A 3rd person adventure/survival game across the sea, fighting and crafting your way through an archipelago (a chain of islands), while searching for your need to survive. This is probably the best way to sum up what Windbound is all about. However, it is so much more than this. The game starts like any other, with a beginning, a character, and a story. We play as Kara, who had been sailing across the oceans with her clan/tribe, when suddenly, disaster struck and we fell beneath the waves, only to awake on an island, alone and shipwrecked.
It is at this point we are introduced to the Forbidden Islands, which have been surrounded by storms without the supplies we would need to survive. The first island you come across has a stone altar of sorts that when you get close to seems to imbue Kara’s necklace she wears with powerful, glowing blue energy. This in turns gives you your first ancestral gift, an oar. You will need to sail to the different islands in the game. From here, we must explore these islands and learn what resources they have. When you start to explore the islands, you will come across the necessary resources needed to craft tools and weapons that will enable you to feed and defend yourself against the wildlife you come upon. Crafting and hunting in Windbound are an important aspect of survival and you must be mindful of what you have and what must be done to survive and push forward.
The first thing you will notice in Windbound is the lack of any real direction in terms of what you need to do. You are basically let off the reins and free to explore the islands as you see fit. Now, of course there are some goals set to progress further in the game, like activating Nautilus keys, which shoots out a beam of light towards the sky when activated. Once you have active all three keys, you can head towards the gateway to the next island, but you are free to do as you wish and explore before entering the gateway. If you want to sail around the oceans and explore every inch of these beautiful islands, you can.
Your boat, canoe or vessel is your only means of travel and in Windbound you can craft it how you like, depending on what resources you have available to you. Your first boat is a basic grass and rope canoe, which does the job, but you will want to customise it and upgrade it as soon as you can. This will act as your lifeline, getting you to other islands to scour for more resources for food and to improve and upgrade your weapons and gear. Later in the game you will be able to add defences to your boat, like scale or metal armour for toughness or place some metal spikes around it to ward off any would-be attackers. Of course, placing all this armour on your boat can slow it down a bit and can leave you with a bit of a dilemma. Do you build a slow but strong boat to withstand the seas and its creatures that are looking to attack you, or will you craft a nimble vessel to outrun them? There are a variety of ways that you can customise your boat and its down to your own experiences on how you want to craft it.
When sailing, you need to be mindful of wind direction as sometimes misjudging it or not paying attention to which direction its blowing, can leave you flat in the water. You will also need to pay attention to the waves as at times, they can lead you to tipping over your boat, especially at times during big storms. The storms seem more aggressive as you venture our further away from the islands, so always be aware of your surroundings when you are venturing out looking for new islands to explore.
The same goes for when you are on land, always being aware of what’s happening around you. Some of the creatures you come across are friendly enough, until provoked, but most want to hurt you. Creatures like the Gorehorn and Gloomharrow will attack you on sight, with the Gloomharrow being some sort of purple looking lizard that grabs you with their long tongue, stabbing you with a dose of venom, it can also vanish in a cloud of smoke and reappear to launch a surprise attack on you. It’s these creatures however, that usual give you the best resources for gear like axes and shovels, which will come in handy when you want to chop down some wood. Especially, when you are looking to improve on your boat’s durability. It’s all about risk versus reward and what you need at the time, or what you are building up towards in terms of upgrading weapons and your boat. Whether it’s that much needed metal armour upgrade or perhaps more storage for your resources or food.
Each of the 5 group of islands you get to see and explore in Windbound is inhabited by some wonderous and dangerous creatures for you to hunt. These islands will also see you discover new resources that you will need to upgrade your boat, weapons, and gear. Each new island will offer something new, whether it’s a new creature for you to hunt for new resources that you will need for those vital upgrades you want, or it will have a Nautilus key to unlock so you can progress further. There are also times where islands are enveloped in mist/fog or even poisonous gases, which you will need to venture further inward to find a way on to them. As more often than not, it’s these islands that will have a key for you to activate or some vital resource that will aid you in the latter part of your journey.
There are also a few other discoveries scattered across the islands, and these range from large egg shape rocks that will appear to have a floating gem inside them to large vases than contain Sea Shards. The gems that you will find will give you a permanent boost to your health (red gem) and stamina (yellow gem) bars. You will also sometimes come across ancestral spikes in the ground that glow blue, these spikes when interacted with will give you some much needed Sea Shards as well. These Shards you come across on your travels act as currency in the game that you can buy some ancestral upgrades that are a vital upgrade to your gear. These can range from weapons that will never break to doing more damage to the creatures you encounter. While you get to keep them all, remember that only one of these upgrades can be active at any given time.
You will get to choose these upgrades at the end of each level at an altar. This altar always acts as your storyboard and tells you the story of your clan/tribe as you progress through the game. However, before you reach this altar, you will need to sail a gauntlet of sorts to reach your next level. This consists of you dodging various rocks and coral, plus a mysterious creature that seems to be either a friend or foe that is ever watchful on what you are doing. These gauntlets will vary in difficulty as your progress through the game
The combat in Windbound is a fairly basic one with an enemy lock-on function, that helps you aim our weapons more precisely. You get a a variety of weapons from your indestructible knife to spears, slings, and bows. You have even got the ability to dodge roll and crouch, which comes in handy when you want to be all stealthy when you sneak up on an unsuspecting creature. LUNCHTIME!
Windbound offers you two difficulty options: Survivalist and Storyteller. On Survivalist, when you die, you’re booted all the way back to the start of Chapter 1 when you first awake. However, the main difference is that you get to keep any items in the ‘Held’ section of the inventory but lose anything in bags. On Storyteller you keep your entire inventory, don’t lose Chapter progress, and combat is a bit easier.
Graphically, the game reminds me very much of Zelda: BotW, as it’s artstyle has the same aesthetic look to it. Kara’s animations are really fluid when she is climbing, swimming and hunting, however, it does feel a little wonky when you are trying to navigate about those smaller ledges and jumps, and there are those times where she will slip and fall to her death.
When you are out at sea, the waves buoyancy your boat as you sail across the waters and even in rough seas, your boat can even tip. The sun reflects of the water at certain times of the day beautifully and as you sail across the waters and look out to the horzion, you really feel a sense of wonder and loneliness in one emotion.
Windbound is a great game, but it’s not without its faults and those faults made it tougher for me closer to the end of the game to keep pushing forward. When I reached the end of the game it was more of a relief than a triumph. I think the reasoning for this is most of the islands are the same in terms of what you find on them and what inhabits them. I was expecting to see other explorers on my journey and maybe interact with someone, but no. I think by Chapter 4, I was dreading the journey and wishing it would just end, like NOW! It does pick up again by the final Chapter, but not enough to sustain my interest. When I compare that to the start of the game, I was filled with excitement and curiosity, but sadly, it didn’t last long. This could be just me, but I tend to drift away from time to time if there is not much happening in a game. For instance, when you craft your fire, you can cook meat that you got from your last hunt or turn animal skin into leather. However, there are times I was just wandering about looking out to see until the food was cooked or the leather was ready.
Windbound for me was a great adventure of highs and lows. I really enjoyed the story from start to finish, but I always wanted something more from the narrative, as it felt like something was missing. While the game looks beautiful and the creatures and islands you visit look like something out of a treasure island story. What troubled me more during my playthrough, was the lack of variety in the game to hold my interest and that missing sense of achievement when you completed a Chapter. I really wanted to fall in love with this game, but sadly I felt it was more of heartache.
GoG Rating: 7/10