Windbound (PlayStation 4) Review

By Drew Hurley 28.08.2020

Review for Windbound on PlayStation 4

When people hear "Roguelike" they generally think of 2D platformers, scrolling through gothic castles and dank dungeons, smashing away at skeletons and demons along the way. Windbound couldn't be further away from that. This is a beautiful 3D world to wander and explore, taking cues from games like Rust; vibrant and lush, procedurally-generated tropical islands to explore, boats to craft to travel between them, and a whole lot of sailing while doing so. This is Windbound.

Windbound opens with a premise reminiscent of the Disney flick that forced parents to listen to Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson try to sing in Moana - a family just like Polynesians of Moana are the basis of this story, and one of them, in particular, at the heart of the story. Playing as Kara, these travellers spend their lives trekking from island to island upon little boats. The story begins during one of these journeys. Attempting to traverse a particularly fraught and rolling sea, while battered by gales and storms, the family is torn apart as a mammoth sea creature bursts through the surface. Kara is left alone in a strange void, walking towards a mysterious glowing portal before her. As she steps through the portal, she finds herself on the shores of a tropical paradise. With just a rough blade to get her started, she begins the journey across these new lands to reunite with her family.

Upon starting the game, one of two different gameplay modes can be selected: either Survivalist or Storyteller. In Survivalist mode, only items actually "held" are retained upon death; this is a set of seven inventory slots, with further slots unlockable by crafting new bags. Anything not set to the first "Held" slots are lost. Worse yet, the game returns to chapter 1. While this will be the default choice for many, it's worth thinking about altering it later in the game. It doesn't feel like it works particularly well with this game compared to most roguelikes.

Screenshot for Windbound on PlayStation 4

For those who want a more relaxed experience more fitting with the tone and atmosphere of the game, there is Storyteller. This is a little more laid back. Kara retains her full inventory upon her death and is only transported back to the current chapter instead of being sent back to the beginning again. The only real issue with this mode is that the difficulty is scaled down somewhat and it loses the edge of the risk of death. However, it's always nice to see games add these sorts of accessibility options, letting a wider audience enjoy the experience.

These islands are all procedurally-generated, meaning that upon death there's a whole different set to experience each time. Exploring these islands, you will find various crafting materials. The first islands offer up only the most basic of materials, with some rocks and some tall grass - enough for Kara to make some woven grass ropes, and then to lash these together to form a simple canoe to reach the next island. The next few islands add a few more basic materials to Kara's arsenal and expand the tools she can build.

The three first islands introduce these basic concepts and expand the craftable catalogue to include items like a sling to throw rocks, an axe to chop trees, and a shovel to dig up clay and earth. Gathering sticks can lead to crafting spears and campfires, which leads nicely into slaughtering the animals that wander the islands. Their meat is an essential part of staying alive, refilling Kara's health, and a gradually diminishing stamina bar. This is part of many resource management style aspects that are all too familiar for those who have played such titles. Kara's stamina depletes while swimming or sprinting, but her overall stamina bar size shrinks too as time progresses and needs to be refilled by, for example, killing a boar, building a campfire, cooking the meat, and then scoffing it down.

Screenshot for Windbound on PlayStation 4

Each island in this introduction holds a stone tower to ascend. At the top there is a strange shell and collecting three opens up pathways on a final island, which leads to a mural that gives a snippet of backstory and lore to the proceedings, along with an altar to offer up "Sea Shards". These are rare crystals that are the currency to enhance Kara's abilities. This is the big roguelike element, but it's rather disappointing - giving bleed effects to weapons or starting with an overly powerful weapon, or to regenerate health. It would have been great to rack these up and make a godlike Kara but there are only around 10 to actually unlock and only one can be equipped at a time, unless a special blessing is unlocked, which allows two at once.

Thus far the game makes a good impression, but one core mechanic that is glimpsed here greatly degenerates the experience as things progress. That is the durability system. Weapons and tools degrade and break over time. It's a common mechanic, but one rarely done well, especially when combined with having to balance the limited inventory space. Here, it just adds a particular level of frustration that just feels unnecessary. This is mostly around the very different type of game that Windbound is when compared to normal roguelikes. Roguelikes excel by greatly powering up the character between retries, yet here Kara gets some enhancements, but they are hardly a huge impact, and the loss of all that has been gathered up or crafted feels disheartening. Equally, even when crafting bags and expanding the size of Kara's inventory, it still feels far too restrictive - again delivering annoyance and frustration.

While most roguelikes like this would then utilise a huge chain of these islands, Windbound instead plays through a set of five chapters. There are five chapters in total, but by chapter 3 things start to get repetitive and there is nothing really new. Instead of introducing new gameplay elements, there are slightly more powerful versions of existing weapons and recrafting of the same items over and over as they continue to degrade and break.

Screenshot for Windbound on PlayStation 4

Across those five chapters, the new islands step up the difficulty with the wildlife, but despite unlocking new weapons, combat with these creatures is the epitome of basic. Lock, dodge roll, strafe around enemies, and then the simplest of attacks - a slash or a jab. No combos or fancy fighting here, and it's another aspect that feels repetitive, making any combat interactions lacklustre and tiresome. The bow as a ranged weapon is a little better, but the awful sling is much worse.

Just getting to the islands often proves more of a challenge than the inhabitants. The seas that separate them are filled with tumultuous and turbulent tides. No hastily strung together bundle of grass is going to cut the mustard when the storms start pressing down, so a key part of progressing is building a better boat. Entire sections of the crafting screen are dedicated to this - to add a sail, anchor, storage, and more.

Suddenly, instead of paddling the canoe, it's changed to actually sailing, catching the wind, and riding the waves. It can be a lot of fun when it works well, and even an exhilarating type of fun as storms hit, and it's a struggle to keep the boat together and reach safety. Then there are moments where there's a dead calm or the boat is just stuck drifting, which are hugely annoying and frustrating moments where health and stamina tick down and nothing can be done. It's a small but critical flaw that has a big impact on the game as a whole.

Screenshot for Windbound on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

The start of Windbound feels very promising - the world looks beautiful, the sailing wonderful, and the development of the crafting system well done. However, after the first few hours, things start to fall apart. The repetitive nature and lack of growth of the core mechanics really hold it back from what it could have been. There's still an enjoyable experience here, but it is obvious it could be so much more, and ultimately feels a little unfinished. This is only the second game to come from indie developer 5 Lives Studios, and it's exciting to see what the team comes up with next.

Developer

5 Lives Studios

Publisher

Koch Media

Genre

Action

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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