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Wayfinder Gameplay Preview - Airship Syndicate's 'Love Letter to MMOs' Should Have you Hyped for May

Steven Weber Updated: Posted:
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If you have yet to partake in our recent article about the press event that Airship Syndicate held last week, which detailed a lot of the features of the upcoming persistent online game Wayfinder, then perhaps you’re the kind of person that also likes to eat dessert before dinner - because the gameplay preview is what everyone is really interested in. Now that the closed beta test that the developers held for Wayfinder over the past week has come to an end, it’s time to talk about the experience, and if you’ve withheld getting invested in the game until you’ve seen and read about how the game actually plays, then you’re in luck, because we have plenty of gameplay impressions to go around.

When we first heard about Wayfinder it left a lot of questions as to how the game would actually play. Is it a lobby game? Is it an open world? It turns out, Wayfinder is a little bit of everything rolled into one. In the press presentation that Airship Syndicate put together last week, the team described the game as their "love letter to MMO's", and many of the systems in the game shine brightly with that sentiment. The game makes use of a character-based system that most MMO players have come to be familiar with. Warframe, Tower of Fantasy, and Black Desert Online are just some of the many games that fall within the character-collector style of online games. Things do work a little bit differently in Wayfinder. You start by selecting a character. In the beta we had access to 4, although Senja, the two-handed axe-wielding showboater didn’t become available until the latter part of the test.

Each character has a unique style of gameplay, which is somewhat based on their archetypes. Warmasters have more of a tank role, while Arcanists like Niss are more geared as the DPS role. This wasn’t my first test for Wayfinder and I chose Silo in the last test, so this time I went with Niss to start, and the experience was completely different. Whereas Silo controls the battlefield with slows, taunts, and long range combat, Niss was an in your face, slice-and-dice, counterattack kind of character. It took me a little while to really learn how to play her. You could say that all of the characters need to be “aggressive” if you want to get anywhere in Evenor, Niss requires that you get up close and personal while ensuring you keep your mistakes to a minimum.

Her kit from the onset feels like it is built around her weapons, which are the dual daggers. Any character can change their weapon to any other type as long as they’ve unlocked the mastery for it, and then purchased or crafted the weapon. If you decide you want to play a new character, you also have to craft one of those too, and to say that crafting characters and weapons in the game is difficult, would be an understatement. Everything you need to craft a new character or weapon comes in 4 different parts, and each of those parts is broken down into ingredients that are all scattered across the world, and hidden inside dungeons. Luckily, as far as weapons are concerned, you can simply purchase one of the other weapon types from a vendor in the mercantile district for 10K gold.

That gave me the opportunity to try all of the different weapon types with Niss, and later, with Senja. Each weapon has their own special ability, pros and cons. The sword and shield attacks quickly, and provides ample defense as well, when you block. The rifle lets you zoom in and kite your way to victory as long as your head is on a swivel and you don’t get overwhelmed by rushing creatures. The twin daggers attack quickly, and provide the ability to counterattack which requires some foresight and quick reaction times. Finally the two handed axe Typhoon, hits like a truck, and provides a wide swing, which is good for dispatching a lot of little enemies.

While I would say that the weapons a hero starts with were meant to be the most effective, I felt the opposite on Senja. Senja’s two handed axe certainly gave her the potential to do a great deal of damage, but I actually felt more at home with the sword and shield. I also found that I liked to play different weapons with different controls. The melee weapons instinctively felt better with an Xbox controller, which worked flawlessly on PC. The rifle, however, worked much better with the superior targeting of the mouse and keyboard. I did not get to test on the PlayStation 5, which was also available during this closed beta, but I would hope the option for a Mouse and Keyboard is there for them as well. 

Niss’s abilities primarily revolved around quick attacks, and swift movements around the battlefield.  Senja, on the other hand, was all about her ability to “showboat” which required that you leave yourself vulnerable which you charge a showboat meter. It was a cool idea, that I felt didn’t land in practice and could use some tweaking. That’s primarily why the sword and shield felt better. The sword attacks faster than the axe, and the bonus of more protection from the shield compensated for the times I was left open from showboating. I can’t say that I would want to play Senja again based on this experience, but I will give Airship Syndicate props for trying a different mechanic that, if balanced properly, could really pay off for the right kind of player.

The world of Evenor was exciting to traverse. There are a lot of open world missions, like Sphere’s of Influence, where you’re tasked with defeating a Dark Star Meteor within a set time limit. The meteor will spawn multiple enemies and a large boss and anyone in the area can join. In addition to finding open world events and bosses, I found a ton of secret chests, which you’ll want to seek out, because hidden within are treasures, including skeleton and trickster keys which you’ll need inside dungeons to open special chests. Each character can also double jump, and grapple onto certain ledges which are all techniques you should become proficient in, because you’ll need them in some dungeons, or when fighting certain bosses.

While we’re on the topic of bosses, there are dungeon bosses, called Hunt Missions. In these 3-player co-op battles, you can enter them by crafting a Gloomtrace, which is essentially the key to enter the dungeon. Then you can queue for the battle, and hopefully find someone to assist you, because some of the bosses can be pretty difficult. The battle against the Bloodspawn can be particularly painful, especially later on when you’re tasked with enhancing the difficulty of the boss battles with multiple imbuements. Imbuements are mutators that change not only bosses, but they can be utilized on any dungeon, and you can unlock the ability to drop more imbuements onto a mission as you grow in level. You can also just increase the baseline difficulty of a dungeon if you’ve completed it before, and it was important to pay attention to the power ratings of a missions before you take it on, as dying repeatedly in a dungeon will lose the entire team their final rewards.

On the topic of power ratings, the power rating is an amalgamation of all of your echoes (which are kind of like gear), accessories (which are even more like gear), weapon affinity level, and character affinity level. Echoes and artifacts both drop a various rarities, and they can also drop at different star levels as well. Every enemy drops their own unique echo, so if you find one that has stats you like, you can continue farming them and hopefully they’ll drop a higher rarity or star level. If you do have the highest rarity echo or artifact available, you can then feed lesser echoes into it of any type, to increase the star level and make it more powerful. The system is fairly simplistic, as long as you aren’t like me, and you like keeping a bunch of echoes on hand just in case you want to “try a different build”.

Wayfinder does do a pretty good job at allowing players to spec out their character how they want. For example, you can be tanky, with physical defense, magical defense, resilience, and high health. Or you can focus on crit rating and power. You can also focus directly on your ability strength, or if you’re a tank that just wants to support damage dealers, you can spec heavy into break power, and break enemy shields quickly so the rest of your team can burn them down. As long as you have ample cost capacity to slot the echoes you want, you can spec any way you want, and that’s great, because it also means that players can change their roles around in a pinch, just as long as they aren’t in combat or in a dungeon at that time. In some circumstances, players will find very rare echoes that provide special abilities. While I was not exactly enamored with any of the ones I tried, I can only suspect that they get better the further along in the game you get. For me, I always found more success with the additional stat bonuses rather than the echo abilities.

I was also able to play around with the character customization on Niss a little as well. Despite being a character-collector game, Niss had a lot of unique options to customize her, including new faces, outfits, colors, and trinkets. My Niss ended up looking very different from others out in the world, and I can only suspect that there will be far more options that you can earn or buy on launch. Still though, I enjoyed seeing so many different options for my character, as it’s not very common to see piecemeal costume pieces for premade characters at the ready. Perhaps most of these options will be behind a pay wall or battlepass later on, but for now, it was a nice surprise.

When it came to the combat, customization and the exploration, I couldn’t have been happier with Wayfinder. My main sticking points, were with the quests, matchmaking, and crafting. Questing was a lot of fun, and it was easy to get around the world with fast travel. There will be mounts in the game, which may alleviate some of the travel issues, but it wasn’t getting to the locations that I had a problem with, but rather, where I was supposed to go to complete a quest. Sometimes the objectives were hard to see on the map. Matchmaking for missions was also kind of difficult. I know it was a limited closed beta, but sometimes I would sit there waiting for help on a boss battle for 10 minutes, and even requesting help would rarely provide me with any aid. This is something the team has stated they are actively working on.

Finally, crafting small items, like consumables is pretty easy. Crafting characters and weapons, very difficult. Even with the ability to look up where some items were in the closed beta Discord was available, I still couldn’t pick up everything I needed to get all of the characters. I know  that some mystery is necessary to keep players coming back, but for this test, it felt somewhat frustrating when I set a clear goal for myself but still couldn’t find exactly what I needed to achieve it.

All that said, May is just a couple months away, and Wayfinder will be headed into Early Access. At that point, there will be no more wipes, and the game, for all intents and purposes, will be considered live, even though Airship Syndicate is committed to working alongside their players to put in features the community is really looking forward to. The gameplay and group encounters were enough to whet my appetite for what’s to come in Early Access. If you’re a fan of action combat, and co-operative gameplay, keep your eye out for a chance to test the game in the future. You can also check out our videos, and other coverage of Wayfinder, including an interview with Airship Syndicate.


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.