Someone, somewhere had an intriguing idea; What if you strip away major aspects of an MMO, like the combat, quests, and even normal text interaction, and you're simply left with one thing, exploration. I have to admit, I was super interested in the concept. In fact, when the developers said they weren't ready to send review codes by the time the game was out, I was ready to dish out the full asking price of $24.99. In retrospect, I'm really glad I didn't.
Wander is described as an exploration MMO that tasks players to solve mysteries through narrative by finding various rune stones scattered around the island. That in itself sounds intriguing, except that even without the core MMO gameplay elements being present, what is there is either incredibly boring or vastly broken.
The game starts you off as a sentient tree. Yet another idea that sounded a lot cooler in theory than in execution. After all, the last sentient tree I can recall was a freaking Guardian of the Galaxy. The problem is that these trees are extremely slow. There is absolutely nothing fun about exploring an island a mile per hour.
The bigger problem here is that the game doesn't let you choose what race you want to play as, essentially forcing eveyone to start off as the worst race in the game. It's a problem because once you actually do find locations that let you transform into other species, like a Griffin or an agile human/fairy/thing, you'll never want to go back to playing as a tree, making that species completely pointless, and a terrible way to make a first impression on players.
I was even more confused about the MMO part. Not because I didn't see a single person throughout my entire playthrough, but because I didn't understand how it functioned. Were there multiple servers that just automatically placed people where it wanted? Was it just one giant server and multiple instances? Or was it simply one giant instance and the Wander folks were either praying that their game could support thousands of players at once, or they predicted that they'd only have a handful of people playing at once.
It seems like this is a game about questions. Which makes sense considering the game is based around a narrative of finding out more about the mysterious island, except my questions relate more to the game design. Why is there a giant obelisk structure that's seemingly important? Why is it filled with invisible water all the way to the top? Is there a secret at the very top? Does any of this matter?
The answer to the last question is a resounding no. I did eventually swim to the very top of the obelisk-like structure filled with invisible water and as soon as I stepped out of the water on top, I glitched out into the obelisk, forcing me to use the menu item "Can't move?" which placed me all the way at the bottom again. Thanks game.
Taking communication out of a game isn't always the worst idea. Hell, it certainly helps more non-social gamers feel more comfortable about playing online. In a game like this, communication doesn't really seem all that important anyway. However, the game employs its own language called Rozhda which you gradually learn as you find new runes. To speak Rozhda, you can either use the touchpad to draw the rune, or simply press left and right on the d-pad and then press down to say it. While it's certainly interesting to implement a system of drawings to talk, the system itself is broken. You have to draw the rune exactly how the game draws it, in the correct order. That means if a cross has four dots around it, you have to draw those dots in the order that the game teaches you, otherwise it simply won't register. The drawing itself is extremely finicky on the touchpad too. Since you can't actually see where you're drawing, you'll often just scribble nonsense on the screen instead of what you're actually trying to draw.
However, not even taking into account the pointlessness of wandering around and discovering essentially nothing in an MMO that's completely empty, the game itself is rather broken as well. The run animation is stuck facing forward, no matter if you're strafing or running backwards. Despite being built on the CryEngine, the game is certainly not that pretty. Trees and environment items flicker and pop in even when you're standing next to them. Your character, especially if you're playing as one of the smaller races, will clip through rocks. Random sounds will cut out and then start playing when they're not supposed to. Jump animations area also pretty broken. The tiny human race for example can somewhat glide when jumping from a high ledge. Except that glide animation sometimes activates when simply jumping on a flat surface. I also have no idea what the map is for. You can place down markers on the map, but they don't show up in game. You also can't see your character on the map, which makes it hard to actually navigate where you are or plan out where you want to go.
The big problem here is that the game is too experimental to charge such a high price for a digital download. Asking for $24.99 is simply ludicrous for a game that's this broken and empty. Though I imagine if this was a free PS Plus game people would throw a fit as well, though it would at least have more people online to interact with. Even the Steam version seems to be devoid of all life, with five players on at the time of the writing, with a peak of 10 today. That's five people that you'll most likely never see since there is no way to group up or find each other, and the islands themselves are rather large as well.
Interesting in theory, but horrible in execution, Wander is simply a game I can't recommend. I can only give it a few points for the creative idea behind the game, as it was something I was legitimately interested to try. It's a shame that the core game itself ends up being entirely too boring to keep me interested, and too empty to enjoy with others.
A completely unique idea that's unfortunately unplayable and most importantly, boring. You're better off wandering to find a better game to play.