Generally speaking, I do enjoy a survival game. Starting with nothing and having to build up your inventory. Search for and gather materials, make basic tools and slowly progress, evolving your weapons. Learn how to craft new items and defend yourself against the evils of the game. Every survival game follows the same basic recipe… and this can be a title’s downfall. Survival games can tend to get a bit ‘samey’ and soon become rather tiresome. So, they need an interesting kick, a spin on the genre that separates it from the many others already available.
Windbound is a new survival game on the market, but is it different enough to stand out against the others? From developer 5 Lives Studios and publisher Deep Silver comes this new title.
You play as Kara, a warrior, who after being caught in a storm is washed up on the shores of a small island (one of many). Separated from your tribe, you have to explore your surroundings, build your resources, discover the secrets of the mysterious islands and hopefully, regroup with your tribe.
In typical survival game fashion, you start with nothing. Waking up on the beach of an island, you begin by gathering the basics, small rocks and dry grass. As you pick up items, you learn new crafting skills, but you’ll soon find yourself pretty much trapped, the island you start on is rather small, though randomly generated each time you play. You’ll soon find an oar… a very special oar. This then opens up the ability to build a boat. But given your lack of resources, your boat is limited to a simple grass canoe. Still, now you can get out there onto the seas and explore what are known as the The Forbidden Islands.
The game is split over several archipelagos and the main aim is to explore each island on each archipelago, find the strange alters that have a connection to the amulet you wear. Once all of the alters have been activated, you can open up the gateway to the next archipelago. But there is a progression system installed to each of the archipelagos and the islands found in them. For instance, the first one you find yourself in really has very little going on. You’ll find bare basic resources and a few wild animals. You start with nothing and gain little more then a pointed stick as a weapon. Still, kill some of the wildlife and they’ll drop new items such as bones and skin. Set up a fire and dry out the skin to turn it into leather, maybe the wildlife dropped some meat, so get that cooking to fend off hunger and top up your health. Soon you’ll be able to upgrade your pointed stick to a bone tipped spear and take on bigger enemies.
Progress to the next archipelago and you’ll find new resources. Bamboo, which can be used to upgrade your vessel. Go from a pretty crappy grass canoe to a more versatile bamboo raft, why not stick some hulls on it to make it more nimble and sturdy, build a sail and use the wind to carry you from island to island. Upgrade to a bow and arrow to take on bigger and more aggressive wildlife. Find even more new resources and so on. Keep on going, slowly upgrading your weapons and boat until you have a pretty mean arsenal and impressive catamaran. You’ll also find in game currency as you explore and inbetween each area, you’ll have the chance to spend that currency on (randomly generated) upgrades to help you in your adventures. Keep moving from island to island, archipelago to archipelago and discover the secrets of the Forbidden Islands.
Windbound is, at heart, a survival game… but it’s also a something a little different to survival games you may be used to. There’s no base/home building here as you are continually moving from island to island, progressing though each archipelago. You never settle, just keep moving. Things like food management are here, but it really takes a bit more of a backseat over other elements of the game and other survival titles. You’ll probably not really enjoy the sailing aspects of the game either, I certainly didn’t, not at first. But as you progress through the game and learn how to upgrade your vessel, the sailing becomes more of a joy… sometimes, though as you build your vessel bigger and bigger, it becomes much more cumbersome to control. Plus, when I was playing, I found I had to sail into the wind more often than not, which really slows you down.
Truth be told, I found Windbound a little too restrictive as a survival game and seasoned survival gamers may feel the same too. It’s too simplified too linear. There’s no real exploration as each of the islands you visit are really very small all told. You find one, gather some basic resources, active the relic and move on. You spend around ten minutes on some of the larger islands and literal seconds on the smaller ones. Spending most of your time at sea finding the islands than on the actual islands surviving. As you do progress through each archipelago, the islands do become more interesting I admit, but the issue is that they only get really interesting in the final one or two areas.
Plus, there is the lack of game modes here… just the one. There’s a story mode and two difficulties to chose from to play through that story and that’s it. For a survival game, Windbound really lacks punch and the small islands just don’t offer the exploration a title like this should. The game needs a proper free-roam/survival mode where you can discover the game at your own leisure without the story and larger areas to explore too. But with the game deigned as it is with small islands spread over five archipelagos, there’s just not enough here to take in. I honestly found the opening three archipelagos a bit dull, then when the game did finally kick into gear and grab me towards the back end, the credits were rolling. Very much a one and done title for me as there’s just nothing to pull me back into it.
Still, saying all of that, I didn’t dislike Windbound. It’s a very nice little game. The obvious compassion to Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Breath of the Wild games in terms of some of the gameplay elements and graphics are fair I feel, especially the sailing and degrading of weapons and tools. I’m pretty sure that developer 5 Lives Studios were influenced by both games. Windbound features some great weather effects, you can see the dark storm clouds form in the background, lighting flashes away. But do you chance going into the storm to get to the next island or wait it out for the storm to pass? Windbound is full of nice little details like that and as each game is randomly generated, it’ll be different each time you play.
For me, as a bit of a survival game fan, Windbound is just lacking. It needed more meat on its bones, the islands should’ve been bigger with more to explore. Plus the fact you do spend so much of the game at sea, there’s surprisingly little to actually do when you are sailing, no fishing for instance and very few places to explore. It needed more than the one game mode too. I finished the game in about three sittings over three nights, only playing for a few hours at a time and as much as I enjoyed it, there’s nothing here to make me want to play again.