Coming from Spanish developer Gato Studio, The Waylanders is an indie roleplaying game originally crowdfunded by Kickstarter at the end of 2018. Chances are you haven’t heard of their previous work, and yet there’s plenty of buzz surrounding The Waylanders as it enters Steam Early Access.
Likened to RPG stalwarts such as Mass Effect and Pillars of Eternity, the project has picked up names such as story talents Emily Grace Buck (Telltale’s The Walking Dead: The Final Season, Batman) and Mike Laidlaw (Dragon Age), with Inon Zur (Fallout) as the game’s composer. You’ll also recognise some of the game’s voice actors including Fred Tatisciore, Amber Rose Revah, and Ralph Ineson.
The Waylanders pries into hidden mythologies which have long been sidelined in favour of more familiar cultural touchstones. Here Gato have delved deep into Celtic lore to shape their world, greeting players to this folkloric realm as soon as they boot up the character creator.
Your usual spread of options are all here, including options for races, classes, and an origin for your hero. Instead of dwarves and elves however, The Waylanders has a more exotic quartet to choose from including the otherworldly Mourians, the mountainous Half-Fomorians, and Werewolves alongside your bog standard humans. It’s also great to see Gato pushing for inclusiveness by adding simple options here for those wanting to create a non-binary character, giving you freedom to mix body type, voice, and pronouns.
This early section of The Waylanders has you accompanying King Ith on his voyage to meet the Tuatha Dé Danann and forge an alliance with these god-like heroes of the Celtic world. As you are introduced to the game’s colourful cast of characters you’ll sense excitement in air… with an unwelcome tinge of dread.
There’s a playful tone to the way characters talk and interact, giving The Waylanders a strange yet warmingly modern feel. Although there are moments of drama and tension, these are spliced with funny banter and the kind of language you wouldn’t expect from such a deep fantasy RPG. It’s almost like you’re sitting down at the table with a group of friends playing a session of your favourite pen and paper game.
It isn’t purely focused on Irish folklore either. There’s a historic bent to the fiction allowing Gato to draft in characters and cultures from other real-world locales such as Egypt and Greece, sprinkling The Waylanders with a refreshingly diverse flavour.
Of course, it isn’t all about selecting dialogue options and filling out your codex with lore entries. Any roleplaying game worth its salt leans on a reliable mix of tactical combat and rewarding character progression – is that the case here with The Waylanders?
The core combat gameplay should feel instantly familiar to fans of the genre. You will order members from you party to move, attack, and use their abilities during each encounter, The Waylanders allowing you to pause and consider your actions before watching these battles play out in real time.
The Waylanders attempts to freshen up this tried and tested model with formations. This allows you to rally party members into a strategic lineup such as a shield wall or phalanx, effectively merging multiple characters together for a short time. This can drastically alter the flow of battle though these formations need to be used carefully to maximise their strategic potential.
Another aspect setting The Waylanders apart from its contenders is a chunkier, more toonish art style. While not Pixar, it has a boldness that could be likened to Fortnite or Dauntless, allowing character features to be accentuated alongside a more vibrant and eye-catching colour palette.
The game is still in early access and there’s a lot of work to be done. Even during this opening section of The Waylanders portions of the main story weren’t present and we encountered a handful of frustrating bugs. The tutorials, inventory system, and combat balance are all key areas in need of improvement too, but Gato have made a solid start here. We’re already invested in this world, keen to see more of The Waylanders as it gradually builds towards a full release.