Windbound is nothing like Breath of the Wild. There, now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can get started.
When I started up Windbound, I set out with the expectation of a light survival game broken up with bouts of relaxing ocean sailing. For the most part, it does not disappoint. In the game’s opening chapter I found myself stranded on a small island with a pocket knife and a crude sling. Shortly after that I was rowing myself to the next island in a makeshift canoe made from grass.
In typical survival game fashion, over the next several hours I had upgraded my sling to a fearsome bow with steel-tipped arrows, my pocket knife to a spear crafted from the bones of monstrous enemies, and my simple rowboat had transformed into a mighty ship soaring over the water with multiple sails. Is it fun though? For the most part, yes. But that yes comes with more than a few caveats.
The biggest problem with Windbound in its current state is the vast number of game-crashing bugs that are being reported. I’ve personally recorded around 18 hours with the game, and only experienced one instance of a game-breaking bug, though others haven’t been as lucky. In the final chapter of my second play-through, I experienced a bug which completely deleted my save. This is more than a small problem, and there are plenty more reports of people losing save games. Although the Stadia build seems to be rather stable, PC players are reporting that the game is crashing continuously after just a few minutes of play.
Story and Content
There’s a very real lack of content in Windbound. Although I found the basic gameplay loop quite enjoyable, I very quickly ran out of things to do. My first play-through, with a lot of screwing around exploring small rocky outcrops and trying to build everything new that I found, took 11 hours. For my second play I trying to do a “build nothing, kill nothing” run to earn the Pacifist achievement and a few others. That run took 4 hours. In a nutshell, each chapter plays out exactly the same: sail around aimlessly until you randomly discover the three islands with towers on them, go to the portal island, wake up in a new world, repeat. If you don’t go out and explore, this can be done very quickly.
This type of game gets most of its fun out of the procedural storytelling that comes from players exploring the world. Windbound does have some of that, but the world is just too small for larger narratives to emerge. There are only a handful of enemy types, three tiers of building materials, and four biomes. Even the early expectations that the game would be a “survival base-builder, but on a boat” aren’t quite right as there is no base, and while you can build a few small items on your boat, it’s never permanent by nature as your boat can easily be destroyed.
A future content update could make this game really stand-out, but as it is now the content is just too slim.
The majority of Windbound is tied up in its survival gameplay, and the core of that is managing your hunger. As you perform actions like running or combat your stamina goes down, and conversely resting (not running) for a short while will allow it to refill. Gradually over time your maximum stamina meter will slowly go down in chunks, representing hunger. Find a meal in the form of mushrooms or berries, or slay a monster and cook it’s meat, and your maximum stamina goes back up.
The hunger system is very simple, and it works. Saving food causes it to decay in an attempt to prevent you from hoarding, but through my several play-throughs I’ve found that food is mostly plentiful, and often can be found in overabundance. Combine that with craftable items which completely negate the decay, and after the first chapter, hunger completely stops being an issue.
The other side of the survival coin, crafting and building, is fun though limited. As I mentioned above, there are very few items to craft and no tier 4 style items which require you to combine crafted items together to make more advanced items. It would be generous to call this game a survival-lite, but that’s what I’m going with.
A lot of the hype for this game pre-release mentioned the rogue-like elements. While there is a rogue-like aspect to the game found in the form of randomized boosts you can acquire between chapters, I feel that calling this game a rogue-lite is disingenuous. There is no New Game+, and progress does not carry over in any form from one game to the next. The bonuses you gain between chapters are more of an evolution of your character, and not what I expect from a rogue-lite.
But the sailing is relaxing, right?
The feeling of sailing on the opening seas in this game is incredible. They truly nailed the feeling and mechanics of sailing, and it’s incredibly relaxing to point into the wind and enjoy the music and scenery. At least in the first few chapters. A word of warning that the mood on the water does change quite a bit in the final chapters when predators appear in the water to mess up your quiet night with the sunset.
I’ve really enjoyed playing this game, but the extremely limited scope of content combined with a lack of emergent narrative makes it hard for me to recommend at this time. At the current price of $30 I don’t think there is enough game here to make it worth your money. I truly hope the developers make enough money and have enough interest that they’re able to produce DLC or content updates, because Windbound is still a wonderful experience aside from these few shortcomings.
4 / 5
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