Windbound promises a lot from the start. The opening sequence does a lot to pull the player in, introducing you to Kara quickly and efficiently. Kara soon finds herself lost at sea, standing in front of a massive portal. What lies beyond the portal? Will Kara manage to meet back up with her tribe? There’s a lot of promise here, but ultimately Windbound fails to realize its true potential, leaving players lost in a sea of disappointing survival mechanics and a very thin narrative.
Dazed and confused
Right from the onset, Windbound does a great job of throwing players into what seems like it is going to be an engaging narrative. Kara, a young tribe member, finds herself washed ashore on a mysterious island. With no idea which direction her tribe has gone, she must work to find them and survive in a beautiful and vibrant world of islands that change quite a bit each time you play through those sections.
Part narrative experience, part survival crafting game, and part roguelike, Windbound struggles to find itself after those strong opening moments. Any hope of an in-depth narrative that pushes you along is quickly dashed by clunky movement systems, crafting that never really has much meaning, and an overall frustrating survival experience.
One of the biggest problems with trying to make a game that fits into so many different niches is that the finished product often finds itself struggling to really find itself. That’s the case with Windbound as the roguelike elements work, but they never really fit the narrative all that well. In fact, the narrative itself is so thin, that it might as well not even exist. I was really disappointed that there wasn’t more depth to the story, as Kara’s journey could have been really interesting if utilized correctly.
Your own worst enemy
Despite being a roguelike with survival elements, Windbound never feels all that difficult. In fact, most of the enemies found in the game run when you attack them, though the ones that do fight back feel like bullet sponges and take quite a few hits to kill, often making it not worth it to craft the weapons you need to defeat them for a chance at the various resources they can craft.
The most difficult part of the game comes down to managing your hunger. This isn’t exactly difficult, as there are plenty of edible plants and mushrooms situated around the various islands that you explore. Together with the bullet sponginess of many of the enemies, as well as their tendency to just run away really quickly, there’s never much reason to go through the trouble of hunting them down.
The combat is also extremely clunky, making it not that enjoyable to partake in. I wasn’t really expecting it to be super fluid going into the game, but I was extremely saddened to find that even taking part in the combat is a chore. On top of clunky combat, the animals don’t drop the same resources every time, so you could spend upwards of ten minutes hunting down some of the bigger creatures just to get a piece of crafting material that you didn’t need at the moment.
Nail in the coffin
Now it’s time to talk about one of the most important parts of the Windbound experience: crafting. The crafting in Windbound is extensive. The laundry list of recipes available to you is honestly overwhelming at first, but it never really makes the most of its contents. Sure, there are lots of things you can craft from a basic canoe, to weapons, to better boat parts. But none of it ever really feels needed. In fact, in one run, I went through a good portion of it without ever crafting any boat upgrades or weapons.
Some might say it’s nice that you have the option to make it through the game without having to craft a bunch of items, but that’s kind of the point of a survival crafting game. Even if this wasn’t a game where most of the challenge could come from requiring you to craft different things to progress, the fact that the massive list of crafting recipes is wasted is my biggest issue with it. There are so many options available to you, but the game never gives you a reason to bother chasing them down.
It honestly feels like Windbound could be a great game. There’s a strong foundation and a lot of spirit in the idea, but ultimately it fails to live up to the endless ocean that it promises. I really wish that there was more to this experience and that it took more advantage of the things it does have to offer. Unfortuntely, if you’re looking for a great survival roguelike to put your time into, then you’re probably better off setting sail in more abundant seas.
This review is based off of a PlayStation 4 code provided by the publisher. Windbound is now available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Google Stadia.
- Beautiful world and visuals
- Strong narrative foundation
- Plethora of crafting options
- Crafting feels meaningless
- Narrative is under-explored
- Enemies are too bullet spongey
- Experience never feels challenging enough