Ghost of a Tale is a wonderful story of a mouse minstrel, Tilo, who wakes up in a prison cell separated from his wife. After finding the key to his cell and a note from an anonymous savior, you begin his quest, controlling Tilo as he uses guile and stealth to discover the secrets of Dwindling Heights Keep and find his wife.
A mouse in a rat’s world
Ghost of a Tale is a non-combat game. You’re encouraged to use stealth to avoid guards’ watchful eyes or create distractions. You have no way of incapacitating or killing the majority of enemies. If you happen to be spotted, GoaT is filled with hiding places from closets to barrels. If you can break the guard’s line of sight and hide, you’re made in the shade. It’s rather forgiving in this regard. In the early hours of the game when you don’t know your way around, you’ll be glad for the abundance of barrels. The downside is the guards quickly become more of a nuisance than a menace. The guard rats look scary but move incredibly slowly and stop searching for you the moment you hide away.
Making a small world feel huge
Ghost of a Tale all takes place in Dwindling Heights Keep and the surrounding land. There are seven areas in all, no load screens. Objectively, it’s not that big of a game, certainly no Skyrim or Fallout and yet it feels large because of intelligent design decisions. Half of the trick is in how much variation there is in the environment. For the first few areas, the world quite literally opens up for little Tilo.
You escape the tight corridors of the prison and climb into the keep’s main courtyard. From there you ascend a tower and you get your first views of the sprawling countryside. But you can’t reach it yet. The game does a great job of pacing how much freedom you get.
Life has many doors, Tilo
As you explore, you discover there are a lot of locked doors and blocked passages in Dwindling Heights, some of which aren’t needed to complete the story. But if you’re the curious type, you’ll find quite a few keys and levers hidden around. If you take the time, you’re rewarded with shortcuts and sometimes treasure. The shortcuts feel meaningful because there is no fast travel. Finding a way to shave a few minutes off your journey from the shore to the prison, for example, adds up.
Regarding the lack of fast travel; in the beginning hours of the game I didn’t really mind, though there’s a lot of backtracking everything happened in a small enough area. I enjoyed finding new ways to get from place to place. But midway through the game I started longing for a faster option. Partly because, after a certain point, you get an item that renders stealth unnecessary. There is a ton of backtracking you need to do and manually walking started to make the environments feel old.
One of the primary activities of Ghost of a Tale is tracking down components of different costume sets. These range from a famous thief’s costume to a ranger uniform, and beyond.
I am a sucker for cute things so I loved being able to dress Tilo up and these costumes also affect his stats. For instance, the ranger outfit makes Tilo run faster and farther and the thief outfit makes him more difficult to detect. Some costumes also changed dialogue options when speaking to NPCs. It tickled my nature as a completionist but without disrespecting my time. If you can’t find that last piece for an outfit, you can go speak with the Blacksmith rat and he’ll sell you the location for a few coins.
A well-told tale
Ghost of a Tale is fantastic storytelling. From the way each character speaks, their relationships with the other inhabitants of the keep, and down to the smallest animations, the world feels alive. Even little Tilo twitches and makes little mousy movements as he moves through the world. Even if you don’t get to see every location mentioned in the game, the way the characters talk about their world makes it feel as though it’s a real place.
The storylines run deep and unfold in meaningful ways as you play. There are so many mysteries that come up in the first act that end up being solved in the last few of hours of the game. Learning something about one character sheds light on another character’s backstory. You learn more about Tilo and his wife, Merra and the history of the world they live in.
One of my favorite parts is when it calls on Tilo to play a song. Though there is no actual singing, the game shows the lyrics on-screen matched to an instrumental that plays in the background. These songs contain a lot of lore and are a nice addition. I found myself wanting more than the game offered but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Although, the game’s ending lacked a bit of meat.
Ending on a sour note
Ghost of a Tale is fresh out of Early Access and there were times when I could tell. Though my computer is well within the recommended settings, there was the occasional tolerable stutter. That is until I got to the end.
The final sequence needs a lot of polish at the time of this review. Without spoiling anything, the ending was really glitched and I died a few times because of it. But, more offensive than that, when I beat the game, went through the touching finale, right before the final cutscene rolled, the game went black and I had to replay the glitchy ending. It wasn’t a fantastic way to end my time with Ghost of a Tale but it certainly didn’t destroy the experience.
Should you buy it?
Ghost of a Tale is a great game. It’s funny, sad when it needs to be, fiercely compelling, and well polished, ending aside. It’s a game more people should play especially those into stealth and folks who like a good story. I highly recommend it!