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A seabearing, survivalist adventure awaits in Windbound. This game offers procedurally generated oceans with islands to explore alongside a story to uncover. Windbound’s survival and crafting elements are a stimulating, but ultimately short-lived challenge as it’s all designed around the fleeting story.
In Windbound there are five chapters, or oceans, to discover. Within each ocean there are three nautilus shells found on easy-to-identify towers. These nautilus shells act as keys to progress to the next ocean. In addition, obtaining the three keys also offers a picture explaining the story. To get these keys, sailing and keeping an eye on the hunger gauge is vital. It’s possible to live off mushrooms and berries, rarely upgrade anything, and only go for the three nautilus shells, but it’s a risky strategy. On survivalist mode, once dead, the game restarts all the way from chapter one, but with items in the small “Held” inventory. On storyteller mode, the game restarts with all inventory items, but with a newly generated ocean. Even in storyteller mode, dying still presents a huge risk as the boat and items on it will be lost forever.
The boat is the equivalent of a base, and building it to be as formidable as possible is a reward within itself. Having a nicer boat also speeds up the pace between finding new islands and crafting materials. Controlling the boat sail by reacting to the direction of the wind can be tricky, making sailing more than just directional movement on the analog stick. However, the bigger, upgraded boat is more easily flipped by the wind compared to the smaller one, which seems counterintuitive to the power grinding gameplay structure. The boat will flip back, no damage occurs, but it happens a bit too often. Despite that setback, it’s still faster and safer to make a better boat.
The boat is the crown jewel of customization here, but there are an assortment of weapons to build, status-changing clothing, and other useful gear to make. Crafting recipes are discovered whenever a new item or combination of items are found, making new biomes a joy towards which to venture. In general, every upgrade lowers the sense of danger when travelling and hunting beasts.
Fighting against enemies is a fairly simple task that requires dodging, running, and the choice between two close quarter melee weapons, the knife and the spear, or two ranged weapons, the sling and the bow. There is a lock-on button that needs to be pressed after each enemy, and it locks onto the closest one, making fights with multiple enemies cumbersome. Attacks with all weapons are slow and weighty leaving the character open and vulnerable a lot of the time, but this makes encounters all the more dangerous and exciting.
Islands don’t only include a variety of monsters, ingredients, and other crafting materials. They also host runestones that can increase the amount of health, stamina, or sea shards, a currency that can be used to obtain specialty items, status changes, or unique abilities between each chapter. Besides that, islands contain a history of Windbound’s world. There are ruins of old architecture, pottery, and other pieces of the past that give way towards understanding the current state of the world. Walking through these areas will make somewhat cryptic text pop up on-screen, but a good chunk of it is understandable, especially the further players get into each chapter as context builds up. Accompanying these historical sites is an awe-inducing soundtrack indistinguishable from other areas.
A cool part of Windbound’s presentation is the soundtrack. Each large creature has their own theme. Eventually, before even visually identifying a monster, knowing of their existence will come by the soundtrack that is attached to each one. Of course, sailing through the ocean has its own theme, and varies depending on the weather. The atmosphere each track creates certainly adds to the immersive feelings of being at peace on the sea, or the terror of having a shark circle around the boat. The tracks can be repetitive, but also catchy. The visuals, although cartoony, are still vibrant and full of depth, and together with the audio design and music, create a really enjoyable experience.
Sadly, the immersion is often broken by a list of technical issues. Firstly, when dismantling the boat and its accessories, and when dismantling an item used to hold storage, the items within don’t come back, adding an unnecessary step to preserve storage which makes organizing a pain. Secondly, sometimes creatures aren’t actually in the level geometry. As mentioned before, their song will play, but they are inside of a rock or the ground. In populated areas, the framerate can sink making encounters and hunts less satisfying and more of a chore. Lastly, and the worst issue of them all, is the game is prone to crashing. The save button hasn’t been this important since ‘90’s RPG’s. The crashes make a relatively short game longer and more repetitive than necessary. Depending on an individual’s play style, the game can last anywhere from six to 12 hours. Windbound starts out with a few small islands with a small quantity of resources, but then chapter three opens up and expands on crafting and island size.
However, the limits of crafting are polarized in chapter four, rendering the quest for just a few more items useless, except for completionists. By then the game isn’t so challenging, and the only thing needed is some meat which becomes super easy to obtain. Many other assets reach an end point, too. The procedurally generated islands start to look too similar to each other. The amount of monsters is small, there are only a few biomes, and gear is also limited. Enemies might attack differently from each other, but defeating them is all the same. The goal within each chapter itself doesn’t change. The way to get to the nautilus shells doesn’t become any more interesting or challenging than it was in the first chapter, besides maybe a monster in the way.
There might be room for some variation in another playthrough as things are procedurally generated, but even then the scope of what’s possible is limited, and mostly seen in the first playthrough. Minecraft’s final alpha version had more than double the amount of biomes, landforms, and it hosted way more items and materials to make and interact with, while costing half the price as Windbound.
From crafting to combat, nothing gets too deep as the story doesn’t dare to get in-depth either. Windbound’s mechanics are great until there’s nothing left, which happens fast. As soon as everything is mostly upgraded, other islands feel pointless to explore, and finishing the game is the only priority.