Digital Extremes and Airship Syndicate have partnered up to deliver the hack-and-slash MMORPG Wayfinder, and I got the chance to review it.
Wayfinder describes itself as a customizable, endless adventure where you will band together with other players to take on the gloom, an evil force that has invaded the world.
The game is currently in Early Access, and I was really curious to know more, as I have really enjoyed the works that Digital Extremes and Airship Syndicate put out over the years.
Performance-wise, Wayfinder is really bad, and the game is plagued by this lag that never goes away. Enemies take a good second to register the fact that you hit them, and the frame rate is far from stable.
Softlocks during loading screens are a very common thing, and the game randomly boots you off because it just can’t handle the fact that someone is trying to play it.
Wayfinder is divided between instanced dungeons and a big overworld. The overworld part borders on unplayable due to how laggy and unpredictable it is, and the game’s combat feels like your character is in the middle of a dissociative episode.
The instanced dungeons are slightly better, but only when you are doing them alone. As soon as people show up, you can expect the game to hit you with a lag spike and for your frame rate to start chugging.
This would be acceptable if Wayfinder was a looker of a game, but it really isn’t. I did enjoy the art direction for the playable characters, with Kyros and Niss being some of the best designs, but Wayfinder is not that graphically impressive, and my praises for the art direction really stop at the characters since the enemies and environments are somewhat generic.
Every time that I logged into Wayfinder, I would have to go through a 15-20 minute queue, which is weird because the game is relatively empty as soon as you leave the main hub. Bumping into players is a pretty rare occurrence, which makes me wonder if the servers just have a really low capacity.
When it comes to gameplay, Wayfinder is a simple hack-and-slash without any sort of combos or deep mechanics, instead opting for the mobile game tactic of giving you a bunch of skills you can press every few seconds. The skills range from bland to alright, and I can’t say I looked forward to unlocking them.
You will always be juggling five skills: one that is shared among weapon types, which will be your main gimmick; three regular skills; and an ultimate. Most of the skills are unruly, especially the ones that displace you, and a lot of them have very long animation locks that make the combat feel clunky.
Not a lot of thought was given to the game’s combat; it’s a shallow experience that feels really afraid of adding any sort of depth. Even someone who doesn’t enjoy games with heavy mechanical execution would feel insulted by how lacking everything is.
The game’s characters, the wayfinders, all have their own unique sets of skills and playstyles based around certain weapons. The melee-focused characters feel really similar to each other, and the ranged characters feel clunky because of how stiff the aiming is.
The game does try to incorporate some mechanics into the weapons, but I don’t think adding three mechanics and calling it a day is the best idea, especially when you are working with one of the most complex genres in existence.
In a way, Wayfinder is really unique because it doesn’t really seem inspired by any other hack-and-slash titles, unless the developers played a more simplistic game, like Darksiders 1, and gravely misunderstood what made it fun.
Unlocking new characters is a chore, as you have to grind for a massive amount of resources to build the parts of your wayfinder. As far as I know, you can’t try them out before building them, aside from your first selection, so it’s a shot in the dark whether you’ll like your character or not.
Melee characters feel really bad to play with mouse and keyboard controls, while ranged characters feel terrible to play on a controller, so at least it’s good that I can switch whenever I want while playing on PC, although I don’t know if console players have the same luxury.
I understand that the game needs to gate these characters behind grinding so players will get frustrated and buy them instead; it’s a common monetization technique, but it would be less salt in the wound if they all actually played well. The characters in Wayfinder are the game’s biggest unlocks, but they haven’t been given the care and thought they deserve.
Despite being a party-based RPG, there is barely any synergy between the characters, especially because of how disconnected everything is. Even if players could have cool interactions with each other, the game’s performance issues stop you from being able to.
Wayfinder is not really difficult, and most of the time you’ll get hit it will be because everyone froze in place and you suddenly took a huge amount of damage as the server lagged out. Enemies barely function most of the time, and are known to just stand still and die.
Wayfinder is an open-world hack-and-slash RPG, and it somehow fails at all of its genres. The world doesn’t feel open or worthy of exploration, the RPG mechanics are shallow, and the combat is lacking basic functions, like combos, let alone depth.
I’m a big fan of MMORPGs, and I can totally understand how a bit of monotony is part of the genre. The monotony is what pays off when the epic moments happen; the fact that you had to kill bears for 36 hours makes entering a raid and killing the big bad of the expansion that much more interesting.
In Wayfinder, the monotony never pays off; instead, it just feeds into more of the same, as the gameplay loop simply consists of exploring the open world and going through dungeons, while the game feeds you bits of a generic story.
Is this what video games are now? busywork? There’s no sort of goal or interesting milestone to Wayfinder, and I can’t help but feel like I’m wasting my time whenever I’m playing it. Going through it feels like the adult version of playing with a Fischer Price toy that makes animal sounds whenever I press a button.
Wayfinder is also lacking a lot in quality-of-life features; I can’t even use the map while playing with a controller because the reticle keeps moving by itself, stopping me from being able to fast travel.
The game is full of these small UI annoyances, which just further shows how little effort was put into everything. Early Access players have somehow been tricked into becoming beta testers who pay to work.
Wayfinder is currently in a paid Early Access state and will release as a free-to-play title later on. The main way to gain access to the game is through founder packs, which range from giving you access to the game to giving you minor cosmetics and access to the battle pass. The most expensive tier is the Exalted Founder’s Bundle, which gives you access to a unique version of a character.
The character in question is Kyros, and players who purchase the Exalted Founder’s bundle will receive Heroic Kyros. If you played Warframe, then this is probably going to ring some bells for you, as Heroic Kyros is essentially Excalibur Prime.
For those who haven’t played Warframe, the game that Wayfinder‘s publisher Digital Extremes is known for, Excalibur Prime is a character that was only available for founders who spent from $50 to $250 on a bundle. This means that anyone who wasn’t present in Warframe‘s first year missed out on this character.
This put DE in an awkward position because Excalibur Prime can’t be given to newer players without the company potentially being sued, but at the same time, it blocks anyone who wasn’t present on the first year from using a better version of what is arguably the game’s main character, keeping in mind that Warframe is nearing 10 years of age.
It’s absolutely baffling that Digital Extremes would go on and do this again, as their first foot through the door is trying to guilt players with FOMO, especially players that are familiar with Warframe and know exactly what this is. Using such tactics to get players to spend $149.99 on this unfinished game that barely has a future is disgusting.
Honestly, Wayfinder is terrible; it’s possibly the most mediocre thing I have played for Niche Gamer, and while it does leave a bad taste in my mouth to be this harsh to something, I can’t even begin to entertain the thought of recommending this to anyone else.
The only saving grace is that Wayfinder is going to go free-to-play eventually, but even free is too expensive when it comes to such a boring and monotonous game. You need some hardcore Stockholm syndrome to convince yourself that your time can’t be spent in better ways.
Wayfinder is available on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and Microsoft Windows (through Steam’s Early Access).