Were I to ever be stranded on an island, nothing but a knife in hand, I’d be a goner in a few days flat (and that’s being generous). Survival ain’t my thing, but gaming has that genre covered from top to bottom and Windbound is yet another game on pile of many—but I think Windbound does a lot that many of the survival games we have today really struggle with: keeping it simple. And though that may seem boring, rest assured this game will keep you bound to the wind.
When a storm knocks a young lady off her raft and away from her tribe, she awakens to find herself before a giant blue portal, shining ever so brightly, and walking into it leads her to a tiny island with nothing but grass, shrubs, and maybe some mammalian life. Oh, I should mention there’s water. Lots of water. No escape, either, as this small play are is sectioned off by a giant white wall of clouds. With nothing but the skin on your back and a tiny hunting knife, its back to the basics: explore the islands, discover the history of your people, and survive.
The Status Quo
I laid bare the premise of this game to give you, the reader, an idea of what to expect in Windbound. The gameplay loop consists of activating towers you discover on the islands that are scattered throughout your play area. Afterwards, you go to the ‘final’ tower, of which will take you to the next play area, rinse and repeat. And don’t bother going hunting down the towers without resources—you’ll likely starve in the process, if not get stuck on coral reefs (very easy to do if you’re not paying attention!).
Taking damage can be fatal and the game doesn’t give second chances. I learned this the hard way, playing on the game’s ‘survivalist’ difficulty, which offers a tough but enduring challenge for players looking to struggle against the whims of Mother Nature, including losing all your hard-earned progress and having to start from the first chapter on death. As for me, two deaths were enough—I switched to the game’s ‘storyteller’ difficulty, which allowed me to progress through the game without having to hide from anything that moves.
Now free to go at my own pace, I discovered the islands had more than just objective markers. You can find all sorts of gear that can really help hasten your progress if you look and there are mini-shrines scattered about that can increase your stats and make the game just a bit easier. Also, resources you find can help you craft weapons, crafting tools, upgrades for your little boat, etcetera. In the face of adversity, it’s nice to know that the game won’t always leave the player in the dark.
Speaking of boat, if you’re not on land, you’re definitely on a floating device made specifically to traverse the bright-blue waves. Much of your time will be spent going from island to island, so it is vital to carry resources that can help you repair it when necessary. Upgrading it is also a good idea, as your boat can be a valuable headquarter… Well, one without any form of insurance, so take good care of your stuff.
White Wind, White Wall
I’ll be frank, for a game likely made on a tiny budget and staff compared to a production like Breath of the Wild, Windbound is very pretty. I spent a good chunk of my time looking at the sky as much as I did surviving. The great white wall made of soft-looking cloud is just so striking and so visually pleasing to look at and the music accompanies the world very well. I never felt like I was listening to empty ambience for long and even certain actions had music that dynamically adjusted to your actions—something I always love to see in games.
But with all this being said, I just wish that traversal was a little stronger. Occasionally you’ll find yourself having to do a little bit of platforming and I can’t quite say I enjoyed those parts. It didn’t help that game performance can be a bit finnicky, making overall gameplay a bit janky at times. It never did bother me to a great degree, but I think it’s an issue that should be ironed out by much more capable hardware launching this November.
One more frustration to add to the list is that, while the game’s premise of keeping it simple is oddly refreshing, the loop itself can quickly become repetitive. I’m assuming most of the mechanics won’t get too old in the ‘survivalist’ difficulty, but even then I wish there was more to do. Regardless, this didn’t bother me all that much but I think its worth pointing out for folks that want a wide variety of things to be tackling at once.
K.I.S.S. (Keep it Simple, Simpleton)
This game was certainly a unique experience. I enjoyed its simplicity, struggled with its challenges, and had fun in the process. The visuals were pleasing, accompanied by clean image quality, and the music was fitting and a tad charming in the process. Despite my frustrations with the moments of platforming here and there and the eventual repetitiveness of the gameplay loop, if I were to ever hunker for a survivalist’s challenge again, I would definitely come back to Windbound.