Review: A Valley Without Wind 1 and 2 (PC)
by Matt Yeager on March 15, 2013

cover
A Valley Without Wind 1 and 2
Genre: Everything and the kitchen sink
Developer: Arcen Games
Publisher: Steam
Release Date: 02/18/2013 (#2) and 04/24/2012 (Numero Uno)

Recently A Valley Without Wind 2 was released, and along with it the original title for free with purchase of the sequel (and in an even more generous move anyone with the first game got the second for free). Since our website never reviewed the original title, I thought that I might do something a little different; I’m going to review the game and the sequel together in one big double stuffed Oreo cookie of a review.

This is the first time I’ve ever really played a video game and the sequel of that game at the same time, and it was an interesting experience.

It is difficult to explain what kind of game A Valley Without Wind is, the first title is sort of an action RPG/platformer/resource management game. Sort of like Actraiser (congrats if you know that game you’re probably old too) but with a large amount of additional things to do and pay attention too. A Valley Without Wind 2 is less action RPG and more and action platform jumping game with light RPG elements mixed with a kind of strategy board game. Both are procedurally generated affairs, meaning that the first time you start the game it creates a world from scratch. Create a new world and it will not be the same as the one previously generated.

Games like this are part of the reason I love independent games. Sure with indie games there are obvious cash grabs and there’s a ton of junk you need to sort through to find a gem hidden among the crap, but the indie scene is the only place you’ll find this kind of ambition. There are going to bee positive and negative things I say about both of the AVWW games in this, however I’d like to give the developer credit for having such bold ideas and attempting to bring them to life.

Now let’s stop the mushy stuff and get the knives out.

Before I get into the meat of the two games, let’s talk about the presentation of them both.

AVWW

AVWW has mediocre graphics and the sound effects are at best ok. Aesthetically the game is a hot mess. Nothing really feels as though it was created for this game as much as it looks like a bunch of generic premade parts that were slapped together. At times the backgrounds will have a decent amount of detail and at other times it will look like a stark background from a bad 8-bit game. This can be a problem within the game itself, there are some missions that involve only attacking creatures that appear to be from a different time period, but some enemies are just a clump of whitish pixels and being able to identify which clump is the anachronism is annoying. The main overworld map looks terrible, like something from old JRPG games but with less detail. Some areas, enemies and items look alright and then others look terrible, making the game feel inconsistent throughout. You don’t realize how important a consistent aesthetic is until you play a game without one.

AVWW2 is better in this area. The graphics aren’t the best, and there’s still an issue aesthetically with the game feeling like it is using pre-made parts, possibly by different people, and put together. But the parts are more detailed, unique looking and better animated than what is found in the first game. The enemies match the environment they’re in, the character models look a bit better and so on. The overworld map received the most improvement, which is great since the overworld map is part of the whole strategy game part of AVWW2. The background music received a noticeable improvement and is pretty good in places. The HUD is far less cluttered in the sequel.

Still these games are in desperate need of an artistic director. Video game development is a kind of art on its own, trying to balance a vision of what you want to create in a way that’s also engaging to the person playing it, except you can develop the most tightly made game ever and without good graphical art direction then it might be so jarring for the player they may never stick around to see the rest of the game.

The fact the games are procedurally generated is interesting, but ultimately I wasn’t a fan of this for this style of game. There is a light of jumping going on, and I prefer my platform games to have a focused, intentional level design than random placement. I don’t know if this will make sense, but part of the personality of a platform game is how the levels are designed and how you move through and transverse them. Between the aesthetics and the random level design, both games come across visually as generic. My wife looked over my shoulder at one point and said she couldn’t understand how I could even play it, the games looked like garbage.

That’s unfortunate, because I like both of the games and I have a feeling that the areas it lacked in presentation will make other people turn away from them without giving AVWW 1 or 2 a chance. Honestly I don’t know if I would have either had I not been reviewing the games, so let me try and see if I can explain the good things both games do.

AVWW2

AVWW as mentioned is a hybrid action rpg/platform/resource management game. You could probably throw a few more genre descriptions in there as well and not be wrong. In the game you start out by choosing a character and then setting out into the world. There’s a story about Glyphbearers, however very little of the story is told in game and much of it is told in the scrolling text in the main menu. Needless to say the story feels extremely secondary. The game is set in a 2D sidescrolling perspective. The character you start with has a spell it can use and as you play the game you obtain more spells. The game also has an interesting crafting/equipment aspect to it. In the game you can destroy objects to obtain materials that later can be used to craft different items. There are also items that dramatically change your ability to traverse the environment. Like tables. You get these right away and can start placing them nearly anywhere. There are areas with a more textured background where you can attach the tables in mid-air, creating your own platforms with which to jump from. As a fan of platform games, the ability to create your own is an interesting dynamic and is an ability you use very often in the game. The game starts you out in a tutorial like area before you enter the main overworld and game.

Before continuing, let me also say fuck the Red Slime. In the tutorial area there is a place where you can’t continue because a Red Slime is blocking you like an asshole, who so happens to be immune to your magic. There’s a building you can enter and explore in the area. In this building there’s an air vent that also serves as a door, behind which is a spell you need to use to defeat the Red Slime, despite at no point the game informing you that you can enter air vents (doors are obvious portals, vents are not).

Speaking of AVWW2 breaks the fourth wall at one point to have the developer speak directly to the player about how the game isn’t subtle about instructions, but that’s because so many people died at the Red Slime. The way this is written in game appears to blame the player for this, as though he had to dumb down some things in the sequel so those Red Slime players could understand. I’d like to take a second to say fuck you dude, that was poorly designed and blaming the player via in game text in the sequel for that is a dick move.

So where was I? Oh yeah, AVWW. When you make it to the Overworld you can immediately challenge the main bad guy (don’t), or get to world building. The world is a mess and you have to help rebuild. This involves, well, a lot. There are survivors to save and a world to rebuild. This is done by going on missions which grant you the ability to create buildings on the map, like farms for food, or buildings which grant specific bonuses to other attributes. The goal is to build wind towers that will push back the evil storms that plague the land and weaken the main bad guys influence on the world, while gathering the tools and spells needed to take him on.

While any square on the map can be explored, there will be areas on the map with missions to do. There are a variety of different missions, from freefall missions with the goal of surviving till you reach the bottom of the map, to boss towers, back and forth battles with allies versus enemies, the aforementioned anachronistic enemy puzzles, and even a weird missile command like game where you have to defend stockpiles against meteors. Not all of these are fun to do, the meteor shower one is my least favorite and not well implemented, but they’re interesting and they add different activities to participate in. None of these are mandatory; you can also just explore the areas however you wish. There are a lot of hidden things to discover as well as items and spells to find hidden throughout the land, and even survivors to rescue.

AVWW4

There will be strongholds where you can rest between levels, from there you can craft new spells and a number of other things, buy refill on health and buy needed items. The survivors can be sent on missions to gather harder to find items, though there’s a risk that will kill them. Overall there’s a lot to go out and do. World building, crafting, the survivors, exploration, missions, crafting, etc. There is a mind boggling amount of things to do, and AVWW manages to let you do your own thing and never really forces the player to play a specific way. While there’s not a XP/Leveling system, there is a constant sense of progression of both the effect that the player has on the world, and with gaining more powerful spells and equipment to use. The spells you end up using are entirely up to you, typically there are a couple that I prefer but the danger with using the same ones too many times is that the game starts to adapt. This forces the player to try out new spells, so it isn’t really a bad thing, and between equipment, abilities, and spells there are a number of ways you can choose to build your character.

Something unique to the first AVWW game is that your character can permanently die. You can even come across gravestones of other players who have died and how they bought it. There’s very little penalty for this, as you can create a new character and most of your stuff transfers over to the new character, though you can encounter an angry ghost version of your previous character in the spot where they died. I liked this and was hoping that it would be further developed in the sequel, which strangely did not happen.

I ended up enjoying AVWW despite my opinions on the aesthetics of the game. After a while I got used to it, and it has some of the addicting nature of procedurally generated loot games, you want to just keep playing to craft the next thing or get the next spell.

AVWW2 is very similar to the first, but with some significant changes. Gone is perma-death. In AVWW2 the player has infiltrated the ranks of the antagonist Demonaica and obtained a life crystal that can make them come back to life if they die. At that point you escape the tower and set out into the world with this new power to try and rebuild the world and weaken the enemy.

Once of the ways the game has changed is the fact that the overworld map is broken up into larger more detailed squares that represent different areas. As the player you explore tainted areas in 2D procedurally generated levels to turn off the machines that are causing the storms that are damaging the lands.

Exploration is different. It’s still a platform game where you wander 2D levels and cast spells at different creatures, except now you can no longer place platforms wherever, you only get one equipment slot, and there are character classes to choose from which determine which spells you sling. The physics have been changed and jumping feels a little less floaty and spells have mass to them. Areas are typically smaller than an AVWW and the objective in most of them is to find and destroy the weather generator at the end of the area.

Destroying weather generators clears up the land from the taint on the overworld map. This unlocks that area so you can move survivors onto it, and purchase buildings. Like the first game purchasing buildings grants bonuses for food production, except there’s a far more strategic element in AVWW2. Clearing a land takes a turn, and then the enemy gets a turn. Monsters will come out of the tower on specific turns with the more turns taken the more powerful the creatures that come forth. There are survivors and the player is able to move the survivors around, to different lands or to face these creatures. The player cannot face these creatures directly. Freeing lands, harvesting materials, building things like clinics, and more are important parts to keeping these survivors alive.

AVWW3

This is a fantastic addition to the game. There’s more of a risk/reward scenario for which lands you choose to clear, and there’s a sense of mounting tension as you and the antagonist both move your pawns around the overworld board spaces. There are some buildings that are more tactically advantageous than others, and specific buildings which will unlock the abilities that are required to even get to the top of the tower to face the antagonist.

The tactical and action platforming parts work very well together. The pace is far improved from the original title. Enemies and their abilities are better thought out. The only thing that bothered me is that it is missing some of the variety the missions provided from AVWW. The game benefits from being more straightforward, but it feels almost a little too structured compared to the levels and things to do from the first game.

While the game removes some options from the first game, like the ability to equip gear to different parts of the body, perma-death, customizing which spells you use, placing your own platforms, the missions that provided variety from the first game, homing spells and so on, it’s also focuses more on creating a better overall experience. Instead of quantity of different sub-systems it tries to focus on quality. In the end this makes the second game a better overall experience, the aesthetics aren’t great but they’re better, and everything about the game in some way compliments another aspect of it instead of a bunch of interesting ideas that aren’t always implemented well.

I’m not much of a PC gamer, so I played both games with a wired Xbox controller. AVWW worked with it, only I couldn’t make one of the joysticks work and it was a little clumsy trying to aim with the right joystick and use the face buttons to cast a spell. Eventually I developed this crab hand way that ended up working well but probably not very ergonomic. The second game felt like it was designed for the controller and I had no problems playing the game with it.

Both games have co-op multiplayer, allowing you to roam together through the world. Unfortunately I did not get a chance to try this, but I can easily see a game of this type would be fun with other friends slinging spells across the screens, and it would be interesting in the second game to see which mage types work well together.

After playing the games together, often alternating between the two, I found myself liking the first game more. AVWW2 is certainly the better of the two games, both in art and game design, but even with some glaring flaws the first one is an ambitious game that has a lot going for it.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Both games are ambitious and deep. The first has more flaws but also reaches higher, but the sequel fixes many problems. Please though, try the demo for either first to see if the aesthetic rubs you the wrong way or not. If it doesn’t, than $15 is a great price for both games.



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