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Windbound Hands-On Preview

by Neal Ronaghan - August 5, 2020, 7:00 am EDT
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Sail from island to island in this Breath of the Wild-esque roguelike survival game coming soon.

Windbound feels like a blend of Zelda games by way of a roguelike structure. You play as Kara, a woman who wakes up ship-wrecked on an island with nothing. Her goal is to survive and get out of this predicament, but a lot of secrets and mysteries seem to be tied to this world she’s wound up in, with talks of ancient peoples and ruins. Playing this early area was very much evocative of the beginning The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You collect resources, primarily grass and rocks, and explore the world. Windbound is made up of different islands; none of the ones I saw were all that large. To stick with the rampant Zelda vibes, the islands were Wind Waker-esque.

I had some limitations in my time with Windbound. First off, I was playing on the PC version for the sake of this preview. Even on my somewhat dated laptop, Windbound looked gorgeous. The art style is appealing, with memorable designs from Kara all the way to the wildlife you interact with. It’s generally not an overly busy world, which is actually great in the case of this game. It’s easy to look at what lays in front of you, note what items you can likely collect, the critters that are hanging around, and the potential areas you might need to venture to.

Additionally, I got to see two portions of the game. The introduction and the first handful of islands you come across, and then some content later on in the game from the fourth chapter. Going back to the roguelike term I used at the outset, Windbound does kick you back to the beginning after death if you play on the Survivalist difficulty setting. No matter how far you progress, a death will send you back to Chapter 1. You do retain some of the items you gained (those that were on your person and not in your bag or storage) as well as crafting recipes and other accrued abilities and such. Storyteller is the other difficulty option. That’s more my speed. You still start over when you die, but if you have made it to a later chapter, you start back at the start of that area in lieu of going all the way back to square one. Additionally, you keep all of your items. The combat is also less difficult.

That last part is a big one, because the combat, especially with the sizable Gorehorn enemy, is tough, especially when you’re just starting out. After knocking out some smaller foes, I thought I could take on the bigger enemy. I was wrong. The Gorehorn quite literally kicked the crap out of me. Combat is primarily focused it seems on stealthy melee attacks mixed with a smattering of savvy ranged hits. It’s not for the weak and I’m glad that there’s an option that makes it a little easier, even if it is still challenging.

The combat is seemingly overall a small part, as crafting and just raw survival are the core tenets of Windbound. Crafting has four categories of items. Survival is made up of tools primarily, but also has other useful items such as a glider as well as gear that can be used to do things like lessen fall damage. Weapons feature your knives, staffs, slings, and bows - most of which do degrade over usage. The last two categories are focused on boats, with one being boat creation, with rafts and canoes, and the other being accessories, with things like anchors and on-boat storage. Overall, it can be a lot, but the way Windbound is designed seems to make it more palpable.

I feel like a broken record, but this does just remind me of Zelda a whole lot. The music easily could have been snatched from that series and the way you go from island to island gave me a similar feeling to traveling Hyrule in Breath of the Wild and Wind Waker. The goal seems to be to interact with different towers that then trigger paths in an ancient ruin. I don’t have a whole lot of context for the plot, but the act of navigating the seas to find these towers is engaging, albeit a little distracting since every new island seems to be worth exploring. From what I can tell, you start a chapter in a new area and have to find three towers, then reach the ancient ruins.

The developers don’t seem to want you to linger too long in each chapter. The amount of resources in each area is finite, so you can’t just spend days and days in the first area. I like that forward push, though as someone who is sometimes a little skittish of survival games, it does worry me that I’ll run out of food in an area, which would spell doom. You have a health meter and a stamina meter. If you run or swim, the stamina meter depletes. However, the stamina is also tied to a hunger meter that limits the length of your stamina as you get hungrier. I didn’t have much issue finding food and keeping well fed early on, and with the fact that you can craft a fire to make food, I’m hopeful that the balance is right and even if you take your time in an area, you can still eat decently well.

Windbound is due out on August 28 on Nintendo Switch, and it seems to be shaping up to be something very special. It does a good job of capturing that Breath of the Wild feel but through a different style. The roguelike design might wind up being a little more punishing, but it almost seems like the difference between the Survivalist and Storyteller difficulties is like Master Mode and normal. This is definitely a game worth keeping an eye on when it comes out. We’ll of course have more coverage around launch.

Preview based on a PC demo version.

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Game Profile

Genre Adventure

Worldwide Releases

na: Windbound
Release Aug 28, 2020
PublisherDeep Silver
RatingEveryone 10+

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