Wednesday, April 8, 2015

To one who'll stand and fight - A Valley without Wind 2

So, a few weeks ago I reviewed A Valley without Wind (readable here). In that review, I mentioned how the game had a bit of a troubled development, seeing the game undergo many changes leading up until release. This went so far as to see the game still receiving changes after release, eventually reached a point where Arcen decided to do the following: They were going to take a lot of the ideas and improvements they had in mind for the game and use it to make a sequel instead. This sequel would then be sold in a bundle with the original game and this would be the only way to buy the games, they would not be available separately. Finally, to be fair to all the early adopters and those who brought the game before the sequel came out. The sequel would be given to these people free of charge.

That brings us  to where we are now, so how did the game turn out?

A Valley Without Wind 2 takes place in the same setting as a Valley Without Wind. A world named Environ where reality has shattered, resulting in a strange world made of various places form different time periods. A valley without wind 2 however, only takes place on a single continent and introduces a twist to the set up. The Ilari, strange living stones that help guard humanity and the glyph bearers never showed up on this continent. Worse yet The resident overlord, Demonaica has an Oblivion Stone, making him and his followers functionally immortal. Fortunately, your character is part of a resistance effort that's managed to get into Demonaica's ranks and get an oblivion stone themselves, giving you a chance to fight back and hopefully take down Demonaica for good.

Again like in the last game, this is mostly an excuse for the gameplay, but it's still a fairly unique setup.
You know you've got a bad job when it's only your first day, and you're already plotting to kill your boss.
At it's core, A Valley Without Wind 2's gameplay is very similar to the first game, you explore a randomly generated 2D world, pushing back windstorms and gathering things to strengthen your character. Although compared to the first game, things are far more focused. Each tile on the world map only has one map to play through, and there's far less in the way of side areas. As a result each area feels more like a level in a traditional platform game rather than a large open area to explore. Each area also has an obvious goal, usually taking down the wind generator at the end of the level, though some special locations give you bosses to fight or terminals to hack.

Also gone form the game are the random spells and enchantments. Instead, your character can pick a class from a random list, split into 5 tiers that decides what spells they have access to. There are a lot of classes in the game, about 50 and which ones you get to pick are randomized each time. Not only will you not see the same classes every game, but they'll be put in random tiers each time, meaning a weak tier 1 class one game could end up a tier 5 in the next. There's also equipment, which gives various bonuses and sometimes penalties like less movement speed in return for extra attack damage but you can only have one piece of equipment at a time and it breaks after you take enough damage, so it's not as big a deal as enchantments were in the last game.

Missions have also been removed from the game. Instead the game has special locations you can visit going to these places and completing the levels there awards you with various things. Windmills for example, level up your character, giving them access to more perks. There's also caverns, which give perk tokens, unlocking more perks to pick form when you level up, which give small bonuses like extra health or movement speed. finally there's robotic research facilities which give feats, which unlock special abilities like double jumping or the ability to shrink to fit through small spaces.
instead of finding random spells, you pick mage classes, like the ones shown here.
A new addition to the game is your resistance, unlike the last game where you had a single, protected colony, here you have resistance members, these members can be ordered around on the overworld and can do things like gathering food and scrap, building new buildings (which costs scrap), like farms, shelters and clinics and recruiting new members found on the world map. You're not really building a permanent settlement in this game, as structures can be destroyed and your resistance members will constantly need to move to either to other things or get away from danger. Instead structures are more of a temporary solution. You build them, get as much use from them as you can, then abandon them once things get too dangerous.

Speaking of danger, your main problem in the game is Demonaica himself. The overworld is turn based, with a turn passing every time you destroy a wind generator and purify some more land. as turns pass, monsters will come out of Demonaica's keep to attack your resistance members and destroy structures. and your resistance members have to deal with them, you can't just go fight them yourself. Eventually Demonaica himself will emerge and he's quite nasty, not only does he summon more monsters and cast spells like blizzards over the landscape. He's invincible, and will instantly kill any resistance member he encounters. You lose the game if all of your resistance members die, so it's in your best interest to hurry on doing what you need to beat the game once he shows up.
You can issue orders on the world map, but ultimately it's up to your resistance members to get things done.
A Valley without Wind 2's graphics are a major improvement over the first game. This time, Arcen handed the job of graphics over to Heavy Cat Studios and they came up with a nice, hand drawn graphics style. A lot of enemies form the first game have been given a new look. Environments look more distinct from each other, with more detailed tiles and backgrounds, characters are more detailed and better animated overall and everything works together, rather than oddly clashing like in the first game. Where the fist game could be downright ugly, this is a major improvement.

The game also has a pretty sizable soundtrack, though notable it doesn't sue much if any chiptune this time. A lot of the tracks are remixes and rearrangements of stuff from the first game, and it all sounds better for it, of particular note is the game's title track "to one Who'll Stand and fight" It's somewhat rare you get a vocal track in in an indie game, and it's also one of the first times Arcen games included one. Though it would become something of a tradition for them, with a lot of their later games including at least one vocal track. overall the soundtrack is very nice, though again I don't think the soundtrack on Bandcamp is the complete soundtrack.
Graphics are much nicer this time around, and the assets work nicely together.
In playing the game I did encounter one notable flaw: The game would pause for a few brief moments whenever the games music had to change or restart. it was annoying, but didn't cause me to much trouble. In reality, the games biggest flaw is more about preference. You see, A Vally Without Wind 2 fixes a lot of things, but for every thing they fixed it seems something had to be taken away. Mage classes allowed for a much better control scheme, especially for gamepad users, but less freedom in developing your character. Level design is much cleaner and better focused, but there's much less exploration. Fighting Demonaica and his followers gives the game a clear goal and much better direction overall, but the game is no longer endless, in fact, you can lose now, and is no longer a sandbox. While I'd argue the game is better overall, I can understand people preferring some of the features of the original game despite it's flaws

Overall, A lot of what I said about the first game applies to the second: If you can handle some of it's stranger ideas, A Vally Without Wind 2 offers a massive amount of replayability. That said, while it has to drop a lot of stuff to do so, the sequel cleans up a lot of the first game's rough edges and is far more accessable as a result. That said, the two game come bundled together so if you're getting one game, you'll have the other and as well give it a shot while you're at it.

A Valley Without Wind 2 developed and published by Arcen Games, LLC. It is available on Steam. 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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