Lots of content with little depth saps much of the enjoyment out of A Valley Without Wind.
- Tons of collectibles
- Nice combat rhythm.
- Little reward for your hard work
- Confusing map and poor level design make it easy to get lost
- Repetitive and shallow.
After a full day of slaying monsters, plundering caverns, helping villagers, and performing the various deeds of a hero, you retire to a local settlement to see what your hard work has wrought. Perusing your inventory, you find an assortment of materials and items gathered from across the countryside. It's a modest windfall considering the hours of effort logged, and the few enhancements have such a nominal impact that you barely notice their effects. Sadly, the manner by which you acquired these slight rewards is a blur of repetitive sequences. Malevolent orbs and stalking robots crashed by the dozens at your feet, with no major battles punctuating these encounters. And so goes A Valley Without Wind, a mechanically sound game that fails to deliver the proper motivation to keep you grinding through this tiresome adventure.
The world is in ruins. Monsters from across time and space have been thrust together, and all wish to perform acts of harm on the peaceful citizens of Environ. Enter the glyphbearers. These mysterious warriors are sworn to protect their decaying realm. Perma-death ensures that each hero has but one life to give for his land, so when your last point of health fades into the ether, your spirit flies from the dying glyphbearer on the ground to a stronger person waiting in the wings. It's a concept that should keep battles intense, because one false move could mean the end of the character you spent so much time developing. But because you keep most of your possessions after you pass away, and the threats are usually so slight as to be rendered inconsequential, this seemingly punishing death system amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist when you succumb to a great beast.
Though a perfunctory story outlines the basic plot of A Valley Without Wind, the details unfold through your journey. Wild rhinoceroses and screaming eagles tear through abandoned homes, giving you a glimpse of the city as it used to be before chaos moved in. Disorder rules the various buildings you enter. Cracked walls and destroyed rooms are constant reminders of the decay creeping over the land, but it's the oppressive desolation that hits the hardest. Kitchens, bathrooms, and other recognizable rooms fill buildings, though they remain empty. No longer can cooks be found stewing broth or their patrons dining, and loneliness specific to wide-open rooms devoid of life hammers home how horrible things have gone in Environ.
A Valley Without Wind is a side-scrolling platformer with higher aspirations than running and jumping. There's material to gather, errands to run, and bosses to hunt down, and the procedurally generated world lets you go about these various tasks in whatever manner you wish. Open-ended objectives give you the freedom to focus on whatever aspect most catches your eye, so if you're intent on crafting more powerful spells or stalking bosses, there's nothing stopping you from diving right in. Such flexibility sounds overwhelming, and the early moments do require you to read pages of instructions to get a handle on what lies ahead. But once you get the basics down, it's so straightforward that you wonder how you could ever have been confused. Freedom is no substitute for depth, and it's woefully apparent once the training wheels come off just how shallow this valley is.
Combat commits the transgression of having bountiful options rather than genuine depth. Spells that span every elemental discipline you can imagine fill your inventory, making you think that you have to use each of these powers to attack the various enemies who confront you. So you test the ice and entropy spells, see how your earth-based attack feels, practice switching from light to fire magic on the fly, and make sure all of these spells are in easy reach in the heat of combat. Then an enemy rushes toward you and all of that preperation become inconsequential. Using just two or three spells (of the dozens you unlock), you tear through almost every enemy with ease. Just hover your mouse on a foe, cast your might by clicking, and watch it perish before your eyes. Sometimes, a warning that your enemies are immune to that element appears, and then you just switch to your backup spell and vanquish them in a flash. With little opposition, you certainly feel like the hero Environ needs, though your scrap-paper enemies topple so easily that any satisfaction is stripped away.
Here's where I am confused: I have just tried the demo and it does not come across as "hard work" or "shallow", maybe simple and challenging but certainly not Shallow, Hard Work. I personally found the game to be rather beautiful and engaging. Seeing all these reviews I intend to wait for a Specials Sale, but I will definitely buy it before making the final judgement.
Oh man! This has coop! You might have said something about that Mr. Shea! Some of us gamers are looking for more coop games and I wouldn't have known from your review! Not cool....
@Lytmare he mentions co-op in his last paragraph. and you had me thinking they'd slipped up for a minute there, I should know to trust Gamespot staff by now.
The idea that death is permanent and it affects the other survivors is awesome. If this game got better reviews I would so own it, but now I am apprehensive.
"Freedom is no substitute for depth, and it's woefully apparent once the training wheels come off just how shallow this valley is."
"Combat commits the transgression of having bountiful options rather than genuine depth."
Why do no professionals say this about TES?
@lindallison Because this doesn't apply to TES? At least not to some entries in the series in the opinion of many. I don't think there's any lack of depth in Skyrim, for instance.
@lindallison Probably because tes is enjoyable to play despite it not being the most in depth game series ever (it also created an incredibly interesting universe that is fun to explore)
@lindallison it's a little harsh to include the entire TES anthology, daggerfall and morrowind were rather good.
I honestly think it's a bit... Not sure what the word is, really, but let's go with stupid - to put up a review without mentioning the multiplayer/co-op.
@dude976 he mentions co-op in his last paragraph. and you had me thinking they'd slipped up for a minute there, I should know to trust Gamespot staff by now. unless he added that recently, and then pardon my comment here.
I think a lot of the issues in the game stem from the fact that it's still in beta. I've perused the forums a bit and the developers are very active in taking the community's input. I think this game's going to do nothing but get better as time goes on.
I'm sorry to see this low score. I've spent just a bit of time with the game, but my reaction has been more favorable. I do think the maps are a bit confusing, but I also think the game has a lot of heart and is trying to find a way to refresh the Metroidvania in light of games like Terraria and MInecraft - surely a significant challenge. I think the game makes a good attempt. Some of the negatives highlighted in the review are not fundamental. I imagine they are easily fixed by way of patches or DLC.
@cjlebron I had the same impression. The core of the game -- combat, movement -- is enjoyable. It's the structure that's the problem. The progression is so slow that you hardly feel as if you're earning anything for your effort, and the mission/enemy variety isn't strong enough to distract you from this fault. Hopefully, this gets the same level as support as Terraria.
@TomMcShea @cjlebron Hopefully not, considering a huge amount of the promised content for Terraria is no longer coming due to Red pulling support for the game and being unwilling to allow someone else to continue in his stead.
I'm not saying Terraria or its updates were bad, I really loved the game, and the last big update was awesome, I just hope this game doesn't lose support all of a sudden like that.