If I told you there’s a free-to-play looter, with procedurally generated dungeons, and third-person combat, you’d perhaps quite rightly expect me to be talking about Warframe.
While Wayfinder is developed in collaboration with Digital Extremes, it walks a different thematic path, dropping players into a fantasy-inspired world of monsters and ruins, and tasking them with tackling enemies to get better loot.
While its initial launch (and Steam page) is plagued with reports of server issues, Airship Syndicate seems confident those are behind it. What’s left, then, is a potential PvE hit for those looking to play with friends.
Slash & Dash, Slice & Dice
In my hands-on session at Gamescom 2023, I picked my character from the colourful roster of available heroes. All play styles are catered for here, so you can opt for a bruising tank or a faster, momentum-based attacker like Niss.
Starting with the latter, I was able to switch between available weapons with ease, further customising her output. While she’s known for her dash ability, I found myself using ranged weapons, to shred enemies before triggering an ability that caused damage with every dash.
Gears of War fans will enjoy Wayfinder’s own ‘Active Reload System’, too, which Director of Marketing and Engagement, AJ LaSaracina, told me received some extra polish to make it more enjoyable – and he’s right, as I gunned down enemies while exploring ruins, nailed the reload, and guaranteed myself a few critical shots with the next volley.
Those abilities are fun to play with, too, with Niss able to trigger a window of invulnerability while damaging enemies in front of her, while her ultimate allows for unlimited damage – with damage dealt each time.
What’s in the box?
Before long I was flitting, anime-esque, between targets and unleashing chaos on my way to earn rewards.
As players move through Wayfinder’s procedurally generated levels, they can add additional rewards by completing objectives and eliminating enemies and bosses. Doing so will allow for additional crafting materials, potentially rare ones, and it’s gratifying to watch the bar at the top of the screen fill up.
Wayfinder follows stablemate Warframe’s lead when it comes to loot, though, with players earning crafting materials of different forms rather than earning an entirely new arsenal through loot drops.
It plays into the game’s free-to-play nature, and naturally, I’d need to spend more time with the game to make a full assessment of the in-game economy. Still, the way reward potential is front and centre (or at least always apparent at the top of the screen) adds that “just one more objective” pull that’s kept Warframe fans slicing and dicing for a decade.
It’s not all procedural dungeons, however, with a boss battle mode available (with multiple difficulties) for targeting your required loot.
I tackled one of the game’s bosses with Senja, a tankier, close-combat character who has the ability to taunt foes. The fight was tough, with Wayfinder’s boss throwing out MMO-style AoE attacks (I certainly missed Niss’ dodge), but it showed that Wayfinder offers just as much of the mob-clearing serotonin hit of an action title with the tougher, more methodical encounters you’d expect from a game where build crafting is paramount.
In an increasingly crowded free-to-play landscape, Wayfinder doesn’t lean on any gimmicks – it just feels like a fun, polished game that caters to as many PvE players that’ll take a chance on it.
The same could be said of Warframe back in 2013, and if this start is anything to go by, Wayfinder is on the right track.
Wayfinder is out now in early access on PC and PlayStation.