Indie

The Waste Land Wastes Some Great Potential (Review)

There’s few things that really set me off in the world of games, but games that are ripe with tons of good ideas yet hindered by themselves are right up near the top of that list. Call it a failure to meet expectations, a good idea ruined by other things, or whatever you’d like, but The Waste Land by Fledermaus is a solid example of this to me. Maybe it’s because they’re still putting on some finishing touches, but there’s too many problems left for me to take this as the game I think it’s trying to be – which is a shame, since it’s actually a pretty great concept and mostly solid execution.


The Waste Land is, as described, inspired by T. S. Eliot’s poem of the same name; a story of lost innocence, despair, and a difficult journey through treacherous lands. Our story begins as King Zyron III, our protagonist, unwittingly sends his kingdom spiralling into a nightmarish landscape filled with deadly monsters, evil spirits, and more by his reckless actions. Cast out from his reign and unrecognized by his subjects, the king must scour a huge map in search of powerful weapons, mystical items, and incredible beasts in an attempt to restore order and peace to the ruined regions he once ruled.

This strange and cryptic mystic explains most of the plot, much to the distaste of our protagonist. He shows up throughout the game serving grim reminders and distributing useful items.

This strange and cryptic mystic explains most of the plot, much to the distaste of our protagonist. He shows up throughout the game serving grim reminders and distributing useful items.

Fundamentally, The Waste Land is a pretty solid, well-built “Metroidvania” game with some pretty good features and a unique twist. You’ll get to use both melee and ranged attacks, find items to boost your natural abilities, and explore a vast world without any real sense of direction or immediate instruction beyond a short “how-to” tutorial. You’re basically left to explore the land to see what you can find, and fight your way across an extensive realm with only a very basic map to guide you. There’s no indications as to what items you’ll need or where you can find them – just a wide, open world to roam around until you hit an impassable edge. There’s plenty of those barriers, too, which do a reasonable job of keeping you in the right general area until you’re ready to move on.

If it's not a wall you can't cross or jump you can't make, it could be a giant boss you can't fight yet that blocks progress - and the boss fights are plenty tough even when you're well-equipped.

If it’s not a wall you can’t cross or jump you can’t make, it could be a giant boss you can’t fight yet that blocks progress – and the boss fights are plenty tough even when you’re well-equipped.

I’ve talked a lot so far about the high points for The Waste Land, so what about the lows, and this wasted potential? For starters, there were some large bug-affected sections that slowed to a nearly unplayable crawl because of some side-loading software or something like that – a small program window flickering in and out of existence while the game suffered. It wasn’t a fluke, either – these areas had the issue every time I visited them. There was also an issue of equipment order; the first ranged weapon I found was a bow that shoots fire arrows, but since I hadn’t previously collected the standard hunting arrows, I received those in lieu of the item described and picked up. While this isn’t especially damning on its own, I still haven’t found the preceding item as of this writing, so I’m not sure if it self-corrects or not – and it’d be really nice to have the weapons I have found rather than the ones I haven’t.

There's a certain charm to the variety of locales you'll get to visit, even when many elements remain the same throughout. There's a ton of space to explore and discover, when it's working right.

There’s a certain charm to the variety of locales you’ll get to visit, even when many elements remain the same throughout. There’s a ton of space to explore and discover, when it’s working right.

When it’s all working and things aren’t broken, The Waste Land is a great throwback to an era and genre that aren’t especially popular anymore. The flaws hold it back, but – except the weird choppy parts with whatever glitch – don’t break it, just make me wish that it really lived up to everything it’s trying to be. I’m hoping I’ll see a last-minute update come through here in the days before its 9/16 launch and those will be sorted out, but as it’s not a sure thing, I’m scoring based on what I’ve been able to play to date. For a reasonable $9.99 starting retail (and 20% launch discount) via Steam, I think there’s more than enough to make a purchase worth it for those with a taste for the genre, but until the bugs are ironed, I might recommend holding back. Still, it’s a fun, challenging, and extensive game that brings a lot of play time.

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