Yuwen Yi was a simple merchant escorting a traveler through the desert. But when his caravan is caught up in a violent dispute between rival factions, he is nearly slain. Rescued and taken to safety, Yi soon finds himself swept up in a world of adventure, revenge, and martial arts. I got to experience the opening hours of this epic journey in my demo of Wandering Sword from developer The Swordman Studio and publisher Spiral Up Games as part of Steam Next Fest.
In the roughly three hours I spent playing it, I was introduced to a deep, rich world filled with personality and warring factions, combined with engaging combat and an intricate leveling system. For a demo I picked up on a whim, Wandering Sword left me thoroughly impressed.
The first thing I noticed about this game is its breathtaking visuals. Akin to the lavish HD-2D pioneered by Square Enix with games like Octopath Traveler and Triangle Strategy, Wandering Sword presents its pixel art locales with a fantastic sense of depth, combined with a generous helping of gorgeous light sources. But, of course, the only thing better than experiencing the graphics is seeing the beautiful animations each character moves through as you enjoy the satisfying combat experience.
Playing through the demo encounters in Wandering Sword, players take control of a party of characters placed on a small grid. While the combat is turn-based, gauges over characters’ heads will fill up over time, dictating who goes next. Characters with better stats will fill up faster. Once a character is set to activate, everything stops so the player can take action. With a plethora of potential attacks to choose from and helpful support actions, even in the early game, players will quickly find plenty of choices available to them in combat. And many attacks utilize unique attack patterns. Such as one character whose special attack fans out in front of her.
While combat does occupy a grid, there isn’t much to worry about beyond setting characters up to attack or keeping wounded allies out of range from enemies. While the grid layout may remind someone of a full-blown tactics game, the fields are far smaller without any obstacles in what I played. It is enough to allow for basic positioning but doesn’t lengthen combats with the full-sized battle fields tactics games are commonly known for.
What lends the game’s combat real depth is its skill customization and leveling systems. Each weapon type, of which there are five, comes with its own unique strengths. As the player learns new moves with a weapon, they can spend Martial Points, their primary reward after combat, to level up these abilities. As they invest points, their mastery of the weapon improves, making it more effective all around.
Spending Martial Points also causes the player to gain Meridian Points. These points are invested in several different attribute trees that strengthen the character’s base elements, like their damage, max hit points, and how quickly and far they move in combat. While this sounds like a lot, the way that spending one type of point leads to gaining other points to spend creates a nice rhythm that I quickly got used to as I fought my way through the story.
This brings me to the only element of my demo time with Wandering Sword that worried me somewhat—the story. While it does a great job setting up what feels like a sweeping martial arts journey, it does it in the wordiest way possible. Now, this may be because it is the introduction. Establishing setting, characters, and motives while teaching players to interact with the leveling systems and combat isn’t exactly a task that lends itself to conciseness. However, if the story can pick up just a little bit as the game moves on, it seems likely that it could be an RPG highlight when it comes out.
Between gorgeous visuals, engrossing gameplay, and systems I could really sink my teeth into, my demo time with Wandering Sword was well spent. However, if it can continue to deliver this kind of quality gameplay from start to finish, it feels like precisely the sort of game that will find a space on my game of the year list.
Wandering Sword is currently slated for a 2023 release on PC.