I’d been looking forward to Windbound for quite a while.
It looked to have the aesthetics and game-play of Breath of the Wild, but with a Windwaker twist. The gathering of materials and building looked simple yet powerful, and the story seemed promising.
Needless to say, my expectations were high.
Unfortunately, Windbound failed to live up to my expectations. That said, it did a lot of things right, and should be lauded for that. So, before making my final judgement, I’d like to go over what, I feel, make this game simultaneously great, and not all that great.
The Wind Calls
By far the stand-out feature of Windbound is the sailing–which is good since it’s how you get around.
After a brief period of being shipwrecked, you will be able to build a boat and stick a sail on it without much hassle. While it’s not as intuitive as, say, Windwaker, which simplified its sailing for ease of game-play, the sailing in Windbound is nuanced and feels amazing.
You can raise your sail to any height you like, keeping in mind that a fully extended sail may grab too much wind and get you going too quickly for maneuvering around obstacles. You also choose how loosely or tightly to keep your sail tethered. A tight sail catches more wind, but could cause you to capsize, while a loose sail will slow you down more than you might think.
The trick is to balance these factors based on the direction of the wind and the direction you want to go.
Going directly into the wind requires a lot of tacking (that’s sailor talk), which is basically going back and forth to ride the wind as much as possible while still heading in the right direction. This took me longer to understand than I would like to admit.
The most fun I had in this game was on the open water, seeing how fast I could get my little catamaran to go and searching for new Islands.
The islands are underdeveloped. They’re fun to explore for all of about ten minutes. Then you realize exactly how small they are and how little is on them.
I never saw more than two larger animals on any given island, while the smaller animals and insects just seemed like they were there to make sure I had food to eat.
The crafting materials were equally sparse. This gives you a good impetus to explore different islands, but starts to feel tedious when you’re looking for one goddamn piece of clay and you haven’t found it after going to three different islands that all look exactly the same.
The developers did start throwing in some different biomes toward the end of the game, like desert and swamp, but by then it was too little too late. I would see the big islands and just pass them by because I already had everything I needed to get by.
Windbound did a fine job of balancing the amount of materials you need for crafting versus the amount available. They didn’t do the usual fifty pieces of wood to make a storage crate. They just made it real hard to get the wood in the first place.
Like, say if you were looking to make a kiln to smelt some metal in. Well, that requires three pieces of clay. Unfortunately, you might see a bunch of clay on one island, and then never again for several islands. Would it have killed them to increased the availability of the crafting materials? Nobody wants to spend an hour island hopping because they accidentally destroyed their clay reserves when they deconstructed part of their boat to make some improvements…
I’m still bitter about the clay thing. But I digress…
While you never get to craft anything too crazy–magic bows aside–you will be able to find and make everything you need to survive and explore. (I said survive, not thrive. Sometimes, survival amounts to finding enough grass to make a canoe so you can row your broke ass to the next island).
Big Game Hunter
The combat was limited to the point that I would almost call it an alpha build instead of a finished game. I think I encountered seven different types of enemies, and each was pretty standard, offering minimal opposition.
The most exciting it got was the first time I encountered a Gloomharrow. The massive reptile was crawling its way between some trees when I hit it with an arrow. It turned, shot its tongue at me from across the forest, pulled me to where it was, and punched me in the face.
Before I could get in a counter shot, it then disappeared into a cloud of smoke.
It was neat, but it was also the only enemy with personality. Everything else was extremely predictable and fell flat. What made this even worse is that the combat controls are antiquated and stiff.
Overall, I tried to avoid fighting if I could help it. It was rarely worth crafting arrows or spears to hunt when I could use those resources on other, more worthy, causes.
Red Sky at Morning
Windbound felt like a demo for a game that could have been amazing. All the pieces were there. Unfortunately, they were hastily glued together at funny angles, making a game that ended up being less than the sum of its part.
I’m giving Windbound 6/10
It tried very hard, and was, at times, a sight to behold. But it ultimately ended up sinking beneath the waves.