A Valley Without Wind. AVWW is a 2-D, side-scrolling, procedural open-world, action adventure game with elements of metroidvania, roguelikes, crafting and strategy all mixed into one game. It puts an emphasis on exploring, tactical combat, and city-building. Its created by Indie developers Arcen Games, who created the Ai War: Fleet Command and Tidalis games. AVWW is their new, original PC and Mac game for single and multiplayer. Thinking back over the past year or so, I’ve typed more words about this game than any other game I’ve come across. I followed this game from its original concept through its Alpha design, participating in the BETA phase and now we come to the release of 1.0. I have some hopes for this game and its a game I’ve been really been looking forward to. So is this game worth your time and money? Well, sit back, grab some water, read on and find out…
Review has been updated 6/10/2015. Read the updated notes here.
AVWW has been one of the most interesting BETA experiences I have ever been involved with. I have never worked with a game that changed so quickly or significantly in a span of weeks, if not days. Prior BETAs are usually fairly stable and only contain minor balancing on a weekly basis, with major changes coming less regularly. The game is so much more different than how it started out. It was originally a top-down game but was then changed to a side-scroller when it was decided that the game’s graphic didn’t suit it and that the combat was uninteresting. From there, Arcen experimented with different strategy ideas such as wandering monster parties to a top-down perspective of building and managing your city to sending NPCs out on missions. In the past few months alone the game saw a lot of changes, improvements and enhancements. So suffice it to say, keeping up with all the changes took some effort. It has been an experience I won’t forget. Like all good journeys though, it must come to an end and I am glad to see the game finally settle down. No doubt we are in for a treat though if development continues forward. So all that said, let’s get back to the game itself.
What is your overall goal in A Valley Without Wind? Well, the title really says it all. The overall goal in AVWW is to create a valley without wind by bringing peace to the world. The continent you’re living on is ruled by an oppressive Overlord and his lieutenants who subjugate the world. To make matters worse, there are harsh windstorms, many strange monsters that roam the lands, Skelebots from a future time, raging oceans and many more dangers in the land. How you bring peace to a tumultuous land such as this is entirely up to you. That, is the point of A Valley Without Wind.
When you enter the game of AVWW you choose from a variety of humanoids to be a glyphbearer, a chosen one. Glyphbearers have a glyph that follows them around, allowing them to wield magic from the various elements of nature. These Glyphbearers are assigned by the enigmatic Illari, who are giant floating crystals, to bring peace to Environ. Environ is the world around you, shattered by an unknown apocalypse. The world has forever been changed and contains lands of many different time eras all crammed together in one place. The moon itself has also suffered from the apocalypse, the damage to it is easily seen in the night sky. Once you make it through the intro-mission, you’ll find yourself in a small settlement with NPCs and a floating Illari. They protect your settlement’s small population & buildings as well as heal your wounds when needed. With you, their hopes and goals lie.
Your settlement is your home base. Its a safe haven for you to come back and heal, preparing for the next step of your journey. Its also a good place to do any customization that you might want to do. Which the game provides a lot of. Rebinding keys, graphic options, size of your top left map, game difficulty level and more. In this review I only have experience with the default difficulty setting but the game gives you flexibility to make the game as easy or hard as you want it to be. The game supports just keyboard, keyboard & mouse, game controller and even a joystick as ways of controlling your character in the game. You can also rename your characters living at the settlement and the settlement itself. If you don’t want your current character, there is a scroll called Glyph transfer. This allows you to move to another playable character living in your settlement with all your items and not have to kill the prior character. It also allows you to customize several characters to be specialized for certain missions if you wish and just simply transfer as necessary. You can even add objects from Environ that you find (there is a spell called Shrink that lets you do this) to decorate your settlement. I like how much customization there is that you can do for your settlement, and the shrink idea was a great idea to accommodate those that want to create unique looks. On a side note, when you build new buildings or rescue NPCs from missions, you can see the buildings in the background of the settlement and the rescued NPCs walking around, making the settlement more unique. I love it when developers include ideas such as this, it makes a small bit of the world your own.
As a glyphbearer, you have the forces of nature at your command: fire, water, earth, air, light, and entropy. These magic spells fill your arsenal of weapons to damage, protect or heal. Your spells cost mana to cast, though your mana pool regenerates quickly. You can be several different kinds of glyphbearers from different time eras including Skelebots. Different characters in the game comes with their own uniquely generated stats. Though you wield a powerful arsenal at your command, you’re very likely to die quite often in the game. Which is intentional with the game’s perma-death system. It isn’t the end of the game when you die, as your items and spells will transfer over to the new character. The only thing that doesn’t transfer over are your base/upgraded stats from upgrade stones that you can find while exploring. It should also be noted that dying also causes you to leave behind a vengeful ghost that will attack you later. Which you can kill ghosts, but they can possibly throw a wrench into your plans. Especially if you died in a boss room. So, you’ll want to avoid dying as much as you can. Saving, by the way, is done automatically in the background. That means “scum-saving” is an unavailable tactic in progressing through AVWW. The world of Environ is a harsh and unforgiving place in more than one way.
You can enhance your glyphbearer in many ways. Scattered throughout the world are upgrade stones, enchants, crafting ingredients, scrolls, deployable items and traps. Collecting upgrade stones in the various abandoned buildings allow you to increase your health/mana pool or increase your spell attack power. Enchants are items in the game that you can equip to different parts of your bodies to enhance various aspects such as spell power, character movement, damage taken or what kind of items you’ll find in your adventures. Enchants are gathered by collecting a number of enchant containers found throughout the various buildings. Crafting ingredients are, well, for crafting higher tier or more variety of spells and other items. These are found all over Environ, from the deepest caverns to the tallest buildings. Scrolls are used for special abilities like transforming yourself into a bat, teleporting or summoning Rhinos to battle for you. There are also a variety of deployable items. From wooden crates/platforms to help you traverse the terrain to moon lights which light up dark caverns. Traps help deal with the various monsters in the world. Though I feel that traps are less necessary in this game and I’m unsure of how they could be fixed. All of these items and collectibles provide you with plenty of ways of surviving in Environ and it gives you plenty of things to look for as you explore.
AVWW is a difficult and challenging game just to learn. The difficulty/learning curve is a bit high, though the game tries its best with its intro mission and very extensive encyclopedia in the game to make learning the game as easy as possible. It also has a pause feature in the game that you can use to organize your spells and, when you mouse over your enemy, get an analysis of what the creature is strong/weak to. You’ll also get plenty of pop-up notifications when important things happen that the game wants you to understand. You’ll want to read the encyclopedia often. Once you get over the learning curve, the game is quite enjoyable.
I’ve mentioned that you have a variety of activities you can do in the game. One of the major activities you can do is missions. Missions have a high array from stealth missions to defending resources, and some weird missions that mess around with gravity. There are also secret missions that you can find when exploring around Environ. Each mission gives you a bunch of rewards, usually including a tier orb that is used to craft new spells. Missions are also used to move your continent progress forward. In this game, there are five tiers, or levels, that you progress through that increase the monsters strength, give you better spells, health & durability and reward you with better rewards from completed missions. I liked this method over the prior leveling system they had, mostly because it makes it easier for players on multiplayer servers to come in and join in on the fun. Missions as a whole are challenging and engaging to try and complete. You will likely fail many times but then if the game wasn’t challenging, what fun would that be?
The graphics of this game are probably going to be the most polarizing issue anyone is going to have with this game. I personally love them. The colors are rich, vibrant and a treat for me. Since the game has so many different places you can explore, you get treated to a large diversity of colors and locations. There isn’t a large amount of character animations either but I feel its a minor qualm I have with the game. There are some really amusing casting spell animations though, as you can see below. But I can understand if your first reaction is to not like it, it can look a bit weird. However, I would suggest opening the game before writing it off completely. The UI is minimal but effective and stays out of the way. You get two maps to navigate in the top left and bottom right, a message/chat log in the top right and your health/mana/spell bar in the bottom left. The maps are helpful, though take a while to get used to. The game has a good overall sense of theme with its graphics and gives you an engaging world to look at.
Exploration is one of the main features of this game. I have played a lot of games that claim to be centered around exploration. However, I’ve always had the problem of: why should I bother exploring? AVWW is the first game where I didn’t question why I was exploring. I simply wanted to. I could and have spent an insane amount of time exploring the depths of Environ. Finding all sorts of goodies, new places to see and monsters to fight. The exploration is so good that it might be a little too too much for its own good. You’ll feel the need to explore each and every building or cavern that exists, but you’ll want to stick with only looking through the necessary buildings to find the stuff that you need. That’s where the encyclopedia comes in to help point you in the right direction. I mean, you could explore each and every building in the game, but you do have an Overlord to kill remember? And that’s where the fun of the game is. You’ll want to avoid over-exploring in this game or you could burn yourself out. Your maps conveniently mark where you’ve already explored so you avoid exploring the same room too many times and there are portals strategically scattered across the world that help you avoid doing a lot of backtracking. A great feature in my opinion. Simply put, the exploration in this game is my favorite feature this game has and its great to see it done so well.
Combat is the second staple of the game. The combat is surprisingly engaging. Being a side-scroller means a lot of dodging enemy attacks while simultaneously throwing spells back at them. All of your spells are instantaneously cast, giving combat a frantic and fast tempo. Especially considering there are few ways to protect or heal yourself. There aren’t any traditional potions in the game. So, you’re encouraged to defeat the enemy as quickly as possible while avoiding damage. The assortment of enemies won’t make this easy though as they cast their own spells and touching them causes you to be knocked back, taking damage. Add in fall-damage, a lot of hostile mobs and surviving can be very rather difficult. But if you die, it’s not so bad. So long as you don’t mind facing the ghost(s) of mistakes past that rise to make sure you don’t die too much in the future. The permadeath mechanic in this game is properly balanced in my opinion.
On the first continent, some of the monsters appear a bit too often for my liking, but from what I understand the farther you progress the more assortment of enemies appear. You have a fairly high number of airborne enemies along with a good assortment of walking enemies. Killing mobs is relatively unimportant, as they only drop health orbs. So, you should focus most of your energies when not exploring on killing minibosses or higher. Killing the lieutenant or overlords has the right amount of weight as an event in the world. This is because getting into the tower isn’t an easy achievement and once your there, you have to defeat several minibosses and find the switches that unlock doors. The mobs also seem to get slightly harder. Add in the music and it definitely feels like your doing something important. Which is good, considering that’s the main overall goal of the game.
The game doesn’t have much of a story. So, if you’re looking for a deep lore-rich game, this isn’t for you. There are various clues scattered around the world that talk about the past and the mystery of the glyphs that you wield. The game focuses more on it being your story and your effect on bringing peace to the world and it does track events. The world also adapts to you. As you show your proficiency at killing monsters, the monsters get increasingly harder. Killed 100 bats? Prepare to meet fire bats! And so on. It never reaches an impossible state of difficulty, but it will require you to get more creative. This helps keep the world fresh every time you step outside. The game also features plenty of achievements to pursue if you want something different to do. All of these things and more are well sorted and displayed in the planning menu so you know what you can do next and what is left to do.
Once you defeat an overlord, you’ll eventually cross the ocean and make way to a new continent, which is bigger, harder and more complicated than the last one. Some items transfer over to this new zone but your spells, among other things, won’t so you’ll have to rebuild an entirely new arsenal of spells on this continent. You can go back to your previous continent at any time if you wish and your old spells will be waiting you. Its an interesting way to constantly have add onto your world and I’m intrigued to see what they do to previous conquered continents in future additions to the game.
AVWW supports 8-player co-op with the potential of up to 200 people, though not officially tested beyond 8. Granted, I can’t imagine how you could possibly get that many to play the game at one time, but it would be really awesome to see. Multiplayer stays fairly fluid, depending on connection of course. Sometimes you will see characters or monsters lag a little due to the precision of the game but for the most part it keeps a solid performance. There are only a few changes from the single player game. Monsters increase their health and attack shots depending on how many players are in the same chunk. Your goals are the same, each of you can craft his/her own spells and items and each of you can decide where to go in the world. Even if you come in an advanced server, you can still equip yourself with the spells and items needed to survive on the same level as everyone else on the server. The game does this smartly so that anyone can join the server. However, I feel like the game doesn’t encourage you to stick with your buddies in the same chunk. You usually just do so because, well, obviously you want to, its multiplayer after all. It just would have been nice had they included more team-oriented goals so that it felt more-or-less necessary in the game. That said, For what it is, multiplayer works well over the internet or LAN connections.
AVWW features the musical talent of Pablo Vega who has gone 8-bit this time with the soundtrack. The music blends in well with the overall theme of the game. When you enter a broken room of a building, the music is sullen and depressing. Enter a building and you’ll get a different track appropriate to the era your in. Fight a lieutenant or overlord and the music goes epic, signifying how important the fight is. The music sits well in the game without being too obnoxious to take you out of the experience. 8-bit has a bad tendency of doing that in some games but Pablo avoids it with style. All in all, just a well done OST.
AVWW has fairly low hardware requirements and runs very smoothly on gaming machines. I’ve heard of people able to run this on their integrated-graphic Laptops. The game doesn’t require a ton of CPU/Ram to run from what I’ve been able to notice so its a nice, lightweight game. For those that have heavy duty gaming setups, you won’t be disappointed as it does work up to 120 frames per second. So from lightweight to heavyweight gaming machines, the game seems to perform well, though I can’t say for every case as I only have one computer and from a few other people to go off of. Which is why, of course, there is a demo for your trial pleasure. But Arcen made every effort to make sure it works as smoothly and lightweight as possible. The game also lacks any bugs or crashing problems.
We have seen a rather numerous amount of infinitely generated games here lately what with Minecraft, Terraria and numerous others. However, these games run into a problem eventually: Sameness and grinding to move forward. AVWW cleverly avoids this with portals, plenty of content to sink your teeth into (over 40 hours according to Arcen Games) and interesting game mechanics. It also helps that there isn’t any form of digging. The world is yours to explore and deal with as you wish and it gives you plenty of options on how to achieve your goal of killing the overlord. This game has so much to cover that I couldn’t hope to cover it all in this review.
Arcen Games has a proven track record with AI War: Fleet Command and over three years of free updates and three major expansions. Chris from Arcen has expressed that if the game is successful, they wish to do the same with AVWW and considering how far AIW came in three years and five major, game changing updates later, the potential for AVWW is huge. While the future of AVWW is not certain, nothing really ever is, this game comes with a large amount of content and good gameplay to more than justify its $15 price tag.
A Valley Without Wind (1) was a fun experience. However, fun in an experimental idea sense. This won’t appeal to everyone between its odd collection of game mechanics and it’s polarizing graphics. In my opinion though, its open-ended gameplay makes for a very rewarding exploration and city-building experience. Even if the combat is a bit lacking sometimes. The exploration is very satisfying, allowing you to explore huge levels. It goes on and on and is well paced to keep your interest going. If you like weird metroidvania experimental games, then you should definitely give A Valley Without Wind a chance to win you over.
I sincerely hope you enjoyed this review of A Valley Without Wind. If you have any comments please leave them, otherwise until next time…
Thanks for reading!