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The Waylanders Review

The Waylanders Review

I’ve been playing Gato Studio’s The Waylanders for a rather long time and, if I’m being honest, I still don’t entirely know where I fall on the game. On the one hand, the environments are beautifully lush and I feel a sweeping sense of wonder just walking around. On the other hand, it’s a slog to play. I could praise the score and vocal performances, but I can only condemn the way it implements the player’s decisions and input. There are bugs aplenty, but when The Waylanders has a chance to truly shine, it succeeds with flying colours. Yet, when my time with the game finally ended, it wasn’t with a resounding resolution, but with me bashing my head into a wall again and again until I couldn’t progress without triggering a fatal error and causing the game itself to crash. I desperately wanted to give the title a chance to redeem itself and allow me to pass through once more, but I can’t justify waiting any longer. In truth, The Waylanders is an amazing experience that I’m grateful to have enjoyed. However, it is also a truly awful game that I regret playing.

Many of The Waylanders’ positive and negative qualities are intermingled, such as how, despite the fact that the in-game areas themselves look almost out of a genius artist’s gallery, there are still many obvious visual flaws — one of the most hilarious being the presence of a dog model off the side of the road that doesn’t move whatsoever, despite just looking like a totally normal dog. Another fine example is in the voice acting. The majority of the cast deliver their lines with clarity and strong emotion, with the more humorous characters even having some truly great comedic timing and the more dramatic characters actually touching my heart. Yet the actual audio quality of the dialogue was beyond hit-or-miss! A quarter of the cast sounded like they were recording in an open field, for heck’s sake.

Even then, however, there is still a rather obvious split in terms of what is good about this title and what is bad. Most of the more presentation-heavy details — the visuals, the characters, the audio, and the storyline — are really quite good, even though they still have a variety of flaws. The gameplay side of the equation — coming through in the battle mechanics, controller support, and amount of bugs — is where the majority of the problems lie. Truthfully, I remarked to myself at multiple points that my opinion on The Waylanders would be a lot simpler (and much higher) if it were a film rather than a videogame.

I’ve already described some of the more jarring elements on that presentation side of things, but I do want to stress that many of these details were indeed fantastic. The Waylanders offers a plotline full of intricate twists and turns, characters from multiple interesting backgrounds that come together believably, and many opportunities to fall in love with its Celtic legend-inspired world. I don’t want to get too far into the plot here, but as a fan of time travel stories, I was really excited by both how the main character gets separated from time and with certain developments later on. Another fun detail is how, in a move that seems inspired by the likes of Mass Effect, each of the many characters that join the player’s party gets their own set of personal side quests (that can eventually lead to romances in many cases). Most of these are quite fun, though a few seem to end abruptly.

The whole game can look a tad on the cartoonish side, but that actually works well to help the setting stand out and allow the more human characters to exist believably alongside a variety of other beings. When the score is actually memorable, it is sweeping and feels as though it will fill its listener with bravery and legends aplenty. Aside from some sloppiness here and what feels like a lack of budget there, I genuinely have no major complaints about this side of the game.

However, it feels as though I have nothing but complaints for the actual gameplay in this videogame! Putting aside everything that either is a bug or at least feels like one, what’s left still isn’t very fun. The Waylanders feels like a standard third-person party-based RPG, where you walk around with your party, talking to people, buying supplies in shops, managing your inventory, accepting quests, and fighting monsters and villains using skills and tactics.

A lot of that works decently well — if you put aside the bugs — but combat is a real slog. Against normal enemies, I found myself constantly overwhelmed by superior numbers as my health bar and those of my allies quickly depleted. The crowd control options in combat are few and the ones that exist aren’t usually wide enough to capture enough people to be worth it. There’s an interesting option to form up with two other allies for added opportunities, but most battles were quick enough that I had usually already won or lost by the time I managed to set up a formation and actually get a handle on it. That’s not even mentioning how boring these normal encounters are. The enemies mostly just attack in the same way, either shooting the characters from afar with pinpoint accuracy or chasing everyone down with attacks that hit no matter where the character is standing.

However, all that changes in the many boss fights. In each boss fight, the lead enemy has some sort of gimmick that makes them special — usually a type of attack or set of attacks that requires the player to do something to dodge out of the way. Each fight is dynamic and unique, offering a new spin on the combat system and all but requiring the use of multiple different abilities to win. And yet, the fights aren’t even that difficult! They’re more like fun puzzles and feature some truly fantastic gameplay that can be enjoyed even if the player hasn’t mastered the combat system. When The Waylanders wants to show off with a particularly fun battle, it’s absolutely clear that the game can deliver a stunning experience. However, that also makes the more common (and more boring) battles all the more frustrating by comparison.

There are also the bugs. I’ve, let’s face it, more than alluded to them thus far, but they are a serious problem, even after multiple post-release patches. For the sake of forgoing a headload of waffling over where to begin, I’ll start with the controller usage. Steam lists The Waylanders as having full controller support and, since I tend to prefer using my personal Xbox One controller when playing games, I was excited to be able to use that — particularly since I found the keyboard controls to be a tad clunky. Ignoring the bugs for a moment again, playing with a controller is genuinely decent. The game handles well, aside from the fact that one of the face buttons is used both for a hotlinked action and for entering and exiting the tactical mode.

But using a controller also comes with a particularly egregious bug. You see, a large part of the game is going through menus, like when the player needs to buy something from a store, a shopkeeping window opens up and the player is able to select different items to buy. On controllers, the very first time one of these windows opens up, everything works perfectly. The player can buy and sell to their heart’s content. However, since The Waylanders features multiple different kinds of shops, a given player will probably want to buy from more than one store in a given trip, so they will likely visit a different store to grab other needed things. But then, when they open this new window, everything breaks. It becomes impossible to select any item that isn’t already in the top-left position of the window. I wound up accidentally buying so many things that I didn’t want because I hadn’t realised this! To actually get any real shopping done, I had to load in a whole new area and then travel back to the shopping plazas to reset this odd bug. That bug even seems to affect the combat as well. Some actions (mostly the ones that can affect an area as opposed to a given target) become impossible to use because the controller won’t accept any further input once you’ve selected the given attack, forcing the player to cancel them and try something else.

There are other bugs that are even worse than just being a huge annoyance. On two separate occasions, I found myself caught in a game-breaking bug. The first time, I had accidentally soft-locked myself because a boss’s defeat cutscene never actually played. That left me without any way to warp out of the area a d thereby unable to progress the game, which forced me to load my last free save from an hour and a half prior. This was frustrating, to put it mildly, but I made sure I was careful on my next attempt to be as straightforward as possible in that boss fight. The cause behind the second of these bugs, however, was indecipherable to the point that I can't even leave it at "frustrating" for politeness's sake. Roughly halfway through the game, I was moving through a dungeon when I got hit with a pop-up telling me there was a “fatal game error” before the game closed itself on me. I tried to get through multiple times, but no matter what, I couldn’t pass through the area without that message coming up. Eventually, that was where I gave up on the game.

In fact, there are so many things wrong with The Waylanders that I’m not even sure if this next thing is actually a bug or if the developer just forgot to add content. At the start of the game, the player is given multiple different character-building choices, including body type, pronouns, and class. I went with a feminine body type, she/her pronouns, and one of the Druid classes, since using magic seemed interesting. As a nice little added treat, the game opened then with a brief little prologue explaining my character’s background, including a mention that I had been working with a major character, Amergin, a fellow Druid and essentially my superior. However, once the game properly started, Amergin seemed to be treating me as though he were meeting me for the first time. In fact, not a single person ever reacted to the fact that I was a Druid! There’s an important moment partway into The Waylanders where one of one character’s initial important traits is his hatred of Druids. And yet the man healed me with no complaints, not even offering any sort of platitudes about how, even though he hates Druids, he can’t leave someone without help.

Even more frustrating than that was the fact that no one ever actually used my pronouns either! Whenever my character was being referred to, it was always “they this” and “them that”. I mean, hey, they/them is the traditional gender-neutral pronoun, so it’s good that the characters defaulted to that instead of something else, but why even allow me to pick my pronouns if the game itself wasn’t going to respect that choice?

I could keep talking about the problems that The Waylanders has — like how a good chunk of the quests don’t actually tell you where to find what you’re supposed to be looking for or how the minimap just seems to lie to the player half the time — but at this point, I think you, dear reader, get the picture. The Waylanders is a flawed mess of a game; its great potential and fantastic elements let down by a cacophony of failures. Truthfully, the best way to experience this disappointment is by watching someone else suffer through it.

3.00/10 3

The Waylanders (Reviewed on Windows)

The game is unenjoyable, but it works.

When The Waylanders succeeds, the game is one of the most solid experiences I’ve had all year. But those successes are few and far between, while the rest of the title fails to keep itself afloat among a sea of bugs and poorly thought out gameplay decisions.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Erin McAllister

Erin McAllister

Staff Writer

Erin is a massive fan of mustard, writes articles that are too long, and is a little bit sorry about the second thing.

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