Okay, so, it’s time for me to finally write down my thoughts on Windbound. I can only apologise for this taking so long to come along.
Windbound is a survival game where you control a character who has to: build herself a boat, navigate and survive various islands collecting resources, climb up towers to unlock the passageway to the next area and progress to the next chapter. It’s these in-between areas where you learn more about the story through murals and get the opportunity to gain boons that will help you in the following area by unlocking certain skills, items or buffs.
The truth is, I’m pretty terrible at survival games, so I haven’t managed to experience the full breadth of what the game has to offer. Even on the easy difficulty, which really pares back the survival element and allows you much more room to explore without needing to eat, I struggled. I like how it is designed in that they’ve combined the stamina & hunger bars into one, rather than them being separate things on the HUD. The hungrier you are the less stamina you can have, when it reaches zero you start losing health and will die.
As survival mechanics go it is a well thought out and implemented one. I’m just terrible at managing it. I try to hoard too many things in my very limited inventory and all those tall grass stalks and branches are more valuable to me than a couple of berries are… Until I discover I’m going to die of starvation because I didn’t pack myself some lunch.
Despite being bad at it, I’m really glad I got the opportunity to play Windbound for two reasons: One, it has an incredibly beautiful art direction and style; Two, the sailing mechanics are absolutely incredible. The art for the game isn’t overly detailed but it has a fantastic look to it. The colours are vibrant with quite a high contrast and everything has a lovely painted texture to them. Plus, anyone that has seen my Instagram will know, I’ve a penchant for pictures of clouds and this game delivers some absolutely beautiful ones.
The star of the show, though, is the sailing mechanics. Most games that have boats in them don’t really do much with the controls for them. The Witcher 3 for example, has little boats and all you really do is hold the button to go forward and use the analogue stick to move left or right. That’s it. It’s also amazing how holding the go button summons a miraculous wind to push the little boat along regardless of what way it is facing. Windbound takes much more care and as a result crafts a really brilliant set of controls for your boat once you’ve got a sail on it.
You can raise and lower the sails to control how much wind they catch and control your speed as well as loosen and tighten the rope that holds the boom (bottom of the sail) so you can control the angle of your sail in relation to your boat’s direction of travel and the way the wind is blowing. It’s simultaneously involved but simple. This game is at its best for me, when you’re getting everything just right and are breezing across the water. That’s where I got the most from the game and there are sections with storm swells where you’ve to weave between obstacles at pace which are good fun as well.
All in all Windbound is a mixed bag for me because of those survival game trappings that surround the sailcraft. I’m not going to bludgeon my way through the rest of the game, dying a million times by starving or being mauled by one of the creatures in the game that I’m also terrible at fighting, just to see the story. Which is a shame because it does seem quite interesting; there’s a creature that seemingly links the water, crystals and the human world together. I’d like to know more but I’m not going to, unfortunately. However, I’ll continue to recommend to people that they try it out just to experience the sailing mechanics. Frankly if you took them and built a Witcher 3 style RPG around them it’d probably be my perfect game. In the meantime though, Windbound is showing the world how to do sailing right in a video game.
Swishing along over the waves with the beautiful piano music playing and the gorgeously painted clouds as your backdrop —The game is worth it just for that little bit of bliss in an otherwise quite tumultuous year.