I love a good Metroidvania; it’s probably my favourite genre. There’s something extraordinarily satisfying about improving my character’s arsenal of skills over time, eventually granting them access to areas previously teased but tantalisingly inaccessible the first time I saw them.
And in equal measure, I dislike turn-based strategy games. Turn-based combat is slow, repetitive, and feels too much like playing chess – which I suck at, obviously. Think of the genre as the Mr Hyde to Metroidvania’s Dr Jekyll, if you will.
The only RPG with turn-based combat that I’ve enjoyed is Child of Light because it let you control each character in real-time, creating an artificial race between you and the enemy AI; you had a short window of opportunity to line up perfectly-timed combos with your party before your time bar finally depleted.
So when I was offered the opportunity to play Worldless, a Metroidvania combined with turn-based combat with a hint of real-time combat al la Child of Light, I was excited to give it a try. After a few hours with Worldless though, it’s quite possibly one of the worst Metroidvanias I’ve played. Don’t mistake that for me saying Wordless is a broken game because it isn’t – it’s playable for sure. ‘Playable’ probably isn’t the raving review developers Noname Studios was hoping for.
If you asked me what the story is, I couldn’t tell you. Wordless starts off in the blackness of space where a blue singularity and a red singularity collide, merging into a green singularity. This initial collision replicates like a virus, creating a sea of red and blue balls of energy that continue to collapse into green balls of energy when they collide. We zoom into one of these blue singularities to discover the main character – a floating array of blue orbs in a vague shape of a human with a sword, shield and ponytail. At this point, it’s obvious that the red singularities are what you’re fighting. Not long after introducing the protagonist, she dies and wakes up in a corridor lined with doors that lead back to the Overworld. Presumably, this corridor is the Afterlife, but considering you can’t die in Wordless maybe the protagonist was simply demoted to the corridor. it’s equally likely that it’s a wormhole between worlds or simply backdoors akin to The Matrix: Reloaded that act as shortcuts.
All of this happens within the first 6 minutes, and it’s honestly like stepping into a fever dream. Why you are fighting, who you are fighting, what you are fighting for, or who you even are escapes explanation.
Have you ever played a game and felt like you’re just pushing forward for game’s sake – as in, you have no goal in mind or any notion of what you’re supposed to be doing? That countless years of gaming have taught you moving in one direction is bound to make something happen? That’s what playing Worldless is!
The platforming is fine, although it doesn’t have the tight, fluid feel I’ve come to expect from the genre thanks to gems like Ori and the Blind Forest or Islet. You’re granted new abilities by ripping the heads off corpses or by smashing up stain-glass orbs found in the ground, and chaining your move set can feel pretty cool. You can also collect floating talismans to improve your health, some of which are hidden behind puzzles or against-the-clock mini games. There’s also green triangle keys to find. I didn’t find them all so I have no idea what they do.
Without clear intentions though, the agency Worldless bestows upon you is impacted when you don’t have a clear goal. Orange and green cursors show up on the map, indicating which direction to go in, but you don’t know why you’re heading towards them. You’ll do it because your experience playing videogames dictates you to. The only driving force is your curiosity and the lingering question “what is actually going on?”
A good Metroidvania map should do the following:
- tease a new area that requires a specific upgrade
- lead you down a path to achieve said upgrade
- be easily readable for a laser-focussed session of backtracking
Worldless doesn’t do any of these things. Finding the corpses and stain-glass orbs that unlock new abilities require no skill or logic to find them; you just stumble upon them in random places. The map indicates where skill points can be found but because the map looks like a constellation of stars, it’s impossible to properly locate them. The map is basically useless. I’m starting to think it’s not a map at all, actually.
At least it’s an original idea, I suppose.
The combat in Wordless is one of the most confusing ideas I’ve ever experienced. Even now, I’m lost for words on how to conveniently comprehend the madness that makes up 50% of the game.
To gain skill points you need to consume enemies. Orange enemies can be immobilised, which is great for getting past them but doesn’t reward you with a skill point. Blue enemies cannot be disabled and have to be consumed, and these enemies predominantly act as gatekeepers, locking you off from certain parts of the map.
To consume enemies you have to dish out enough damage until it activates a quick-time event. Sounds simple enough but the whole mechanic feels extremely unbalanced – orange enemies will either die before you can activate the quick-time event, and blue enemies don’t seem to take any damage at all. So, you’ll end up going around in circles unable to level up and unable to reach new areas.
All of that ignores the fact that enemies come with little icons that are never explained (within the first couple of hours at least) and it was never obvious if the icon indicated a weakness, resistance, a buff or an indication of which move the enemy would attempt next.
Another baffling choice is that by repeating the same attack pattern you’re prevented from dealing enough damage to activate the quick-time event, yet if an enemy is resistant to all magic attacks your only option is to use melee attacks every time, resulting in a stalemate every time. My brain hurts just thinking about it.
I hated this game. Worldless almost feels like a training exercise of how not to make a Metroidvania. A combination of bad map design and confusing combat results in an unsatisfactory experience. From its vague character designs, stale environments, ugly UI and opening cinematic, Worldless feels intangible and somewhat difficult to connect with.