Wayfinder preview – a solid RPG with something lost in The Gloom

Wayfinder, by the publisher of Warframe and Airship Syndicate, is an action RPG game I want to love - but there's a few areas that still need polish

Wayfinder preview - a solid RPG with something lost in The Gloom: An elf woman with white hair, red horns, and a mask covering her mouth readies a purple dagger wearing ornate golden jewellery on her hands, waist, and fingers

Stepping into Wayfinder, the bright new RPG game by the publisher of Warframe and a studio of former Darksiders devs, is like stepping into the fantasy world I always wanted. As the curtains part to unveil the Stormwind-esque hub area of Skylight, my inner WoW player goes wild – it’s the Alliance stronghold if it had the graphical overhaul I’ve been waiting for. Beyond these great first impressions, however, there are still a few creases to be ironed out.

Skylight is a bastion against the ominous Gloom, a hostile environmental force that has overtaken much of the world, opening up twisted mirror realities in its wake. There’s a ye olde-style tavern, a babbling brook, and a huge portal (the aptly entitled ‘Gloom Gate’) that takes you out to adventure in the dangerous unknown.

I choose to run my first mission as Niss, a tortured Shadow Dancer whose thirst for vengeance outweighs her hatred for the human-dominated world around her. Described by design director and Airship Syndicate co-founder Steve Madureira as a “glass cannon” assassin who, while squishy, deals tons of damage, I knew immediately that she was the one for me. Plus, her character design is absolutely gorgeous, so that helps.

A mysterious elf woman with flowing white hair, red horns, and a mask covering her mouth wearing red loose trousers and a blue cropped shirt stands in front of a huge purple portal

You choose from a roster of heroes in Wayfinder. Unlike World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV, you don’t design your own hero, but you can customise your favourite character’s outfits to make them more you. You can also tinker with your character’s weapons, power-ups, and much, much more. What the game lacks in character creation it makes up with a flexible ability system that will help you mould characters to your unique playstyle. I go with Niss’ twin daggers to start with, purely because they look so damn cool.

The game’s look is apiece with a tried-and-true art style of vibrant colours and neatly exaggerated proportions. Unlike so many action-adventure games and MMORPGs of the post-Souls era, this isn’t all gloom and grit, but nor is it quite as chunky and Disney-fied as World of Warcraft – there’s detail and complexity, particularly in the environments, that’s reminiscent of classic Final Fantasy without going full anime like FFXIV. It’s a perfect blend of RPG aesthetics, and boy, am I here for it.

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As we plunge into The Pit (the game’s second Lost Zone) the bright, placid plains of Skylight are replaced by an underground realm smothered by a sickly green mist. Our enemies are slimes, but they’re not adorable little Slime Rancher 2 slimes; instead they’re particularly vicious little balls of green gunk. As Niss I hack, slash, and tear my way through their ranks, watching them pop with a sick sense of satisfaction and pride; but trust me when I say that those slimes came back to bite me.

Our second outing is to a Hunt – a boss fight a la Final Fantasy XIV’s Trials – for which Madureira admits we were slightly under-leveled. I choose to play as ranged rifleman Silo, and plunge back into the mines to take on a much larger, much nastier slime called ‘The Bloodspawn.’ Avenging its fallen comrades, said bouncing ball of evil popped my health bar just as I had popped theirs, and it was probably just as proud of itself as I had been not ten minutes before.

Our final adventure out into the wilds is on a mutated run of The Pits, which is effectively the Mythic+ of Wayfinder with a slight twist. Players will pick up Imbuements on their journey, which can be slotted into dungeons to change up the mechanics within. Madureira chooses ‘Overgrowth,’ which spawns a toxic acid pool upon an enemies’ grave that expands to fill all of the available floor space if you stand on it. Think ‘the floor is lava,’ but like, literally. It’s fun, it’s chaotic, and it really enhances the whole experience. There’s more to think about, and trying not to step in said toxic muck accidentally is no easy task.

A man in hulking grey armour stands in a cavern before a huge purple ball

Having wiped after we filled a choke point with goo, our session comes to an end, and while I left largely excited I’d be a liar if my hype wasn’t qualified. While playing as Niss felt very fluid – her abilities and looks remind me of League of Legends’ Pyke – I did have a few random camera bugs that messed with my vision, leaving me vulnerable to encroaching beasties. And when I swapped to Silo and Senja, things got a little clunky. Both characters’ movement felt very programmed, meaning instead of pivoting they simply ran directly along the compass points, pulling me out of the immersion.

I also left the session wanting more, in both the positive and the negative sense. While I enjoyed the instances I tested, I feel like something is missing – that je ne sais quoi, as it were. But I’m still on board; I want to dive back in, I want to explore the world, I want to see more. They’re two conflicting feelings, but I reckon the former may be put to bed the next time I get a chance to indulge the latter.

As future betas are announced I’d encourage you to try out Wayfinder if you’re looking for a cool new multiplayer game to play with friends. It’s by no means perfect, but when Skylight calls for aid, I know I’ll be strapping on my gear and diving into The Gloom head first.