A JOURNEY TO THE PAST: THE WAYLANDERS FIRST LOOK


Releasing an unfinished game is always a risky proposition. Back in the days of yore, developers would put short samples of their upcoming releases on demo discs, which showcased elements of what to expect down the line. Some of these features would not even make it into the full game, but it didn’t matter – everyone knew that it was only a taster.

When Steam launched its Early Access model in 2013, the lines between demo and final product blurred irrevocably. Now customers would be able to “buy” the product way before it was ever close to being complete and play the game from Alpha builds until the potential final release. If such a release ever came – some products have stayed forever in beta, others became vaporware as their developers abandoned them entirely. 

On the other hand Early Access allowed for struggling indie developers to finance their unfinished projects at a time when nobody else would fund them, and the platform has seen remarkable success stories in the past. Games such as RISK OF RAIN have bounced from obscurity to worldwide recognition, even releasing a sequel the same way to critical acclaim. 

Joining the expanding list of hopefuls is THE WAYLANDERS, from Spanish developers Gato Studio. A spiritual successor to games like DRAGON AGE, NEVERWINTER NIGHTS, and clearly inspired by the likes of CHRONO TRIGGER, THE WAYLANDERS is a party-based RPG with an emphasis on group dynamics, storytelling, and choice.

I played the Early Access build for just under ten hours over the course of as many days. During that time the game received one major update which included new locations and fixes for a number of issues mentioned in this article. THE WAYLANDERS is very much unfinished at this point, but it contains so much potential and is moving so fast that it remains very much worth keeping an eye on. 

Let’s dive in.

THE STORY

Set in the world of Celtic mythology, THE WAYLANDERS begins as the Celts meet their gods, the Tuatha de Danann for the first time. During the meeting something goes terribly wrong, leading you to becoming untethered from time itself. Without a future dictating fate, you gain the ability to travel back and forth between two periods of time where decisions in one will affect the other. As the land of Galicia falls into petty squabbling, warring tribes, and conflicting religions, you set out on a quest to put the world back in order.

The first time period (and the one available in Early Access) is set in Celtic history, where legends blend with fact and magic everywhere. Your party is composed of a varied assortment of both mythological and historical characters, allowing you to explore predetermined locations with up to four others in your group. At the present state, most of the characters remain ciphers, as the story and dialog is more placeholder than anything else. Interestingly Gato Studio has eschewed the typical style of writing gamers are used to when dealing with historical fantasy, choosing instead to have their characters speak with modern day colloquialisms and insults. It’s an odd mix, one that doesn’t always work. Some dialog, like that of King Ith played by the great Ralph Ineson, comes with the expected grandiosity necessary for a game like this, other samples sound more like Joss Whedon fan-fiction. While it’s still unclear just how much of this is placeholder dialog, it would be hugely unfair to judge it right now. Suffice to say that the vast majority of both dialog and story swept me away regardless of the rough edges. 

The story itself, penned by industry veterans Emily Grace Buck, Mike Laidlaw, and Josué Monchan has tons of potential, even though in its current form it’s nearly indecipherable. Melding together historic lore, religion, political strife, and socioeconomic commentary, it cannot be faulted for ambition. The time travel aspect has me excited for what it can bring to table in both hilarity and melancholy as you have to search for the reincarnations of your past friends and foes. 

GAMEPLAY

In its current state, THE WAYLANDERS gameplay is filled with glitches and bugs of all sizes. One time, my party just refused to move. At another only one person in the group would take orders. In one battle enemies stopped appearing as clickable entities, meaning nobody could attack them. Sometimes loot would cause the game to freeze. An attempt to activate the much hyped group tactics mode has the chance to send the game crashing to desktop. 

When these things work (and they do more often than not), the results are admittedly fun and exciting, even as the combat lacks the grace and feedback of its inspirations. But that’s to be expected at this point. Despite these quibbles, the party tactics features are hugely promising. Fans of tactical RPGs will surely enjoy the management of multiple party members, combining some 800 skills in total. At the present though the combat will require constant babysitting, as your compatriot will just stop what they’re doing the moment you’re not giving them orders. Like most things, this will certainly change down the line. 

The formation tactics, allowing for your party to utilize phalanx formations, shield walls, and others yet unrevealed. This makes the group actually feel much more unified when playing and does much to amplify the sense of a party based adventure.

Character creation likewise is very limited, though the classes themselves show range. There are the normal archetypes, like humans and fighters and rogues, but the game also introduces werewolves, mourians, and semi-fomorians. They range from descendants of ancient gods, monstrous giants, or are immortals themselves. Each class has their own unique skills, looks and personalities.

One of the more unique and positive surprises is that players can now choose their pronouns, and the recorded dialog reflects this choice.

In the beginning each character origin has a clear effect on the game, even if these are minor discussions. These interactions remain quite limited (due to lack of dialog and character interaction) and just how expansive the dialog opens up to become remains to be seen. Like most things with THE WAYLANDERS, even if the current state is a work in progress, the foundation is nothing but solid.

The game can be played in DRAGON AGE style as either in third person or an omniscient isometric view at the push of a button. This toggle is a fantastic quality of life adjustment addition, something that should become standard everywhere. Playing in third person doesn’t offer much at the moment, since most of the environments are still a work in progress. Those that have progressed furthest are hugely impressive and the beautiful score by Inon Zur is evocative and a pleasure to listen.

THE FUTURE

According to the developers THE WAYLANDERS is currently in Alpha. This is evident in how little there is to play at the moment (around 25% of the finished product). Portions of the game do feel very polished, especially when it comes to some locations. Others still feel more like proof of concept content for now. Entire cut scenes are missing, audio cues are unrecorded, animations break constantly (some don’t even exist), fights are unbalanced, menus unfinished, and the UI feels like a placeholder. 

While THE WAYLANDERS is hard to recommend just now (unless you’re really into seeing how games take shape behind the scenes), there’s no question it’s an ambitious title with immense potential.

All of that is natural for the development process. Making a game takes a long time and is a work of constant revision and improvement. If the first look feels negative in tone, it’s not intentional.

Instead, it’s important to acknowledge how far the game still has to go – and rejoice in just how enormously filled with potential it is even at this early stage. It’s problems are mechanical, not structural. The foundation from the story and characters to the lore and world building is nothing short exquisite. With time and polishing it has every chance to be as big and influential as DRAGON AGE.

While THE WAYLANDERS is hard to recommend just now (unless you’re really into seeing how games take shape behind the scenes), there’s no question it’s an ambitious title with immense potential. 

Stay tuned for our further coverage as the game progresses, including a full review before release. I have a feeling that the adventure has only just begun. 

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