In my transition of moving from Mortal Kombat X to Witcher 3, I played a lot of Windward. I don’t play PC games as much; but I wanted to make a conscious effort of staying away from the console until Witcher 3 arrives. Windward is a light game, offering something unique from the 2 AAA titles it was sandwiched between. Here is a more detailed review of what I thought of the game.
Windward is a naval simulation and strategy game, loosely based on Sid Meier’s Pirates!. Developed by Tasharen Entertainment on the Unity engine for Windows, Linux and MAC; Windward was recently released on Steam. Before that it had spent about 9 months or so in Early Access. In a nutshell Windward has you controlling a ship as you navigate it across the high seas, trading between towns and fighting against pirates. Also in a nutshell Windward is really fun.
(+) Ships Ahoy!
The first thing that you choose when you start a game in Windward is a faction. Currently there are 4 factions in the game, each one with its own passive or active advantages and disadvantages. Each of these factions own a small part/region on a procedurally generated ocean. The region which is most heavily controlled by your faction, is where your ship spawns and the game starts. Everything upto this point is very simple and intuitive. The instructions are clear, and there are not a 100 different options which confuse you. You start off with a small ship moored into a small town located on a small island. Aaand, that’s it you are ready to go.
(-) What’s a Starboard?
This is where in my opinion where Windward hits its first snag. As soon you start your first game, you don’t know what to do. You don’t even know how to steer your ship. Granted, it took me a total of 10 minutes to figure out almost everything that I could do and how to do it. However it would be cumbersome to someone who is just getting into video games. There are some random tips that appear on the top of your screen, but they may or may not be helpful and are highly contextual. I would have preferred a small tutorial level, which showed you the in and out of the game, before actually “throwing you to the sharks” right away.
(+) Being a Buccaneer
Once you get the sense of the game though, its a breeze to play. The game gives the players a top down isometric view of the map. The map is basically an ocean dotted by various islands and small towns. The complete ocean is divided into region. Each region is either controlled by a faction or by pirates.
While moving between regions is as simple as traveling to the edge of a region and moving on; accessing the towns in that region requires reputation. This reputation is earned by completing commissions (quests/missions) like sinking pirate ships, transferring cargo, and even taking people for a tour. Reputation is also earned by exploring the map and discovering new cities.
As your reputation increase, you will be able to upgrade your ship (including stuff like masts, ca), and with enough money even buy a newer and better ship. Your interactions with different towns will also increase your standing with those towns, letting you upgrade the towns themselves and providing you with better trade options.
(-) Cannon Balls
Then there is the combat, which is interesting but not overwhelming. If you have set it so, your ship will automatically fire cannons at Pirate ship. Its up to to maneuver your ship around your enemies. There is an option to manually control the salvos, but I tried it for a little bit and then went back to automatic.
The multi-player option can also let you set up skirmishes, which looks like a fun little game of pocket tanks with ships. But on single player map, competing against AI opponents, I am yet to face a challenge. Once again the combat is simplified, and there are upgrades you can buy to improve your chances, though the scope for skill is a little less than I would have liked.
(+) Adventures on the seven seas
Windward is a very simple game. It focuses on the fun element of naval game play: exploration, trade, and combat in that order. And removes all the unnecessary shenanigans like feeding, and territorial game play. Ship management has long since been a meta game inside a larger game, but with Windward you can just focus on the fun of captaining a ship across unknown expanses of ocean. With auto-saving and short commissions, its a game which you can drop in and drop out at moment’s notice too. It does not beg or promise immersion; which I believe is its greatest USP.
|(+) Simple and intuitive control
||(-) Lack of tutorial
|(+) Procedurally generated maps
||(-) Combat is a little shallow
|(+) Focuses on the fun part of Naval simulation