Published on August 29th, 2020 | by John Werner
Windbound Xbox One Review
Summary: Windbound follows Kara as she must rebuild her boat and discover the truth behind a long-forgotten battle between the land and sea.
Marooned and separated from her seafaring tribe during a vicious storm, Kara must rebuild her boat and discover the truth behind a long-forgotten battle between the land and sea. “Windbound” is a stunning and beautiful open world, survival, action-RPG game from indie developer 5 Lives Studios. With a strong focus on crafting, players must build a boat of their own design to safely travel between islands to collect valuable resources and locate the beacons that will guide you towards the truth.
At first glance, “Windbound” appears to be a simple boat building indie game with beautiful graphics that requires players to navigate across the ocean in order to gather resources. Truth be told, that is exactly what I thought before I began playing. Yet, like the ocean world that “Windbound” is set in, there is so much more beneath the surface.
Players take up the role of Kara, a member of seafaring tribe that are currently on a voyage across the ocean. One night, a monstrous storm comes out of nowhere, sinking Kara’s boat and separating her from the rest of the fleet. Kara later wakes to find herself marooned on an unknown island with nothing but the clothes on her back. Stranded, hungry, and alone, players must scavenge what little resources are available in order to survive.
If you have ever played a survival game before, then you can pretty much guess what some of the challenges are going to be. The first issue is inventory management and figuring out what items are more valuable. Depending on what difficulty setting you choose at the beginning of the game, players can risk losing everything when facing an untimely demise. Only a select number of items will carry over when Kara awakens after respawning. Players are able to expand Kara’s inventory space by crafting larger bags or building storage containers on her boat. However, nothing is without risk. Items stored on the boat are at risk of being lost for good if the section of the boat the container is mounted on becomes damaged and destroyed. Thankfully there is a wide range of boat upgrades that can be used to protect your mighty vessel from taking damage or put the hurt back on those who would love nothing better than to see it sink beneath the waves.
It goes without saying that building your own boat is probably one of the main reasons you’re going to want to play “Windbound”. Keeping in touch with the tribal “living off the land” theme of the game, developer 5 Lives Studios, has really kept building materials to a very minimalistic level in order to create a more realistic experience for gamers. Starting with the basics, players can build their first canoe from bundles of grass before progressing to making rafts out of bamboo before finally progressing to wood. Players can choose to either stick with a single canoe made from any of the three base materials, with the option of building a sail for extra speed or build a more complex raft that offers more creative freedom at the cost of needing more valuable resources to construct. Rafts can only be built using bamboo or wood but can be equipped with side struts made from any material like a canoe. Given the limited availability of wood and bamboo across the islands, players will need to think carefully about what materials to use in designing their boat. This is especially true when crafting upgrades for both Kara and your boat such as weapons and storage upgrades that also require those same resources. On multiple occasions, I found myself choosing not to build any upgrades until I knew I had enough surplus for emergency repairs, choosing to put the survivability of my boat above all else.
“Windbound” is broken up into five open world levels, each more challenging and dangerous as the last. In order to complete each level, Kara must visit islands and locate the three hidden beacon towers that, when activated, unlock access to a giant seashell containing secrets of the past, further revealing to Kara why it is that she finds herself stranded on this group of mysterious islands. I don’t want to give too much away by spoiling the narrative, but I will say that completing this story will give you much to think about. Once you’ve completed each level, you’ll be given a final test before progressing to the next chapter. Using the boat you’ve built, you’ll need to navigate your way out of the temple as you battle giant waves, rising tides, and avoid obstacles such as rocks and coral.
Focusing back on the level design for a moment, I’m particularly fond of just how well the developer has been able to create a near perfect balance between beauty and danger. To explain it more simply, “Windbound’s” stunning graphics will leave you feeling free and relaxed as your boat sails majestically across the open water. If it wasn’t for the constant need to maintain Kara’s hunger/stamina levels, I could have easily sailed around for hours on end thanks to “Windbound’s” incredible sailing physics. Not only has the developer incorporated elements such as wind direction and how open the sails are, but they’ve also factored in more advanced game mechanics such as high and low tide, gravity, and balance. Constructing a small boat with a giant wooden sail might make you go faster but also make it more likely that the boat will capsize and harder to control.
“Windbound” isn’t just about building your own boat, it’s about survival, and that includes hunting and being hunted. Many unique and dangerous creatures inhabit the islands, with some offering rare materials required for crafting more advanced upgrades. Kara can equip a multitude of different weapons ranging from steel tipped spears to enchanted bows. However, crafting the best weapons and committing mass genocide on the wild boar population isn’t that simple. All of your crafted tools and weapons do suffer from wear and tear, meaning that picking your fights is key to ensuring your survival. To further emphasize this, take only what you need into the game, as food will only last so long before it becomes rotten. I find this to be a beautiful reflection of the ideology that many indigenous tribes have towards living off the land and preserving life for future generations. It’s hard to say if this is the direction that the developer was going for but nonetheless, it’s still a clever little element that helps immerse the player into the world of “Windbound”.
“Windbound” is a beautiful journey that says a lot without needing to rely on spoken dialogue. From the moment you enter this captivating world, you will be swept away to a place of beauty and danger. Thanks to the randomly generated levels, no two voyages will ever be the same, providing gamers with an abundance of replay value. With that said, “Windbound” might come across as repetitive in some ways due to the genre of the game, but the journey is well worth every second. I would have liked to have seen a larger map or more challenges to overcome but I still firmly believe that the current balance of elements within the game is already at a good pace that it doesn’t become over or under whelming. Having completed the game, I can see where there would be room for further updates down the track but right now, “Windbound” is a brilliantly thought out game with amazing execution. Perfect for gamers of all ages, skill levels, and interests.