Wayfinder Early Access Preview – Massive promise, minimal multiplayer, sometimes online.
Wayfinder, from developer Airship Syndicate, was launched into early access on August 17th, 2023 on PS5 and Steam. However, the “access” part of the game didn’t arrive until a day later when a queue was introduced to help alleviate stress on the servers, as of the time of writing (24/08/2023) you are still required to queue for hours to get access to the game.
Despite the developers framing the game as an MMO, you will be disappointed if you come into the game expecting a rival to Final Fantasy XIV or World Of Warcraft. Wayfinder is as much MMO as Destiny or Warframe, which makes sense considering the latter comes from the same publisher. Sure you may have your hub world where you can see other players, but that’s about where the traditional MMO comparisons end.
When you boot up Wayfinder you are greeted by a cutscene that leads to an option of which Wayfinder you are going to pick. You are prompted to choose from 3 of the 7 unique wayfinders each with different starting weapons, abilities, and roles. Everyone is a damage dealer, but there are different abilities that fit into the usual MMO subclasses, like Wingrave, who has abilities that are more in line with support characters, or Niss, whose abilities are comparable to that of a rogue in similar games.
Once you’re in the hub world, the grind begins. Your main goal in Wayfinder outside of the quests is to collect and upgrade every weapon and Wayfinder. Wayfinder is a game for people who enjoy the satisfaction of grinding a dungeon for hours upon hours with end the goal of crafting that weapon or character they have been itching to use. There is another progression system for individual character buildcraft tied to the “echo” system.
Echo’s are small upgrades that you apply to your character and gear after earning them from defeating enemies and bosses, these are typically small upgrades that don’t change the way you play too heavily. However, boss echos provide slight gameplay change. You can trigger some boss echo abilities by doing certain in-game actions like landing a certain attack or dropping to a certain amount of health. This system falls flat in early access though, with echoes not really changing your playstyle due to mostly only being standard stat increases.
The combat ranges from fine to good, with some weapons making the combat feel weightless and boring, while others make you think on your feet with ability usage and feel great to handle. You can choose between a melee and a ranged weapon, I opted for melee for the majority of my time with the game, but using the firearms in the game felt solid, with a reload mechanic similar to that of Gears of War which rewards you for perfect reload timing.
The dungeons are impressively designed, with events inside them that change and randomize every time you play and modifiers you can add that earn you extra and specific rewards, but also come with a negative counterpart. Some modifiers add bombs that will surprise and damage you, or poisonous plants scattered around the area, each modifier changes the way you will approach and play a dungeon. They can be played alone or with up to 2 other friends or strangers.
The game’s difficulty is at a solid place, with some dungeons and bosses giving me trouble while others can be a cakewalk. You can absolutely finish a dungeon if you are below the required power level, but it will likely be a challenge. It isn’t overly difficult, but you can’t really switch your brain off completely unless you’re over-leveled and playing on a lower-difficulty mission.
Being early access, bugs, and issues are expected and they are here aplenty, I had several crashes, quests that wouldn’t track, unresponsive enemies, and many server connection issues that would send me back to the menu. As for the game’s performance, running on a PS5 the game ran at a semi-consistent 60 frames per second, In some dungeons and areas I could feel the frames dipping to the low 40s, but nothing that didn’t go away shortly after.
Overall, I recommend playing through the main story with the Wayfinder you chose from the start, as most components to craft Wayfinders are earned from later bosses and dungeons.
Admittedly Wayfinder’s story did not keep me gripped, I found myself quickly reading past dialogue instead of processing what was being said to the fullest. The introduction to the gamepads itself with the usage of proper nouns, most of which you haven’t learned the meaning of yet, and the word “gloom” is in almost every sentence so much so that I began to laugh every time the word was said. In one sentence, the word “gloom” was said around 6 times, with everything in the game having to be called a gloom-something, gloom trace, gloom dagger, gloom tear…even Batman would be impressed. Currently, in early access the story abruptly ends after a boss quest with the rest of it coming later down the line.
Conclusively, the story is a serviceable, generic story you’d most likely expect from this style of game, with most quests serving as a way to introduce you to a new dungeon or gameplay mechanic- the side quests aren’t much different either, being your standard, go here, kill x amount or speak to this person type of quests we have seen for years now. Unfortunately, I do not see people playing Wayfinder for the story.
I wanted to touch on the game’s Monetization system, which may be a turn-off for a significant amount of players.
Right now, some cosmetics will cost 1150 runesilver (the in-game premium currency) while the second tier of coins that is closest to that amount will only give the player 1100, essentially forcing the player to buy another pack if they wanted that skin. Thankfully this decision has been acknowledged and is in the process of a rework according to the developer.
During the early access period, there are multiple packs on offer, each costing a different amount and including more and more things, there is an upgrade system in place for the packs, which includes things like premium currency, Wayfinder tokens that allow you to unlock characters instantly, the premium season pass and most controversially, a heroic version of the hero “Kyros” which is more powerful than the base version, which comes in at a whopping £123.99 on PlayStation.
Graphics & Audio
At first, Wayfinder is nothing special visually, you have seen this style done countless times in games like Dauntless, Knockout City, Fortnite, and most free-to-play games in the past few years. However, what sets Wayfinder and the aforementioned games apart is its use of lighting and colors, particularly in the hub world “skylight.” I could walk into a purple neon-lit market one minute and feel a totally different feeling than when I walked into a warm, golden-lit tavern.
What breaks the illusion though is how static everything is, NPCs will stand around doing nothing, and I mean nothing, no passing conversation, no moving around, they’re just standing there with a little arm bobbing up and down, It absolutely dampens the illusion of a living, breathing world and instead makes it feel lifeless and lacking reason to exist.
Audio is a point I didn’t expect to be giving much praise to when I first saw the game, but so far it has been stellar, with talented voice actors putting in a great and believable performance, music that fits every area you’re in like the soft, somber skylight track that plays in the area, to even the menu theme (which I was stuck listening to for quite a while) that had me searching for the game’s soundtrack online, and the weapon sounds providing a satisfying noise that makes them feel even better to use.
Wayfinder is a game that is designed to keep the player hooked, with smartly designed systems that make the player craft weapons or wayfinders in “pieces” giving you that feeling of building up to a reward in chunks, which all comes together for that reward in the end.
There is a battle pass and seasons in the game to extend its longevity, with an admirable system that allows you to keep the battle pass upon purchase, so it won’t expire. This includes specific Wayfinder parts for that season, materials, and cosmetics for both you and your in-game customizable house.
Right now if you really care about leveling and earning everything to the fullest, Wayfinder will keep you busy for hundreds of hours. But for most people, the under-baked echo system and the limited amount of dungeons and areas on display won’t be enough for now during early access. Thankfully, developer Airship Syndicate has released an extensive roadmap detailing all the upcoming additions, if they stick to the roadmap, I can see myself and many others playing for years to come.
Wayfinder is a game you can tell is early access, the developers haven’t just slapped the title on the game as an excuse for bugs or a way to get people to pay more money. The game lacks content and that is apparent. But what is offered is a solid and promising foundation for a game I can see topping charts once it launches in a more complete, feature-rich state. The Monetization system and server issues may be a turn-off for a lot of people, but with fun combat and well-put-together dungeons, Wayfinder is a game I can recommend for fans of grinding and the genre, though you will undoubtedly have a better time by waiting for the full launch.