As I sailed forth from Jiwe to Kifo, which I considered to be my final journey in the land of Wagadu before I completed my review, I had nothing but hope for the last leg of my adventure. The Wagadu Chronicles by Twin Drums released on Steam into Early Access on December 4th, 2023. During my time I’ve met shamans, scouted elephants, battled a lion or two, and crafted a whole lot of confusing items. It’s time to lock up my final thoughts on this Indie Afro-Fantasy escapade.
If you have yet to read my original prologue to this final review, I would recommend referencing it if you’re looking for more details on some of the points I touch on here that aren’t so fleshed out, such as the early game and initial story aspects. In some ways, those points only partially transfer to the final review proper, as some of the features drop off to the point where the best points of the game become more pronounced, while the aspects that were tedious only became exacerbated the longer I played.
One of those features was combat. In the early game, it would often come to pass that my opponents would, at most, accumulate to a group of three bat-moth-like creatures. As I progressed through the world some of the enemies became more varied, a pig here, some snake-like humanoids there – but the real kick in the korodani was when I hit Kifo, one of the higher tier islands. In Kifo enemies could range from just a couple mild mannered monsters to 11 enemies swaddled together in a beat-you-senseless cocoon of monotony.
Previously I mentioned how slow combat could be, and in that context I was speaking of defeating just a couple bat-moths. When the numbers swelled to more than 10, one could guess that these encounters were built with grouping in mind. Setting grouping aside, the length of time it takes for each enemy to go through their combat phase was demoralizing. This was compounded by the simple fact that my bowman would still miss from time to time, stripping me of a successful turn, the joy of earning combat XP, and the potential to decrease the dirty bat-moth population of Kifo.
Combat in general is still a work in progress. Aside from the limited placeholder animations, the wild scaling of encounters, and the speed of combat, the AI left a lot to be desired as well. For example, out of the 11 monsters I was tasked with defeating, only 2 of them managed to advance to a point where they could attack me. At the time, I wasn’t entirely disappointed the enemies weren’t rock stomping me into oblivion, but after several rounds I was begging for something to either kill me or let me flee (which can fail), because the battle had dragged on for several minutes with only two monsters defeated.
King of the Accessibility Jungle
One thing that The Wagadue Chronicles does manage to do quite well revolves around accessibility. As a point-and-click MMO, with turn-based combat, and completely optional encounters, it was entirely possible to play the game with only my mouse. The forgiving nature of the world gave me the opportunity to take combat, crafting, and gathering at my own pace. If you put aside the limited nature of each of those features at this stage, gamers looking for something easy going and generally forgiving will find nothing but that here. Wagadu also positions itself to be a role-playing game, complete with unique social interactions.
Unfortunately, during my play time, I wasn’t able to interact with any other players, due to lack of finding other players. This made it difficult to discern the social nature of a game that slaps you with a role-playing identity from the jump. You are able to create your own societies, but in order to do that, you need a minimum of three other players in order to keep an established society. As you can imagine, I didn’t attempt it for lack of finding other Wagaduans.
The Wagadu Chronicles is clearly an early access title, as displayed prominently when you launch the game. The incomplete nature of the game can be seen in every facet of the game. It feels almost like I’m punching down to review Wagadu in early access, but my feelings dissipate a little when you take into consideration that Wagadu released into early access – and has an active cash shop.
For context, the cash shop allows you to buy items that are craftable, and to be candid, the crafting system feels a little confusing and convoluted as it stands. Setting that aside, the items that you can craft, the must-needed gathering items like sickles for plants and sledgehammers for rocks can be bought for about 10 dollars USD. Equally, you can buy a bundle of weapons which include the bow, greatsword and shield and will also cost about 10 dollars, and the weapon bundle also comes with some healing potions.
There could be an argument here that selling weapons and must-have tools is somehow pay to win. I would say that, if the items themselves actually had any special abilities of note. After crafting several items, I can’t really tell the difference between one weapon to the next, as there aren’t any stats or cosmetic changes aside from the rarity. You do need higher tier gathering tools to obtain better materials, but that is essentially the crux of progression at this point.
A Lovely Bunch of Cowries
You could also exchange goldshells (cash currency) for cowries (in-game gold) to buy things on the auction house, but at this point, it’s hard to determine what would constitute a worthwhile endgame item that couldn’t be obtained by just a few hours of playing. I anticipate this might change over the course of development, at least, I hope it will. As endgame focus becomes clearer so too should the cash shop, which also includes a premium subscription that increases XP gain by 100%.
Strangely enough, the one helpful item that I would expect to be in the cash shop, bag space, is suspiciously nonexistent. Bag space is a resource that you run low of quickly in Wagadu. On each island, you have bank storage, but it doesn’t appear that bank storage is universal between islands, which makes what you carry on your person that much more important. The lack of any paid expandable storage, while by contrast you can straight up buy weapons and crafting tools, seems a little out of touch with where convenience based monetization could potentially thrive.
To round out this review, I want to dive into progression. Wagadu’s progression system is a blend of sandbox style skill progression and a themepark skill system. As you use skills, you’ll obtain experience for that skill, which you then spend in the skill menu to buy upgrades. Each skill has 5 tiers of progression, that you’ll spend points buying minimal upgrades and skill unlocks to access the next tier.
The minimal upgrades add up, and eventually you’ll be able to gather and craft faster, but the lack of any variation while leveling up doesn’t instill much confidence in differentiating yourself from other players. At this stage, there really isn’t anything that seems to truly differentiate you from other players apart from your race, and even then, that’s a hard call as you’re only allowed to play with a single character per Steam account.
There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of story progression either. While there are quest givers at each island, the quests are all fetch quests that only seem to reward experience. Once I landed in Kifo, a higher tier island far away from my origin island, I expected something different. As my last voyage, I wanted something new. Something that said, you've progressed.
Instead I was met with a couple new enemies, a severe lack of rocks to break, and a lot of land mass with not much to do that was different from any island before it. This will also probably change as development progresses, but at this time, there just doesn’t seem to be much to do related to story, class customization, social interaction, or even world building.
The early access version of The Wagadu Chronicles has a unique setting, great accessibility, and a fantastic soundtrack. Unfortunately, these features does not make an exceptional game. There’s a basic framework here that needs a lot of refinement, and some direction on a core game loop. I feel like a vast majority of Wagadu is built with the premise of societal interactions, and I fear that will be a tremendous gamble from an untested niche.
According to Twin Drums, The Wagadu Chronicles will reside within the bounds of Early Access for the next 12 months at minimum. Over the course of the next year, I hope to see some massive progress made, and can only provide a resounding encouragement to Twin Drums to continue this quest. There’s still much to chronicle in the world of Wagadu, and I hope to see that story come to fruition when Wagadu launches.
Early Access Review: This review is based on the Early Access launch of the game, and is not reflective of the game's status when it launches its 1.0 update. To learn more about our approach to how we review Early Access and why we are applying scores to Early Access releases now, check out this post.