If there’s one thing I love doing on my free time, it’s playing video games. Especially exploration and survival based games. They bring me a sense of peace of mind, and satisfy my wanderlust in these times when I can’t really get out of the house as much as I’d like. My most recent gaming experience was with the sea faring explorer, Windbound.
Windbound realeased August 22, 2020. The game design smacks of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Windwaker all rolled into one, and in most part it delivers on the experience you’d expect from such a combination. I’ll try to keep this review spoiler free, but bare in mind I’m going to cover a number of points considering how the game works, what it does right, and what it could do better.
The game mechanic centers on building your own boats to sail from island to island discovering ancient mystery and keeping yourself fed. And it does this very well. Exploring the islands feels new and different on every landfall. There are unique biomes, each with special resources you need to build better gear and boats. Collecting these materials is fun, and is kept fresh with the constant threat of starvation or becoming something else’s next meal. Even on the seas you are not safe from these fauna threats, and with each level of advancement the threats increase in difficulty.
There are two games modes on the title screen for you to take on the challenge of the seas: storyteller, aka easy mode, and survivalist, aka hard mode. In easy mode, dying only resets the level you are on, leaving you with your learned recipes and what you had in your backpack. Hard mode takes you all the way back to level on, with only what you could carry and what you had learned along the way. One mode that is surprisingly missing from the game, and would vastly improve the replay value of it, is an infinite mode. The game only has five levels, and once they are done, the game is over, with no more options for continued sailing and accumulating of materials.
Combat is a bit clunky. You craft your own weapons, ranging from slings to bows, your knife to a spear. You can dodge, jump, and even lock on to your targets, but the attacks with melee weapons are slow and have a lengthy recovery time before you can use them again. Ranged weapons are better designed for combat and even have a reasonable drop off of your projectiles, adding in the element of learning to use them at a distance.
The art style is beautiful. Cel shaded environments give you a connection to the world and its inhabitants that would be missing with other conventional kinds of graphic design. The water moves in currents and swells, and changes with the weather; giant waves that threaten to capsize your boat in the storms, calm and smooth when the wind is low.
The music is adaptive, and changes depending on the weather or your encounters with wildlife. However the interest of this design quickly fades as their is only one scored track for when sailing, and one for when in combat. The only other music comes at the end of each level, and it is exciting, but again you soon lose interest as it is repeated again and again as you progress through the game.
Wind is a key component of the game as sails are your main means of traveling quickly between land masses. However, there are times when the wind will simply not fill your sails, a fatal flaw in the mechanic that will hopefully be patched out at some point. It can be quite annoying to be rolling along on the open seas only to suddenly have your sails go limp for no reason, the wind still obviously blowing in your desired direction, just giving no power to your craft.
WHAT COULD BE BETTER
Overall I enjoyed the game. It’s a fun, if short romp through an interesting world filled with history and magic. But there are some things that seem to be missing from the game. For one, there is no fishing mechanic. The only way to obtain fish is to shoot or spear them from the shore. You never see fish in the open water, and it would be nice to be able to obtain meals from the ocean over just the islands.
As mentioned before, there is no infinite mode where you can sail on forever, and I feel that would be a great addition to the game. The shortness of the story leaves me wanting more, and I did play through the game twice. But after going through it from the beginning twice I lost desire to keep on trucking. Playing through on hard mode lets you start from the beginning with all your previous knowledge and some materials, so you can get a quasi infinite play in that manner, but you can only bring so much back with you. Making the proper preparations to create every item in a second go through is difficult, as the resources are so scarce in each level, and some resources are only available after level three.
Adding more interesting weather conditions and having them pose threats more often could also add a level of excitement to the game. The seas are only dangerous when going past reefs or dealing with large fauna. Other than that, the seas are no trouble. Having storms that force you to seek shelter on land would make for more daring adventures on the waves.
And perhaps I’m asking to much with this one, but I think a second act would be a great addition. After the game ends, you are left with a heart warming closing scene. But what happens next? This game already has you managing large amounts of inventory, more than you could use yourself in many spots by the end of level five. So if there was a village management segment I think that would be an exciting addition. You return to your village, empowered by your experiences on the sea alone, and start to hunt down new resources for your villagers so they can improve their lives and build new boats. You could increase the population, fight off illness and famine, create new festivals, and even send new colonies out to build new villages.
WHAT’S THE SCORE
I give Windbound a 7/10. The game has a lot of great elements. All the pieces are there to create and have an excellent gaming experience. But it just falls short of reaching its full potential. If the developers patched a few issues, added in more music options, and included an infinite play mode for those who desired to sail on into eternity.
I recommend this game. It is available on every platform and PC. Although the story is only three to four hours long, its a fun experience along the way. Maybe wait for it to go on sail, so you can get the most out of your money, but do check it out. It’s worth it.