Windbound Review – Rough Waters?

Windbound is a survival adventure game developed by Five Lives Studios and published by Deep Silver. Whilst it has a lot of fun aspects – notably the sailing, base-building and exploring the randomly generated archipelagos – the game blends these with a story and roguelite system that makes the game feel tedious at times. Here’s my Windbound review.

Windbound Review - Hunting

Art-style and Soundtrack

As soon as you start up Windbound for the first time, you are sure to fall in love with the art-style and the music. The cel-shaded art and the slow, melodic soundtrack will likely remind most of us of the Legend of Zelda series, specifically Breath of the Wild and Wind Waker. The developers have clearly taken inspiration from these games and for good reason. Windbound is instantly charming and reminiscent of some true classics. The game shouldn’t be compared to the Legend of Zelda series for it’s gameplay – they are fundamentally very different – but fans are sure to feel right at home with the art and music design.

Sailing to Survive

Sailing is easily the best part about Windbound. Although it can feel challenging at first, once I got used to it the sailing mechanic was a lot of fun and felt unique. It’s fairly easy to figure out how to travel from point A to point B. But if you want to get better, learning to catch the wind right and tighten or loosen your sails at key moments introduces a really satisfying sense of mastery.

This mechanic is the core part of Windbound. You must sail between random archipelagos to find three towers. Each tower has a shell at the top. Collect all 3 shells and take them to a certain structure on the map and you’ll progress to the next chapter. This next chapter is a harder, yet still randomly generated, string of Archipelagos. You may realise how different this is to your average survival game. If you play Minecraft or Don’t Starve, you might be used to building a base, automating your food supply and hiding away from the monsters in the comfort of your little safe space for as long as you can. Windbound forces you to keep moving between these small islands to find the food you need to survive.

Windbound Review - sailing

By pushing the player to get back on the seas and explore, it continues to put your focus back on the fun sailing. It also keeps the sense of wonder and mystery alive. I never knew what to expect at each new island – would I find more new materials, or the certain item I need to make my boat even bigger? Or maybe I would find a shell to help me progress? Leaving my boat at each shore to explore the island was exciting every time and kept me engaged.

Clunky Movement

Once you climb off your boat, you’ll likely notice that the character’s movement is extremely clunky. There is noticeable input delay for every action you make, which causes the movement to feel very slow and frustrating. When climbing one of the many towers in the game to retrieve the shells, it can be very easy to fall and die. Often, you have no control over this. The movements aren’t predictable and instead of simply moving forward, I usually found myself jerking in a random direction and plummeting to my death.

Disappointing Difficulty Options

This constant accidental death left me with another issue. Windbound offers two difficulty options: Storyteller and Survivalist. The former lets you respawn when you die, placing you back at the start of each chapter. The enemies you face are also easier to fight. Survivalist gives you the harder experience. When you are killed, Windbound‘s Survivalist mode takes you back and makes you restart from the beginning, only carrying a few of the items from your previous life. You do keep your blessings and recipes though, making each run through the game that little bit easier. However, this mix of survival, story and roguelite elements leaves Windbound‘s difficulty options feel like two rather disappointing choices.

This is made even more annoying by Windbound‘s resource progression. As you progress into each new chapter, you’ll come across new resources to help you craft new items. For example, chapter 2 gives you access to bamboo, chapter 3 allows you to harvest silk. When you die, you suddenly don’t have access to these resources and have to play through all the easier early chapters to get back to that point again. You can’t just jump back to the later, more exciting parts. Change difficulty to Storyteller so you can respawn at those parts and suddenly they are too easy and much less engaging.

In most other survival games, we get options to tweak the experience for ourselves. Minecraft lets you choose difficulty, and then toggle other options like enabling a ‘starting chest’ to spawn. Don’t Starve lets you tweak every little aspect for your perfect experience. Windbound leaves you choosing between two lackluster options. Choosing Storyteller may allow me to respawn when dead, but it also means every challenge I face will be made easier. I want the challenge and the tough battles, but falling victim to the clunky movement over and over made Survivalist feel too tedious.

Strange Pacing

As you find new materials in Windbound, you unlock new crafting recipes. These recipes show you how to craft new items, and some of them are crucial to your experience. However, I found I was often unlocking things much later than I expected, and it made the pacing of the progression feel rather disjointed. For example, early in the game I found bone arrows. I assumed this meant I’d get a bow soon. Great! This slingshot was getting rather weak and I wanted an upgrade! However, it wasn’t until two chapters later that I found the materials to unlock the bow recipe and allow me to craft it. Those hours between getting the arrows and the bow left me to grow more and more frustrated because I felt like I was doing something wrong.

Windbound Review Verdict

Windbound is a good survival game, let down by a poor blend of story and roguelite elements. The charming art-style and music are fantastic. The sailing is equally great and is a lot of fun to master. It forces the player to always move between islands, making the gameplay loop refreshing and engaging. However, Windbound’s clunky movement lets it down which was often very frustrating. The difficulty options were also rather lacklustre, making me want more refinement over the specific aspects of the game’s difficulty. The pacing is very poor and makes those early segments tedious to play through more than once. It’s a shame though because once you reach the third chapter, you’ll be faced with an engaging and fun challenge. Windbound is great in some aspects, but has enough rough edges that it’s held back from greatness.

You can purchase Windbound on the Xbox One here. Did you enjoy my Windbound review? What do you think of the game? Let us know in the comments below, or over on our social media. Check out my review of Tell Me Why here before the third chapter launches on Thursday. You can also find my Battletoads review here. For all the latest gaming news, stay tuned to Generation Xbox!

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