Developer: 5 Lives Studios
Publisher: Deep Silver
Genre: Third-Person Survival Adventure
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Google Stadia
Version Tested: PC
Official Site: Windbound
Release Date: August 28th, 2020
It’s no secret that Nintendo’s flagship title Breath of the Wild is one of the biggest games you can play on Switch. Its solid survival mechanics, great art style, and engaging combat draw the player in and get them hooked for hours. With the success of that title, other developers are looking to give their take on the idea. One such developer is 5 Lives Studios, who recently put out their survival exploration game Windbound. Windbound seeks to marry engaging survival mechanics with procedurally generated islands to create something unique and special.
The Winds of Beauty
Strangely enough, the area where Windbound stands out most is not its gameplay, but rather its atmosphere. As you’ve likely seen at this point, the game is an artistic masterpiece. Around every corner, there’s a set-piece that’s absolutely breathtaking. Whether it be ancient ruins, a lush island, or the open seas, everything is crafted to be uniquely beautiful. I’d even go as far as saying it rivals the art style of Breath of the Wild, even if that game has a lot more places to utilize it.
This is all woven together with a great soundtrack, composed by the lesser-known but incredibly talented Fyrosand. Each piece conveys this feeling of hope, pushing you along your journey. The best one by far is the one used while traveling in your boat. The piano strokes all stand out but give a sense of calm between the storms of survival. The only thing I could’ve asked for was more songs for Windbound, as the same one played in many situations and did get repetitive after a few hours. I’m excited to see what Fyrosand works on next though, as they’re very talented. The same of course goes for the in-game sounds, as each noise hits as hard as expected. Arrow shots feel as impactful as they should, and the waves offer another source of calm.
A Path to Freedom
Thankfully joining this is a well-written story. Windbound follows the story of Kara, a member of a tribe searching for new lands. Her boat is shipwrecked, following a mysterious storm that separates her from her tribe. With just her survival skills and knife, Kara must learn to adapt and find her back to her tribe. This is a very basic premise but is expanded upon at the end of each chapter and in small lore pieces scattered around. It’s not a perfect story by any means, but putting the pieces together to understand what happened here is a joy. That’s especially true given I really enjoy theory crafting in stories. That part of my brain went wild when it came to new tidbits of information.
Unfortunately, that’s where much of Windbound’s strengths end. Where Windbound does atmosphere and story phenomenally, it fails in its aspirations for gameplay. The gameplay at its best is mediocre and at its worst is downright unplayable (more on that later). The gameplay loop is that you search for three towers in a large circular area, then head to a large monument to complete a challenge and make it to the end. It’s a very basic gameplay loop that ends up getting tiring after the first few chapters. Ascending the same tower and doing the same jumping puzzle isn’t going to be more exciting the next 14 times.
Lack of Substance
The exploration takes a similar approach as well. Each new chapter does have a few differences for the islands, but these are small and lose their charm after the first island you visit. There was one time where they tried something seriously unique in Chapter 4, but that wore off quickly when it was just one island. Without anything new in the other islands, it removes the excitement of exploring. Why explore the same island five times unless it’s out of necessity for supplies? Especially towards the end, it just feels better to go to the islands that have towers rather than waste your time with anything else.
Easily the worst aspect of Windbound though is its survival mechanics. Quite honestly, I’d expect to see this kind of thing from an Early Access build of a game. It’s there and does what is intended, but it’s very basic and lacks the level of depth that should be there. Crafting new things is great but becomes rarer as time goes on, not to mention some of it is outright useless. Why craft defenses for my boat when the only things attacking it are small crabs that die in one hit? There’s just no point to a lot of it. Don’t get me started on cooking either. The amount of time I spent browsing the
Combat is easily the worst culprit of all, being downright frustrating. I can’t imagine how annoying it would be on the permadeath mode of the game, seeing how buggy and unfinished it is. Much of it boils down to attacking a monster, running to some small one-foot tall rocks, then shooting it with a bow until it runs away. Rinse and repeat until the monster is dead. As you might have already guessed, that gets boring and rather frustrating once bugs come into play. If there’s one thing that’s incredibly unmotivating in permadeath, it’s dying because of issues in the game. I’m shocked playtesters didn’t notice much of this, considering how common these issues were. Many bugs existed outside of the combat as well, but we’d be here forever if I talked about them all.
Verdict: Windbound is a game that is brimming with potential both in atmosphere and gameplay, and is a beautiful idea in that right. They make use of that potential atmospherically, offering up some incredibly stunning visuals and a great soundtrack that invoke a sense of hope. This is woven together with a solid story, leaving much room for interpretation. When it comes to gameplay, the potential is squandered due to issues with quality of life, and unfinished survival features. I could maybe recommend Windbound to those desperate for another Breath of the Wild style adventure. For others though, Windbound is a storm you likely won’t want to brave.
- Stunning visuals
- Great soundtrack
- Well thought out story
- Useless crafting options
- Repetitive gameplay
- Frustratingly broken combat
- Boring cooking mechanics
- Unfinished feel
- Lack of polish