Review – Windbound
When I first saw the announcement for Windbound, it immediately reminded me of a mix of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Windwaker. Being a massive fan of the Zelda games, I was really intrigued by what I saw. Fortunately, Windbound is not a carbon copy of either of these games even though there are similarities. It brings its own gameplay mechanics and ideas that really grabbed me. Let’s set sail and dive into this mysterious survival action adventure.
After being shipped wrecked by a magical looking island that sprung before you, a portal opens up, beckoning you to enter. Disoriented, you walk through the portal and wake up on a random beach, stranded. This is where your journey begins, but that is the only build up you get. Everything is a mystery in Windbound. For the majority of the game you won’t really know what or why you’re on this quest.
There is very little hand holding as well. This is really a mystery that you must explore and discover for yourself. The only bit of direction you get is in the beginning. The first island you wake up on, you obtain a magical oar that allows you to navigate the seas quickly. From here there is another island very close by with a tower on it. Activating this tower shows that there are two others to find, plus a location of a final island. You must explore to find the three towers in order to unlock the final island and proceed to the next act.
Once you complete the final island of the act you’ll be taken to an ancient area where a portion of a mural is revealed giving you some insight on the story lore and why you’re here. You are then tasked with completing a challenge which involves sailing stormy seas with massive waves, intense music, and a few other surprises I won’t ruin here. Once you complete this section you’re granted with a perk to take with you to the next act. After this is selected, you go through a massive portal near an island and start the next chapter.
This loop goes on for five acts: three towers, mural reveal, challenge, perk. There gets to a point where this does become a bit repetitive. The challenge remains the same and recycles the same song and idea. While it is unique and intriguing the first couple times, there needed to be some variety here. However, the story mystery and the between act gameplay is what will keep you engaged.
The heart of Windbound‘s gameplay is the survival and exploration aspects. The no hand holding aspect of the gamer really encourages you to try new things and collect new items. Opening up your crafting tab will reveal multiple pages of possibilities. However, you’ll need to start collecting all sorts of ingredients before a recipe will even pop up. Your basic knife will be able to get you some basic grasses and small animals to start off, but you’ll need to quickly bolster yourself to craft better items.
Exploration and crafting play a massive role in Windbound, but the survival mechanics are just as important. Collecting meats and other forms of food is extremely important. You will not be able tor regain your stamina without food and going too long will result in starvation and eventual death. Death is punishing in Windbound. If you die you lose everything not on your immediate person and will need to start back at act one. However, there is a Story Mode that won’t start you back at act one, but you will still lose everything.
Luckily, the general gameplay isn’t unfair as long as you play smart and prepare yourself. There is a bit of risk/reward when it comes to trying to take down the bigger beasts, but if you feel outmatched then run away. The progression of your power and items is okay for the most part. However, some of the end game items are only bestowed upon you in the final act and I didn’t feel like I got enough time with it.
There is no leveling up, so your progression comes from your crafting. You’ll start with basic items from easy resources like grass and rocks. Twine slings to throw rocks, sharpened sticks for a spear, grass canoe, etc. However, as you progress to islands and further chapters, new resources and animals are introduced. Upgrade that sling to a leather one, attached a sharpened stone to your spear, or make an axe to collect sturdier wood for better items. A lot of these items are going to be basic things if you’re experienced with survival crafting games. However, unlike others, Windbound doesn’t make you grind hundreds of resources to build.
Building your boat is one of the more fun activites in Windbound. It also is the most resource heavy, but that is understandable. Starting out with a basic grass canoe and eventually moving to a sturdy bamboo vessel feels rewarding. Expanding your boat with multiple addons, platforms, pots to hold items, multiple masts, and even a fire to cook food while sailing is fantastic. Eventually you’ll need to add spikes or rock protection to keep hungry sharks away from destroying your boat.
Exploring on your boat is great, at times. If the wind is with you or even to the side, things are smooth sailing. However, if you’re sailing against the wind it will literally stop you in your tracks. You can dismantle your mast and paddle youself, but the dismantling is a bit clunky and it can waste resources. Once you get going and you’re jumping waves as the music kicks in, it can create great moments.
The anticipation of what you’ll find on your journey is also excting. After a few acts I started recognizing similar patterns in the type of islands to where I knew what resources and enemies would be on that island. That was fine when you desperately need a certain item, but it eventually felt a bit repetitive. However, there are plenty of secrets to be found if you really explore. Small islands can grant you important resources or even upgrades to your health and stamina. Really hidden islands may even have some one of a kind monsters. These monsters and resources modify your current weapons, armor, or boat. I found one that would let me activate a speed boost on my boat or if I attached it to my bow I could shoot an arrow that would create an area that would slow down an enemy.
There is a ton to explore, find, and craft within Windbound if you take the time to do it. However, you can quickly seek out the three towers in each act and move through the game fairly quickly. There is nothing holding you back from doing the minimal crafting, avoiding enemies, and progressing to the end. Unfortunately, that would do a great disservice to this world and the cool stuff within.
Visually, Windbound reminds me a lot of Breath of the Wild. It has that painterly art style that possesses nice details, but is still reserved in designs. It doesn’t need micro detail grittiness to show its details and I think the game benefits from this look. You have this big beautiful, brightly colored painting you’re going to go explore and for the most part they nail that aesthetic. As I mentioned before there are some areas and animals that are repeated a lot to where you can guess what will be on an island, but they’re still well done. Unfortuneately, even with this specific art style I still ran into some framerate issues even on the Xbox One X.
Sound design is minimilist, but it fits the theme fine. The general sound design is well done, but nothing really remarkable. No voice acting either, but you’re alone on this journey so it isn’t dialogue heavy anyway. The music, however, is what really stands out here. The songs are well made and kick in at the perfect time to really help sell a certain feeling. The intense battle music while taking on a strange lizard creature that can disappear can leave you further unsettled. Soothing, but playful melodies while your sailing can enhance your wonder while exploring. The overwhelming music that crescendos while battling the stormy sea during one of the challenges makes it feel more epic. The music is great, but a bit of variety would have been good for each situation. Unfortunately, it’s the same track that plays each time.
Windbound is an intriguing game full of mystery and wonder, and does a lot right. I’m not the biggest fan of survival and crafting games, but these systems are well implimented and balanced properly. They also add a lot to the feeling of being lost, but pushing forward in order to uncover this mystery. While I do wish there was a bit more meat to the main story, there is a great journey here that will keep you wanting more.
The painterly art style is bold and striking, and lends to some really nice looking areas. There isn’t a ton of variety in the island and enemy types, but each has its own unique aesthetic.
There is a heavy focus on exploration and crafting which is balanced well. Crafting doesn’t require an immense amount of resources like other crafting games, and a steady amount of unlocks as you progress. Finally taking on a large animal and using its resources for an important upgrade is rewarding.
The sound design itself is fairly minimalist when it comes to your general exploration, but that really works with it. However, when a battle happens or your’re out sailing the music kicks in and sets the mood. The soundtrack can be a bit repetitive, but what is there is well crafted.
Fun Factor: 7.5
The intrigue of the mysterious ancient creatures that you’re slowly uncovering will keep you pushing through. The gameplay itself will also keep you engaged. However, each chapter follows the same mission structure, and there isn’t enough play time to feel like your end game crafting is worth it.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Windbound is available now on Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, and Google Stadia.
Reviewed on Xbox One X.
A copy of Windbound was provided by the publisher.