The Waylanders – Honey, I broke the game – Early Access Impressions

Gare – Wednesday, June 17, 2020 4:35 PM
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The Waylanders, developed by Gato Studio, is a party-based RPG with an ambitious mission, to say the least. According to its Steam store page, it’s a project that the supposed veterans of the Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises have worked on, and a game that very much tries to live up to that illustrious legacy. Needless to say, this carries with itself a certain set of expectations, but considering the project’s status as an Early Access title, I was more than willing to be lenient – in hindsight, not expecting much was a wise decision indeed. The Waylanders – and there’s no other way to put this – feels so incomplete and riddled with technological issues that I’m starting to wonder if even putting it on Early Access might not have been a tad too hasty of a decision.

Look, a happy little tree.
The first scene opens with a premise all too familiar to the fantasy genre: the king sails out to meet the gods and do all sorts of grandiose things. A bit clichéd to be sure, but nothing too bad. The next scene then goes on to introduce some of your traveling companions, and this is where things begin to seriously take a turn for the worse. The characters – sorcerers, druids, and fierce warriors – proceed to have a conversation, but do so with the general tone of cocky teenagers: frequent curse words and highly anachronistic slang expressions pepper their dialogue, which clashes heavily with the high fantasy atmosphere the game appeared to be cultivating just moments earlier, and what I myself – perhaps naively – was hoping for. It felt like being dropped onto the set of a cheap Marvel movie imitation or a high school-themed soap opera. At first, I genuinely thought the scene itself was a practical joke of sorts, because I simply couldn’t believe the game would willingly make its characters spout such nonsense in the opening act. Perhaps there’s an audience for this (it does feel an awful lot like a poorly executed imitation of BioWare’s style), but I honestly couldn’t take the characters seriously, and their forced attempts at comedy fell flat more often than not. I feel like the writers went a bit too far when trying to write comedic, whimsical scenes – as a result, neither the main heroes, nor any of the prominent story beats managed to engage me, and I found myself not really caring about what would happen next in the narrative.

And you should stop flaunting your wierdly anacronistic dialogue!
The storyline’s presentation occasionally hits the necessary notes, but is also often marred by bugs: characters will either disappear (or rather, the camera will focus on empty space instead of them), start comically T-posing in the middle of a cutscene, or produce buggy, jittery animations that completely decimate whatever emotion the scene might’ve tried to convey. One particularly climactic moment was also completely ruined by out-of-synch audio. Additionally, the dialogue scenes you’ll encounter are only occasionally voiced – in fact, the voice acting will often just come and go in the middle of a scene, forcing your gaze away from the action and toward the bottom of the screen, where you may or may not be able to read the microscopic subtitles in time before they vanish. The quality of the writing is generally fine (aside from the fact that the script’s attempts at comedy did not gel with me at all), although what I can only describe as placeholder text still lingers here and there: I recall encountering one or two sentences that were so replete with typos and errors that I had to do a double-take to understand what they were even trying to say. I can only hope this was merely an isolated incident, though, and will not be representative of the final game.

A Ranger to the rescue!
The combat system, which purports itself to be deep and tactical, is functional enough and holds promise, but right now, it’s about as woefully undercooked as the rest of the experience. It’s essentially a “real time with pause” type of system popularized by classics like Baldur’s Gate: you control a party of adventurers and can command each of them individually while the action plays out in real time; the whole strategic element comes into play with the pause button, which lets you freeze the game and dole out commands in advance, then sit back and watch as your characters perform their duties. The Waylanders’ addition to the formula is the so-called formation system, which allows multiple characters to group up and create battle formations reminiscent of ancient Sparta’s phalanxes. It’s a cool idea in theory, and even the accompanying tutorial shows off how easily you can knock down entire groups of enemies with it, but I rarely ever had any practical use for the function – keeping my teammates separate while issuing commands to them one by one felt far more effective than trying to mess around with the rather wonky and unreliable formation system. Besides, it’s not like battles require much strategy, anyway – my Ranger alone effortlessly picked off groups of enemies with nothing but her very first bow skill, and most combat encounters could very easily be solved without the need for any deep tactical thinking.

Nothing builds camaraderie like showing off your best T-pose.
I’m not trying to be overly dramatic here, but I cannot in good conscience recommend the current version of The Waylanders to anyone, not even to the hardcorest of hardcore Dragon Age enthusiast. There isn’t a single aspect of it that’s not messy in some way or another, and it still has too many bugs and incomplete elements to be legitimately enjoyable. There’s a chance that one day – after enough updates – The Waylanders could potentially become a worthwhile game, but unfortunately, it still needs a lot more additional work for that to happen.

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