Wuthering Waves review: A would-be usurper

Wuthering Waves’ strong combat can’t cover up its many weaknesses
Kuro Games

Being given the moniker of WoW-killer or Civ-killer has never been a good sign for a game, since they usually fall short of expectations – and it looks like Genshin Impact will cement itself in video game history as one of those defining titles surviving usurpation attempt after usurpation attempt. 

After Tower of Fantasy quickly threw in the towel as a competitor for HoYoverse’s open-world RPG, Kuro Games’ Wuthering Waves became the next object of praise for the crowd that’s obsessed with “Genshin Impact-killers” – a crowd mostly curated by certain toxic online personalities who cause drama and division for their own monetary benefit. 

Kuro itself isn’t wholly innocent, having played into the mood with an aggressive ad campaign that indirectly referenced a certain “classic open-world RPG” and its mechanics, promising to deliver a superior alternative. Naturally, that would have been fine if the game actually had been able to back up those big words, but it’s a rather bad look for something that feels more like “Genshin Impact at home” than a “Genshin Impact-killer” most of the time. If you’re inviting such comparisons, you’d better bring the goods.

Wuthering Waves Rover screenshot.
Wuthering Waves' open world is full of treasure, puzzles, and combat challenges. / Kuro Games

Wuthering Waves’ world is actually quite an interesting one. Where Genshin Impact is fully a fantasy title, Kuro Games fused fantasy and science fiction to go for a more futuristic look. It opted to start players off in a clearly Chinese-inspired region of its world, though it offers very nice variety when it comes to landscapes and terrain: There are bastions of civilization, ruined cities with floating cars and trains, bustling military fortresses amidst a battlefield, flourishing forests with giant trees, and vast underground caverns. Some areas are grayed out and lifeless in the wake of unnatural disasters that frequently occur.

I’d probably liken this to Genshin Impact’s Sumeru when it comes to variety and terrain types – and this goes for traversal mechanics as well: There are jump pads, grapple points, and rings giving your glider a boost to soar through the skies. It’s a cool world to explore with new puzzles, domains, and enemies found everywhere you look.

A series of World Quests also gives players the opportunity to really influence the map and give them a sense of progress. For example, the ground of a ruined city is covered by flowers which burn you on contact, making it difficult to explore, and another region is obscured by sandstorm that will halt you in your tracks as you go in deeper. But you can tame these regions by finishing certain quests, opening them up for further exploration.

Wuthering Waves screenshot of Rover using their ultimate.
Wuthering Waves' main character is Rover – who is quickly pushed into the stereotypical "chosen one without memories" role. / Kuro Games

Kuro Games definitely learned a lot from Genshin Impact when it comes to open-world design – but there is always a crucial disadvantage to copying someone: You stay behind them. One of the reasons Wuthering Waves feels somewhat jarring compared to Genshin Impact is that it’s essentially based on the Genshin Impact from one-and-a-half to two years ago.

People like to make it seem like HoYoverse isn’t doing anything to improve the game beyond its content updates, but that couldn’t be more wrong. It’s an impression that perhaps formed due to these improvements coming in gradually and people being unable to go back and experience the game how it was before – but in a roundabout way Wuthering Waves has given us this chance, because Kuro hasn’t picked up some of the latest changes made to Genshin Impact.

HoYoverse really picked up the tempo for quality-of-life improvements in Genshin Impact after it released Honkai: Star Rail and the difference between the game now and the version Wuthering Waves seems to be based on is a big one. I mentioned underground caverns – for the longest time, Genshin Impact had a map that only showed the top layer of the world, making it useless for navigating its sprawling cave systems. It was a massive game changer for exploration when HoYoverse added detailed map layers players can switch between. This is the kind of stuff that Wuthering Waves should have had from the very start and yet it launched with the same old single-layer map that already felt outdated for Genshin Impact back when Sumeru launched.

Wuthering Waves Rover screenshot.
Kuro Games definitely hit the right spot when it comes to movement in Wuthering Waves. / Kuro Games

That’s a general, systematic problem with the game – it feels so familiar to Genshin Impact due to how strictly Kuro Games adhered to its inspiration’s UI and systems that it already feels old. If you feel like you have to copy, at least copy the good parts.

Things are a lot better where Kuro didn’t feel bound by what HoYoverse did. One area in which Wuthering Waves genuinely feels superior to Genshin Impact for me is traversal: Sprints don’t cost stamina on regular ground, you can anime-run up cliffs and walls instead of climbing up slowly, and an elegant parkour system allows characters to fluidly overcome small obstacles on the move – it’s a refreshing and smooth experience that enhances exploration.

That is, of course, if the game runs without problems for you. From not starting at all to crashing all the time to suffering from micro stutters, Wuthering Waves is not a refined technical product for many players. Personally, I’ve been lucky enough to escape most of these – my biggest issue in this regard is that I’m getting logged out every time I start or quit the game, which is annoying. But that certainly gives one a new appreciation for the wizardry done at HoYoverse to make its games run without major issues on such a broad variety of systems. In my years playing their games, the amount of technical problems I’ve encountered can be counted on one hand. That’s another thing many players have taken for granted and Kuro simply couldn’t deliver on. 

Wuthering Waves Baizhi screenshot.
Wuthering Waves' animations generally feel solid, but many technical issues persist. / Kuro Games

It’s a similar case for the game’s presentation. While Wuthering Waves’ characters feel a little more expressive sometimes during dialogue and the landscapes can look majestic at the right time of day, it doesn’t reach the same vibrant consistency as its rival. The greatest offender in this category is the soundtrack, which falls even flatter than the English dub performances. It certainly is a tough gig to compete with HoYoverse in this aspect – they’re not called a “music company that does video games on the side” for nothing. While the OST fulfills its most basic duties by steering the mood, there isn’t a single track that got stuck in my head so much that I wanted to look it up online to add it to my Spotify playlist.

One thing both games have in common is that their dialogue feels overwhelming at times – not in terms of complexity, necessarily, but in sheer volume. Wuthering Waves hits you with so much technobabble right out of the box, chaining you down with wordy sentences when all you really want is to go out there, explore the world, and slay some monsters. I feel like most Chinese games I played are guilty of this, so it may just be a cultural thing. But with Genshin Impact I feel like the payoff for sitting through these conversations and soaking up the genuinely fantastic world-building is almost always worth it.

Wuthering Waves’ first Chapter, consisting of six Acts, is all over the place in this regard. I’m interested in the world itself and there’s some cool lore to be uncovered, but I’m not really invested in anyone – which is why some of the more epic moments in the story fall flat. 

Wuthering Waves Rover screenshot.
Wuthering Waves' world is really cool, its people and all their talking less so. / Kuro Games

Without spoiling too much, there’s an “Avengers assemble!” type scene on a battlefield that’s clearly designed to be this peak moment of all our friends coming together to help, but some of these people had perhaps five minutes of screentime prior to that. Another example is a “last stand” type scene, where our friends tell us to go ahead while they hold off the enemy because time is running out and people are dying – that’s all fine and dandy, but then they completely ruin the moment and sense of urgency by having you converse on the spot for another ten minutes, presumably leading to countless additional deaths. And don’t get me started on the antagonist who’s somehow trying to get you to join his side by being the creepiest, most annoying guy on the planet – no, thank you.

Wuthering Waves’ saving grace is its genuinely fun combat system, which feels mechanical, crisp, and fast-paced. Characters generally have an active skill and ultimate as well as some variations of basic, heavy, and aerial attacks. It also features dodge counters, allowing you to evade enemy attacks and deal damage in return. With tons of monster variations and bosses, which all have attack patterns you can learn and counter, there’s a lot to discover here.

I wouldn’t call it better than Genshin Impact’s combat, which is based on elemental reactions that have their own depth – it’s a completely different type of combat, geared towards other players. If anything, it may give HoYoverse’s upcoming Zenless Zone Zero some headaches, because that game features a very similar combat system that looks a lot flashier but is a little more shallow.

Wuthering Waves screenshot of Sanhua in battle.
Wuthering Waves' combat is definitely its greatest asset. / Kuro Games

Combat leads to some enchanting moments – you have these short slow-mo scenes when you dodge enemy moves, cool coordinated attacks with several characters when you swap them in and out, and you can transform into monsters you’ve defeated previously, using their Echo skills to fight. All of that feels satisfying and makes it worth coming back to.

The Echoes system is Wuthering Waves’ equivalent to artifacts. You can equip up to five Echoes, benefiting from their stats, but your Main Echo provides you with an additional active ability to use in combat, which is neat. It leads to this sort of Pokémon-fever when you explore the map, making it really exciting when you find a new type of monster and absorb its Echo into your collection. Again – where Kuro is brave enough to step out of Genshin Impact’s shadow, it generally leads to some very interesting twists of the formula.

As is the case with HoYoverse’s games, characters and weapons are obtained through gacha mechanics – so there’s a factor of randomness in what you get. Kuro Games pretty much straight-up copied HoYoverse’s way of doing this, which is pretty good news as it’s generally regarded as one of the fairest incarnations of a gacha system, insofar as it can be.

Wuthering Waves Rover and Bell-Borne Geochelone screenshot.
Wuthering Waves is really good in its best moments, but remains far below the competition most of the time. / Kuro Games

I’m not in love with the character design so far in visual terms, but their kits are pretty diverse, which is already leading to different play styles emerging. A good aspect of the game is that it comes with two combat endgame modes to tackle, so there’s plenty of space for the game’s best system to shine and be engaged with. As long as interesting characters keep coming in, Wuthering Waves should always have a niche audience for its combat alone, even if it can’t resolve its other issues down the line. While that won’t be enough to compete with the genre juggernaut, it should hopefully pay the bills.

Wuthering Waves is ultimately a would-be usurper trying too hard to be like Genshin Impact to trust in its own strengths, making it feel like an outdated copy in many aspects. Sporting truly fun combat and fresh movement mechanics, an interesting world, and plenty of content to explore, it has the core necessities for a prospering future in place. Before it can realize this future, Kuro Games must address the game’s many flaws and then define a new identity for it – one that goes beyond its inspiration.

Score: 7/10

Tested on: PC.


Published
Marco Wutz

MARCO WUTZ

Marco Wutz is a writer from Parkstetten, Germany. He has a degree in Ancient History and a particular love for real-time and turn-based strategy games like StarCraft, Age of Empires, Total War, Age of Wonders, Crusader Kings, and Civilization as well as a soft spot for Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail. He began covering StarCraft 2 as a writer in 2011 for the largest German community around the game and hosted a live tournament on a stage at gamescom 2014 before he went on to work for Bonjwa, one of the country's biggest Twitch channels. He branched out to write in English in 2015 by joining tl.net, the global center of the StarCraft scene run by Team Liquid, which was nominated as the Best Coverage Website of the Year at the Esports Industry Awards in 2017. He worked as a translator on The Crusader Stands Watch, a biography in memory of Dennis "INTERNETHULK" Hawelka, and provided live coverage of many StarCraft 2 events on the social channels of tl.net as well as DreamHack, the world's largest gaming festival. From there, he transitioned into writing about the games industry in general after his graduation, joining GLHF, a content agency specializing in video games coverage for media partners across the globe, in 2021. He has also written for NGL.ONE, kicker, ComputerBild, USA Today's ForTheWin, The Sun, Men's Journal, and Parade. Email: marco.wutz@glhf.gg