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Wayfinder's Final Beta: Was the Early Access Delay Worth It?

Steven Weber Updated: Posted:
Editorials 0

The gaming industry and we, the gamers, are no stranger to anticipation and delays, and Airship Syndicate's latest game, Wayfinder, has taken us on quite a ride with both recently. The team decided to push their early access release out from the initial May 10th date, opting for a beta test instead. This beta test, originally slated for May 10th, then got pushed further to May 24th after some strange server hiccups prevented the team from moving forward with the test. An unconventional move? Possibly. A smart one? Surprisingly, yes.

As someone that has delved not only into the previous tests, but also the latest beta, I can affirm it was a wise decision for the team to push the release further into the summer. In my humble opinion, I even strongly suggest that Airship Syndicate should even consider another beta prior to an early access release – and if they do, it’s a strategy I wouldn't hold against them. Wayfinder balances a strange dichotomy of online gaming features. The game can be both exciting and tedious. Rewarding and unproductive. There’s a balance that has yet to be struck, all hidden behind a game that is still working out some server issues and general playability problems.

But Airship Syndicate is not your average fledgling game studio. They've got quite a legacy to live up to. This is, after all, the team behind the critically acclaimed Battle Chasers: Night War and Ruined King: A League of Legends Story. Their single-player games have been met with enthusiasm, setting a high bar for future endeavors, and the team has always delivered thus far. But can the success of these ventures predict Wayfinder's fate?

Wayfinder is a departure from Airship Syndicate's single-player legacy, veering into the realm of MMO-lite. An ambitious online game-as-a-service model. Not to mention, Wayfinder comes under the aegis of publisher Digital Extremes, known for their massive online game Warframe, one of the most popular games in its genre. Pairing up with Digital Extremes puts Wayfinder in an arena with lofty expectations. It’s a tall order to be sure.

Now, having had hands-on experience with the recent Wayfinder beta, I have a few observations. This wasn’t the first time that I spent numerous hours in the beta, but weirdly enough, in the previous tests, I didn’t have so many strange hiccups. Between some server lag, invisible walls, loading screen loops and weird combat mishaps, this was probably the first time I played the game where I felt it wasn’t quite ready to tag on the Early Access moniker.

The game has more than just a simple case of “potential syndrome” where players can tell there’s potential there, but it never quite lives up to it. The team behind Wayfinder is capable, and there's a unique charm to its design and gameplay mechanics. Airship Syndicate has been up front with their willingness to make changes to the game as well, opting for a community focused feature voting system where Beta players can propose changes and fixes, and have it corroborated by their peers. The team can then tag those ideas as to whether they are under consideration, under construction, and when players can expect to see those features in game. The transparency feels more genuine than a simple roadmap ever has.

That said, there's work to be done. The beta exhibited a few rough edges and bugs that require attention. Is it a dealbreaker? Not at all. I still really enjoyed my time in game, even if there were equal amounts of joy and frustration. Every game in its beta stages is a work in progress, and this presents a valuable opportunity for the team to gather feedback and iron out those wrinkles. My most notable concerns were with general combat, UI and long term character progression. In terms of playability, I felt that combat was literally hit or miss when it came to melee characters. The game lacks any kind of soft targeting that helps connect your attacks to the enemies around you. That means that, as you push forward with your attack, if an enemy strafes even a little, you can completely miss your next string of attacks. This is equally frustrating when you’re fighting flying enemies like the Phoenix. Half the hits just completely miss when you’re attacking with daggers or a sword and shield.

On the flip side, the combat is still quite visceral, and if you’re great at action combat, it’s challenging but completely possible to defeat enemies far higher in level and strength. When it comes to the UI, simply being able to sort Echoes and have it tell you at a glance what echoes will increase the stats you’re interested in, and how that effects your overall combat level, would reduce gearing frustration substantially. Questing markers showing up on the map, and personal map markers would go a long way to help with exploration.

Finally, after several beta tests under my belt, I’m starting to worry about long term character progression. Each character can use any kind of weapon, and equip echoes that can grant special abilities. The team also told us in a previous interview that there will be new talents for your archetype and cross-archetype talents. But after you have all of your main abilities on your character of choice - which you get fairly early on, and you’ve chosen how you want to build your character, I fear that there just won’t be enough variation between your character and someone else’s of the same type. Progression felt a little too linear, and not in a way that would spur a need to purchase new characters. Rerolling characters truly feels like an end game affair, and I just felt, apart from finding new echoes and artifacts, all of which are just minor incremental power increases, I was afraid that my build progression largely ended unless I swapped weapons. Swapping weapons wouldn't fundamentally change much though, and only put me at a disadvantage during such a limited beta window. Granted, this is Beta. The game is a work in progress. Airship Syndicate is running a marathon, and invited us to walk the first mile, and I completely understand that.

However, I’m hoping to see a stronger hook when the game hits early access. More than simply a character and weapon releveling loop. While some players may express frustration at the delay and the 'unfinished' state of the game, I argue that the move to push back the release date thus far is a show of responsibility on Airship Syndicate's part. After all, it's easier to wait for a polished game than to grapple with the poor response from a rushed one, no matter how much we anticipate its release. The delay, and this last beta especially, allows the team to focus on quality and to gather more player impressions from their experience, even if it costs a little extra time. There's a delicate balance between ensuring a quality product and delivering on promised timelines.

Wayfinder certainly has a steep climb ahead of it. There's the weight of Airship Syndicate's past successes, the ambitious pivot to an MMO, and the growing pains that come with an ongoing live service game. However, if they can navigate these challenges effectively, leveraging the benefits of the delay and the player feedback from the beta, Wayfinder may just find its way to becoming another gem in the gaming industry. After all, the journey is what defines us, and Wayfinder's journey has only just begun.


Steven Weber

Steven has been a writer at MMORPG.COM since 2017. A lover of many different genres, he finds he spends most of his game time in action RPGs, and talking about himself in 3rd person on his biography page.