A Valley Without Wind Mac Review
A Valley Without Wind is to the point. It doesn’t spend the first hour of game time handholding and forcing story in your face. The premise is quickly explained via a paragraph of text at the title screen, with a guide to controls alongside. AVWW drops you in it immediately and doesn’t look back. The plot is something about a cataclysm shattering space and time, with all the pieces awkwardly jammed together in the complete wrong order leaving the game world of Environ in a mess. (The name is customisable, however I was unfortunately coming up short on imaginative titles at the time and stuck with the recommended.)
Immediately upon arrival in Environ, the to-do list is long and daunting. There is no “main quest” and “side quest” structure. The final boss of the game is approachable from the word ‘go’, should you wish to go kamikaze and take a run at him. Me being the foolhardy git that I am, my first instinct was to charge in guns (or rather; spells) blazing. I didn’t even put a dent on him. AVWW is all about preparing for this fight, giving the best possible chance of success. Preparation entails scouring the land for the elements needed to forge more powerful spells, collecting upgrade stones for improving a character’s natural abilities and gathering supplies for your human settlement.
The first thing that impressed me about AVWW was the soundtrack. The title opens to some nostalgic chip-tune which changes to atmospheric strings amongst others when in play. While music is rarely a large part of what makes a game, AVWW gets an outstanding in this department.
The world of Environ is a 2D one as AVWW adopts a “metroidvania” style of 2D platforming adventure. To further your exploration, you can build bridges and ladders to get across chasms, avoid bodies of acid water and reach high places. Getting around feels fluid and comes pretty naturally. Trying to put a stop to all this survival of humanity nonsense is a range of monsters scattered throughout the land. Some have elemental weaknesses that require quick spell juggling to overcome, some float around the screen and spew various colourful attacks and some straight up chase you down whenever you’re in reach. The variety in enemy types is a bit disappointing, with only two main types and bosses just being bigger versions of these.
Unlike the “metroidvania” type games it will be compared to, AVWW doesn’t have limits. The universe you’re in is unique to you, as it is randomly generated each time. There are no borders to reach either, only more places to be discovered in many different environments. AVWW could be set in a frozen wasteland one minute, and then cut to a ruined advanced civilisation the next. Each one looks vibrant and interesting. Spells being fired shoot across the screen beautifully whilst the character animations are smooth.
As the game progresses, you acquire upgrade stones that can be used to improve the character’s stats. Diving straight in and spending all of them can be reckless however as it turns out that the hero is pretty expendable. Upon death, a window pops up reassuring you that this isn’t the end of the road. Simply pick a new champion from a selection and carry on, although any upgrades equipped to their predecessor are now gone. This loss, and the threat from their vengeful spirit, are the only repercussions of death.
Part of the package is a multiplayer option that lets players team up and roam around a shared universe. As ever with online multiplayer, this is only as effective as the other players will allow.
While at first I found the general attitude of AVWW entertaining and endearing, I quickly became tired of it’s penchant to throw players right in at the deep end and seemingly go out of it’s way to be unhelpful. When being presented with such a vast array of options and no clear direction to take it can initially be hard to know if what you’re doing is the right thing. The advice windows that pop up can be equally confusing, feeling more like a note left by a friend that is uncooperative deliberately as a joke.
A Valley Without Wind is an ambitious blend of several genres that goes a long way towards delivering and can become a major drain on time for committed players but falls just short of being truly great.