About a year ago, I started up A Valley Without Wind as a means to test out a new program I downloaded to make my PS3 controller work with my Mac. I learned two things by way of this experiment - I should not play A Valley Without Wind with a controller, and A Valley Without Wind is a weird fucking game.
As I look ahead at the list of games I'm going to be playing, I realize that AVWW is one of the top contenders for "Games that Make Me Nervous." I don't know what I quite expected (or expect) from this game, but the weird graphic style, the baffling experience I had with the controls, and the complete lack of attention the game has received makes me anxious about playing it.
Two thing before I jump right in - first, I am not going to look up guides for any of the games I play. I'm probably going to break this rule the second I start playing one of the more impenetrable games on my list, but for now I'd like to rely entirely on the game's developers for guidance. Second, I'm not going to be finishing these games. Not even close. So these are not reviews, these are impressions. Now. Onto A Valley Without Wind!
A Valley Without Wind
I am frustrated with the idea of being overwhelmed.
On one hand, it's entirely possible that I can't grasp all of the things this game is offering me. I have not often played games that introduce concepts like gathering and crafting, resource management, dozens of equipable slots, what appears to be a full-on city simulator, and an incredibly large game world all at once. I've never played PC games seriously. Maybe my brain needs to adapt to new types of games.
On the other hand, I'm a pretty smart person. I've never had a hard time understanding much of anything, especially not systems in a game. So why is it that I'm struggling with everything that A Valley Without Wind is throwing at me? Is it maybe, rather than me being too dense to wrap my head around it, the game's fault for not introducing itself properly?
On the title screen, we're treated with what I would assume given my three hours of play time is eighty percent of the game's core story. We learn that the world is experiencing rifts in time and space. This allows the locations in the game to vary from crystal caves to village huts to post-modern apartments. Since then, I have yet to see any dialogue of writing relating to this or any other core plot.
Most of the writing in A Valley Without Wind comes in the form of tooltips or gravestones left behind by adventurers who have fallen before, with clues such as "Killed by the red slime," "Red slime," and "Yep, red slime.". The writing is clever and at times chuckle-worthy, though so far nothing I've seen has been laugh-out-loud funny. The game does have an endearing personality, though. The original music is also strong, especially the opening theme's chiptune beat. The music is a throwback to 8- and 16-bit soundtracks not only in technological style, but in its strong and memorable melodies.
It's lucky these aspects of the game are so charming, because without them it would have been difficult to make it through the earliest portions of the game. The art style is at times both beautiful and oddly grotesque, as if every aspect of the game had been drawn by a different person, printed onto a piece of paper, then pasted onto the background. A part of me wanted to stop playing the game for the same reason I don't like to watch South Park - I just didn't want to look at it. Over time, however, I grew to appreciate the style, even if it never seemed entirely congruent. Functionally, discerning enemies from the background was a constant hassle.
At first I had difficulty with the controls, but I'll chalk this up to a lack of experience with mouse-and-keyboard. They felt to me like playing The Lion King on the Super Nintendo - unwieldy and occasionally frustrating. I started really enjoying the feel of clicking on things and having a burst of fire pop out of my hand, but after about an hour this seemed more like a chore given the downright stupid AI, cheeseable bosses, and incredible number of trees and rocks to blow up.
Then I started picking up pieces of wood. And I started killing slimes. And I filled out a bunch of multi-colored squares on a map, and I understood what appeal this game (or a game like it) might have had. Attacking trees for wood and monsters for experience is extremely satisfying. For about an hour.
No, but really, I killed the shit out of every tree I came across. This is how I play games.
So A Valley Without Wind had the potential to reel me in, and I was just opening up to the idea of falling down a deep dark RPG hole, when I reached "my settlement."
AVWW is a city simulation buried underneath an action platformer role-playing game. The goal of the game is to rebuild civilization. I think.
So here's my problem with A Valley Without Wind - there's too much of it. Let's ignore for a second that, in just a few hours, I was introduced to about a dozen different spells and actions, any of which are required seperately to proceed, a number of different crafting systems, what appeared to be about ten different equipable "buff" slots", and a city simulator. That I can handle, over time. My problem is this:
This is the world map. Everything I had experienced in my first three hours with this game takes place in one of those little squares. And each square appears to have just as much, if not more, to do on it.
I'm all for big games. Go Skyrim, go GTA, go Red Dead Redemption. I love sinking myself into a game and spending days learning everything about it. But A Valley Without Wind is procedurally generated. No member of the development team went into each of those squares and decided what everything was going to look like, or where building would be, or how caves would be laid out. The game could generate these square ad infinitum, and I would never see the end of it.
And there's my stopping point for AVWW. I can't do everything. I can't clear out every dungeon, and visit every room in every building, and feel good about it because it isn't a crafted world. In Skyrim, if I stumbled upon a cave or a ruin that I had never seen before, I was excited to because a developer had hidden that just for me. In a procedurally generated world, an algorithm decided that cave would exist.
I have no problem with procedurally or randomly generated games either, mind you. The Binding of Isaac and FTL: Faster Than Light have been some of my biggest time sinks in the past year. In a game where I'm working to experience the world and discover secrets, however, such a level of randomness in its design seems to cheapen the experience.
Qualms about the game world aside, there are a lot of things to like in A Valley Without Wind. For me, though, the lack of story, environmental detail, and satisfying combat failed to justify the countless hours that AVWW seems to be asking its players to commit.
For that reason, I have no problem moving on to the sequel, because I
Will Not Revisit
A Valley Without Wind. So let's see how we fare tomorrow night, with...
A Valley Without Wind 2!