Windward is an indie rpg/sandbox with a simple but at the same time uncommon premise: you take the control of a ship and you explore the seas trading, hunting pirates and fighting for the glory of your faction. This sentence alone probably gave some of you reminiscences of Sid Meier’s Pirates, and with good reason. Don’t be fooled though; Tasharen Entertainment took heavy inspiration from Sid Meier’s naval exploration game but tries to carve its own niche in the theme. So, all aboard the SS Clever Girl to see what this game has to offer.
Windward takes place in a procedurally generated world, where four factions (five if we include the pirates) compete for the dominion of the territory. At the start of the game you choose your faction and start in a region fully controlled by it. Each faction has its own specialization, be it combat, exploration, trading or diplomacy. The map is divided in square portions, each with its own climate, towns and dangerous pirate vessels.
The region you start your adventure in is safe — no enemy factions on sight and few pirates roam those waters. You get to familiarize yourself with the mechanics of the game and gather experience and skills in order to travel to more dangerous (and profitable) regions.
In every region there are a few towns. Docking your ship there will allow you to repair the damages, buy new equipment (that goes from a better crew, to a stronger hull to a different colored sail), accept quests and buy trade goods. These possible actions I just described pretty much make up 80% of the game.
The quests you can accept are usually pretty simple and get repetitive really fast. Ferry these people from town A to town B, destroy this pirate ship, bring me this good. None of the quests you can take from the towns look really interesting or appealing and are frankly just a way to amass resources and experience points. The amount of quests you can take at a given time is limited by the size of your cargo. Your starter ship only has two slots and every quest takes one. Buying trade goods also takes one slot so you’ll have to decide whether to accept an additional quest or buy that stockpile of fur you know for sure you can sell for a good profit elsewhere. You can increase the size of your cargo by buying a bigger ship.
Towns also increase in level with you. As long as you complete quests for that city, you gain reputation with it. Higher reputation means better items in the market and cheaper goods.
The trade system is straightforward and will give joy to any capitalist. Its premise is the classic “buy low, sell high." This translates in-game by docking in a town, going to the tavern tab to see if there’s a town somewhere that is in need of the goods that you can buy there, buy anything you can store in your cargo, go to a different town to sell your merchandise, rinse and repeat. It starts to feel like a chore after a short while.
The combat is also pretty simple but also really fun. Your cannons fire from the side of your ship towards your enemy and you can activate your ship’s abilities as soon as the cooldown time allows you. Do that until someone sinks. While it can feel too basic at times, there’s a bit of strategy involved. It’s very satisfying when you manage to take advantage of the wind in order to circle around your enemy and take it by the tail where he can’t answer your fire. Your strategy is also affected by the equipment and the crew your ship is endowed. You can decide to favor cannons and ammunitions that go long range, while your skilled captain gives a bonus to your speed, or maybe you go for more powerful weaponry that hit at a shorter range, maybe with some heavy defense on the side so you can go close and personal. Your strategy can also depend on what kind of ship you’re using. A heavy but sturdy galleon will most likely just anchor and turn around shooting anything in range while a corvette will favor hit and run maneuvers.
The main mechanics of Windward are pretty simple and, taken alone, can get boring real quick. But Windward turns out to be more than the sum of its parts.
The game has that “one more quest” feeling that will be familiar to the players of 4X games. When you dock in a port, you check the tavern and see that you can buy jewelry to sell somewhere else. It turns out that there’s a quest available that brings you to that same place. So you buy the cargo, take the quest and set sail. Once you reach the new town, you see that there’s a pirate ship nearby making troubles, so you go to give it a lesson. From the wreckage a crate pops up. It contains a sealed letter that starts a quest that brings you to another region and so on and so forth.
Windward offers the perfect setup for a connection of events that, if it hooks you up, will see you spend countless hours immersed in that world. The only problem is that it’s an hit or miss situation. Either the game really rings with you and you play it for hours without realizing that it’s already morning, or you grow bored of it pretty quickly, with very little in between.
On a technical standpoint, Windward doesn’t offer much of note. It’s aesthetically pleasant and graphically adequate while not being outstanding. The music is really enjoyable but it could benefit from a wider choice of tracks. The sound effects are very well delivered and give you great feedback of the combat and the exploration.
The main problem of Windward is that it does not have an actual end goal. Yeah, I know, it’s the whole point of sandbox games not having a defined goal. Sandbox games, though, give you the means to set an end goal for yourself through its mechanics. Windward does not really have that. The mechanics we just discussed just repeat themselves over and over until your faction eventually controls the whole map. It’s just a matter of grinding for better gear to go in more dangerous regions and do what you did until then all over again.
You can buy Windward on Steam.
This game was obtained from the developer and reviewed on PC
Did you play Windward? What's your opinion on it? Let us know in the comments.