Wayfinder is a modern MMO made up of the genre’s best bits

Wayfinder, currently in closed beta on PC and PlayStation 5, is a MMORPG that borrows heavily from other greats of the genre. It feels like developer Airship Syndicate carefully pulled together the best bits from the competition and blended them into a game that offers both enjoyable chill sessions or challenging obstacles to tackle. After I accepted Polygon’s invitation to the game’s closed beta, I found myself lured by the promise of just one more run until I realized Wayfinder had gobbled up hours of my time.

While the closed beta is still unpolished and lacking some features and assets, I still got a good idea of how the game will actually play. Wayfinder is packed full of comforting fantasy aesthetics infused with saturated color and weird, interesting touches. It’s set in the world of Evenor, a realm threatened by the malevolent forces of the Gloom. Long ago, the Gloom pressed against civilizations until a crew of Champions held a dramatic last stand against it… and lost. A year later, those Champions have been reborn as Echoes, incomplete and imperfect replicas of the fallen heroes.

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I pick between one of these Echoes as my player character, picking up champions like the sword-and-board paladin-esque Wingrave or the sneaky, stabby Niss. I can then customize my character, who takes up a profession known as Wayfinder; customization is a pleasingly versatile process, with plenty of cosmetic options and a color wheel to pick from. It’s a neat balance between a player-created blank slate of a protagonist and a small, concrete cast.

Jumping into Wayfinder feels like riding a bike; you’ve probably done much of it before in other MMORPGs, and Airship Syndicate hasn’t reinvented the wheel. Many major systems are straight out of Warframe, and others will be familiar to fans of World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy 14, or Guild Wars 2. What makes Wayfinder interesting is how it combines these separate parts, and where it differs from its peers.

For one, it lacks the geographic scope of its peers. I can hang out in Skylight, the remaining hub of civilization and peace in a world that’s otherwise been consumed by Gloom. From there, my character’s ally Omen can open portals to expeditions and zones to pockets of reality full of traps, brigands, spiders, or goblins. These zones act like dungeons, but they’re randomly generated for each run, leading to a different layout.

Wayfinder - A colorful look at Waylight, the city and bastion of the game’s fantasy world. It’s a busy, bustling city with shops, bars, apartments, towers, and more. Image: Airship Syndicate/Digital Extremes

There are a few other zones that are also accessible, if dangerous. Early on, I get sent out into the neighboring Highlands, which offers a challenge from maddened thieves lurking in crumbling ruins. As I explore, I unlock beacons in these new locations; I can teleport between these beacons, and their light holds back the Gloom.

It’s an elaborate but rewarding process to empower and experiment with my Wayfinder of choice. Through clearing minions, platforming up paths, and defeating bosses, I earn more resources that power up my main and their weapons, or progress toward unlocking other Wayfinders.

While the game has lots of room to min-max and tinker, I find myself more intrigued by playing dolly dress-up with my characters and heading toward the goal of unlocking my own apartment to customize. If Wayfinder is to succeed, it’ll need to balance between both extremes — scaling content for those who crave a challenge, and offering cozy MMO comforts for role-playing and good vibes. This beta test is promising on both fronts.