Windward ReviewJune 17, 2015
Ahoy there, me maties! Ye’ll be wantin’ to hear my review of Windward now, will ye?
Okay, now that the obligatory pirate reference is out of the way, it’s time for us to look further at this action/light-strategy sandbox game from Tasharen Entertainment set amidst the high seas.
Windward starts on a simple enough premise. Players are spawned into a procedurally-generated world as a member of one of the game’s four factions. Their names are forgettable, but they each represent one of the four “core” areas of gameplay in Windward: exploration, combat, trading and diplomacy. The map itself has four branches that shoot off from a central area – a “no man’s land” if you will. Players begin at the top of one of these branches, in an area controlled by their chosen faction. As the game progresses, seafarers will venture further and further from home base and encounter increasing hostility in the form of the enemy factions.
In order to defeat the enemy, players must continually work toward improving their ship to make it worthy of the high seas. This objective is accomplished through the acquisition of goods and gold through the game’s quest system. Quests range from destroying ships near an enemy port to taking boozy passengers on a short cruise, and each offer different levels of rewards for completion.
It all sounds simple enough, right?
Well, that’s because it is. In fact, the simplicity of Windward is somewhat of a quandary. It leaves the game sorely lacking in entertainment value, yet also provides for a very easy to use system of gameplay.
Let’s look closer at some of the game’s systems.
Given that Windward is, for all intents and purposes, a sandbox-style RPG, the game’s quest system should be of paramount importance. It is the primary method by which players will move forward in the game, and plays a large role in how entertaining the title is.
Windward has some fun ideas in this area, but sadly lacks a true variety in quest options. Especially in the early stages of the game, where a woefully small ship is your only option, the quest system is little more than an incessant grind. The smaller “sections” of the game map and reasonable XP rewards do help somewhat, but it stills feels like a repetitive slog of identical tasks over, and over, and over again.
Take trading, for example. Trading represents a core component of the experience of Windward and you might expect it to have some complexity, but it doesn’t. It’s simply a matter of this buying a resource cheap in one place and selling it high in another. In itself, this wouldn’t be awful, if it weren’t for the fact that the starting ship provided to the player has only two slots for cargo. Thus, tedious treks back and forth across the seas (albeit pretty looking) become the norm. Coupled with the bizarre decision to have many quests themselves take up a cargo slot, and its a wonder the crew haven’t already mutinied.
In contrast to the quest system, the combat system in WIndward actually benefits from simplicity. Most aspects of combat encounters are automatic (such as firing), and all the player really needs to do is keep moving their ship to broadside the target. Combat-aficionados certainly might not get much out of this system, but for casual players who are more interested in the sandbox style of play than advanced military tactics, this is a welcome relief.
Graphically, the game has a nice shine to it and the combat animations set against the glimmering ocean are pretty to watch as you desperately try to turn your ship just that much faster to flank the enemy. It’s also immensely satisfying to watch your competition sink slowly into the depths.
The downside? Like most aspects of the game, it’s repetitive. Just keep swirling around in circles until someone wins. This can be especially annoying when on a quest involving enemy ports, or simply being in enemy territory, as you constantly battle back and forth in the same way. The game does support open-world multiplayer (which I didn’t delve into for this review) that I think has the potential to make this whole aspect of the game much more enthralling.
Exploration might be the game’s saving grace, but even it has its drawbacks. The maps are no doubt beautiful and enjoyable to look at. Sailing around endlessly just for the sake of watching one’s ship glide effortlessly through the water is a plus. The maps are also pretty significant in size, which means plenty to keep one occupied.
However, it doesn’t take long in exploring the map to discover two major drawbacks to a true sense of enjoyment in this aspect of the game. First up is (yes, you guessed it) repetition. After sailing around for a bit, you realize that, despite its beauty, most of the coastline looks identical and lacks any real distinguishing differences. Secondly, there’s the “directional arrow” that constantly points the player as to where to go. I understand its purpose and its not a terrible feature by any means, but it takes any real challenge or interest in exploration completely out of the equation. There’s no thrill in exploring uncharted waters if a giant green arrow is already guiding my way.
What ends up happening in Windward is a mesh of the best parts of the game’s systems (quests, exploration, combat) that doesn’t really fit the bill for a high-seas adventure. Instead, most of the time I spent in the game simply felt like “filler” – I was just doing something to pass the time, rather than a meaningful encounter with a title I’d want to keep going back to.
Combat, unfortunately, ends up as the driving force behind the game. You can’t do very many quests or explore much at all without running into the enemy and, were the system better fleshed out and a tad more interesting, Windward might find some footing. As is, however, gameplay just feels stuck in a cycle and there was little motivation for me to return again to play.
Ultimately, Windward is a title that is neither here nor there. Its simplicity makes it appealing (accessible to players of a range of ages), but it also prevents the title from really finding areas of strength. Instead, it could be said that Windward is a game that has all the components that could make it great, but it never expands enough upon them to move beyond average in execution.
Price-wise, though, Windward fits just right. It retails at $15 on Steam (although I’d wait for a sale), and the game provides enough to do and executes systems well enough to make that a warranted price. Just don’t expect this to be the nautical adventure of your dreams.