A Return To The Open-World RPG Well That Has Run Dry
I never played Legends of Dawn, the 2013 open-world RPG from Dreamatrix Game Studios. From what I’ve read, not a lot of people did, as the game was an incomplete, incoherent mess, panned by critics and gamers alike.
Dreamatrix Game Studios has tried to revise the formula with Wave of Darkness, keeping the world and some of the mechanics from Legends of Dawn while trying to right the ship, but by the end of my time with Wave of Darkness, I was left wondering if Dreamatrix’s reach had again exceeded their grasp.
Arcane wards have a nice visual connection to the character
Wave of Darkness is billed as a game for hardcore fans of classic RPGs, which at first got me excited. I am no master of the role-playing genre, but I enjoy the challenges, the way that quests can be completed with different character builds, and that each character has strengths and weaknesses that must be accounted for. I thought that this was the experience I was going to get with Wave of Darkness, but in its attempt to give the player total control, the game just dumps messy story, poor mechanical design, and some really game-breaking abilities on the player’s lap.
Maybe most offensive are design choices that seem purposefully malicious. Wave of Darkness is about combat. Nearly all of your spells and abilities are combat-oriented, and yet how players engage in combat is frustrating and nonsensical. Take for example, the basic attack (which is, actually, your only ability). Once you are next to an enemy, holding down the right mouse button will start your attack animations. Unfortunately, your character will not attack unless you have positioned them directly next to an enemy, which only can be done using WASD or the left mouse button. Then can you use the right mouse button to attack said enemy. Oh, and the right mouse button is also used to loot enemies, so if you’re fighting more than one enemy in close combat, after killing an enemy it is basically guaranteed that at some point, when trying to attack the remaining enemy, you will loot the body of the fallen enemy instead, opening up your inventory window and that of the fallen enemy over the current combat.
This could all be solved with the right mouse button functioning as an attack-move order—a thing that just about every other hack and slash RPG has embraced over the last two decades - but apparently the current unintuitive, clunky design of having to run up to an enemy with one set of controls before initiating combat with another is a part of the whole “hardcore” aesthetic Dreamatrix is trying to deliver. There is a difference between making a game classically challenging, and punishingly obscure and esoteric. Wave of Darkness falls into the latter category.
Some enemies refuse to accept they are dead, even after dismemberment
For some of these design issues I’m just not sure if the choices made by the developers are intentionally frustrating or just the result of a lack of experience working in the genre. The camera can be pulled back for a slightly wider overhead view, or it can zoom in behind the player, giving an extended look to what is in front of the player. Both of these views feel too constricting, and I found myself spending more time running while looking at the tiny mini-map. In an RPG I should feel compelled to take in the fantastical scenery and environments I’m traveling through. Again, I’m left wondering if this game needed some harsh QA testing or early-access feedback.
Then I discovered the game had gone through Steam’s Early-Access program. So what issues were addressed during that time of testing? Looking through the community forum logs and I find page after page of bug fixes and issues with getting the game to a stable state.
This all leads me to believe that Wave of Darkness just is not in a release-state yet. The game just feels like it’s still in early beta. Questlines are vague, interfaces are not intuitive or helpful, combat is more slog than slash.
So what’s there to like about Wave of Darkness? My issues aside, the game has some satisfying sound design, and I enjoy creating custom spells that work in concert with each other. The geometric patterns that surround your character based on the buffs you have activated look good and feel appropriately arcane, as if you’re weaving a network of spells to enhance your abilities on the battlefield. Enemies can be dismembered in combat. These are small things that should be points of praise, but each is overshadowed by other issues. Sound design is fine, but the voice acting bounces between cringe-inducing and passable. Spells are severely overpowered and balanced by long cool-down timers, so using spells in offensive or defensive capacities is stilted. Dismembering enemies is a neat idea, but arms, legs, wings, or heads sometimes disappear or slowly float towards the ground. Enemies killed will occasionally remain standing, as if in some last act of defiance, before remembering they are supposed to act like dead bodies and slump to the ground.
Arcane wards have a nice visual connection to the character
When I think about what I would want from Wave of Darkness, I am convinced the game just needs more time in development, development that responds to community concerns, and maybe a re-evaluation of what the game can realistically offer. There are clearly things that are working for this game, and if you’re willing to overlook visuals that feel a decade old, unintuitive UI, and frustrating game design, there’s actually some fun to be had in the world, but those moments are so few and far between it’s hard for me to justify my time with the game.
Now, in fairness, Wave of Darkness is an ambitious concept coming from a studio that certainly doesn’t have the resources of AAA developers making RPGs in today’s market, but this isn’t the first open-world RPG they’ve tried to make, and they seem to be falling into the same familiar troubles they had with Legends of Dawn. And even with these caveats, I’m left wondering why someone would shell out money and slog through a game like Wave of Darkness when there is vibrant, thriving fields of RPG games to choose from that execute manageable design goals.
WAVE OF DARKNESS VERDICT
Wave of Darkness tries to separate itself from other games on the market by trying to do everything one might want to see in an RPG: deep item and spell crafting, open-world environments, tough encounters. All of these things are fine goals, but they’re all done better elsewhere. It feels like Dreamatrix is iterating towards their vision of an engaging open-world RPG, but the game is nowhere near a place where I can recommend. Given time and some serious patching Wave of Darkness may warrant another look.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Creating a spell with a perfect set of complimentary buffs, turning you from an average hero into a hulking combat monster.