Ghost of a Tale Review
Platform: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Release Date: PC – March 13, 2018, Xbox One and PS4 – TBA 2018
This title was reviewed on PC.
Within the gaming ecosphere today, independent developers are an essential cornerstone of the competitive market. Thanks to distribution platforms such as GOG and Steam, it has never been easier for indie studios to bring their creations to gamers all over the world. Ghost of a Tale has been the passion project of Lionel Gallat and almost entirely developed by him alone after a successful Indiegogo campaign back in 2013. Set in a world inhabited by mice, rats, frogs and other woodland critters dealing with the aftermath of a great war, this stealth/adventure game was inspired by films such as The Secret of NIMH and the book series Redwall. This game is truly captivating in its storytelling and an impressive technical feat for such a small developer.
The adventure begins inside the dungeons of Dwindling Heights Keep where a mouse named Tilo wakes up after being imprisoned by rats. Tilo finds a note attached to a key to his cell, telling him that someone within the prison can help him escape so he can find his wife Merra, who had been separated from him during his capture. With the keep overrun with rat guards, allies are few and far between. While searching the castle Tilo finds safety with the rat Silas, the signal guard of the keep. With Silas’s guidance, Tilo is able to piece together the events that separated him from Merra as well as the ancient secrets that surround Dwindling Heights itself.
One of the major strengths of Ghost of a Tale is its incredible lore, creating a world that feels larger than the small part the player gets to explore. Uncovering the story of the world can be done by finding notes scattered throughout the keep, but the real meat of the story can be pieced together through footnotes found during dialogue with NPCs. While talking to a character, certain words or phrases will be highlighted yellow in the text and an option of “Read Footnote” will appear at the bottom of the dialogue box. This will bring up a side window describing the word of event, sometimes short and sweet and sometimes very in-depth, depending on the subject. This is a fantastic way of giving the players a history of the world they are exploring and separating it from the main plot of the game.
Each main character that Tilo comes across within the story has a fully fleshed out backstory that is discovered through side quests, dialogue trees, or notes and books. The different personalities are built upon the characters’ circumstances and professions, and each character has believable reasons based in the story’s cannon for being at the keep and helping Tilo escape. Ghost of a Tale’s biggest strength lies here within the amazing writing, giving the player just enough information to really want to dive deep into the story of NPCs that are not only likeable, but also have real depth to their character.
Ghost of a Tale is first and foremost a stealth game. The rats are too large for Tilo to face in combat, so players must navigate the keep in the shadows. Cupboards, barrels and other hiding areas are spread all over the various maps to provide cover from the patrolling enemies. This does require a certain amount of patience, watching for the right times to move forward to remain out of sight of the guards. The player does have a few items they can find across the map to help out when they find themselves in a tight spot. Sticks can be used to make noise and distract enemies to create openings, while bottles can be used to knock out rats for a short amount of time if they’re not wearing a helmet. These items are few and far between, however, adding a bit of an extra challenge for players.
The majority of the quests in the game are fetch quests, requiring players to find a specific number of a certain item to gain access to plot points or continue the story. While worthwhile for players who are invested in the world and want to find out more about it, the quests become tedious after a while. The majority of the quests will be needed for story progression, but several of them do feel like unnecessary side quests. Unfortunately, the game does not separate them from the main quest line, which could cause issues for non-completionists. If a player becomes stuck trying to find the location of items, Rolo, the blacksmith found in the courtyard, can be paid to reveal locations on the player’s map.
Throughout the game players will find different outfits for Tilo to wear. Each of these outfits has its own set of strengths and weaknesses and most importantly can affect how NPCs will interact with the player. For example, Tilo can put together the guard costume set. This will allow the player to move around the keep freely without alerting the guards patrolling the keep, but severely slows down movement speed. The thief’s costume can be used to trick a pair of prisoner NPCs into revealing information to Tilo as well as provide a bonus in stealth. There are six costumes for players to find in total and each separate piece of each costume has to be found throughout the keep.
Dwindling Heights has several unique locations around the keep that Tilo will explore during his adventure. The keep itself is explained as a location where members of the rat army are sent to as a punishment, a dreary place that no one really wants to be. From top to bottom, the keep is in a state of disrepair, building on the hopeless feeling of the main story. Each area has its own unique design. The jail is dark and dreary. Cells are occupied by living prisoners, and the bones of those who were left to die in their chains, forgotten. The catacombs are lonely, replete with monsters and the coffins of deceased guards of the keep. Above, the keep experiences full day and night cycles, filled with NPCs going about their daily routine. The keep itself feels lived in and organic, even while falling apart, and the architecture maintains consistency throughout the different areas.
Graphics and Performance
While running on high graphic settings, the textures have noticeable detail. Individual hairs and scales on the various models bring the characters to life. Dynamic shadows play off of the day and night cycle as time progresses, and torchlight plays with the shadows realistically within dark environments, such as the jail and catacombs. Character animations and movements are smooth and react according to their body type or species, adding to the immersion of the world.
For the most part, the game does run well, but there were some very noticeable bugs, especially near the end of the game. Sometimes, after escaping an enemy, Tilo would remain in combat even after leaving an area entirely. This would cause issues when trying to hide from other enemies or sleep in a bed to save the game. On two separate occasions, the game did not set off an important event that is required to continue the story. Not knowing this was supposed to happen, I wandered around for an hour trying to figure out what to do next. Only after restarting the game was I then able to trigger the required event to continue the story. These are game-breaking bugs that hopefully will be patched out in the future.
Ghost of a Tale is a powerhouse when it comes to immersion and storytelling. Dwindling Heights is only a small part of a fully-realized world that needs to be explored further. I really empathized with the main characters Tilo interacted with during his adventure and felt the weight of each of their struggles. With that said, the bugs that popped up are pretty major issues that can take the player out of the game entirely and need to be addressed. This game is a pretty incredible achievement for such a small studio and hopefully will gain the attention it deserves. If you are someone who enjoys a well-told story, this game is a must play.