Even in the busiest of seasons, smaller games deserve some attention. In that spirit, welcome to Month of Coverage Club. Come back each day in November for a full-length impressions piece based on a hidden gem you've probably never heard of.
Roguelikes give you an arcade feel as you hop into a dungeon and start slashing, looting, and breaking things. You’re a knight, a mage, a rogue, or something similar. You're wielding a weapon and a couple items, and you keep going until permadeath hits. The Swords of Ditto blended this gameplay with a classic Legend of Zelda feel for a fun jump-in-and-go experience.
Wayward Souls is similar in that you get right to the point. Immediately, you're walking, attacking, and looting. The visual and audio presentation pleases if you like anything rogue or Zelda, as does the gameplay loop. It’s a fun dungeon-romping ride, though you still have to start over when you die. That one roguish aspect is what held me to liking an experience I otherwise would have loved.
Wayward Souls begins with a brief prologue. After that, you select a character, wake up in some mine, and get to your looting and hacking. While enjoying your dungeon-romp frivolities, you’ll be picking up cash, using fountains and statues for stat boosts, and selecting upgrades at forges. It’s fun-size Zelda action that's quick to jump into and easy to get lost in.
You could just as soon back out because of that roguish of roguish elements: permadeath. After you die, you go back to the character select screen. If you're into roguelikes, this won't stop you from continuing to enjoy the game. If you're absorbed into the game's atmosphere and the idea of a possible Zelda adventure, the restart after death will turn you off. This is a testament to how good the game's feel really is: if I didn't care so much about being able to continue experiencing the game, permadeath wouldn't bother me. It's that the game's visuals and audio draw me in so powerfully that continually starting at the beginning frustrates me.
Constant restarts after death kept killing my momentum. There are statues where you can save, but like the owl statues in Zelda, these saves fade away once you load them. If you’re not into roguelikes, you won’t be into Wayward Souls’ die-and-start-over system. The procedural regeneration of each level adds some variety, but not enough to change the experience fundamentally.
However you feel about restarting, once you're back at the character select screen there are three available characters plus some locked ones. From this screen, you may also choose upgrades for each class. These upgrades are crucial and cost loot, but you should have plenty of coins because breaking crates and pots is irresistible, plus you get them from killing enemies. In other words, you're always loaded, so upgrade away. Upgrading your character and seeing the improvements takes some of the sting out of dying. Still, I still wanted to pick up right where I died and continue the adventure. Starting over was a bummer.
I mostly played as the Warrior: the well-rounded option. The Rogue was a fun, trickier choice. I played as the Mage very little, mostly due to how quickly I died each time. If you’re inexperienced in roguelikes or action RPGs, you’d best stick to the Warrior. If you’ve got what it takes, try the Mage.
Regardless of your character choice, the combat is fairly difficult. Even as the Warrior you have to learn the timing and distance of each enemies’ attacks. Death came often for me, and I needed as many upgrades as I could buy. I struggled as the Rogue for her weaker attacks, and couldn’t quite pin that class’s advantage. I performed even more horribly as the Mage. There is plenty to experiment with, and getting good isn’t easy, accessible as the game is. Thankfully, the controls are simple and southpaw friendly, so I didn’t have to rebind them. You can reconfigure them if you want to, an option not to take for granted.
You feel a direct connection to the action on screen, a sense of immediacy that games like Swords of Ditto or the 2D Zelda titles always had. If you want a good game to jump into that feels responsive, this is for you. Start it up and get slashing away with the Warrior in no time. If the death system sounds too off-putting, go find a Zelda-like that plays like a standard single-player adventure. Otherwise, jump into this roguelike and get right to the simple 2D action.
TechRaptor covered Wayward Souls on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer.