-Welcome to this series where I resolve to play my Steam games backlog! Here are my discoveries!-
Time Played: 6.2 Hours + Some hours not recorded due to being offline
Over a decade ago, I fell in love with a nautical game on my SNES called New Horizons – which was part of the Uncharted Waters series. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed that game and how many hours I put into sailing, exploring, trading and fighting pirates. So, when Windward officially launched out of early access on Steam right after my birthday last month, I quickly requested it as my present from Syn, hoping to relive some of that fun.
This review was written after only playing single player mode. I’ve read that hooking up on an active server is a totally different kind of gameplay and may be much more entertaining for some!
What is Windward?
The game describes itself as:
Windward is an action-filled multiplayer sandbox game that puts you in control of a ship sailing the high seas of a large procedurally-generated world.
This is a fairly accurate description, as long as you don’t put too much emphasis on the “sandbox” label. There are some very loose sandbox elements, though that mostly refers to quests where you are prompted to build new towns, defense towers and lighthouses. These quests were pretty rare in the hours that I played, so I wouldn’t hang my hat on the idea this is a total sandbox.
There is a procedurally-generated world, however, which you generate using a seed. There is also multiplayer options via Steam, none that I tried, but I can totally see the benefit of having friends fighting pirates along side you.
Overall, this is a naval battle and trading game blended with RPG elements.
You start out by choosing a faction:
- Valiant (Red) are good at battling pirates but not so good at trading
- Consulate (Green) are a balanced faction with a bonus in diplomacy
- Sojourn (Blue) are the explorer faction
- Exchange (Yellow) are the trading faction
There are also two “hidden” factions that you can work towards joining: the Syndicate and the Aequitas. But these require a lot of work earning faction and such before you can make your way into their good graces.
I chose to go with the Consulate because I like to trade and explore, but I still wanted to be able to defend myself. I found this has been a good balance of all features so far.
Each faction starts out in their own little corner of the map. All factions, except for pirate, are friendly towards each other (as long as you don’t choose to play Permanent War), and it’s not unusual to see other factions helping you smash invading pirate ships.
The first area you start in is 100% controlled by your faction (indicated for me by bright green), so you get a learning area without fear of pirates. Here, you explore and discover cities, complete quests provided by cities, and engage in trade if you like.
Peaceful quests are, for the most part, what MMO players call “Fed Ex” and “Fetch” quests. Mostly, you’ll be tasked with taking cargo or passengers from one town to another. There are also some combat quests in other areas, once you reach a place where pirates roam. These are usually a “seek out and kill” such and such pirate, or sometimes capture the pirate and bring his ship in. All quests even give you a little white directional line that leads you to your enemy or destination, somewhat like a MMO.
Further into the game, I’ve run across a little variation in the quests. One had me taking a group of drunken passengers on a sight-seeing joyride from city to city. Pretty amusing the things they had to say.
Others had me building new towns or defenses, which was pretty cool.
As you complete the quests for a town, the towns actually begin to grow. So not only do you get experience, gold and faction influence by completing quests, but you also improve the ports over time.
Sometimes you can also find quests in looted bottles as well. These seem a bit more complex and demanding that the port quests, though.
When there’s down-time from pirates, and you’re just questing and trading, the game is really peaceful and relaxing. It’s a beautiful game, no doubt, and the music (while only a few tracks on repeat) is pleasing and fitting for the environment. I found myself actually being lulled to sleep sometimes when I played this at night, even on nights where I could stay up late (which is odd for me)! That’s not to say it was boring me, but that it was just that relaxing that I felt myself really winding down from the day.
Trading can be a little more tricky. Each town has goods they produce and goods they’ll pay a higher amount for. Towns sometimes provide information on the best location to take your goods, and sometimes there are rumors about trade. Rumors, however, are rumors and don’t always pan out. So make sure you have room in your hull and a good idea where to unload before you go purchasing expensive cargo.
Experience and Upgrades
Oh yes, there is an experience system in the game, where you gain skill points you can spend to increase your ship and crew Talents over time. You can also upgrade your ship’s crew, captain and parts by either purchasing the upgrades with gold or looting them from floating barrels and chests you find on the ocean. You can also purchase complete new ships to upgrade to bigger, faster types.
As you start moving over the map to higher level areas (which require a certain base level from you before you can go there), pirates become a much bigger problem. Things got real, and the difficulty jumped significantly for me. I can really see the value that multiplayer could bring this, because while the AI ships are nice to have, they don’t always focus on capturing and fighting the same objectives you do. There were many times I could have taken cities or killed off a pirate if my AI buddies hadn’t been distracted by capturing some lighthouse or something.
Overall, though, the AI does a good enough job, so I can’t really complain about it not being as smart as a human player. But those pirates do get relentless, and there were many times I thought I was going to lose the map for good. Once you run all the pirates out (by capturing all objectives), you get a bit of peace time. Pirates do eventually come back in and attempt to re-capture stuff, though, over time, so I learned to move on to the next map if I was mostly ready to do so, rather than risk pirates returning to an area I’d cleared.
One thing to note: ships in this game do not handle like a real ship would. I was happy about this because it removed the complexity of maneuvering that I’ve encountered in other ship games which just frustrated me due to attempts at “realistic” controls. There is a frustrating (to me) stipulation that you can’t shoot another ship unless they’re alongside the cannons, but that’s fair enough. I’d often get stuck trying to turn around and around to get a ship within sights and fire… but that’s probably a me-thing. Actual battle is easy to learn and to carry out. You get more skills as you upgrade your Talents – nasty things like firing barrels of poison fog and stuff.
Overall, this is a fun little sailing game with adventure and RPG elements rolled all together. I do have plans to put more time into it in the future, as I’m really interested in exploring some of the other biomes, and maybe working up faction to make a switch to those elusive other factions.
If you’re interested in this game, here’s a great OFFICIAL Windward Guide to check out for beginners. There are some spoilers, but the information is all very useful and helped me get a leg-up before I played!