Blend the borders between fiction and reality as a shackled writer in this fascinating Xbox game

Screenshot of The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales.
(Image credit: Windows Central)

There are so many games being released on every platform all the time, and 2023 especially has been a wild and hectic year for video games. I still try to find time to enjoy smaller releases in between the major launches, though, and one such game is The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales. I avoided this game at first because its release was bogged down by awful controls and several glitches, but post-launch patches have addressed those launch issues and turned this game into a fascinating and fun puzzle-adventure.

Once I gave it a chance, though, The Bookwalker won me over with its unique premise in an interesting unique world, excellent art design, and a simple yet effective gameplay loop that kept me interested during its entire ~5-6 hour runtime. Embark on an epic adventure as a writer that cannot write, but can physically enter the books they read as if they were real worlds. Easily playable via Xbox Game Pass, this is a title I can recommend.

Disclaimer: This article was made possible by a review code provided by tinyBuild. The company did not see the contents of the article before publishing.

The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales

The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales

A unique puzzle-adventure game set in an alternate world in which writers possess supernatural abilities, you play as Etienne. His abilities have been shackled for crimes he committed, but he's seeking freedom by entering the books of other writers to steal precious items.

Buy at: Microsoft (Xbox & PC) | GOG (PC)

A world in which writers can control their realities

The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales

• Price: $14.99 (Xbox & PC)
• Release date:
June 22, 2023
• Developer:
• Publisher:
• Genre:
• Players:
• Install size:
• Playtime:
~5-6 hours
• Platforms:
Xbox, Windows PC, PlayStation
• Xbox Game Pass:
Yes (Xbox, PC, & cloud)
• Reviewed on:
Xbox Series X

The Bookwalker is set in an intriguing world that once looked a lot like ours (with the same history and people), but has changed dramatically since. In this world, literature is more important than ever, with writers being possessed of unique abilities that allow them to write their books — and create new worlds — from inside those books.

For writers, these books are real worlds in which they can live, interacting with the characters and stories they created. It establishes a fascinating foundation for The Bookwalker's core gameplay loop, which has you dive into various books from other authors in order to extract certain objects. Yes, writers don't just have the ability to enter books — they have the ability to permanently alter those books and even bring parts of them into the real world (usually to be inserted into other books).

With so much power at their disposal, writers are heavily regulated by the government. You play as Etienne Quist, an acclaimed author that has had their creative abilities literally shackled for literary crimes they committed. Desperate to regain his ability to write, Etienne agrees to illegally obtain items from different author's creations for a mysterious employer that claims to have the key to unlocking those shackles.

Simple yet satisfying gameplay

A magical school for wizards where magic is failing in the face of technology is just one of several locations in The Bookwalker. (Image credit: Windows Central)

The Bookwalker is divided into two types of gameplay: a first-person perspective in the real world, in which Etienne can explore his apartment complex, ask neighbors for help when necessary, and wander around his apartment (sometimes finding mail, letters, and more). This is the "between" for The Bookwalker's main gameplay, and will also be where you get new assignments, progress the main story, and select upgrades for Etienne's abilities in books.

Most of your time, however, will be spent inside the books that are sent to you by your enigmatic employer. Here, The Bookwalker switches to an isometric, third-person perspective and divides the world into small areas you can explore. You accomplish your objective by solving a variety of puzzles, and occasionally will need to defend yourself in turn-based combat. It's a simple yet effective gameplay loop that I greatly enjoyed, and perfectly matched the game's runtime and ambitions.

Etienne is familiar with navigating the complex worlds inside books, and is able to defend himself and affect these worlds in small ways with the use of Ink. This magical substance is how writers are able to create and manipulate books, but Etienne's shackles prevent him from using more than tiny amounts at a time without hurting himself. Thus, you have to more-or-less participate in the books as characters, moving through the world as they do to obtain the item you're seeking.

Combat in The Bookwalker is straightforward, but I enjoyed the balance between abilities and managing your Ink and Health. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Etienne is aided by a mysterious character he meets in the first book you enter — except this character doesn't belong in this book. Dubbed "Roderick" for the duration of the game, this character was illegally stolen from another book to be used by a different Bookwalker, as these infiltrated characters are able to read the book they're inside and provide information and clues to you. Roderick becomes an invaluable ally for Etienne, helping him achieve his goals.

The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales tells a striking story of the power of words, and the fine lines between bringing characters to life and accepting those characters as living. Etienne has to balance his morals with his goal to free himself and be able to write again, and Roderick wants to remember who he was in his original book. There's more going on later in the game that makes things more interesting, of course, but I'm not going to spoil any of that. Suffice to say, I was surprised by the narrative of The Bookwalker and its interesting gameplay, enough that I was very entertained for the entire playthrough.

An ingenious premise that I want to see expanded

Every world you explore in The Bookwalker is completely different, and I wish I had been able to explore even more. (Image credit: Windows Central)

When the credits rolled in The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales, my first thought was, "Wow, I loved that. I want to see that idea expanded upon." This is an excellent game that's definitely worth a download from Xbox Game Pass (it's also available through PC Game Pass and Xbox Cloud Gaming). Even if you don't have Game Pass, it's just $14.99 at Microsoft for the full game, which is an awesome price for the quality experience you get here. It is limited in scope, though, and this premise is more than good enough to support a much larger game.

I hope that DO MY BEST is considering an expanded sequel to The Bookwalker, because I want to see more from this world. In the meantime, though, this is a lovely game on its own and another that I happily recommend. Just don't pay much attention to the game's older user reviews, as those are unfortunately tainted by the launch issues that, while they shouldn't have existed in the first place, are now fixed. I played it on Xbox Series X; I did encounter a handful of micro-stutters and the controls were occasionally imprecise and frustrating, but overall the game looked and played great.

Is The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales one of the best Xbox games of 2023? That's tough to call considering how many brilliant (and often genre-defining) titles have released this year like COCOON and Alan Wake 2, but I put The Bookwalker in the same category of great indie games I've played and remember fondly as Strange Horticulture and many others.

Zachary Boddy
Staff Writer

Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.