fable in tavern talk
Screenshot by Destructoid

Review: Tavern Talk

A fabulous viual novel with a little interactivity to keep you engaged.

Usually, when I visit a fantasy game’s inn, it’s to rest up before heading out to fight a dragon, pick up a quest, or have a little fight with an NPC to ultimately get them to join my party.

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Tavern Talk subverted my expectations by putting me in the shoes of the innkeeper and tasking me with doing little more than chatting away with the patrons who came by during their adventures. It’s a lovely change of pace, but I couldn’t help but feel it needed a little more oomph by the end.

Simple yet mostly satisfying

making a drink in tavern talk
Screenshot by Destructoid

Tavern Talk (PC [Reviewed], Nintendo Switch)
Developer: Gentle Troll Entertainment
Publisher: Gentle Troll Entertainment
Released: June 20, 2024
MSRP: $17.99/£14.99

You get to grips with the core gameplay mechanics in Tavern Talk pretty quickly. Each patron who sits at the bar needs a drink of some description. Some of them are going to tell you what they want, while others simply hint at tipple they’re eager to taste with fairly easy-to-decipher dialogue cues.

Once you roughly know what your customer needs, it’s time to mix the order. You’ve got a set of ingredients to pour into a glass, and must balance the stats in that glass to cater to the customer’s need. More often than not, the result is two or three pours of two particular ingredients, and one of another for flavor.

The system is easy to learn, but I don’t think that makes it basic. I had a lot of fun balancing brews by pouring each stat-boosting elixir into the glass for every customer I met each night and day. This is definitely the most engaging part of Tavern Talk, and serves its purpose of breaking up the heavy dialogue sequences that make up the bulk of the rest of your time with the game.

If you mess up a drink, you can pour parts of it away for your pet, Andu, which I think is a great little touch. The game is full of small tidbits of the fantasy setting like this, be it in the conversations you read through or the flavor of the quests you can put together. They fill out the world without you ever needing to leave the inn, allowing you to live vicariously through everyone who passes through.

Match three

matching paper for quests in tavern talk
Screenshot by Destructoid

Don’t get too excited about the idea of quests. It’s another gameplay mechanic to add to the list, but it’s super basic. You’ll hear bits and pieces of information about the world as you speak to each character. For example, people are disappearing in a nearby town, there’s a rumor about a werewolf, and a warrior you serve finds themselves unable to head out and kill this alleged beast.

This gives you three notes that you can piece together to form a quest and post it on your job board. A character will then pop in, pick that quest up, and head out to tackle it. How they do it is down to the drink you make them before they go, but you won’t get a satisfying cutscene or gruesome follow-up tale. Instead, you’ll hear about how the character succeeded or failed through yet more rumors and teases of the story from the wider world, courtesy of more customers.

If you’re looking for more from a fantasy tavern simulator, so was I. But that’s not what this game is. Tavern Talk saves you from its limited interactivity with incredible writing, both in the story and behind every character, that keeps you glued to your screen. It’s easy to get instantly invested in the patrons you meet and their lives outside of your inn’s four walls.

wolf character in tavern talk
Screenshot by Destructoid

My favorite is definitely Fable, an elf you’re introduced to right from the start of the game. Her narrative arc, like every character’s, focuses on who they are as a person rather than forcing her to go from frightened farmer to impressive warrior in no time at all and forcing it to somehow fit the narrative for action’s sake.

Tavern Talk is about the real lives of characters in a fantasy setting. There isn’t always a world-ending event to contend with, and not everyone is always chirpy or upbeat. For example, sometimes, your thief needs to feel like they’re worth a damn and have someone be genuinely curious about how they’re doing, or a warrior’s hesitations about killing something they’re often mistaken for need recognizing instead of brushing over by the protagonist.

It fills out the world in a way you almost never consider. The only time I’ve really thought about the same sort of themes is while playing Fable 3, a game with a world you’re actively encouraged to mess about in and notice the small day-to-day things. Tavern Talk is a game about all of this, and you’re the fly on the wall seeing it all unfold from the relative safety of your inn.

In a way, this game made me realize how shallow even games like Fallout 3 can be in their dialogue and character development when you think about how some actions might really impact them. That’s not to say these other games are bad, far from it, but Tavern Talk makes these characters seem a lot more real, even though all you’re doing is pouring them a drink and asking them how they’re really doing underneath their armor and facades.

If you enjoy visual novels and games very similar to this like the Coffee Talk franchise, then this is absolutely for you. It’s a slow burn that doesn’t speed up or see you getting into scenarios you could describe as epic or turning points for a universe, though. This is a game for those who want a genuine answer from friends when they ask how they’re doing, a visual novel you can take your time with and leans much more into making you feel something instead of blasting you with impressive fights, fates, and fantastic visuals.

Impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.

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Image of Jamie Moorcroft-Sharp
Jamie Moorcroft-Sharp
Jamie is a Staff Writer on Destructoid who has been playing video games for the better part of the last three decades. He adores indie titles with unique and interesting mechanics and stories, but is also a sucker for big name franchises, especially if they happen to lean into the horror genre.