecting attacks from a suite of card-indicators. (Image credit: Cole Martin/Windows Central)

Wiktor's flaw is pride, and this part of his characterization often leads to him getting into fights or other precarious situations. Combat in the Thaumaturge is a turn-based affair, with the action bars of the player, their active salutor, and all combatants displayed at the top of the screen. A suite of attacks is displayed over the heads of enemies as the player shuffles through them. The player can choose between attacking with Wiktor or the Salutor, but moves are limited. Upyr, the salutor for Wiktor's pride, can cause combatants to lose focus and heal Wiktor by doing so. Once assigned to a single enemy Upyr can not attack another until the next turn, however.

The core gameplay loop for The Thaumaturge focuses on players exploring and interacting with the NPCs. Fool's Theory has crafted a world that is engaging and alive, full of characters with realistic stories to tell that are touching, intriguing, and relatable. Exploring those stories provides lore, with brief bursts of combat providing moments of excitement and intensity that break up the potential for monotony. Collecting and taming salutors and exploring the world gives the player the ability to put thaumaturgy points into Wiktor's collection of Salutors to further customize gameplay by unlocking new attacks.

The Thaumaturge: Visuals and audio

The attack from a Bukavec during combat. (Image credit: Cole Martin/Windows Central)

Built in Unreal Engine 5, The Thaumaturge uses every bit of its engine's power to craft this stunning world that looks and feels like a diorama of late Victorian-era Poland. The world is richly detailed, and it is clear that the team at Fool's Theory carefully researched everything from the costuming to architecture. It was easy to find myself just wandering around in awe experiencing the world that had been crafted, which turned out to be an excellent way to uncover all those side quests lurking in the district corners. From the muddy streets of the poorest districts to the gilded homes of the aristocrats, The Thaumaturge's presentation of Poland was simply stunning.

That's not to say it is without flaws, however. There were several instances in the pre-release version of the game where NPCs would clip through during combat. In one sequence, a character model simply stood in the middle of Wiktor throughout the entire fight. In another district, I would continuously run past an NPC who was just always t-posing. In some cutscenes, character models would egregiously clip through one another when interacting. There's some room for polish here.

The game's soundtrack fits the dark, moody feel and sets just the right atmosphere. It's the audio for the salutors that will stand out, the most. From Upyr's subtle grunts of acknowledgment to the goofy-until-it's-terrifying screech of the Lelek, the audio for the salutors is done in such a way that it makes them feel alive and believable. I'd be lying if I said I didn't get chills every time the Bukavec took a bite out of an enemy's neck. It's creepy and that's what makes it perfect.

The Thaumaturge: Accessibility and approachability

Accessibility menu in The Thaumaturge. (Image credit: Cole Martin/Windows Central)

Because of its narrative-driven gameplay and turn-based combat, The Thaumaturge is surprisingly approachable. Players can choose between multiple difficulty settings, including a Story mode so that they can have an easier time with combat and focus more on the story mechanics. Navigating the menus with a controller or a mouse is straightforward. Shuffling between enemies in combat is as simple as pressing left or right on the left thumbstick. There are no QTE or timed events, and you can play the game entirely at your leisure. 

There are limited options when it comes to subtitling, though you can make them a bit larger if the default size is too small. The Thaumaturge also offers adjustments for color blindness. 

The Thaumaturge: Should you buy it?

The Thaumaturge touches on societal commentary while maintaining the language and attitudes of its time period. (Image credit: Cole Martin/Windows Central)

When you first launch The Thaumaturge, the game opens with a notable disclaimer that the team behind it consists of people from all walks of life who want to tell a mature story as a source of reflection.  However, the setting of the game would inevitably include language and notions that are unacceptable. It's reminiscent of the disclaimers often at the start of Assassin's Creed titles, but it still somehow caught me off guard the first time Wiktor, in a weakened state, is casually labeled a "cripple." 

The themes and stories embedded in The Thaumaturge deal with the dark depths of humanity. Treatment and language surrounding disabled and homosexual characters, depictions of mental illness, and suicidal ideology are time-appropriate, even if they are harsh to witness. They're also still very important stories to tell, and when they're told in the way that Fool's Theory has in The Thaumaturge they can help shed light on the negative stigmas from the past that are still present even today.

Acquiring flaws and salutors takes a toll on Wiktor's mental health. (Image credit: Cole Martin/Windows Central)

It's easy to get wrapped up in wanting to compare The Thaumaturge to monster tamers that are bright and cheerful by dubbing it a "Gothic Pokémon". But there's something so much more in this gritty and grim world that is worth your time. The dedication to accurately representing 1905 Warsaw's culture, the lore that inspired the game, and the stories within The Thaumaturge are worth barreling through the few visual hiccups to uncover.

The Thaumaturge is just the latest game to be published by 11 bit studios. The Polish publisher and developer has been running full steam ahead in recent months, with incredible titles developed both in-house and in partnership with developers like Fool's Theory. Interested in more titles from 11 bit studios? Check out our review of The Invincible. In 2023, 11 bit signed a deal with Microsoft to bring more of its catalog of games to Xbox Game Pass. There is no word yet on whether The Thaumaturge will join the subscription service in the future, but you can pick it up on PC or consoles today.

Cole Martin

Cole is the resident Call of Duty know-it-all and indie game enthusiast for Windows Central. She's a lifelong artist with two decades of experience in digital painting, and she will happily talk your ear off about budget pen displays.