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It's hard to like the heroes of Wuthering Waves when they keep soiling you with dictionary vomit

The Lament

Rover faces the camera, saying "I don't know what I'm doing here".
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Kuro Games

Understanding any given sentence in Wuthering Waves is like trying to discern sensible meaning from the back of a rain-bleached Doritos packet you found while cleaning your gutters. Last week, players of the character action gacha asked for more freedom to skip story scenes and dialogue. Having sunk a bunch of hours into the game, I can see why. The combat may be swish and the traversal across its rolling landscape flowing and carefree, but the lore-obsessed babble of its characters is mind-numbing. Wuthering Waves has been this month's lightning rod for hype. But it's worth dissecting what it's actually like to play.

The simplistic answer is: it's like Genshin Impact but rougher. It still looks to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for inspiration (an inspiration so direct it features the familiar sight of a mountain cleaved in two as a central landmark). And it is still, transparently, a gacha game. Combat is an admittedly snazzy button-mashy affair, with a sly dodge button, basic counter-attack openings, and a creature-summoning side hustle. You control a whole cast of fighters with different powers, styles and weapon types. A core desire (in theory) is that the player will want to combine the many available characters into powerful compositions, pairing icey impaler Sanhua with unflappable healer Baizhi, for example, then throwing in lightning swordsman Calcharo for cool factor. To get the characters you want from the full roster of 18, you'll have to churn the virtual crank of the gacha gizmo and hope that your desired anime beau appears.

I'd rather leave them all in the machine.

Yangyang dumps a ton of lore on Rover in Wuthering Waves.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Kuro Games

Chatter between characters has me spacing out within seconds. It might just be overwritten, yet something about the wobbly rhythm makes me suspect it may also be the victim of questionable localisation. A lot of sense seems to have been stripped away (or I just don't get a lot of things that are culturally significant to Chinese players - a definite possibility). Either way, it's hard to know exactly why the dialogue lands with all the weight of a watery soap bubble. But it's enough to observe that it does.

The player is machine-gunned with proper nouns and abstract lore. Ad hoc world-building is emptied out onto the floor in front of you like an upturned bucket of fifteen different jigsaw puzzles packaged together. Characters are given weird moments of focus in which other characters will remark on their personality, as if to say: "Hey, player! Have you noticed that this character is what they call 'tsundere'? Wow!"

Baizhi gives Rover some background information.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Kuro Games

I understand that, to many, expecting a decent story in a gacha game is like expecting McDonalds to season your fries with pink Himalayan salt, but when the dialogue is there in such overwhelming volume, it's hard to dismiss. You are hit with scene after scene of forced interactions as the introductory zones take you through the features and tricks of the game - crafting, fast travel, combat, grapple hooking, and so on. The developers have responded to complaints about localisation (alongside log-in problems, overheating, and other issues) and the solution seems to be, yes, let the player skip as much of this stuff as possible.

For those who don't care about storytelling, that's the problem solved. For others, like me, who like to get invested in the hopes and fears of aristocrats and lowlifes from other worlds, skipping scenes simply unmoors you further from that world. If I don't care about these characters, I won't want to collect them.

The lack of polish goes beyond unskippable cutscenes anyway. Dialogue gets cut off, or occurs calmly in the middle of a battle, as if you weren't stabbing the speaker in the head. Characters chat to you with the tone of someone standing right next to you, but are nowhere to be seen, inexplicably buried inside your own body. When playing on PC the menus will ask you to "tap" the screen, a reminder that the core audience is rooted in legions of phone and tablet users. During dialogue the screen will often fade to black and say things like "You showed Yangyang and Chixia the tokens'' or "Jianxin explained why she wanted to leave the city" - the substitution of animation with superfluous stage directions.

More stage direction against a black background in Wuthering Waves.
Yet more stage direction against a black background in Wuthering Waves.
Look, it's stage direction against a black background in Wuthering Waves.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Kuro Games

The whole plot seems to hang together with glue and duct tape. Wuthering Wave's publisher famously splashed out on advertising by hiring every billboard in New York's Times Square. Yet so much of the game itself brings to mind the flimsy plastic toys you get in the gachapon machines of reality.

Even tutorial screens (the one place you want meaning to be clear and concise) are a cat and mouse game of meaning, a Reader's Nightmare of Many Title Case nouns and Directions without Sound Punctuation or Context. It's not a huge deal. Once you're in the actual fight, you can muddle through and learn by doing. But look at this screen and tell me if you can get halfway through the first couple of sentences without leaving your own body.

The tutorial screen for the character Jiyan.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Kuro Games

You can't just roll for a character, you must "Convene". You don't find a stack of cash, you earn a "Voucher of Reciprocal Tides". Players of free-to-play games will recognise the kelp forest of currencies that awaits on the store page of the pause menu. There are Radiant Tides, Lustrous Tides, Forging Tides, Lunite, Hazard Records, Data Sets, Astrite, Afterglow Coral, Oscillate Coral, Sonance Caskets... This deluge of doughs isn't anything new to the genre, or free-to-play games in general. A Destiny 2 player can rattle off the countless coins and coin-adjacent non-doubloons they will need for their favourite cosmetic. But this in itself might just qualify as another mark against Wuthering Waves. Even its free-to-play psychic warfare is uninspired.

It is, as you might expect, a completionist's game. There may be solace to map-revealing wanderers like myself in the satisfaction of going off to find all the Resonance Beacons in the land (the monoliths that allow you to fast travel). I've enjoyed the game most when I completely abandon the quests or battle events and go wandering without purpose. The speedy clambering up cliff sides, the grappling hook points that criss-cross the city - it's clear that smooth traversal was high on the list for developers to nail. At the top of that cleft mountain you will discover a small sanctuary of felines at the summit. My favourite moment so far has not come from unlocking characters, beasting bosses, or navigating the lines and lines of lore-filled diatribes, but in giving a chicken drumstick to a cat.

Rover hangs out with cats in Wuthering Waves; a menu allows the cats to be pet or fed.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Kuro Games

It is hard to build a sense of motivation around that alone. The rest of the game, its gacha galumphing and unreadable sentences, present a world that feels superficial at best and soulless at worst. It is as if all the constituent parts of a video game have been grown in a lab and stitched together, for no clear reason other than it might make some money. When Nintendo makes a game like Breath of the Wild, other creators open their eyes wide with glee. They take away its clever ideas. What if the player could climb almost every surface? What if the player could put their own stamps on the map? The main thing developers will take away from Wuthering Waves, I fear, is the confirmation that overwhelming advertising still works.

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