Wayfinder Review: Fighting the Gloom

Digital Extremes, a well-known studio behind Warframe and Airship Syndicate, one behind Darksider Genesis, have partnered together to launch Wayfinder. It’s available in early access today on PC, Xbox and PlayStation with a full release coming down the road in 2024.

I have played for over 30 hours after the servers got stabilized and would like to share my first impressions.

Game introduction

Wayfinder is a fast-paced, action-driven MMO RPG with procedural-generated dungeons at the heart of its core gameplay. Players can choose between six different characters: three available from the get-go and three more – obtainable for free or purchased through the cash shop. There are several weapons to choose from in the starting arsenal. There’s no weapon lock per character type. If you feel like your arcanist could supplement their magic skills with a nice shotgun burst – go for it!

The launch trailer will provide a quick insight into the game’s core elements.

It doesn’t take much time to get into action. A brief tutorial has got the selected character fully unlocked and you could change your mind at the end, allowing you to try all three and see what fits best for your taste.

Wayfinder has two core gameplay elements as of Early Access:

  • The Lost Zones: procedurally-generated dungeons, where you kill monsters and bosses.
  • The Highlands: huge, open-world location with world bosses, materials to collect and treasures to find.

You progress through the main storyline by visiting each of those and there are some side-quests too. The rest of the time, Wayfinders are spending in the main hub, a city called Skylight. You can craft, buy weapons, elixirs and other gear, visit your own apartment and stumble into other players here.

The launch day “Queue” boss fight

Wayfinder’s launch happened on Aug 17, 2023 and went without any major surprises. The number of players willing to try the new title greatly exceeded the server’s capacity. Developers spent the rest of the week applying hotfixes until they finally “killed the queue boss”:

The QQRaidBoss is now DEAD!

We have removed all known bottlenecks of the server infrastructure and need your help to push them to their limits before we move into the weekend. If you aren’t logged in please LOG IN NOW and lets see how high we can launch this rocket! Thank you to everyone who has shown this tremendous amount of support, its high time we let this game shine!

[AS] Sir_Snarf through Wayfinder’s Official Discord

While the situation is nothing new for game launches these days, I’d like to admit the community work done here. Developers have posted regular updates through Discord and were quite transparent about the issues. It left me with a positive impression and I hope that launch issues didn’t scare off the potential audience. The game’s Steam rating went from “mostly negative” to “mixed” over the past few days and it’s a good sign too.

The magical world of Evenor

From the Wayfinder’s press kit

Wayfinder takes place in Evenor, a magical world suffering from the conflict between Architects and Precursors. As a result, the evil Gloom spreads out and alters the universe. There’s a short intro video followed by the main storyline to get the player up to speed. It does the job fast enough to let the travellers understand something went wrong but nothing spectacular. The same quest is then used to unlock core game elements, which I will describe in the next paragraph.

I found the in-game world aesthetically pleasing. It comes with vibrant colours and medieval vibes peppered with good and bad magic carefully knotted into its surroundings. The visuals are beautiful, and the game looks and runs well. At early access, however, it takes some time to cache the textures which causes intermittent lag.

From the Wayfinder’s press kit

Sound and music are on par to finish the magical experience. I have enjoyed a lot walking through the city, exploring the suburbs or going out into the open world. It seems like developers have planned a lot of content. Multiple placeholders could be noticed everywhere: from caves with mysterious statues to small homes with interesting signs around. There’s a mount system coming down the road which should make those travels even more exciting.

The core gameplay, the duality of

It is hard to resist comparing the title with Warframe due to so many similarities that could be found. And I think that’s for the good. A successful formula reused with some fresh elements brought to life sets a solid foundation for Wayfinder’s future.

In a nutshell, Wayfinder is a “collectionist” game. Your ultimate goal is to grind all available characters, weapons, cosmetics and other collectables. To do so, players are supposed to clear procedurally-generated dungeons, where they could expect:

  • monsters and bosses to kill, completing the main storyline and grinding materials;
  • treasure chests, treasure goblins and other special monsters to discover and loot;
  • side-quests and some puzzles around to solve.

Each dungeon has several difficulty levels and 1-2 modifiers (“imbuements”) to add on top, enabling a few more mechanics. For example, “chaos” imbuement will cause enemies to explore after death while the “greed” one will make them more tanky. They affect rewards as well: i.e. the greed modifier causes piles of gold lying on the ground and will boost your earnings at the end of the expedition.

Dungeons selection. You can also help fellow Wayfinders who struggle to complete one.

While I haven’t owned a ranged character myself, I could resonate with players claiming melee combat feels more challenging than the ranged one. Indeed, a lot of boss and dungeon mechanics incur stronger penalties on those who stay close. Hopefully, developers will introduce further balance fixes to tackle this.

I found playing dungeons interesting enough with a disclaimer I mostly played in a group. It’s fun to kill groups of monsters, figure out bosses’ mechanics and unveil hidden corners with different rewards. The only concern I had was the difficulty sometimes spiking too much. It took me a while to beat the Archon commander. It is also not clear if matchmaking with people severely over/under-levelled is a feature or a bug. So I’ll take this opportunity to thank some random folks who carried me through while I was 15 levels behind 🙂

Ah, those sweet rewards!

Apart from numerous dungeons, players are free to roam in the open world. This part feels mostly early access on its own with a lot of placeholders for future content. However, the developers gave a hint on what to expect here:

  • world bosses, where you need to group with multiple players to beat one;
  • side quests to explore the remote areas and locate missing artefacts or gear pieces;
  • gloom outbursts, to fight time-sensitive events with a group of players.

Overall, the open-world zone feels great and is interesting enough to explore even with the early access limitations. Each piece has a unique flora and fauna, from ocean side with shark-like monsters to bandit camps with poisonous gas. There’s no auto-scaling and I’m actually glad about this decision. I could manage the bandits near the city gate. But walking too deep in their camp got me punished at a low level. So I was excited to return later and discover what was hidden behind.

The Highlands open-world map

If I had to nitpick here, materials’ grind in the open world feels a bit heavy. Especially, when you reach higher levels, it will require you to look for alternatives (read going back to the dungeons). Having more opportunities to breathe fresh air (speaking literally and metaphorically) would be great.

RPG elements and housing system

Wayfinder includes a variety of RPG flavours, I’ll start from the basics: character stats. Today, there are 6 of them:

  • Weapon Power – how much damage your weapon does;
  • Crit Power – how much extra damage your weapon does;
  • Crit Rating – how often extra damage occurs;
  • Break Power – how fast you break the enemy’s shield;
  • Max Health – how much damage your character can take;
  • Ability Power – how much damage or buff your abilities cause.

In the character menu players can find a stats summary and 4 options to increase their overall power:

  1. Levelling up a character and their affinities;
  2. Levelling up a weapon and its affinities;
  3. Equipping echoes and relics;
  4. Unlocking character skills, weapon masteries and their levels.

On top of that, you can place special artifacts in your apartment – unique items boosting one’s character even more. For example, the Grand Deceiver artifact will increase the amount of gold you can find in the chests.

I find Wayfinder’s RPG system easy to manage but not-so-friendly for newcomers. I wish developers could invest more time in explaining those than a few story dialogues and on-screen tutorials. There’s also a substantial gap in Quality of Life (QoL) elements. For example, you can’t bulk-craft gloomstones to level up your affinity, you can’t reset affinity perks and so on.

It’s worth mentioning a few words about the housing system. Every player unlocks their own apartment in the Skylight’s city centre which can be customized with furniture and boss trophies. Oh, there’s also an NPC allowing you to craft more furniture but that’s about it. You can’t really do anything else in your house. And you can’t invite your friends to visit over, too.

Monetization, cash shop, battle pass

Once again, the game reuses the successful Digital Extreme formula – a free-to-play base with paid stuff through the shop. It is not clear whether all or limited cosmetics will be obtainable through the in-game grind. Wayfinder comes with a $20 price tag adding some cash shop currency, cosmetics and a battle pass as an incentive for those willing to explore today. And I was happy to pay a little bit extra for the “founder’s” package. What I struggled with is to understand why developers didn’t offer a free-to-play option today. Especially, if they plan to release Wayfinder free-to-play several months down the road.

Other than the cash shop, Wayfinder comes with a seasonal battle pass. Items here could be unlocked by playing the game or buying levels at 150 rune silver per one (approx. $1/level). Battle pass itself probably needs to be unlocked and that unlock price is not clear today. Early access came with a battle pass in the bundle.

Reward Tower a.k.a. Wayfinder’s Battle Pass

Overall, I think it is a decent model: letting players either grind the items in-game or pay through shop for those, who don’t have time. Or willing to support the developers, whatever version you prefer 🙂

I’d like to emphasize the absence of any time-gated content, apart from the battle pass. You don’t need to FOMO about daily awards, check-ins, seasonal-only dungeons/bosses/etc. If they decide to add such content in the future, I hope developers follow the Honkai: Star Rail direction. It’s when the time-gated events are available to play at any time through a special archival.

Please be aware that due to the early access nature, a lot of founder’s pack options are currently not implemented. Once again, this gives an insight into the upcoming cosmetics and where exactly they will be placed (i.e. fully customizable social profile).

A few thoughts about Wayfinder’s future

Today, I feel positive this game will succeed. Let me explain why:

  • A reputable publisher behind the development studio with a user-friendly monetization strategy;
  • Community-oriented communication, where developers were quite candid about ongoing issues and their future plans. You can find Wayfinder’s roadmap publicly available too.
  • The game has been released on Steam, Xbox and PlayStation with a cross-play feature. Generally, that’s an indicator of long-term commitment from the developer’s perspective since such releases are not cheap to implement.
  • No FOMO content at launch, except for the battle pass. You can jump in the game any time, alone or with your friends, play a few dungeons and leave. Or sit and grind through the entire weekend. That’s great!
  • Early access core gameplay feels like a solid foundation for building more stuff on top.

What can potentially go wrong?

My biggest concern is not the developer’s ability to iron out existing bugs and add missing content. I believe Wayfinder’s success is hugely around its monetization strategy. In other words, keeping the right balance between the items earned through the grind and those purchased through the shop directly.

Play in EA today or wait for the full release?

If you’re not short of $20, I would recommend jumping into Wayfinder and giving it a try. Whatever developers have in place today is enough to have a good time in the game. Regardless if you play alone, with randoms or in a group of friends. It comes with a number of bugs, too. You will get occasionally disconnected, some quests are broken, the big open world lacks content and the housing system feels more like a placeholder than a feature. It’s an early access, at the end of the day.

Players who prefer QoL features in place, not being annoyed by bugs here and there, and a Baldurs Gate 3 quality of the main story would probably be better to shelf it off for another month or two.

The in-game cash shop follows the same monetization model as Warframe. You can skip the grind and buy your way into the game with characters and weapons all available to purchase on Day 1. Some people might consider this approach as pay-to-win. But the game doesn’t have any PvP in place and buying characters/weapons will still require to level them up for PvE. Whether it’s considered pay-to-win, I will leave the reader to decide 😉

It’s time for my closing thoughts. We, the wayfinders, are tasked to fight with the Gloom and win. Let’s see if game developers will be able to win their own fight. I wish all of us the best!

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