Review: The Waylanders
While I’ve played many RPGs, I can’t say I’ve played many based specifically Celtic mythology. So I was rather intrigued to explore this mythological realm in The Waylanders (released out of Early Access for Steam on February 2, 2022), one that I have not had nearly as much experience with as most other RPGs I’ve played. Oddly, it’s been in Early Access for quite some time and I’d not heard of it before.
Since I’m taking a deep dive, come along and take this dive with me as we see what the story is with The Waylanders!
Finding the Way
The story here starts in the Celtic era in a region of Spain known as Galicia. While there is plenty of fantasy elements to the game with magic, unique races, and such, the setting is not entirely invented like most RPGs, and that’s one of the things I found so interesting about the game.
The story starts off with things turning sour very quickly. You are on a ship with the king of the Celts and various other characters of wildly different backgrounds as you sail to meet the Celtic peoples’ gods. This doesn’t go well, though, as you end up battling the Celtic god Lug. In the process of this, the player becomes torn from the fabric of time.
When you recover, you find that basically everything has been turned upside down. The king is dead and someone else rose to claim the throne, and things evolve into a pretty big mess that spans two eras of time. You and your companions are tasked with sorting this out.
Now, I don’t like to spoil too much of a story, and the above might sound pretty vague. But in this case, that’s honestly about as much as I can tell you. Unfortunately, there are a lot of holes in the plot, even in just the game’s introduction. Between this and all the seemingly unrelated side quests you can go on, the whole story seems to really lack focus. If you’re like me, you’ll likely be confused as to why things are happening the way they are, and this is the biggest problem with the story.
The game’s intro alone makes a lot of cuts to the point where you really don’t know what’s happening at all. You go from being aboard a ship meeting the other key people in the story, to being on the gods’ island, to everything going up in flames, to you being in the underworld, with very little explanation between any of this. Why exactly the cast went to a mysterious island to meet gods in the first place isn’t really clear either.
The Fighting Irish
Now for something a fair bit more positive. The developers state this game draws inspiration from games like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. I can definitely see that, as in fact both of those games came to mind as I engaged in the game’s combat. That said, The Waylanders definitely feels more action-oriented than those games, though it supports the same core concepts, featuring real-time combat with pausing.
If I had to describe it myself, the game’s structure of clearly defiined periods where combat will be happening and you choose a subset of your companions to begin a mission with makes me feel like I’m playing through a dungeon in Final Fantasy XIV, except I’m controlling all of the party members and have the ability to pause the game and select actions while paused. The pace of the combat is fairly quick and you have full control over each individual character, moving and attacking with a hotbar much like in an MMO.
Because of this, you’re going to need to use the pause functionality liberally. While the characters you’re not directly controlling will act on their own, if you don’t issue commands yourself, you’re really going to struggle. In other words, the pausing is central to combat, and that’s fine, but it is going to take a lot of input from you to win fights.
As you might glean from this, I found the game to be pretty difficult even on the “normal” setting. I found myself save-scumming significantly (that is, saving with every successful step forward so you don’t lose progress when you inevitably die). I really don’t like lowering the difficulty in games, but I fear that if I hadn’t I probably wouldn’t have gotten very far. Challenge should be given to the player in increments and the developers really dropped the ball here, I think. On top of this, there’s no health recovery outside of combat, which means you’re going to spend lengthy periods of time between battles healing up your characters with really weak healing effects, as your character’s resources do regenerate.
Challenge aside, the game offers a variety of classes for you and your party members, and although you deal with a set cast of potential party members, you also get to choose one of two classes for them when they join you. This is a thoughtful feature that means you can form a balanced party regardless of which class you choose for yourself.
Aside from this though, customization is fairly limited. you get stat and skill points to spend (which the game doesn’t do a great job explaining the effects of), and you can choose from various distinct races. Some are described as immortal and others are not, but regardless of your race, you most certainly can die and game over. Do I just not know what “immortal” means? Well, if you ask Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series, she straight up tells us, “It means you’ll never die.”
There were also numerous bugs. I recall one of the early side-missions I went on, where I’m helping one of the main characters with a trial of sorts that features some puzzles to solve and battles in order to gain access to different parts of the area. Every attempt I made, it seemed like something different was broken. Sometimes after re-loading a save after a wipe, walls or other scripted objects would be present when they shouldn’t be, or not present at all. This lead to things like being able to trigger events completely out of order, or even being able to walk through a wall and fight the area’s boss without going through most of the other parts of the mission.
Finding the Beauty
By far, the best part of the game is the audiovisual experience. I really enjoyed the art style present here. The game goes for a sculpted look, with strong colors. The whole world feels like it was crafted, not simply made. It perhaps doesn’t use all the most cutting-edge graphical features, but it looks darn good for what it is. The characters are equally as good looking. Perhaps the effects aren’t quite up to the same level as everything else. The UI is clean and fits the game’s theme, as well.
The music and sound is also a strong point. The music direction meshes solidly with environments and situations. It is very much background music most of the time and doesn’t get in the way or become overbearing; the intensity is always appropriate for the circumstances.
Additionally, character dialogue is all fully voiced, and for the most part the quality of the voice work is high, with one caveat. The characters in the game swear a LOT. Although the inflections and tone of the voiceovers is really good, you’re going to hear more than a few F-bombs and such. It isn’t bothersome so much as it is bizarre, as I find it difficult to believe that characters from the eras of this game would talk like that, even in really bad situations. The cursing makes the dialogue feels more modern than the setting. Also, there is a fair bit of variance between the on-screen text and the voiceovers, although nothing that gets in the way of the meaning.
There were, unfortunately, a lot of problems I had with The Waylanders. It pains me quite a bit to say this, as a lot of effort clearly went into this game. Some elements, like the graphics and sound, border on AA quality from an indie developer. Others, like the plot holes and the bugs, make me ask “How could they miss this?”
A good chunk of the issues seem to boil down to the game just not being ready yet. The problem is this game was in Steam Early Access for a year and a half. There’s no time limit on Early Access though, and this game was a self-published Kickstarter project. It was already funded, so there was no reason to hurry to declare the game to be fully released in the state it was in, as they weren’t beholden to a publisher’s demands.
The game is wonderful artistically, but it just has far too many problems right now to recommend. The developers, Gato Studio, seem to recognize this and are preparing updates, but once again I find myself reminding game studios how badly things can go if you release something before it is ready. It is really hard to gain back the trust of players after you lose it.
Review copy provided by GATO STUDIO for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image provided by GATO STUDIO.