Always-online free-to-play ARPG relaunches with an offline mode, zero microtransactions, and an upfront price: 'We're in uncharted territory, and it's a big risk'

Wayfinder screen
(Image credit: Airship Syndicate)

Developer Airship Syndicate has announced the resurrection of its action RPG Wayfinder, but with a difference: it's junking all the stuff players hated the first time around. In its previous form Wayfinder was always-online, featured microtransactions, and was free-to-play. Now it'll have an offline mode, no microtransactions whatsoever, and an upfront price tag of $25 in early access (first spotted by Kotaku).

"We've seen a shift in the industry where players are OK paying for a premium title if it means respect for their time and wallets," says Airship's president Ryan Stefanelli. "It's one we prefer ourselves, frankly, and we believe it'll make the game much easier for people to enjoy."

That's particularly the case on PC, of course, where Valve's pioneering concept of early access has allowed smaller developers to release the core of a game and, should it find an audience, build-out the featureset over time. Early access may mean that some dreck ends up on Steam, sure, but this is way offset by the spectacular lifecycles of games like Dead Cells, Hades, and recently Baldur's Gate 3. 

Getting here has been a bit of a trip for Wayfinder. It was initially published by Digital Extremes, before the Warframe developer decided to get out of publishing altogether. The one silver lining was that Digital Extremes pledged it would "transition full control of Wayfinder to [Airship] in the coming months." This did however mean the game was temporarily delisted from Steam earlier this year while all the legal stuff was worked-out. 

The big re-launch is built around a major expansion called Echoes. Everything previously purchaseable can now be earned in-game, with some systems re-worked to reflect this, the online co-op element will become optional, and there will now be four difficulty levels.

Then there's a whole bunch of new stuff: a new continent, a new playable character, new missions, and per the press release "randomized weapon drops, collectible armor sets with unique stats, streamlined character acquisition, expanded limits for housing items, a slick new UI, and new traditional RPG talent systems."

"When we settled on removing the online component, the team said 'well, what else can we do?'" said director Steve Madureira. "We started brainstorming how to make Wayfinder more approachable and rewarding. I think the team did an amazing job bringing more traditional ARPG elements to the game, and the business model shift allowed us to do that. It's a solid singleplayer game with a lot of content, but it's even better when playing co-op with friends."

"To our knowledge this hasn't been done before," says CEO Joe Madueira, "taking an online-only game fully offline, fundamentally changing all aspects of it. We're in uncharted territory, and it's a big risk for Airship to make this change, but it's one we believe in."

Wayfinder's big moment happens on June 11, though existing players will be able to access a soft launch from May 31. The game will be $24.99 during early access, with a price increase when it hits full release. This price "covers all content created until the leaving early access, with no microtransactions or other in-game purchases", and people who previously bought the Founders edition of the original game will get a copy of the revamped game. 

Well, this is the kind of thing that players say they want to see: and in the various comments from Airship's team, you get the sense that the developers have come to realise they want it too. Success is never guaranteed, and few games manage to re-launch themselves after a bad first impression (even if much of that seems to have been out of Airship's control). But with this kind of overhaul, and a little luck, Wayfinder may have given itself a shot.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."