I have no idea how to make this a long review. There’s simply not a lot to talk about, and one of the primary reasons for that is that this is one of those very rare games that I gave up on before reaching the end. The controls in Wayward Souls are just too consistently aggravating and imprecise to be of any use, and even using a keyboard (which shows up as a controller) didn’t solve the problem. Playing Wayward Souls on a mobile device is akin to driving a tractor in need of an oil change while wearing a biohazard suit and being loopy on painkillers, so overwhelmingly clumsy and impossible to control that the game is borderline unplayable. The core of the game revolves around going down floor after floor until you reach a boss fight and clear the area. Since this is the only point where your progress is actually saved—though you retain the gold you accrued even after death—the game has a tendency to be absolutely unbearable to play through.
To play and to win
For a mobile gamer who plays fifteen minutes at a time here and there, never being overly concerned with reaching the end of a game, this could very well be a worthwhile game to pick up. However, for the rest of us who like to find out more about the story and conquer every game we put our mind to, a game like this that seems to revolve around luck more than skill is absolutely maddening. I don’t know what this game’s story is; I played for several hours over the course of months (even going so far as to wait for an update before doing this review), but I’m still completely in the dark about what happens later on in the story because of the way it’s tied to progress. As you make your way from floor to floor, you’re occasionally treated to cutscene pictures that reveal back story and character motivations through text, but this means that actually figuring out what’s happening in the story revolves around making it through several floors of each area. This is problematic because of the game’s randomly generated areas, but I’ll get more into that later.
The characters are interesting enough
After a brief intro section where you play as a knight who quickly meets his demise, you’re able to choose from 3 different characters. You have Blythe the warrior, Abbie the mage, Renee the rogue, and three additional characters are unlocked as you progress in the game. I managed to unlock one, “Cyril the adventurer,” by making my way past several floors and a boss fight, but couldn’t manage to get any further. As you can probably tell, the characters—and their individual stories and personalities—are locked to their class, so playing as a rogue (which I found the most comfortable) meant that I was always playing as Renee. Luckily, the knight in the intro is the only one who dies permanently, so playing as one of the characters and dying doesn’t bar you from trying again as that character.
Procedural levels are just awful
I’m going to say it right now: procedural generation is one of the worst fads to come out of the industry because it replaces meaningful design with largely empty areas that exist as they are due to pure chance. What makes Wayward Souls’ procedurally-generated levels so infuriating is that they’re some of the best I’ve seen, though. I stumbled on all kinds of cool little events and areas as I played, from an adventurer trapped in a cell to notes on the wall explaining the game’s upgrade system or leading to a mini-ambush, and this helped levels to feel more purposeful than in most other procedural games I’ve played.
That said, I still found myself wandering around empty areas and dead ends far too often, with my overall progress determined not by my skill, but by occasional bouts of luck that would give me an “easy” floor to clear. The controls are so bad that progress proved to be directly tied to luck, and this just seems like poor design.
Touch controls are the devil
Action-oriented mobile games such as Big Action Mega Fight are really only playable for me because they can be played with my Bluetooth keyboard, but even after waiting quite some time for an update to add in controller support, the game still refused to work properly with a keyboard, allowing me to move around but not attack. Why can other games with controller support work perfectly on a keyboard (almost universally, in fact), but not Wayward Souls? As a direct result, I had to keep one hand on the keyboard for movement and another one the screen for attacking. This proved to be a step in the right direction, but it also highlighted a more serious problem with the controls.
Before the update, back when I had to use the touch screen for movement, I would find that the game would suddenly decide that I had stopped touching the screen even when I hadn’t. The result was that charged-up attacks would randomly trigger, and running away from enemies would often result in my character randomly stopping and getting hit. Something I noticed once I had keyboard controls was that this was still a problem; even when using the keyboard arrows to move around, my character would occasionally stop for no reason.
Those two combined are the real killer
Bad controls I can deal with if the game is predictable enough that I can learn an area’s layout and practice ways to minimize the downsides of the control issues while doing as much damage as possible. Procedurally generated levels I can deal with if the controls are solid enough that progress revolves around player skill. The combination of bad controls and procedurally-generated levels, however, is a game-killer. Wayward Souls does a lot of things right, but I find it absolutely unplayable even after waiting months for patches.
There are two methods of upgrading your characters in Wayward Souls: temporary upgrades gained from forges and goddess statues, and permanent upgrades that are bought with accrued gold from the character select screen. The temporary upgrades only last until your character dies, and they also seem to disappear once you clear an area (areas being comprised of several floors). The permanent upgrades are—obviously—permanent, though their effects are more subtle. For example, a temporary upgrade might grant you increased speed or allow your weapon to reflect spells, while a permanent upgrade can grant you more health when moving to a new floor or increase the amount of health you have in general.
All characters have 7 permanent upgrade options that can be purchased up to 5 times (increasing the improvement each time), with each upgrade costing more gold the more you upgrade it. Each character also has a single final upgrade that upgrades all other characters in some way, though this only becomes available once one of them has been fully upgraded. Gold is infrequent enough to make permanently upgrading characters a serious grind, though, especially given how frustrating gameplay quickly proves to be, so this is something only the most dedicated players will ever actually unlock.
The problem with mobile games
This is a little niggle, but an update made the game unplayable for a time. What happened was that an Amazon Gamecircle pop-up would refuse to take no for an answer, popping up every 20-30 seconds in the middle of gameplay (but not pausing the game, leading to many undeserved deaths). I understand bugs and such being an inevitability, but this really highlights one of the major downsides of the platform: when something terrible happens, you have no ability to revert back to a working earlier version. I only hope that the future of the game doesn’t have any similar ugly surprises in store, though I personally won’t be returning to the game until its PC release. Honestly, I expected more out of a 6-dollar game.
The graphics are great
I love good pixel art, and Wayward Souls has it in spades. The combination of moody lighting (which can be affected by destroying candelabras) and pixels is just about perfect, and this is actually what drew me to the game in the first place. Even better, the areas and enemies correspond somewhat, so you can often tell what kinds of enemies you’ll be facing based on the appearance of the area you’re in. As far as the graphics are concerned, I have no complaints.
The music is good, too
I won’t say the music is perfect, because it’s often a bit too understated and atmospheric for my tastes (in addition to repeating a lot, though it’s difficult to say how universal that is without having played through the entire game), but the main menu theme is undeniably memorable and melodic.
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