Friday, March 13, 2015

Exploration of an infinite world - A Valley Without Wind

Here's a game with a bit of troubled history. It started life as an exploration based top down RPG with a lot of crafting and some city building features. As time when on however, it changed. Features were reworked and cut, it changed from a top down game to a side scroller, even up to and past release it was undergoing changes, so many that The developers, Arcen games eventually decided to just up and make a sequel (which I will hopefully be covering sometime in the near future EDIT: you can read the review here), then sell both games together, giving the sequel to owners of the original game for free. The whole thing was a rough, confusing ride, so what exactly are we left with?

A Valley without wind starts with an Unusual setting. The world of Environ is suffering form a major problem: Reality has shattered. Rebuilding the world as a patchwork mess of different places and times, covered in unending windstorms and ruled over by overlords. Only glyph bearers can withstand venturing out of the safety of various settlements to look for supplies, build shelters to fight off the wind, and hopefully taken down the overlord that rules the continent. It's an interesting set up that mostly works as an excuse for the gameplay, though there are additional story snippets to uncover by exploring the game, they uncover more back story and fill out the world a bit more. It's interesting, and worth going after for those interested in the setting, though you can just as easily ignore it.
You'll be exploring several different environments in game, the layouts of which are randomly generated.
The gameplay of A Valley Without Wind is odd. Mostly it's a open world platformer, you can explore massive randomly generated worlds looking for weapons or other items you can use in your quest to beat the current continent's overlord. Which unlocks a new continent for you to tackle, the game is actually endless, and will generate an unlimited number of continents for you to explore and liberate, constantly getting harder as you go.

With that in mind, most of the gameplay for each continent is based around preparing to handle the overlord. you'll explore the world for supplies, attacking lieutenants to weaken the overlord, putting up wind shelters tot keep the wind storms at bay, or just searching the land for better spells and enchantments to fight with. Spells are your main weapon in the game, there's a lot of them though many are very samey, mostly they're simple projectiles or melee attacks that do different elemental damage, enchantments meanwhile act like equipment, doing things like increasing projectile speed, increasing damage with certain spells, or even more interesting things like double jumps or the ability to safety enter the acidic water that covers the world.

you get a lot of your rewards in the game through missions. They're also randomly generated and there's quite a few different ones you can find scattered across the world. Such as clearing a tower of bosses, protecting supply crates from falling meteors or even dodging obstacles as you fall down a tall building or cave. They do a good job of breaking up the random exploration and finding and completing them makes a good short term goal in game.
Missions  can have all sorts of objectives, such as falling to the bottom of a tall building.
There's also your settlement, you can survivors to live in your settlement, as well as buildings that give them or yourself some sort of bonus, such as extra movement speed or damage resistance. You can also send survivors out on dispatch missions though admittedly, this is perhaps the weakest part of the game. Settlement management is mostly about making sure there's enough farms to feed everybody, then dumping mood and skill improving items on people before sending them out on missions and hoping they succeed or at least not die. Fortunately, you can change the difficulty for various parts of the game individually, so if you don't like something like the settlement management, you can always drop it to it's easiest setting and not need to worry about it much.

Finally, there's how the game handles death and progress. The game has a sorta perma-death to it. you pick a character with semi-randomized stats and traits based on what time period they're from, and when they die, they're gone for good. But you get to keep your spells, enchantments, and inventory and simply continue the game with a new character. Progress meanwhile, is based mostly on a system of unlocks: doing things unlocks more things, both good ad bad. Kill a lot of enemies? new enemies of that basic type show up. Missions gain new features as you complete them. Killing all enemies in a section of land might add a new crafting ingredient and so on. There's a lot to unlock as well, more than enough that it should take a few continents at least to have unlocked and seen everything.
wind shelters are an important part of the game as you need them to push back the windstorms that cover the land.
Graphically... I'm not going to mince words and just say it's horrible. Terrain is basic, characters are poorly done CG. background elements stick out from the rest of the world like sore thumbs. When you're inside buildings, the walls and floors are pure black, there's no texture or detail to them. The whole thing just doesn't really want to come together. This is an ugly game, even the developers seem to think this, given how they made a point of completely redoing them for the sequel. To some people there might be a sort of charm to it, but this is honestly not a game you get for it's amazing graphics.

What it lacks in good graphics, A Valley without Wind more than makes up for with it's soundtrack. The game has a massive soundtrack with dozens of songs, ranging from chiptunes, to piano pieces, even a bit of synth music for good measure. The music is nice and varied and it'll take awhile for the songs in it to start wearing thin, which is great given the size of this game. Unfortunately, while there is a soundtrack available on Bandcamp, which I linked below. It's not the full soundtrack. In fact it's only a volume 1 but I never saw any further volumes put out which is sad as the game's soundtrack is easily one of it's stronger points.
Overworlds like this help tie the game's many locations together.
Outside of the graphics, the game has two other notable flaws, the first is that the controls are somewhat awkward, the game works best with a mouse and keyboard, but between all the hot bars and using various spells and abilities it's a lot to manage. You can adjust the controls and it helps to a point, but it's hard to play the game without having to occasionally rearrange hotbars, to say nothing of thumbing through the games various menus. The bigger problem is the games random nature. The world is absolutely massive and doesn't do much to guide you, which is nice when you're just wandering around, but when you need something specific, like a certain building or adventurer with a certain skill, trying to find it in that near infinite landscape can be a major pain. There is a store in the settlement which lets you buy this stuff with an in-game currency call consciousness shards, which you can find scattered around the world or off defeated enemies. It's meant to help alleviate this problem, and it does to a point. Though the prices for the bigger things like the all important wind shelters are quite expensive.

Overall I'd recommend this game, but with a small warning: There's a lot of weirdness and rough edges to this game. If you can work with that and look past all those rough spots I've mentioned in this review, there's a massive game you can sink dozens of hours into, and you get the sequel as a bonus. Otherwise? It's probably best to skip this unless you wanted the sequel, since the two games are sold in a two game bundle and can't be brought separately.

A Valley Without Wind developed and published by Arcen Games, LLC. It is available on Steam and Desura. It's homepage, which includes a direct purchasing option and demo is available here. It's soundtrack is available on Bandcamp.

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