There’s no doubting the beauty of Windbound. Wherever you look, there are luscious greens or white-capped cerulean blue waves.
Even bobbing along in the middle of an expansive ocean, wind trails flow and effervesce, creating a sense of wonder and magic, or smoke billows from an on-board campfire capturing a charming essence seen in the obvious inspiration, Breath of the Wild.
It’s a good job everything is so pretty, because when we scratch beneath the veneer, the concept of survival and story is stretched thin and oftentimes repetitive.
Playing as Kara, we find ourselves shipwrecked after an attack by a sea monster. The task: survive and rediscover Kara’s home and family. Following a grand tradition of survival games, we start off by looking for wood and things to eat, while avoiding creatures who want to nibble on us.
Windbound takes place within an archipelago and Kara moves from island to island, crafting weapons, boats, and equipment. Many of the islands feature shrines which must be lit in order to open a gate, allowing progress through the game’s chapters.
In the basics of survival, Windbound doesn’t offer anything particularly new. However, the addition of creating your own ocean craft from scratch is a lovely element. It creates a sense of ownership, knowing you collected all the materials yourself. The crafting itself is rudimentary, and the game holds your hand through each new recipe – experimentation is off the table.
The inventory itself is also limited, even with a bag expansion; I often found myself having to drop items to free up space for creating tools. Away from crafting, there’s combat, because everything either wants to kill you, or you it.
Fighting indigenous creatures feels smooth and exciting, until your spear breaks and you need to craft a new one, thus fulfilling the ‘rinse and repeat’ nature of the survival genre which, despite quibbles, still feels satisfying.
This mantra applies itself squarely at the centre of the adventure as Windbound takes on a rogue-lite spin. If you find yourself dead, you won’t just respawn back where you left off or at an assigned checkpoint; when playing in ‘survival mode’, you’ll start right back at the beginning of chapter one, whereas if you chose ‘story mode’, you’ll start from the chapter in which you died, along with everything you had in your inventory.
This wouldn’t be an issue if Windbound’s core mechanic of stripping materials, lighting beacons, and then magical sea gates, weren’t so reliant on repeating actions, or if there was a clearer path to where the next island may be – too often I was left squinting to try and find my next destination.
Add in some frustrating platforming movement, and the charm Windbound creates through visuals, character animation, and flavour text is soon left washed up on the shore.
Kara is a wonderfully expressive silent protagonist. With no dialogue, the devs rely on small movements and facial expressions which really come to life with the painterly style of graphics. Moments of shock, sadness, and excitement all translate brilliantly through her subtle design.
Striking visuals and wonderful creature design can’t distract from repetition and lack of innovation.
Format: Switch (tested) / PC / PS4 / Stadia / XBO
Developer: 5 Lives Studios
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release: Out now