I’ve spent a couple weeks playing the A Valley Without Wind beta and the updates are coming rapidly to the 2D platformer/RPG/turn-based strategy/city building game. Some key features are still missing (such as cooperative play) and balancing continues to be an ongoing effort. Even though the game is months away from the early 2012 release and there’s plenty of roughness around the edges, I am very addicted to the massive quest.
Even in this fairly early stage, it’s obvious that the game is bursting with ideas. Some of them have been excised in the past couple weeks in updates since they didn’t work well. Others features have been developed further. The multi-faceted gameplay elements are all somewhat familiar on their own, but the genres have never been blended like they have here. So far I really like what I see as the polish continues to be applied.
Describing A Valley Without Wind isn’t easy since there are so many different segments. The meat of the game involves romping through post-apocalyptic environments by jumping around, collecting resources and killing foes with an arsenal of spells. Think of it like the unjustly maligned dungeon segments of Zelda II except infinitely bigger and without puzzles. Every area, represented by a square on the world’s massive map, contains dozens of buildings, caves and other environments. Most are accessible immediately, but doing so is foolish when at a low level. Everything is randomized, and most of the dungeons can be skipped since they contain only basic items.
Enemies abound, whether in the wide-open plains or the maze-like buildings. Moving around and dodging all manner of robots, ice bats and vicious fairies is made easy through the intuitive controls. Moving and jumping is done on the keyboard, while the aiming of the spells is done with the mouse. There are many spells, scrolls and items, so the hotkeys are necessary. Switching between spells outside of the two assigned to the mouse is problematic since it’s hard to aim, move and hit a hotkey at the same time. Most areas have relatively safe sections to equip new spells.
A Valley Without Wind is perhaps more about dodging enemies than taking them on. Regular enemies give no experience points, and magic points and the corresponding potions should be conserved. The only way to level up is to defeat bosses, complete certain tasks and in the most recent update, collect items scattered in the buildings. It’s a great design decision since it incentivizes you to leave the bitter wild for the turn-based safety of the settlement.
Survivors are few in the world, and most live in a settlement that serves as the main base. The storyline is barebones for now, but some plot development items have yet to be added to the game. From the settlement, spells can be crafted and items can be made. Just when I started to get the hang of the game, the initially overwhelming turn-based strategy and city-building portion of the game opened up. This is the heart of the game that makes advancing through the game – and eventually destroying the overlord threatening the land possible. A team of NPCs can be assigned to scout unknown areas on the world map, recruit other characters and build up the settlement.
A separate map brings up the settlement itself, rife with rocks, trees and just a couple buildings. All those resources collected when out in the field can be used to build homes to keep morale high or factories to craft more resources. The NPCs never join you in the field, and I’d like to see the work on the settlement translate better into the 2D platforming portion of the game. The entirely different aspects of the game don’t feel totally foreign to each other, but strengthening their connection would be a good thing and the ongoing updates to the beta seem to be helping in this regard as all the balancing is worked out. The inventory system is an ongoing fix and that could help in this regard.
In the turn-based mode, characters have a set amount of time units to perform tasks each turn. As a turn ends, the occasional enemy unit moves toward the settlement. These enemies can be bought off with precious resources or killed for experience points. Leveling up isn’t about upgrading the character, but about leveling up the civilization. When a character dies, a new one with identical moves but different stats takes its place. On a cool note, the deceased character becomes a vengeful spirit miniboss. There’s no real connection to the player you control since it’s a revolving door of characters. This unique design idea strengthens the camaraderie of the settlement. We’re all in this together and not one person is overly important.
The graphics have been getting improved with each update and the initially sparse buildings are getting a little more life in them. Some of the varied environments can be quite beautiful, while the synth music shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. For a few seconds it feels totally out of place and then I couldn’t imagine any other music taking its place. I loved it.
A Valley Without Wind is jam-packed with ambitious ideas, and I didn’t even get to all of them in this preview. Despite the odds, it’s already working in the early version of the beta. There’s still a lot of work to do, but the skeleton of the game is very well designed. As I said already, even with some missing features and items, A Valley Without Wind is extremely addictive. Just one more turn, I told myself. Hours later I’d finally break away.
A Valley Without Wind is developed by Arcen Games. It’s expected to be released within the first few months of 2012 for PC and Mac. The beta can is available now for $9.99 and the final release will be $19.99.