Windward is a randomly generated naval sandbox in which players can explore, build reputation, amass wealth, and fight dangerous pirates for fame and treasure.
Developer: Tasharen Entertainment Inc.
Publisher: Tasharen Entertainment Inc.
Release Date: May 12th, 2015
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android
Windward is a randomly generated naval sandbox with some RPG elements. Get aboard your ship and set sail across an unexplored world either by yourself or with local or online multiplayer. Explore the world, fight pirates for fame and treasure, take up quests to build your reputation, and trade with settlements to amass a hefty fortune.
- Randomly generated world – Every playthrough of Windward will take place in a uniquely generated world. The loot you find and can purchase is also randomized, so no things you pick up will be exactly the same.
- Direct-connect and online multiplayer – Play by yourself or locally with a friend, or even on a public server via the server browser.
- Customizable ships – Upgrade your ship’s weapons, sails, and hull for increased proficiency in combat. Decorate your ship how you like with paint, decals, etc.
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By Taylor Whaley
A vast procedurally generated sandbox world to explore, conquer, trade within, and develop – that is the virtual world promised by Windward. For the first hour or two, I found myself quite satisfied with that description. I was plopped into a freshly generated world, offering (I assumed) plenty of unexplored territory, dangerous pirate foes, and unexploited riches. At first, all was well- I familiarized myself with the controls, played around with my ship, and then set sail on the high seas. Unfortunately, the illusion quickly fell apart at the seams.
Essentially, the gameplay of Windward is built around two main patterns. As you enter a new area on the map, you must first seek out and eradicate any ‘infestation’ of pirates you encounter, by destroying their ships and capturing their towns and buildings. Once that matter is settled, you will be freed up to perform quests and trade with the local settlements. The game advertises several different “styles” of play (questing, conquering, trading, and exploring), but in reality you have to do a bit of everything in order to progress – first exploring an area to conquer the pirates and find the towns, and then trading and questing for profit. You are completely blocked from interacting with the towns to trade or quest until you have killed all of the pirates in the sector.
While engaging in ship-on-ship combat with swathes of pirates sounds fascinating, Windward’s version of doing so is pretty boring. The AI is extremely basic, the enemy variety is almost nil, and the levelling/upgrading is so incredibly slow that getting access to new and interesting abilities takes a ridiculous amount of time. These factors culminate in a combat system that can be described only as outright boring. Until you finally grind through to the point where you pick up a few abilities, the combat is basically equivalent to a simple math equation: “Is my ship’s auto-fire strength > than the enemy ships’ auto-fire strength*number of enemy ships?”
As for the trading… do you enjoy clicking on a menu and being told exactly what to buy and sell, what towns to buy and sell it in, what price you are allowed to buy and sell for, and only being able to transport 2 or 3 pieces of cargo at a time? I certainly hope so, because that’s all Windward’s trading systems have to offer. There are literally no risk/reward systems in place here – each settlement has specific items it needs and has an excess of, and the game’s “rumor” system (can they even be called rumors if they are objectively correct 100% of the time?) tells you exactly where to buy and sell those items. There is no reason to ever try and take any risks while trading, you won’t be rewarded for doing so in any way, shape, or form.
Questing is much the same as trading – there are a couple of basic quest archetypes that all pretty much boil down to either kill X pirate that has been sailing the seas and annoying us or carry Y cargo to Z location. There is no depth whatsoever to the questing system and questing is inferior to trading in every way. Trading is more profitable overall which means there is no reason to ever do quests, as they occupy the same limited “cargo space” you have for carrying goods to trade.
The exploration in Windward is as dull as everything else. I mean, sure, the world is randomly generated, but what exactly is the point of randomly generating a sector on the map with different shaped islands than the previous sector? The towns are basically all the same- aside from their names and the cargo they require/are in excess of, and there is almost no variety in the types of enemies you’ll encounter, which is pretty much all the generation has to offer. The games that are renowned for their exploration like Skyrim, Terraria, or The Witcher 3 are praised in that way because the act of exploring the worlds is one that is both interesting and rewarding- something that you will most certainly not find in Windward. There is almost literally nothing to discover.. Maybe you’ll find a town that is a carbon copy of the town further north. That is literally it. You have zero incentive to explore aside from the initial sail around to eradicate the pirates and figure out your avenues of trade. After that, you’ll be sailing completely on autopilot.
Even the music and aesthetic of Windward eventually becomes repetitive and tired. The game only has a couple of music tracks, and while they’re not bad, if you intend to play the game for any reasonable period of time you’re going to be muting it for sure. The textures for foliage and for the towns are recycled a lot as well. Each town looks pretty much the exact same and the islands all look the same aside from their geographical shape.
One of the only redeeming things about Windward is definitely the online multiplayer aspect. While the game itself is very barebones, joining an online server can help to make things a lot more interesting, especially if PVP is enabled. The spontaneity of playing with other humans really helps to cover up Windward’s biggest weakness – its tedious predictability.
All in all, Windward feels a lot more like a concept piece for a game than the game itself. There are a lot of mechanical systems in place here, and many of them have a lot of untapped potential. The random generation would be super cool if there were some kind of interesting advantage to exploring, the combat has the potential to be really neat but is hindered by the heavy grind to unlock new abilities and the lackluster enemy variety, and the trading is just completely brainless. All of these are things that look great to list out on a product page, but add very little to the Windward experience as a whole because they are not fleshed out to the point where the game is able to stand on its own. You may enjoy your time with the game for a few hours (perhaps a bit longer if it’s with friends or on one of the game’s public servers), but beyond that the overly simplistic gameplay is too much of a hindrance to ignore, and that’s really a shame because a bit more depth could have made this an incredibly enjoyable experience.