There’s something warm and cozy about a nice, deep RPG. These are the kind of games you can really sink some time into, grabbing a blanket and a warm drink during those still-chilly early spring evenings and just exploring for hours. That’s not to say all RPGs are created equal, though. You’ve got these rock-solid examples of high quality game design, rich lore and writing and impressive, intellectual combat…and then, well, there’s The Waylanders. This one tries, but boy does it struggle.
The Waylanders is an RPG in the style of something like Dungeon Siege. You’ll create a character, choosing from one of four races and one of six classes. There’s a little bit of aesthetic customization involved but don’t expect anything too deep. Once you’re done, you’re off on a journey to Ireland, teaming up with fellow heroes to meet the Celtic gods, the Tuatha de Danaan, though after the meeting goes poorly you’ll end up on a romp through time and space.
If you’re going to be playing an RPG, you’d probably hope that the writing is top notch. That’s something of a stretch for The Waylanders. There’s typos everywhere. Celtic characters from centuries ago talk like modern teenagers and swear like sailors. Characters swerve from Firefly-style comedy to dead-on seriousness at the drop of a hat. This kind of questionable writing pops up throughout the experience and it does a great job of ruining any immersion. Two or three or five more passes from an editor might have helped.
Combat, as mentioned, has a lot in common with Dungeon Siege or Dragon Age. It’s a sort of real-time-with-pause affair where much of the action is automated, with you as the player providing input where necessary. You can organize party members into formations that can help deal with foes, as well as ordering the use of special abilities and the like. Formations are an interesting concept that might be new to this game; they’re a little bit like the combo abilities from Chrono Trigger, allowing you to merge characters’ abilities and gain access to unique combat techniques. It’s a great way to consolidate your combat power against tough foes.
Combat works pretty well, it’s definitely rough in parts. The default Waylander difficulty is mean as hell, for instance, and you’ll want to save often to stay alive and avoid using up too many resources. I wouldn’t call this a bad thing, necessarily, but the average player might be served well by sticking to one of the lower settings. You might want to see below, though, about one potential reason the combat feels a little tough.
The best part of The Waylanders might be its presentation. Fans of Disney’s Hercules (or, for a more recent example, Immortals: Fenyx Rising) will probably love the cartoon style it’s got going on. Characters are incredibly emotive, gesticulating wildly and bearing comedic facial expressions. On top of that, environments are beautiful, colorful and clearly had a lot of love put behind them. Combat animations, meanwhile…we should probably not talk about how my cestus-fielding fistfighter’s animations made him look like a wobbly mannequin.
There’s voice acting, by the way, and while the poor sods do the best with what they’re given, it really makes you wonder how some of these people managed to get a microphone to work underwater. That’s an impressive trick.
There’s also a fair number of technical issues that pop up. The camera is prone to freakouts, for one. Try and keep your lunch in as it flails wildly about at a whim. Likewise, combat animations are goofy enough that surely they have to be bugs. You can get stuck in walls, sometimes save files struggle to load…life is hard in The Waylanders. If you’ve spent a lot of time with PC games, you might also know that creeping sense of doubt that comes with a buggy game. Did that quest not work because of a bug or because you didn’t do it right? Is the combat difficult because it’s challenging or broken? Who knows? Will we ever know? You’ll lie awake at night and wonder.
It’s rough to be so critical with The Waylanders. This was clearly a game made by artists with an eye for aesthetics over more technical concerns like gameplay or writing. Sadly, it shows. The Waylanders is buggy, it’s probably too difficult, and the writing could have used a lot more TLC. In short, this is a gorgeous game that may have been better served as a movie; as it stands, it’s a hard one to recommend.