Wayfinder Q&A – Joe Madureira Unveils New MMORPG-Lite Game

Alessio Palumbo
Wayfinder

At The Game Awards 2022, Airship Syndicate (Battle Chasers: Nightwar, Darksiders Genesis, Ruined King: A League of Legends Story) pulled the veil on Wayfinder, an MMORPG-lite game in development with the help of Warframe's Digital Extremes. The game will have a closed playtest next week on PC, with an Early Access release date pinned next Spring on PC and PlayStation and a full-fledged release targeting Fall 2023 on PC and multiple consoles (we're assuming that means Xbox).

We were lucky enough to have a nice, long chat with none other than Joe Madureira, the famous comic book artist and game designer primarily known as the creator of Darksiders. Madureira is currently the CEO of Airship Syndicate as well as the Creative Director of Wayfinder and he was more than happy to provide lots of details on the game with the help of AJ LaSaracina, Director of Marketing and Engagement at Airship Syndicate.

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Do you want to start with a high-level overview of the game?

Joe Madureira: Yeah! Wayfinder is a character-based online action RPG. Rather than roll your own character, you're choosing from a group of premade characters that all have their backstories and abilities and combat roles and such. You can customize them as the game goes on.

We introduced you to the world of Evenor, which is a fantasy world that's been overtaken by the Gloom, a dark and mysterious force that's been unleashed on the planet by this mysterious alien race that has killed the gods of your world.

But in doing so, some characters have learned to manipulate the Gloom and use it to actually start reconnecting the world and bringing back other fallen heroes throughout time. Those are the Wayfinders, which the game is named after, and they're basically our version of the Avengers or something where these are the superheroes of this world. We'll be adding to the roster as time goes on.

We're launching with six characters right out of the gate. Each character has an archetype they fall into. We have the Warmaster, which is pretty tanky, we have the Survivalist, which is a little more about crowd control and we have the Arcanist, which is basically just DPS, very lightly armored, take a lot of damage but dish out a lot of damage as well. Within those, there's a lot of range as well. Some Warmasters will lean more into damage dealing. Some will be more into defense. Then of course depending on which character you take, they have their own abilities to add to it. Wingrave is an example. He's sort of like the Paladin, he's a healer, he has shielding abilities. Sanja the gladiator is more about dealing damage. That's the basic gist.

You kind of alluded to it already, but I guess we can confirm that Wayfinder follows the classic tank/DPS/support trinity, then?

Joe Madureira: For the most part. It's a little more nuanced than that. Without getting too deep into the system, that's like the starting point. And then beyond that, you can actually customize your playstyle with the character and with the weapon that you choose as well because every character can use any weapon you're not locked into it. You may have a synergy with certain characters. For instance, Silo is a tactician and an explosives expert, and if you use a rifle with him, it'll benefit his play style in certain ways.

But you can absolutely use a giant two-handed sword with Silo as well if you so choose. We're hoping that mixing and matching abilities between the character archetypes and the weapons will give players tons of different ways to experience Wayfinder.

And then of course forming parties with other people who also have customized their characters. For high level content you'll want to have a party that is filled out in every category.

How many weapons are going to be available in Wayfinder at launch?

AJ LaSaracina: I don't think we have a specific number for the weapons that we're launching with just yet, but we do have five weapon classes essentially. In the video, we're confirming that we have sword and shield, two-handed melee (maces and swords), there's ranged rifles, and then dual-wielding daggers. As Joe mentioned, it's important to note that yes, the characters have their archetypes and you can modify them with mods that allow you to slightly augment how they play, but the weapon also plays a huge role in that. Something like a dagger is much faster, you can get up a combo meter and do large critical strikes. Something like a two-handed sword or a mace might be much slower, more methodical, with a Dark Souls type of feel. Each one of those weapons does have a different ability on them. I can take one sword and shield that I can throw out almost Captain America style and hit a bunch of enemies or I can use it to shield the entire party from the incoming damage. So it really gives you the choice of do I want to play this way, do I want to play more like a tank?

The trinity is not something that the characters like completely um held to, but you're able to really customize how you wanna play it and make it feel like your own. It also makes sense for a world where we have tons of characters walking around. You might have four or five Wingraves that are in the main city together, but they could look different both cosmetically as well as in how they play with the main weapons that they like to use.

You mentioned that weapons also have some abilities attached to them. Do you already have a number in place for how many active abilities you can have at any one time?

Joe Madureira: I think that's still something we're playing with because each weapon, in addition to the ability that it comes with, each weapon has a certain number of slots that can actually increase over time as you level up the weapon. We call them Echoes, which drop off creatures. Over time, you may have a rifle that has one Echo slot that you put a certain additional ability into, but as you level it up, it may have two or three slots. Then you can really mix and match all the different Echoes.

Player choice is really what we're leaning into, giving players lots and lots of different ways to customize their play style, but we don't have a specific number just yet. It's going to be a work in progress for a while as we get player feedback, too.

AJ LaSaracina: Yeah, the best way to think of it as a mod system like Warframe's. The intent is that you are working towards a weapon that you have and customizing it and really making it your own, like Joe said, powering it up so that you can get more and more capacity, more and more either damage or an active ability or passive ability, versus I'm going into this dungeon and finding five or six weapons and tossing them. We don't have a system like that. It's really about crafting and creating and working towards an item that you're gonna hold on to for a long time and then really evolving and making your own.

Thanks for the detailed explanation, though I was thinking more about the max number of active key bindings. Since the game will be on consoles, I'm guessing the limited number of inputs means Wayfinder won't have as many active abilities as something like World of Warcraft, right?

AJ LaSaracina: Yes, each character has three basic abilities, one ultimate ability, and then like we've said before, there is an ability for your weapon, so I guess that's five total. That can change over time, though, depending on the weapon that you have and maybe we add more.

It's important to note that those four aren't necessarily the abilities you use from level one to max level, right? They're augmented in those choices and they're changing. Maybe one has a cleave to hit additional enemies or sending out a strike twice, or getting two charges of it, so there's a player choice in that sense too.

I'm guessing the combat in Wayfinder will be action-style with active blocks and dodge, correct?

AJ LaSaracina: Correct. It's very active. Then there's also, like I mentioned before, some weapons that tip the play style based on how fast they are, the combos you can pull off, the given mobility. So it's definitely this mix of the two, but it is absolutely action combat. It's not tab targeting, it's not slow paced, it feels like a console action game, which is great.

The closest comparison would be Darksiders, then, not Dark Souls, for the combat style.

Joe Madureira: Absolutely. Depending on what instance and what combat encounters you engage in. There will be some that require a little more strategic thinking or a larger party, perhaps if you're after a very, very strong hunt target, that's a single player near boss level creature. We also have lots of instances of swarming enemies. There's a good mix, but generally, it is faster paced combat.

You mentioned instances. I'm reading from the press release that they're called the Lost Zones, which are areas touched by the Gloom. Is there any kind of open area where you can roam about, or do you always go into a dungeon-like Lost Zone when you venture outside the city?

Joe Madureira: We do have the Highlands, a large overland area that is a public space where you'll run into other players and there will be daily events, challenges, and quests. Within that area, you can access some of the Lost Zones. Over time we'd love to expand that part of the world, so it'll be a mix of both. You're going into the overlands to hunt for additional resources that you need to open new instances of some of the Lost Zones.

Using mutators, we have an item called the Gloom dagger that lets you basically manipulate the gates to those Lost Zones and change some of the variables of what you'll encounter inside, whether it's creature spawns, loot drops, or just environmental hazards. Different events spawn based on certain conditions.

A lot of the fun in Wayfinder is players sort of creating their own runs and their own goals within the Lost Zones and finding friends that are trying to accomplish the same goal. Rather than doing a run 20 times to see if you can get that boss to spawn, you can actually manipulate the Gloom with your dagger to create the situation where that boss will be a guaranteed spawn. That way, you can prepare for it, and you might have friends that are also on the same quest together. Once again, we are giving players the ability to customize their experience.

Is there also a procedural generation aspect to these areas?

Joe Madureira:  Procedural is not quite the right word because the Lost Zones are built from handcrafted rooms. We really wanted to always feel like it was built by hand, but yes, they will spawn a bunch of different variables, even weather and possibly the time of day, not to mention environmental hazards and events aside from the obvious, which is like creature spawns and things like that. Lots of fun surprises can happen with certain mutator combinations.

AJ LaSaracina: Our narrative device that allows that being the Gloom that we mentioned at the start. It is this force that's taken over the land. Everything that the Gloom touches is reshaped and changed, almost like pockets. Think of it almost like a multiverse. When a player walks up to a Lost Zone and enters it, it might seem the same when they walk through it. They might have similar and marks or places that they might have seen before. But the layout, the enemies, the encounters, the mutators, the modifiers, the traps, all that stuff is randomized. The content in Wayfinder is definitely handcrafted, but the idea is that those are repeatable and new each time that they walk in and they'll find interesting and unique things to do, be it a side quest or monsters to kill, or maybe a super rare event. The mutations allow you to customize that play space a little bit better, so if you know specifically what you're hunting because you need a crafting resource, you can use a mutate to make sure that that enemy type is on the other side of the wall, increasing those chances and allowing you to cut down on the grinding or farming that might be synonymous with this type of game.

So it's really a great way for us to both tell the story about how the world on the other side is different changes. It's also the same reason why there could be, like I said before, four different wind graves running around in the main town. But it's an exciting way for us to get players in and let them find something new each time that they go through a Gloom wall into a Lost Zone.

I'm reading here on the Wayfinder press release something about an Atlas and Mastery levels. Can you explain?

AJ LaSaracina: Yes. We incentivize you to play every character that you get through playing the game. You have a starter character and you're able to unlock more everything that we want to put inside the game. Being a free to play game, we do want to be fair and accessible to everyone else. But yeah, there is a master level, an account level I guess. By playing the other classes and by playing other characters, you're leveling up and gaining additional points and additional loadouts, additional things for the other classes that you have. The Atlas ties into that as well because it's kind of like our collection book. As you visit landmarks or locations in the world, you're learning about the world, you're picking up lore pieces, codex entries.

On top of that, it also lets you know where you can find your resources and the monsters you've hunted. Maybe you say, hey, I found this one monster one time, this giant turtle thing, but I don't know exactly what I could get from it. So the Atlas might list out all the recipes and all the things that you could find. Player exploration and collection really is the heart of the game. One of the things that we really like is that sense of player accomplishment and going out and finding things and exploring and learning through doing versus just having a UI element.

Even the mutator Joe was talking about before isn't like, hey, I'm putting up this Gloom mutator and makes everything gloomy at the end, right? Think of it almost like the Breath of the Wild recipe system where you're trying different things, and as you figure them out, it fills out that book for you. You're kind of learning at the same pace as other people inside the game. Collection/exploration is a big thing for us and the Atlas ties into that.

Do you already have a level cap in mind?

AJ LaSaracina: I don't think we do right now and if we do I cannot answer! But the idea is that we'll probably be changing that over time, obviously, as the game evolves and we introduce new characters and new account-wide mastery abilities.

I'm guessing you will be introducing new live events every once in a while to keep Wayfinder fresh.

AJ LaSaracina: We really want the game to evolve over time, in terms of both having the social space, the large open world areas, and then the Lost Zones allow us to both have it feel fresh with new events that come in, their new bosses, new quests, new abilities, but also just new weapons, new characters. And the thing that Digital Extremes really helped with forming the live service model. They built that system almost 10 years ago now alongside the Warframe community and that's really important for us to make meaningful, interesting content and keep the game updated and give a reason for players to come back and play.

Will there be an ongoing narrative that you carry forward with each new update?

Joe Madureira: For sure. One thing we're really trying to do is to develop the story both inside and outside of the game. When we are introducing new characters, we would like to flesh out some of their backstories, whether it's an animated short or online comics or whatever, lore on the website, we want to really push the story inside and outside of the game, and then, each season is probably going to introduce a new wrinkle to the narrative or add a little bit more so that players can keep exploring.

But Wayfinder is more objective based, gameplay focused than a narrative driven game. There will be a compelling story to package it all together, but for the most part, it's really gonna be player driven. Hopefully, people will engage with the game and the systems enough to want to keep playing even after they've completed each story chunk. But yes, we will keep adding to it over time.

I know the game will be free to play eventually. How are you planning to monetize this? Will there be any Battle Pass or Season Pass thing?

AJ LaSaracina: We're not going into details yet about the monetization. I think the one thing that we definitely want to hit upon is that Wayfinder takes Warframe's free and fair direction and evolves on it with a lot of more modern takes on some of those ideas and systems.

We'll go into depth a little bit later about it, but it's safe to say that will be a free to play game that uses a lot of the same things you see out there today. But totally with the idea of respecting players' time and money.

Joe Madureira: Yeah, no gacha systems, no loot boxes.

Do you already have an endgame loop in mind? Will there be any bigger raids geared toward larger groups?

AJ LaSaracina: Yes, nothing we're going to detail today, but absolutely. It's something that's important to us both from a gameplay perspective because we like playing that type of thing, but also for long-term engagement. We are currently planning to have larger groups. Right now, a Lost Zone is for three players. We'd love to double that to like six for large scale raids, but no specific hard details to discuss just yet about it. But it is something we plan to have in game content.

I've read something about housing and player's apartment, even buffs to neighborhoods. How does that work in Wayfinder?

Joe Madureira:  Yeah. One thing we love about online games is just the social aspect. Even though we're not making a full-fledged MMO, hopefully we can have a lot of those hooks. Again, playing to the collection aspect, having your own space in the world is just fun. So, we're introducing player housing that will allow each player to customize the inside of their home.

But the added effect is that some of these housing items will actually buff the character, and eventually when we have neighborhoods, those combined or like guild housing, you'll actually be able to combine the effects of some of those buffs to benefit your character and party members. Obviously, everyone in your party is also gonna be buffed by how they have their housing set up, so it's almost like a second paper doll to collect things for and to equip, so to speak.

Eventually, we'll be upgrading the houses to have different rooms and different things in them and more slots, stuff like that, but for now, we're starting with just a small apartment. We'll build onto that system over time, but it's really exciting.

Okay. Now the big question! We talked at length about the PvE co-op aspect of Wayfinder, but did you think about PvP? Is it a possible addition in the future, or is it just a no-no?

AJ LaSaracina: It's not so much as a no-no, it's something that I think we all like in these types of games; we've all played online games or MMOs. Nothing for Wayfinder in the immediate future. Maybe there's something in the far-off future, like a tavern brawl type of system where you can challenge somebody. It's been a joke that we've had for a while, but no, we are a PvE game. That's what we're focusing on, that's what we're making, but it's an online game, so I can never say never.

Joe Madureira:  Yes. As fans, we would be excited about it, but it would have to come much later once the core game is stable and fun.

Fair enough. Balancing PVP is completely different from PvE.

Joe Madureira: Exactly. Believe me, we've turned on the PvP switch! It's been hilarious and fun, but it's not balanced at all, so we can't really release it that way but maybe someday.

There's going to be a Wayfinder playtest soon, right?

AJ LaSaracina: Yep. We're announcing at The Game Awards that the following week players can play for the first time. We'll be running our first PC test - it truly is a test. It's a technical test on a lot of systems in the game, a lot of core technology like matchmaking and account and all that other stuff, so it's small, it's NDA'd. After that, in January, we'll be opening that up then to consoles for PlayStation players as well as PC. We'll follow with the Early Access launch in Spring and the full-blown free-to-play launch later in 2023. We really are treating this as building it alongside the community, so we definitely want people to jump in and take part in those tests and tell us what works and what doesn't work. Stuff will be broken, but that's the nature of the beast.

The relationship with Digital Extremes has been really great to help us understand a lot of the steps that are necessary to make a great online title. That's what we're hoping to do next week.

It's a nice Christmas present for the fans! Will there be cross play in Wayfinder?

AJ LaSaracina: The intention is that wherever we are, we'll have full cross play and cross-save.

Cool. Some tech questions now. I'm guessing Wayfinder runs on Unreal Engine, right?

Joe Madureira:  Correct!

Do you plan to upgrade to Unreal Engine 5?

AJ LaSaracina: We do. We're currently on UE4, but the intention is that we upgrade at a later time to UE5 to be up to date. No other details about it just yet, but it is our intention.

Are you also going to integrate hardware raytraced effects and/or upscaling technologies like NVIDIA DLSS/AMD FSR/Intel XeSS?

AJ LaSaracina: Yep, we can confirm actually that we're working with AMD on co-marketing. FSR actually does exist in the game today. We'll be working to bring version 2.3 and then eventually FSR 3 in the future.

We'd love to do additional technology if we're able to do so, but that's something we can confirm today. As far as the raytracing goes, it is something we'd also love to do. It's kind of harder with a lot of the randomized places like the Lost Zones but maybe in some places like Skylight, the main hub, or a place that doesn't change as much. It's not something that we're committed to yet, but we love the technology and think that it could bring a lot to the look of the game. We're just not there yet.

Thank you for your time.

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