The Waylanders is a classically-inspired RPG that took its first steps on Kickstarter back in 2018 and has been steadily picking up steam ever since. I recently got to check out an alpha build of the game ahead of its Early Access launch to explore its fantastical take on the Celtic Age.
While it is still very much a work-in-progress – bugs are still being discovered and weeded out, in-engine cutscenes and conversations still lack animations or lip-syncing, and plenty of items and abilities still read <missing string table entry> – this early-access version gives us a good look at what to expect from this ambitious and promising RPG.“We want to receive feedback from the players as soon as possible,” says Game Director Sergio Prieto. “We’re going to be in a position to change the most, to adapt ourselves to our players,” he explains. “We want to receive feedback from our community and improve our game based on that feedback,” adds Waylanders UI Designer Jorge Pardo. “The game will grow based on their expectations and will become a better game.”
The Waylanders is a unique blend of historical fiction and mythic fantasy, set in the ancient real-world region of Brigantia, but overflowing with supernatural magic. Written by veterans of games like TellTale’s The Walking Dead and Fallout: New Vegas, its story revolves around what happens when some of that magic becomes corrupted, and how our choices in light of that ripple across history. One of the more unique narrative mechanics of The Waylanders is that the consequences of those decisions don’t just play out right as they happen – they’re depicted over a thousand years as the story jumps forward in time to the Middle Ages and back again.
“The biggest challenge,” says Lead Writer Emily Grace Buck, who cut her teeth on various TellTale projects like The Walking Dead and Batman: The Enemy Within, “is making sure that the kind of changes that happen a thousand years into the future are things that makes sense, given what you’ve set up in the past – and vice versa – that you’re seeing things when you go to the future and you’re going, ‘Oh, I know why that’s like that.’ And, in a perfect world, ‘And it’s my fault’,” she adds with a laugh.
While the early access build doesn’t dive into the “time jump” section, instead focusing on the first act of the story set entirely in the Celtic Age, it introduces several characters and companions who will join you at varying stages of your journey, and gives a good sense of the humorous, modern style that The Waylanders adopts in its dialogue. I certainly wasn’t expecting a millenia-old oracle to bond with a cycloptic giantess over a druid being “a total asshole” or use “as f–k” in any of our conversations, but it’s a credit to how well The Waylanders quickly establishes its cast that it never felt out of place.
“There’s a pretty standard high fantasy RPG type of voice that many hardcore gamers are used to, and I admit I wrote the first few scenes in it initially,” says Buck. “Lots of bastardized olde English, longer words, antiquated vocabulary. But then I paused. We are trying to make this game accessible to a modern audience. And especially as a queer, female lead writer… why was I writing for 50-year-old men? Why was I writing the RPGs I’d seen instead of the ones I’d dreamed about? … I recognize it was a gamble, but I hope that for those less familiar with games it’s a pleasant surprise… and for hardcore RPG fans, it’s a breath of fresh air.”It’s also interesting to see companion characters (like Delba, the aforementioned Fomorian giantess) that fall outside the spectrum of playable classes – though there are plenty that do as well. The six main player classes will be familiar to most RPG veterans – with a couple of function-specific options, such as the tank-like Guardian and the self-explanatory Healer – though each class also has three “sub-classes” that can be unlocked at a certain level and offer a variety of advanced options.
Alternatively, it seems so far like your choice of race (or, perhaps more accurately, species), will provide more narrative options, though exactly how that will manifest is unclear. Some are fairly straightforward, like the Human or Mourians, who seem set up to take the main story and run with it. Others, though, are intriguing options but I saw little implementation of their origins in this early build. Werewolves are a playable race, though they don’t appear to be the typical “beware-at-full-moon” lycanthropes we’re all familiar with, and their extra connection to the natural world didn’t particularly seem to factor into anything aside from some mandatory facial hair on the character models. Similarly, the Half-Fomorian race starts with a “Slave” background after having been bound to serve the Mourians by their gods, and it was odd to see no mention of it in any of my interactions with Mourian characters. Its unclear how, exactly, players who choose this option will be able to confront that painful history, though Prieto assures us that it ties into the overarching story and that “Nothing regarding the subject of slavery is put in the game for flavor or as a backdrop.”Combat, which mechanically feels like the most fleshed-out aspect of the build at this stage, is a comfortable take on the classic active-pause RPG formula. You’ve got a party made up of your archetype warrior, tank, mage, or healer classes that evolve with new attacks, abilities, and subclasses as you level up, but there are a couple of interesting twists. First and foremost is The Waylanders’ “Formations” mechanic, which allows characters to rally other party members into a tight group to perform unique class-based maneuvers against enemies. These can range from historically-inspired arrangements like a classical Grecian phalanx to the mystical sorcerer’s Conclave, which transforms them into an arcane siege tower.
And selecting which characters in your party are part of a given Formation provides an extra layer of strategy. The more members in a Formation, the more damage it can deal or absorb before breaking, but pooling everyone into one big group drastically limits your options. Perhaps instead of channeling the entire party’s energy into a magical Golem that will stomp all over its foes, you can opt to put three of your five total party members into the Guardian’s shield dome to provide cover as your two spellcasters bombard the enemy from a distance. It’s a really flexible system that seems ripe for endless customization and tinkering for you tacticians out there.
And that goes for The Waylanders’ configurable A.I. as well, which allows you to toggle back your party members behavior to only take actions you command, or for those of you who prefer a more casual experience, crank it up so they’ll take care of themselves when you want to focus on playing one character instead of all five.
The other notable tweak to the classic CRPG style – and this goes for exploration as well as combat – is The Waylanders’ dedication to making the experience just as enjoyable for players who prefer a third-person perspective as those who want the classic isometric RPG experience.
Quickly swapping from a top-down or three-quarters perspective to a third-person follow-cam with the push of a button is a great quality-of-life innovation and something I’d love to see other modern takes on the ‘old-school’ RPG adopt. And while it’s still a bit more cumbersome than a traditional third-person camera, it’s the best execution of the idea I’ve seen in a genre that’s never really managed to get past the “really-really-zoomed-in iso-cam” feel.
“We decided to let the players decide between two different camera systems, each with its own strengths,” says Prieto. “The dual viewpoints made us design a game flow that works with both game styles and made balancing combat a bit more complex, but we are happy with the result. … It was a lot of work, but that Dragon Age or Neverwinter feeling is important for us.”This option to experience the world from ground-level instead of the traditional “eye in the sky” is something I really appreciated, because what I’ve seen of the world of The Waylanders so far has been beautiful. From villages surrounded by dense woods to mysterious islands crackling with mystical energy, every environmental pixel is designed to heighten the fantastical nature of Gato’s take on ancient Galicia.
“We created a colorful style that enhances the magic and details of the races and locations in the game,” Prieto says. “We are very proud of our traditions and wanted to share them with people all around the world. Our land, Galicia, has a relevant position in those legends and myths, and that’s something we wanted to share in The Waylanders.”
It’s a fascinating mix of old-world historical influence and creative, colorful designs. Blue-skinned humanoid sorcerers with golden metallic eyes sit across the table from greek adventurers and Celtic kings, while the quote-unquote “monstrous” Fomorian giants of Irish folklore are surprisingly endearing, with their childlike excitement at seeing the surface world for the first time.
The Waylanders – 10 Exclusive Images
The Waylanders seems like an engaging take on the Celtic mythos, which rarely gets a spotlight in entertainment media as it is, and I’m intrigued to see where it ends up once it hits final release. GATO Studio is clearly invested in creating an experience alongside its community, and with a fresh take on RPG systems and a unique world, we’ll gladly keep checking back throughout early access to see how it’s shaping up.