“When we started this studio we didn’t think we’d be making games at this scale again,” says Joe Madureria of Airship Syndicate. Wayfinder, the studios’ free-to-play action MMO, has just been shown off at The Game Awards. This is the first milestone for a game hoping to establish itself in a dog-eat-dog ecosystem packed with games fighting for your time.
Wayfinder is the product of four years of work in collaboration with Digital Extremes, the game’s publisher and a source of experience for the team at Airship Syndicate. Joe Madureira has been around the block for some time now, responsible for the Darksiders series and a steady output of quality smaller titles like Ruined King: A League of Legends Story and Battle Chasers. With Wayfinders, the Madureira studio is returning to a genre he feels they're skilled at making, on a game they’ve always wanted to make.
But what exactly can you expect from Wayfinder? As a 3rd person action MMO, you’ll find yourself a home in Skylight, a safe hub where players can pick up quests from NPCs, craft weapons and Wayfinders (characters), and crash at their own player owned apartment. From here they can either venture out into The Highlands, an open-world zone where a series of dailies and public events are present, or take on instanced Lost Zones which act as modifiable dungeons that players can alter for different experiences.
The main gameplay loop has you go out to collect treasure and resources from the world using a fully voiced, distinct Wayfinder and your chosen weapons to overcome what awaits and make it back with useful loot. You’ll then go onto make new characters and gear, customise your home, pick up more quests, and ascend up an account level which will act as an overarching indicator of progression through the game.
According to Madureira, the game is built around four pillars: “exploration, adventure, combat and collection”, with all four apparently bleeding into each other. Take Lost Zones; at first seemingly simple instanced missions you and your friends can take on, these full blown dungeons can span anywhere between eight to twenty rooms and are modified greatly by Mutators, craftable items that switch up the monsters, traps, bosses, and rewards of a Lost Zone when used.
“You might have to run something 20 times to get the jailer’s key, but I have all the right mutators to make the Jailer spawn. Let's form a group and get this done!” states Madureira, offering an example to how mutators could lead to a variety rich experience. The reason for doing such a task is for new stuff, which extends to customisable player housing, something the team hopes to expand beyond the apartment system available on launch to full neighbourhoods. “We’re hoping this all allows players to customise their play experience.”
Player housing, a non-linear gameplay experience, collection-focused progression with a focus on grabbing new and unique Wayfinders… Golly, this does sound a lot like Warframe! This is something Madureira and the team acknowledges, but is firm in the belief that this isn’t fantasy-punk Warframe. “From the inception of the project the ideas were our own, but a lot of the DNA and experience from Warframe was shared. They’ve been very careful not to just make this Warframe, but there are some overlaps in terms of systems. The partnership is all about leveraging their experiences.”
It’s clear that Digital Extremes are more than just the five-forma purse behind Wayfinder, although the resources they’ve provided had apparently allowed Airship Syndicate to expand the scope of Wayfinder extensively.
“We thought we’d be this indie little rag-tag studio in Austin. But we are ambitious folks and when we have a partner like DE who supports our dream of creating a new online world. It’s not an existing IP, we’re creating it from the ground up. Being huge MMO players and fans of the social aspects of these kinds of games. If you had asked me 5 or six years ago if we’d ever be doing a game like this I’d be very sceptical.
“I think creating an online world – you definitely need the right partner, the money and resources, that a small studio will struggle to obtain. Also being free-to-play, that’s a tricky arena to enter without experience. Without DE as a partner… they’re basically couching us all the way and teaching from their past experiences. I don’t think we would have even attempted it without that.”
With the PC technical beta signup for Wayfinder live now, console beta coming in June and a full on Early Access release planned later down the line, Madureira has lofty aspirations for Wayfinder that he hopes will excite players who decide to jump into the world they’re creating.
“Building new IP is always super fun. Creating new worlds… It’s something that I really enjoy. Each project is a little bit different. For this one, we’re definitely approaching it with the thought of ‘how could this world exist outside of games?’. Shows, films, whatever. We’re really trying to make the characters really interesting, and create a world that we can tell tons of exciting stories in.”
As for how he’ll entice players in the first place, winning them over from the concrete monoliths dotting the live service landscape, he’s focused only on what the team does well. “We’ll have very deep combat systems, cool characters that’ll look awesome, awesome creatures…
“We can only just put our spin on it and hope for the best, there’s no guarantee. If you like our games in the past and like what our aesthetic is, it’s just that 10x. We’re going all out.”