The Average Gamer

Wander. Get Lost.

Wander - Tree
I like discovering things in game worlds. Wander sounded like the perfect game for me – a non-combat MMO with a focus on exploration and story. You start out as a huge Ent-like tree. Explore a little way and you’ll discover a stone that lets you turn into a humanoid form. Travel down to the ocean and you’ll find a shrine to become a reptilian creature and swim rapidly through the waters. Climb the right mountain and you can be a griffin.

It’s a brilliant concept. I’ve often found myself thinking that I would love to spend more time in certain game worlds, but for all the goddamn killing. Most RPGs have you killing things from the get-go and the rest of your in-game life is spent battling bigger and bigger baddies. Sometimes I just want to walk around and drink in the world without fun sections being walled off because I haven’t killed enough things.

There’s a real art to environmental storytelling. I don’t expect to be congratulated with unlocks and achievements every time I stumble across something interesting. Discovery can be its own reward and my favourite moment happened in Fallout 3. I’m running across open wasteland at night, exhausted and half dead from combat. I climb a nearby hill to survey the landscape and discover a ruined barn atop another hill nearby.

I get close and see that an entire side of the barn and half the roof has clearly rotted away. Way at the back of the barn is a filth-stained mattress. I’ve never seen anything more inviting in my radiation-riddled life. Upstairs, is a single chair that’s been dragged over to the open side of the barn, with a clear view for miles around. To the left of the chair is a plate with the remnants of a meal. To the right is a box of ammo. Leaning up against it is a rifle and in the chair itself sits a skeleton wearing a floppy hat. Dawn breaks over the horizon and everything is peaceful. Someone made a good life here.

Wander - GriffinIn 5 hours of Wander, I found some talking rocks, glowy ferns and a lot of identical, empty huts. The forest and caves are beautiful (grass pop-ins aside), but all you can do is wander through them. I became a griffin, spent 10 minutes flying up to the mysterious floating island at the top of the world and found another talking rock. I swam to an underwater city and found… yet another talking rock.

This is world is dead. The guy in the Fallout 3 barn was dead as well but you could see the story of how he lived. The talking voices from the rocks of Wander pontificate on topics like how hands make it easier to hold an axe and craft things. Once you become humanoid and have hands, you learn that there isn’t an axe. You can’t craft things. There’s little to do except travel through characterless jungle and listen to rocks. There’s an in-game language you can try to learn, which involves drawing gestures on the screen but… there’s nothing to talk about.

The rather more egregious problem is that the world is rife with clipping errors and places that aren’t really designed for travel. I tried to wander off the obvious path, clipped through a series of boulders that turned out to not be solid and got stuck behind an identical boulder that was impenetrable.

Wander - AzerteshDown in the underwater city, I quickly realised that I could just swim through the walls of the huge structures instead of going down to the entrance. It’s just as well because if there’s a “swim down” button, I couldn’t find it. The camera control doesn’t let you angle down very far, so going deeper involved swimming in small spirals until I reached my target.

This would all be forgiveable in an Early Access game. Wander isn’t being sold as an Early Access game. The dev team are working on things – at launch there was no way to look up the language gestures and this has since been added. However, it doesn’t excuse the poor quality and lack of things that would make exploring worthwhile.

Wander is out now on PC and PS4.