REVIEW: The Waste Land

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

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The Waste Land | oprainfall
Title The Waste Land
Developer Fledermaus
Publisher Digital Tribe Games
Release Date September 16, 2014
Genre Metroidvania
Platform PC
Age Rating N/A – Presumed Mature
Official Website

Metroidvania games are a genre that I feel are woefully underutilized these days. Other games just don’t offer the same depth of exploration and seamless world design that your Metroids, Castlevanias and everything in between do. Today, we’re looking at The Waste Land, a game that is seeking to marry the pure exploration of Metroid with the deep narrative of Caslevania. Does it work out, or does the product somehow become less than the sum of its parts?

The Waste Land | Mythical Beast

Developed solely by programmer Michele Caletti under the name Fledermaus, The Waste Land is inspired by the 1922 T.S. Eliot poem of the same name. However, while the poem dealt chiefly with feelings of despair and loss of the “natural world” in the face of modernism, the game aims more to take those same feelings and put them in a medieval setting. Players take on the role of King Zyron III, a bored and hedonistic ruler who only cares about satisfying his own selfish needs. The game opens with the king hunting wild game out in the forest. Not long after setting out, Zyron finds a strange-looking beast with a completely white body and glowing antlers. Naturally, he kills it without a second thought. Immediately afterwards, a massive earthquake rocks the landscape, and the king returns to his camp to find his armies wiped out. A strange old man tells Zyron that the beast he killed was the physical manifestation of the connection between humanity and the natural world, and that the king’s hubris has plunged the kingdom into chaos. To that end, Zyron must go on a quest to not only rid the land of the twisted monsters that now roam the countryside, but also learn from his mistakes and become a better king for his people.

The Waste Land | Fledermaus

Leave me alone, you fledermaus!

As per the usual formula of the genre, players explore the world of The Waste Land through a variety of 2D platforming environments as they search for items, converse with people in towns and fight monsters and bosses who have been mutated by the sudden darkness the king has unleashed upon the world. To do this, Zyron has his trusty sword to attack monsters directly in front of him, and will find a bow early on to defeat enemies from a distance, as well. While these weapons only do a marginal amount of damage initially, players will find stronger swords and arrow types as they explore other maps and landscapes. Increased damage is nice, but certain weapons, such as the Bomb Arrows, will also allow for deeper exploration by granting the ability to blow away special blocks. As far as other pickups go, the only other items to really keep an eye out for are large hearts that will increase Zyron’s maximum health every time he picks one up.

The Waste Land | ForestThe Waste Land has players explore six distinct landscapes during the king’s quest. Starting out in the forests where Zyron committed his blasphemous act, he’ll also explore rotten swamps, dangerous mountains, vast deserts, deep mines and perilous tundra. Each environment has a distinct feel as you move from place to place, with various monsters and traps to impede your progress. Monsters are mostly unique to the environments, though you will certainly see some overlap as you go. Other issues, such as mud and deep snow will slow you down as you try to walk through it. Also, it seems that no one ever taught Zyron how to swim, because entering deep water will kill him immediately. Dotted throughout the world are save points that have the dual benefit of acting as checkpoints, as well as fully healing you when activated.

The Waste Land | YetiVillages and towns found throughout the world map also have NPCs with whom Zyron can converse, though only a handful of them will actually have anything important to say – the majority of them will simply recycle lines about how hard life is or what a sucky king they have. The Waste Land doesn’t have any kind of currency system, either, so there are no shops to patronize. Towns generally just serve as places to find a save point, talk with the locals or, if you have a mind to, visit the local brothel for a little… how you say… puff-puff…? Honestly, it serves no purpose that I could find. Even if there isn’t a whole lot to do in towns, it’s a good idea to peek into all the open buildings just to see if there are any free health upgrades lying around. The game also has a handful of sidequests, though they’re fairly well-hidden. You’ll sometimes hear villages talk about mystical items or special locations that aren’t actually connected to the main story. However, exploring these locations and fighting through waves of (often strong) enemies will usually yield a health upgrade or two or a new weapon.

The Waste Land’s enemies are pretty varied, though they will rarely challenge veterans of the genre. Some animals that the king comes across will look normal, such as crows and eagles that will attack him on sight. Other monsters have obviously been mutated by the dark magic that Zyron unleashed, like giant fire-breathing wolves, bears with large eyeballs where their heads should be and a variety of hermit crab-like monsters that will pelt him with projectiles. While most of these monsters fit well in the gameplay, in typical Metroidvania fashion, very few of them have attack patterns that go beyond moving left and right (albeit fairly randomly) or attacking the player when they get too close.

The Waste Land | Whale Boss

Bosses, on the other hand, really ramp up the difficulty. Every boss in the game is some kind of gargantuan, screen-filling, mutant beast that could probably easily pulverize Zyron with its superior size and weight, but, out of a sense of fairness, I guess, instead fires vast quantities of projectiles at him. Each boss has a special weakpoint (generally its cluster of big red eyes) that often are out of reach, but can be hit with arrows or quick hit-and-run tactics. These large enemies don’t tend to do all that much damage with their attacks, but they themselves do have a lot of health, so these fights tend to become battles of attrition as it becomes necessary to dodge their attacks while also dealing damage for extended periods of time. Every boss in the game also blocks the way to some secret or another – be it a new section of the world map, a sidequest or a special weapon.

The quest continues on Page 2

About Tyler Lubben

Tyler is a lifelong gamer, getting his start on the Intellivision when he was three years old. After receiving his English degree, he discovered all those jokes about getting a job in his field were true. As Head Editor with oprainfall, Tyler is able to bridge his two passions; playing and talking about video games at any given opportunity, and being a total grammar nazi the rest of the time.

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