Coming from an indie developer based in Australia, Windbound was always going to have a special place in my heart. Small teams from my home country get a bit of special treatment especially as it can be difficult to make a splash amongst the plethora of games being made today.
Making it easier to feel positive about Windbound are the lovely visuals and intriguing concept. Playing as Kara, you’ll need to sail and explore the Forbidden Islands and learn about the ancient civilisation that once called it home.
Shipwrecked and separated from her family, Kara has to survive by crafting, foraging, murdering animals and sailing bigger and better boats.
Windbound is a survival/roguelike and it looks like what you’d expect if Wind Waker and Breath of the Wild had a baby. Clearly the folks are 5 Lives Studios are fans of The Legend of Zelda as that legendary franchise’s DNA is all over Windbound.
Not like that…
Anyway, 5 Lives Studios has taken a few elements from Wind Waker and Breath of the Wild and expanded upon them. Sailing is a much deeper, complex and rewarding experience in Windbound. And you can’t control the direction of the wind…that I know of. Initially, you’ll only have access to a grass canoe and an oar but as Kara collects more materials and learns new recipes, you’ll gain access to sails, decks and hulls. This means you’ll be able to craft a homemade behemoth of a boat that catches the winds and shreds through the ocean with ease.
Learning to sail with the wind isn’t super easy though 5 Lives Studios has simplified things. You can raise and lower your sail (or sails) and tighten or loosen them in order to catch the wind. The difficulty comes in finding the right angle for both your boat and the sails in order to drive it forward in the direction you need to go. I found myself struggling against the wind, finally moving once I figured out how to zig-zag.
Equal parts difficult, frustrating and rewarding, sailing is but one part of Windbound.
Arriving on land, gameplay totally transforms. As Kara, you’ll traverse these tiny plots of land, stripping them of all their natural resources in order to keep pushing forward. During the preview, I was lucky enough to have unlimited materials unlocked which made things far simpler, however, I can imagine juggling the limited space in Kara’s pockets and bag will lead to some difficult decisions. Kara is able to craft additional bags but can only equip one at a time. Others can be stored on her boat, if it has a bag rack installed.
Even with unlimited materials, it’s easy to see how players will need to go back and forth between the boat and land to craft, survive and explore. And while most of the animals in Windbound are non-aggressive, the few that are are incredibly dangerous. There’s a giant bull thing, a poison lizard and a weird cow/cat and all of them ‘effed me in the a.’ Thankfully, having the game set to easy, I didn’t have to restart from chapter 1, however, on survival difficulty, if Kara dies, the game starts over.
Combat is a bit like Zelda-lite. You hold R2/RT to lock on and press Square/X to attack while Cross/A lets you dodge. Kara has a stamina guage which drops when you sprint or attack and when depleted she’ll stand still, panting for a few seconds. You don’t want that to happen when you’re fighting the bull/lizard/cat things cause you will ‘get rekt.’ Kara also has access to ranged weapons, though the grass sling I crafted seemed to lob rocks with all the power of Mr Burns giving that college admissions officer the beating of his life.
I stuck with the spears and fared much better.
Having only an hour to play with Windbound, it was difficult to get a grasp on everything you’ll see when it releases, though I must say I’m thoroughly impressed by what I’ve seen so far. If it continues to provide depth, challenge and unique gameplay experiences then Windbound could be a surprise hit for 2020.
The cartoon-style visuals look stunning, especially when you’re sailing across the ocean and they suit the tone of Windbound perfectly. The music and sound design in Windbound is truly the standout though. Every piece of music is phenomenal and there are a couple of motifs and themes that I’m still whistling and humming.
Windbound is like Moana meets The Legend of Zelda and if that doesn’t get you excited, well, maybe you’re already dead.
Windbound sets sail in August 28. Look out for our full review soon.
Windbound was previewed remotely using digital code on PC.