Windward: What We Think
I was expecting epic wars, fights for territory, tears of defeat and the salt of loss. What I got was a super casual, no-risk river trader with the odd pirate to broadside.
Windward is a multiplayer sandbox ship-to-ship combat and trading game. Gameplay consists of buying goods cheap and taking them to a port where they are in demand to sell high. Or by roaming the seas shooting at pirates. You can also take quests to get bonus rewards for doing more of the same.
All Gust No Glory
Trading is so plain that it’s literally sailing from point A to point B, sometimes following a guideline to your destination. Combat is not much better; it consists of either circling your opponent and clicking for ability rotations, or simply standing stationary and rotating to face your side to your opponent as he circles you. I wish I could say otherwise, but playing was putting me to sleep every time I tried to pick it up for any length of time.
Taking on quests and earning gold allows you to level up and buy bigger ships, but it’s a grind for sure, with only minor profits to be made at early levels, thus making it hard to gain momentum at the start. There are a couple options, at least, for getting some variety into your sails, but they end up being just more of the above.
The main attraction in Windward, is entering a PvE instance, where you get sent to your own map filled with pirates that you can shoot until you puke. You can invite some friends, too, or you can make due with AI bots sailing on your team. The bots, however, sail around the map randomly and only help you directly if they happen to sail within range of an enemy simply by accident.
If you try to complete an instance by capturing all the towns for your faction, you’ll find it very frustrating, as the pirates will reclaim towns you’ve liberated while your team bots do little to help.
While you’re sailing for the last town to finish a map, a random pirate may retake a town on the opposite side of the area unopposed, forcing you to take another few minutes traveling back again to retake it. During that time, more towns may fall, forcing you to recapture those as well.
So what did I expect? Why am I so let down by this game? It’s not bad in actuality, just bland. As much of the game had been showing off factions and a world much larger than first impressions let on, I’d thought I was getting into an EVE-like experience with territory disputes, wars for towns, harbors for spare ships to sortie.
Instead, I found pointless factions that seemed to serve no purpose; all you have to do to change factions is log out and back in again. There is no loss, no risk. Ownership of sections of maps means little to you or your faction, as you can just jump to the best team any time you want, so no one bothers with it. Getting your ship sunk respawns you in the same ship, with no loss of crew, equipment or items. I wanted grit and risk, but found only a casual distraction.
The Good Ship LOL-ipop
I feel like the things that I expected but didn’t get could save Windward from mediocrity, like choosing or getting assigned a random faction and getting stuck with it, for example. Permanent loss of ships, cargo and crew (with reduced costs to compensate, of course) could turn simple tasks of trading that put you to sleep into an eye-popping job, as you could be intercepted by members of one of the other factions mid-route and looted for your precious cargo.
Still in “Early Access,” (the spreading practice of making games commercially available before while still in development/being completed) changes can be made and features can be added. But as it is now, Windward is something from which I may have expected too much; with all other elements being the same, adding some risk, permanency and loss to trading and combat could give the game’s excitement factor the kick in the jewels it needs.
Watch the trailer for Windward below: