Warlander is the first project of Clock Drive Games and it has been in development since 2018. Unlike most indie games, Warlander takes a lot of risks in its action packed gameplay and mechanics. The game combines elements of God of War’s hack and slash, Dark Souls’s hit and roll, Fallen Order’s lightsaber swordplay and a lot of other elements established in other action-adventures. Warlander shoots extremely high, but will it achieve its ambitious goals? We’ll see.
Warlander is available on Steam for your regional pricing.
Unfortunately, story is the weak point of the game. Warlander lacks storytelling in any form. Even though we find some elements of a backstory as we play through the game, it’s not nearly enough to constitute a main plot.
We start the game as a druid who was killed during battle with the false god Morven. The Forest’s Will makes a pact with us, sending us back to fight our way through Morven’s forces and defeat him. And that’s the whole story. The only interesting point is that it’s a loop-able story that fits well with the repeating nature of the game.
As we go through the game, we find memory fragments that each tells a small part of the world’s backstory. But these stories aren’t interesting and frequent enough to draw players back to play the game again. After 10+ hours of gameplay and more than half the achievements unlocked, I only found a handful of story fragments.
There are some elements of environmental storytelling scattered through the world design as well. But again, it isn’t enough to contribute to a solid story.
This is where Warlander shines. Unlike most indie games which focus on an interesting story and use an established gameplay, Warlander focuses on new and intriguing, action packed gameplay and tells a simple story. Warlander combines many different elements into its gameplay. At some points, this approach seems over ambitious and causes some bugs and harsh gameplay. There’s a lot to explore, but it’s not flawless.
This is a game of trial and error. Death is permanent and you have to start over. You might only go through a few arenas before you die or you might make it to the last bit of health on the last boss before a wrong move costs you your life. Warlander is easy to learn but hard to master. I can see Warlander becoming popular among speedrunners. It’s highly repeatable and you can make your runs harder by imposing extra challenges on yourself.
You start the game by choosing a starting point in your run. Each time you start a new campaign there’s a unique map generated that offers a lot of options. You can choose easier paths for fast completion but you might be too weak when you reach the last boss. Or you might choose a challenging path for more upgrades and rewards, but you might die fighting through more enemies and bosses.
The combat style is a unique stamina based hit and roll. Your attacks, abilities, dashes and running require stamina and your limited stamina pool makes every move in combat important and every mistake can end your run. You have to find a balance between dodging enemy attacks and using the opportunities to strike. We all eventually learn this the hard way when we hit a boss multiple times before it’s about to deal a deadly strike and we don’t have the stamina to roll away.
Aiming is also important in combat. Enemies might have armor on different body parts and you can hit exposed parts by aiming for the head or the legs. Your upgrades also need body parts, so you might need to focus on severing different body parts for a certain upgrade.
There is a variety of upgrades found through the world and a skill tree that you can unlock in specific places. Although these upgrades and skills offer a more flexible gameplay, they don’t contribute to different styles of builds and playthroughs. The different upgrades and abilities are better used in a balance that includes all abilities. While focusing on one type of upgrades is possible, it doesn’t seem optimal. However this could be another challenge for speedrunners to try.
With all the different aspects of gameplay and combat, there is one thing that seemed annoying throughout the whole game. The game is slow. Player’s movement speed and attack speed, enemy’s and boss’s abilities and movement, they all seem a bit slow. It’s not a good sign when the upgrade that seems the most powerful is the movement speed upgrade. I am not sure if everyone would feel the same while playing the game, but if there was an option to speed up everything by 10%, I would definitely use it.
Many elements in the environment are interactable. Objects like explosive barrels and collapsable structures are found in most arenas and you can use them to your advantage. There is also the possibility to throw enemies off the edges in certain arenas. While this is an easy way to deal with some of the more challenging enemies, it also can result in one of the most annoying bugs in the game. Terrain design around some of these places allow for enemies to land on them, preventing them from falling to their death. When this happens, it could be impossible to kill those enemies and you won’t be able to complete the arena without quitting the game. Being unable to jump makes this particular bug extra annoying. We might be able to have some of the enemies stuck in weird terrain and finish them off, but without a jump mechanic, we wouldn’t be able to get back.
Warlander has a lot of potential, and the dev team has already released an update fixing some of the bugs reported by the players. This could mean that most of the problems will be fixed soon, and we will be looking at a much smoother experience and better paced action while playing Warlander. But as of now, Warlander has a few annoying bugs that can affect your gameplay and the pace of action drastically.
Graphics and Audio
Warlander puts all of its focus on action and gameplay, but it also looks really good. The characters might look a bit cubic and there aren’t a lot of details in environment design, but the world looks good when you are done decapitating enemies. There are also a lot of different atmospheres and designs when you progress through the different arenas.
There aren’t many graphical glitches except one. One of the game’s bosses, Abomination, who is also the most disgusting creature in the game, is so huge that there is a lot of camera clipping when you get close to fight this monstrosity. I also experienced occasional frame rate drops in some of the bigger arenas that spawned a lot of enemies at once, but nothing game-breaking.
The music is fine when you first start to play, but there isn’t a lot of variety in soundtrack. For a game like this that is all about grinding and playing again and again, music can change everything. So after a few runs, the game’s soundtrack wasn’t enough and I had to listen to my own playlists to stay in an energetic mood.