Sailing its way onto the Steam store page comes Windward, an open-world, action RPG title created by the folks down at Tasharen Entertainment. In Windward, you sail the high seas, battle it out with pirates, and take upon quests to upgrade your ship and explore new lands.
As a whole, Windward is very well designed game, and in comparison to similar titles it stands on its own merit. But beyond all the loot collecting and sandbox exploration lies a game hindered by repetitive gameplay, unimaginative quests and a dull singleplayer experience.
I jumped into Windward with an open mindset, and sunk hours into the singleplayer mode before moving onto multiplayer for my final judgement. For my first two hours in playing, I was fairly sold on what I was playing. Windward is satisfying, relatively simple to get to grips with, and doesn’t go overboard when it comes to holding your hand through the start of your first session with it. There’s no story, which is a bit disappointing, but the basic meat and potatoes gameplay gets off to a good start.
From the outset, you’re given the opportunity to align with one of four factions (specializing in combat, trade, exploration or diplomacy) and assign your ship various different traits. Hull, Sails, Speed, Damage, Mobility, Accuracy, and Diplomacy are all there to tinker with, and Windward provides you with plenty of freedom to make them as high or low as possible. The more effective your ship the easier your time will be, but that ease will also bring with it smaller experience gains for completing quests.
Once you’ve set sail on the high seas and take control of your ship, you can create settlements, take up quests, read rumors to discover trading opportunities and battle a few pirates here and there. Escort missions, ferrying cargo, taking out threats and establishing new settlements are just some of the quests that Windward offers, though they do tend to repeat themselves after a while and the lack of any backstory means that a sense of repetition can set in fairly quickly.
Objectives are entirely optional. Whether you want to spend time completing quests, trading, fighting pirates or exploring, Windward doesn’t push you down one particular path, and that freedom to do what you want is one of the reasons why it’s oddly addictive, despite its relative simplicity and repetetive gameplay.
That’s not to say that there isn’t any depth to be found: Naval combat is intense, relying on a timing and precision to land your shots. Sailing the high seas can be surprisingly pleasant, with different weather conditions to consider (though even sailing against the wind you’ll still move forward at a decent pace). When combined with the soothing soundtrack, there’s an adventurous vibe to traveling across the ocean to pick up loot or hunt down pirates, and it’s easy to lose hours in Windward‘s thrall.
Over time, the impression of what seems like a particularly joyful game can begin to feel like a bit of a chore – you’re simply doing the same things over and over again, to get more money and loot, so you can do those same things over and over again but slightly better. You’ll still be doing the same stuff after ten hours that you were doing in the first ten minutes, and as such it never amounts to feeling as though you’re actually getting anywhere, or that you’re working towards a larger goal.
The more objectives and additional side quests I completed, the more Windward rubbed off as nothing but more but a grind, albeit an initially compelling one that’s pleasantly presented. A lot of the time, your quests are simple trips from point A to point B, with the occasional ship battle in-between.
Defending towns under your faction’s control can be frustrating, mainly because they get pillaged so often. Pirates will often spawn far away from you and start picking apart areas under your control one by one, necessitating a long and dull backtrack across the map. You can resolve this easier with ship upgrades and building guard towers, but even then, guard towers barely stand a chance against even a single pirate ship, and leveling up your own ship can feel as though it takes forever.
But Windward was designed primarily as a co-op title, and playing with others does at least make things marginally more entertaining. The more repetitive aspects of the game are more easily forgiven if you have a friend helping out, and things like defending towns from pirates are more easily managed in a group. But the core gameplay remains the same – you’re still doing the same stuff as you did in singleplayer; you’re just having a chat while doing it.
Admittedly it’s fairly easy on the eyes. It’s hardly going to tax even a modestly-specced PC, but little animations like seagulls flying overhead and waves lapping against sandy beaches are nicely done; and while the amount of detail isn’t staggering, Windward can sometimes be disarmingly pretty to look at. As mentioned earlier the soundtrack is relaxing, and the sound effects all sound as you’d expect them to, rather than sticking out like a sore thumb. There’s also just enough humor to raise a wry smile, though rarely will it elicit an actual chuckle.
Overall, Windward is a game that is enjoyable enough for the first few hours, but which eventually fails to maintain interest thanks to a lack of variety and sense of progression. An actual singleplayer campaign might have helped – or perhaps some more things to do on land.
As a multiplayer title, I can see people investing a few hours with a friend or two. But by yourself, the experience isn’t at all a fulfilling one and a lack of personality behind everything just leads to one task bleeding into the next until you realize you’re barely even thinking – you’re just playing on autopilot, clicking on things without feeling actively engaged in what you’re doing.
At first glimpse, Windward is likely to remind many of Sid Meier’s Pirates!; but it possesses little of the wit or refined gameplay of that classic. In the end, Windward’s own simplicity is what prevents it from mastering the ocean, condemning it instead to a lifetime of treading water.Being a captain on the high sees and fighting pirates should be exciting – it’s got Pirates in it, for God’s sake! – but rather than shiver your timbers, Windward barely manages to rock the boat.