Out on Steam’s Early Access program right now, The Waylanders by Gato Studio is an ambitious take on the fantasy RPG genre with influences from Celtic mythology that draws inspiration from the likes of Dragon Age and Baldur’s Gate. Time for a quick look at our first impressions – or rather second impressions.
What we know
We first found out about The Waylanders when it was revealed close to a year ago, with some impressive visuals and an open invitation to come see it at Gamescom, where it was to make its first public appearance. Located in the public area of the show, it looked promising enough to make us navigate the immense hordes of people in Hall 10 of the Kölnmesse just to get a first glimpse.
Things went quiet after that initial tease, but the central premise of The Waylanders still makes an impression – perhaps unsurprisingly so considering the fact that people like Chris Avellone and Mike Laidlaw (of Dragon Age fame) are involved. When a meeting between gods and humans erupts into chaos, the land overflows with demons and other foul creatures, breaking up the kingdom into a region full of division and strife.
You’ll have to take sides, and have to do so amidst goblins, druids and other characters that are firmly rooted in Celtic mythology. Time-travel also plays a part in The Waylanders though, as you’ll find yourself suddenly in the middle ages in Spain as well. It makes for a complex and epic narrative where stark differences mean that you’ll often be surprised by the various twists and turns in the plot.
Besides the narrative elements, The Waylanders also stands out because it offers real time combat that you can pause to give yourself a moment to strategize and see how you want to approach the current conflict effectively. It’s not the turn-based combat you’ll see in the upcoming Baldur’s Gate III, but something more akin to the first two games and to Dragon Age.
What we saw
We got access to a build of The Waylanders just before it went into Early Access. Even though the developers are aiming for a 2020 release, this version was still far from complete – missing about two thirds of the story and lacking some of the aspects of the remaining third – including story cutscenes.
What we thought
In terms of scope and ambition, The Waylanders reminded us of Edge of Eternity, another RPG from a smaller studio that is currently in Early Access and being made with a lot of love for the games that inspired it. But Edge of Eternity has been in development for quite a while now, and we could see The Waylanders heading in the same direction. The current build wasn’t just limited in terms of content, it was a tad unstable in that we experienced a few crashes as well as the odd performance hiccup. This certainly took something away from the experience, with the game not able to capture me the way the premise did. Instead, I was left with the sense that I should come back in a few months and check again, because the central plot itself still fascinates me.
Having said that, when everything clicked on the technical side the gameplay in The Waylanders is a lot of fun and it’s clear to see the inspirations for the game shining through. Even though combat is still rough around the edges when you look at the way the camera can be a struggle and the controls can work against you, it’s nice to be able to pause mid-battle and direct your attacks. It’s not Dragon Age of Baldur’s Gate just yet – not even close, actually – but you can see what they’re going for and I hope they pull it off.
If you take the gameplay of the games that inspired it and combined that with the grand narrative setup, The Waylanders could be an excellent RPG once it’s done. There are plenty of character classes, opportunities to interact with the members of your party, a very diverse cast of NPC characters and regular as well as boss fights. The current Early Access release makes me think that a 2020 release is overly ambitious, so let’s hope they prioritize quality over time. In that sense, seeing who they hired to be involved with the game is a good sign.