Action Game of the Year 2014 Runner-up: Wayward Souls12 Dec 2014 0
Unlike many of the games we'll be gushing over during these awards, there's nothing about our Action GOTY Runner-up that particularly endears the fantasy roguelike to touch devices--nothing that jumps out, at least. You could take the same basic ingredients--meaty top-down action, a handful of classes, procedurally constructed stages, permanent and semi-permanent upgrade systems--and plop them onto a PC, or Xbox, or Super Nintendo, and you wouldn't lose the effect. A cynic might look at this game and say its best achievement is doing virtual sticks right.
And yet, there's an intimacy to Wayward Souls. It's the heir to handheld classics of yore, with a pickup-and-play accessibility paired with the sort of lore-building that throwaway action titles forego to afford more exclamation points after the blood-red "ZOMBIES!" text advertising their man-shoots. There's a world here, a lore that's specific but never overwhelming, and a story which reveals itself over multiple (so, so necessary) playthroughs with each of the game's characters.
Does it matter that we don't experience the events which lead the Warrior to chase down a necromancer in Wayward Souls' abandoned mines? No. But try and hold back a smile the tenth or eleventh time you're "ambushed" by his skeletons near the end of the first act, knowing full well that you can handle what's in front of you (and that much, much worse is yet to come).
The play of the thing gets clearer with time as well, familiar enemies and rooms popping out from the white noise of seeming randomness. This is the dance you do with bats and magic books zooming at your head, this is the dance you do with the giant steamwork robots and gargoyles charging at you, and this is the secret dance you save for your close, special friend: the boss at the end of the stage.
For all its simplicity, Wayward Souls demands a serious chunk of your time. Not just small discrete moments when you're free on the train or killing time before the takeout arrives, but a series of quests, mainly failed, all laid in a row on a single personal timeline and contributing to a larger narrative. That demand, that a player invest more than a few minutes at a time in a game (even if they're only playing for a few minutes at a time), isn't common among self-proclaimed action games on mobile--Wayward Souls just shows why it should be.
To see all of the games recognised in the Pocket Tactics Best of 2014 Awards, visit the 2014 Awards Index page.