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Tavern Talk is a tasty blend of Coffee Talk and Legends & Lattes

Serves you right.

An elf, vampire and dwarf walk into a bar in Tavern Talk.
Image credit: Eurogamer/Gentle Troll Entertainment

Coffee shop games have left me hot and cold over the last couple of years. Coffee Talk, with its endearing fantasy characters and sumptuous soundtrack, remains the pinnacle of this growing genre for me, with Necrobarista coming a close second, thanks mostly to its striking bookshop setting and considered meditation on death and the afterlife (even if the time you spend as an actual barista is virtually non-existent). Others, though, like Affogato, reduce their respective drinks-making into slightly tedious box-ticking exercises, asking you to do little more than drag pre-prescribed ingredients into a tedious number of machines with little room for showmanship or interpretation.

It's a tricky thing to get right, and when the balance is off-kilter, it can feel a bit like watching your local Starbuckser pour a gallon of milk in your tea when you'd normally put in just a dash and leave the teabag in at home. Happily, Tavern Talk walks the line between a riveting fantasy visual novel and interactive drinks 'em up with panache, its Next Fest demo giving you the freedom to flex your budding mixology skills with a distinctly RPG twist. I imagine it's a bit like what Travis Baldree's Legends & Lattes book series might look like in video game form, only with sharper teeth and a pet dragon whose bottomless stomach acts as a convenient drainpipe for any do-overs or mistakes.

To the premise. You, an invisible, first-person tavern keeper, make small talk with your high fantasy clients as you serve them drinks. In the Next Fest demo, there are six in your recipe book already, and it's clear a lot of effort's gone into making them look like their respective names. The Peak's Sunrise, for instance, has a half slice of lemon cresting the rim of the glass as it rises up from the purple liquid contained within, while the Sailor's Courage not only has a dimple mug with an actual six-pack of abs detailed on its side, but also a handle shaped like a burly bicep, and a ship's sail poking out the top like a piratical cocktail umbrella. Top marks goes to the Last Whisper, though, whose cocktail shaker glass is capped by a skull with a dagger through its eye.

An elf sits in a sunny tavern ordering a drink in Tavern Talk.
An elf and a werewolf talk about their drinks orders in Tavern Talk.
The recipe book page detailing six different drinks in Tavern Talk.
Patrons will ask you to make drinks that match specific stats they want to buff. | Image credit: Eurogamer/Gentle Troll Entertainment

There are lots of brilliant little details like this to enjoy in Tavern Talk, but my favourite thing is its ingredients. This being a high fantasy tavern establishment, you're not dealing in milk, beans and cinnamon sticks here. Oh no. Your five mainstays are classic RPG stats: Dexterity, Intelligence, Defence, Strength and Charisma - with other infusion ingredients becoming available later on to give drinks extra buffs such as Haste and Inspiration. As you much expect from that description, the drinks you make have correlating effects on the characters you serve them to, and we get to see this play out in increasingly complex ways as the Next Fest demo goes on.

Initial orders are reasonably straightforward, with Fable (a nervous elf) and Caerlin (a fearsome werewolf) asking for set drinks from your recipe book. Each recipe is a five-part concoction that you blend together on your mixing table. A Peak's Sunrise, for example, is three-parts Dexterity, one part Strength and one-part Defence, and you simply drag the corresponding vials over to your mixture jug and pour them in. It's precise yet tactile, letting you pour in exact measurements (and dispose of them in your dragon Andu's gob with similar neatness) while still leaning into the fantasy of being a tavern barista.

A drink is being mixed in Tavern Talk, with a purple dragon sitting close by to the mixing table.
You can draw the recipe you want to make on your chalkboard, then pour in the ingredients to try and match it on the spider chart on the left. | Image credit: Eurogamer/Gentle Troll Entertainment

For later orders, however, you have to interpret what your customer wants to get out of the drink in question - and it's here where you can directly influence the outcome of its various quests. As a barkeep, your little tavern becomes a nexus of local gossip as you chat more and more to your regulars (much like they do in traditional RPGs, in fact!), and once you've got enough information that sounds loosely related - three accounts of a troublesome werewolf sighting, for example - you can piece them together and post it as a quest for your regulars to come in and take.

Fable, our anxious elf bard who's desperate for a taste of adventure, takes you up on one of these during the latter stages of the demo, and you'll need to fix them a drink that successfully helps them complete it. Fable doesn't make it easy for you, either, as they propose two possible routes for you to experiment with (a stealth-based drink that will help them get the jump on their quarry, or a Charisma-heavy one that's high on diplomacy), and they specify that it can't just be a random mix of ingredients slapped together, leaving it up to you to work out what's best. It all comes down to careful reading of the drinks descriptions, and paying close attention to the important parts of their order.

I'll admit, I was a little hesitant when I handed over my resulting drink to them, and I was anxious to see how events would unfold. Luckily, Tavern Talk delivered, one-upping Coffee Talk in this respect by making it really quite clear in the next scene how my decisions had impacted Fable's story. It was a very satisfying outcome all round, like a strong cup of tea I'd brewed at home just the way I like it. It made me keen to see more of what Tavern Talk has to offer with its quests, as well as what fates might befall its intriguing cast of characters - which tantalisingly expands to include an exasperated dwarf and invisible cape-seeking vampire called 'Kyle' just before the demo comes to a close. Its Next Fest demo is a great first taste in that sense, and I'll be keeping a watchful eye on how its curious mix of RPG tropes and fantasy drinks-making plays out once it releases in full in a couple of weeks' time.

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