I went into A Valley Without Wind expecting to find a throwback to the old days of 16-bit era side-scrollers. I wound up with something much more than that. Arcen Games has crafted an immersive action game that mashes up several elements of other genres.
It has old-school platforming, 2D combat, an MMO-style magic interface, and civilization-building elements, just to name a few. This game is far more than what it appears to be on the surface and it swallowed hours of my time before I knew it.
The story of A Valley Without Wind is brief. The land of Environ has undergone a cataclysm of epic proportions. The vibe of the world is thrown off so much that the very fabric of time has been completely torn asunder. The result is a total mixture of different eras of time all blending together into a fine paste. Sure, the game is technically set in a medieval-style magic-filled land, but that doesn’t mean you won’t run into futuristic robots and industrial-age machines to go along with run-of-the-mill magical creatures. The mixture of different eras gives AVWW a strange (albeit cool) feeling, as I found it a little weird to run away from elemental creatures into a house filled with plasma screen televisions.
The tutorial at the start of A Valley Without Wind is a generous one, giving off instructions after every other step. It more than prepared me for the neverending journey ahead. Neverending is not an exaggeration, as there’s no concrete ending to the game. Conquering a piece of Environ and defeating the area’s overlord will only generate another chunk of the expansive continent and the cycle will continue without end. It’s completely nonlinear and players are welcome to explore each individual stage of Environ as they please.
Most interestingly, the world of Environ is completely tailored to the player. Beyond the introduction level, the world is procedurally generated, meaning the level design is always different. Part of the reason I was sucked into this game for hours was because I played through a pair of save files. I was blown away at how different each session felt, from the number of enemies present, to the backgrounds used, to the number of houses available to loot.
The unpredictable nature of Environ means players need a strong arsenal, and A Valley Without Wind gives players plenty of magic attacks to use against foes. Magic is all based on elements and some battles (particularly against bosses) boil down to rock-paper-scissors situations, where some elements will work better than others. Numerous enemies appearing on-screen can become problematic for anyone using a mouse and keyboard. The spell layout is the same as any average MMO, but I found it troublesome to use while simultaneously attempting to jump across platforms. I had the option to use a controller for better platforming prowess, at the cost of unfriendly spellcasting controls.
With many areas to loot, players will upgrade their abilities and spells quickly. I found this useful for the most part, until I started to realize that the enemies were leveling up right alongside me. A Valley Without Wind employs a system that tallies the number of times a certain enemy has been defeated. If the enemy has been defeated enough times, it’ll then start appearing in an upgraded form. Even minor enemies like bats will level up when beaten enough times and become more of a nuisance.
Environ’s enemies are persistent and they will eventually kill you. AVWW makes it clear that your character is not long for the world and will eventually die. However, permadeath is not a crippling issue here, as it is in other games. Granted, I wasn’t as attached to my new characters, since each individual character in the game seems devoid of personality. However, inventories remain untouched even after death, which gave me more incentive to continue my looting ways.
There is one major consequence to death, though. In one of the coolest features I’ve ever seen in an action game, the ghost of my old character would start haunting the area where he died. On top of that, the ghost would try to kill my new character if he came too close. It’s such a unique idea and one that attached a real sense of consequence to my actions. It certainly gave me plenty of reason to think twice before I rushed into a boss fight unprepared.
And all of this just scratches the surface of A Valley Without Wind and all it has to offer. There’s a large element of the game that involves maintaining your colony, rescuing survivors, and building a new civilization amidst the chaos happening in the outside world. It’s practically a whole game in itself and is the cherry on top of what’s already an engaging side-scroller. I’m hard-pressed to think of a game this year with a more expansive world and exploratory atmosphere. A Valley Without Wind is an addictive experience and as long as you don’t mind the fact that the story never ends, it’ll keep you hooked for a long time.
A Valley Without Wind is available now for PC and Mac.
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