One of the first instincts that arises when either trying to review or describe a game is to classify it into one of the standard genres. While games used to be placed into one category, as the medium has evolved developers have blended elements from multiple genres. Portal combines puzzles with platforming. Puzzle Quest combines puzzles and role-playing components. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a greater pause when considering how to describe A Valley Without Wind from Arcen Games. Part platformer, part RPG, it’s a melding of genres that will likely present players with a new style of gameplay they’ve not seen before. Playing within that world is an enjoyable experience… at least for awhile.
The genre AVWW is most likely to be compared to is a roleplaying game, and roguelikes in particular. While the overworld map is a mashup of different themed zones, each zone is a procedurally-generated 2D area filled with monsters, varied paths, and loot drops in the form of crafting and building materials. The protagonist’s role is that of a glyphbearer, one of the chosen few who are able to venture out into the hostile wilderness. Their mission is to figure out what has torn apart their world and smashed it together with areas from other dimensions in time. It’s a hostile world, and much like other roguelikes, when a character dies he or she does not come back. Instead another glyphbearer takes up the mantle and continues the struggle to vanquish evil while rebuilding society.
The majority of time spent playing this game takes place within 2D dungeons, caverns, etc. This is where the platforming enters the equation as players must navigate over hills, through caves, and up and down ladders in order to reach the next area, doorway, or mission. It’s best to figure out in a hurry how the various maps work. Branching paths can lead the player down some deep rabbit holes leading to aimless wandering for minutes or hours. AVWW provides all of the information needed to get started on the journey. However, if a player doesn’t take the time to read the instructions, it can lead to a very frustrating experience as the game doesn’t do much in the way of leading the player by the hand. On the flip side, learning to recognize the various treasure symbols, enemy markers, and the navigation system in general can make for a fun and fruitful looting experience for fans of dungeon crawlers.
The combat system is fairly simple and takes place in real time, rather than the turn-based roguelike standard. Much of the focus is on crafting and using magical attacks that are elemental in nature. Most enemies have resistances to a particular type of attack, so the game allows players to equip as many different spells as they want with the mouse mapping to the first three. The variety here is really one of the strengths of the game as players figure out which combinations work best with their play style. Because the game combines platforming with MMO-style combat, it can take awhile to figure out how to simultaneously dodge enemy attacks while landing shots. All I can recommend is sticking with it and after a couple hours it becomes second nature. Even so, the default keymapping can cause players to inadvertently open up menus at the worst possible times. Thankfully all commands can be reassigned.
The game really starts opening up and becoming interesting once the player has completed a few missions. Succeeding at these randomly-generated missions provides not only valuable building and crafting materials, but also a variety of effects on the world as a whole. The world is mildly becoming a better place thanks to the victories achieved, but it’s also becoming more hostile as enemies start increasing in difficulty and expanding their territories. Eventually new mission types start opening up so that the player is no longer stuck with just the generic “Find and kill the boss” objectives. Players have the opportunity to take on stealth assassinations, enemy raids, and a few other goals like the build wind shelter mission that will open up previously inhospitable areas. The variety here is enough to reinvest the player right at the point they are likely to feel the game turning into a grind.
As fun and varied as those mission types are, the game can eventually become a victim of its scaling design. The world AVWW takes place in is huge. Although it’s not required, it eventually becomes a necessity to explore innumerable buildings and dungeons in search of that elusive loot that will go towards crafting spells powerful enough to let the player advance past a difficult area. There’s really no story to AVWW, and the game suffers for it because the reward for helping rebuild the world feels less noticeable when there’s no plot advancement tied to it. There’s definitely a bell curve of enjoyment that peaks when the varied mission types open up and eventually sinks as the inevitable grind starts kicking in. For fans of RPGs – or roguelikes specifically – that feeling will likely emerge much later in the game than for a casual gamer, but it’s still likely to happen. The inclusion of multiplayer is another key in staving off that feeling.
Despite these problems, there’s a lot to be commended in A Valley Without Wind. The throwback graphics and music are really a treat for old-school gamers; I often had the tunes stuck in my head long after exiting the game. The game successfully melds disparate genres in an open, randomized world that gives the players freedom to set their own path. Even though it can become a grind at times, because of the open world and loose guidelines it’s the kind of game someone can step away from for awhile and easily come back to later. It really is such a different entity that I can’t help but recommend players try it out. A Valley Without Wind is currently available through Steam and through Mac Game Store.
This game was reviewed using a copy provided by the developer for that purpose.
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