The first A Valley Without Wind (called AVWW in short by its own creators) was an example of great ambition not matched with great refinement.
After having received feedback on how repetitive and endlessly aimless the game is, Arcen Games has revisited their ideas. The result of their introspection is A Valley Without Wind 2, or Valley 2, as Arcen Games apparently calls it.
The premise of Valley 2 is the same as AVWW. Multiple alternate dimensions of the world of Environ have been smashed together, unleashing both magic and advanced technology into the world. Worse, those with the capability to do so have harnessed these to become ruthless despots.
The story of Valley 2 happens to take place on a continent which is under the yoke of one such despot. He is the self-styled overlord “Demonaica” (whose name would be misspelled a few times in the writing for the game).
Almost from the get-go, the player is partially told how Demonaica managed to become so powerful. In addition to being obviously demonic (though the truth suggests otherwise), he and his most trusted lieutenants are practically undying, thanks to their use of “oblivion crystals”.
It just so happens that the protagonist is one of these lieutenants. He/She has just been granted one of these artefacts after years of morally awful service to Demonaica.
It just so happens that the protagonist is an undercover agent for the rebellion too. (This seeming contradiction is fleshed out a bit as the story progresses, but the story is ultimately linear.)
A convenient attack on the overlord’s lair gave the protagonist an opportunity to escape, sparking the rebellion.
The exposition of the premise coincides with the tutorials for the game. While the protagonist is making his/her escape through the lair of the overlord, the player will be prompted to do all the basics of controlling the player character in the platforming segment. He/She also comes across NPCs which mention the purpose of the protagonist’s service to the overlord.
There are a few hiccups, such as some of the text not having been adapted to the controls scheme which the player has picked. Otherwise, the tutorial for the real-time platforming and combat segments of the gameplay is sufficiently satisfactory.
Eventually, he/she comes out of the overlord’s lair. The player is introduced to the “World Map” and the turn-based gameplay which spans the aforementioned continent.
The tutorial for this segment of the gameplay is short, focusing on the basics. This part of the tutorial also states clearly that Demonaica is going to come out and thrash the player’s assets.
(This review is not supposed to make remarks on other reviews of this game, but it has to be said here that this element of the game has been complained about in some opinions. The complaint was that Demonaica ruins the “city-building” elements of the game, though the game was never intended to be a city-building simulator anyway, due to a built-in system which necessitates urgency. There will be more elaboration on this later.)
It has to be said here that the creator of the Valley series had always wanted the games to pay homage to old-school platforming games. (These had the player firing off projectiles in the directions of the compass). Said person still remains adamant on this stance, despite having implemented mouse-centric controls in the game.
With that said, if the player is not some traditionalist purist who likes challenging himself/herself with stilted and technically obsolete controls, there is an option to use the mouse and keyboard. There is no option to mix and match control input schemes; Arcen Games will not bend this far over, of course.
Spells are still the player character’s main form of offense in Valley 2. However, there is no mana pool to manage; the player can spam three of his/her four spells, with only fire rates to worry about.
The three aforementioned spells are categorized as primary, secondary and special. Primary is as it says; this is usually the most reliable and straightforward of the three. Secondary is usually a bit more situational, but still useful in a jiffy. Special is definitely situational, such as a spell to launch a projectile with an awkward arc.
The fourth spell is the “ammo spell”, according to the game’s parlance. This is so because it is the only spell with a resource-based limitation. This limitation is in place seemingly because among the four spells, it usually has the highest damage output, though its utility is a different matter.
Different ammo spells consume ammo in different amounts for every casting, which makes some more readily usable than the rest. Adding to the complication is that different player characters (as rolled by the player before the start of any playthrough) have different levels of ammo reserves.
The player may not find every ammo spell to be useful; some are incredibly situational, or takes so much ammo to use that a wise player would just store the ammo for a more desperate situation.
Ammo can be regained as random drops from enemies. Unfortunately, this poses an issue, because enemies can either drop ammo or health sparkles – never both.
The game can sour the player’s experience by somehow having monsters drop ammo instead of health many times in a row, when what the player wants is healing. (Of course, one can argue that the player should be more skillful and try to avoid getting hurt in the first place, but that is what elitists would say.)
In AVWW, the player could choose the spells which he/she wants to use by equipping the appropriate spell-gems.
This freedom of choice is nowhere to be found in Valley 2. Instead, Valley 2 uses the concept of schools of spells. The player must be limited to the use of the spells in a spell-school, even if the player only prefers one or two but not all of them.
The player does have the choice of being able to switch between schools of spells, but not on the fly; this can only be done freely in the World Map view.
Speaking of switching between schools of spells, the player’s choices are further limited by the “tier” of spells which he/she is using. Every tier has only five schools of spells, and it will be difficult for the player to find any one school which he/she completely likes.
The player can obtain a higher “tier” by progressing in the game; eventually the player is told that he/she can raid the overlord’s lair to open the next “tier” of spells. Spells of this “tier” usually have higher damage output than those in the previous “tier”. However, their utility is an altogether different matter.
Overall, this system for spells feels like a step back in sophistication since AVWW and is not for the betterment of the series.
A mechanism which is introduced in Valley 2 is the “caliber” of spells.
This mechanism is not exactly new, but neither is it well-documented in video game history either. To elaborate, games with spells in them generally allow opposing spell-casters to fire off spells at each other without the spells somehow clashing in mid-flight. If there is any protection against spells, these are usually defensive spells, such as the oft-used magical barrier.
In the case of Valley 2 (in which everyone, including most monsters, is a spell-caster), spells from the player character and those from enemies can hit each other in mid-flight. This is where the gameplay element of spell caliber comes in.
When spells of the same caliber hit each other, they disappear in colorful splashes. If one spell happens to have higher caliber than the other, this spell smashes through the other spell and moves on to hit whatever it is supposed to hit, for no perceivable reduction in damage.
This system allows for some interesting tactics, such as striking down incoming spells with spells of high caliber. This practically makes for good defense as much as offense.
There is a problem with this system though. Although the player can check out the caliber of his/her own spells, he/she cannot check out the caliber of the spells which monsters cast as readily. More often than not, the player has to know about this by actually casting spells at the monsters’ own spells.
Arcen Games has mentioned that the Valley series is intended to have partial shoot-‘em-up gameplay elements. Shoot-‘em-up gameplay involves not getting hit by enemies at all; it just so happens that Valley 2 has a minor system which rewards the player for achieving this. (It is also something which AVWW lacked.)
If the player can avoid getting hit by enemies and build up a tally of kills, he/she gains substantial bonuses to the damage and caliber of his/her spells. There is a limit to the tally, but there are a few ways to increase the limit. Higher limits contribute to higher bonuses.
Getting hit by enemies does not immediately wipe all of the bonuses away. Rather, getting hit diminishes the bonuses, so the player does retain some bonuses, which help in trying to build them back up again. Generally though, losing bonuses is easier than building them back up.
At least the simplification of the health system from AVWW to Valley 2 has resulted in beneficial streamlining.
Instead of an ugly dial showing the player’s remaining health, there are rows of “hearts” at the top left of the screen to show how much more damage that the player can take.
Hits do not take away one heart each, at least on the default difficulty setting for the platforming portion of the game. Higher difficulty settings cause hits to do more damage, whereas lower difficulty settings cause hits to do damage in fractions of hearts.
As mentioned earlier, enemies either drop health sparkles or ammo. Like in AVWW, health sparkles will automatically zoom towards the player character, if he/she does not have maximum health; at least this convenience has been retained. However, like in the previous game, the player can only heal by killing enemies, and – unlike the previous game – hope that they drop healing sparkles.
(Health is automatically restored when the player character returns to the World Map, fortunately. In AVWW, the player character needs to return to the settlement to be healed by an Ilari crystal.)
The player can find items which are simply called “equipment” lying around in levels. They are usually found in nooks and crannies which are out of the way.
The player character can only equip one of them at a time. They act like buffs, though many of them also come with nasty penalties, supposedly to balance powerful buffs. For example, there are items which multiply the damage of spells by more than ten times, in return for setting the player character on fire.
Such a system is reminiscent of the enchant system in AVWW. Unfortunately, this system in Valley 2 has far, far less sophistication than the enchant system, which this system apparently replaced.
This can seem very disappointing to people who played the previous game and liked the system of enchants, if only because it is an equivalent to the RPG staple of character gear.
Anyway, equipment does not last forever. Taking another piece of equipment immediately replaces the one currently in use. Equipment items also somehow break apart after the player character has took several hits, regardless of whether the item reduces incoming damage or not.
This limitation would not have been an issue, if not for the fact that there does not seem to be any way to know how many more hits which a piece of equipment can take. There is no amenity to repair equipment either.
For better or worse, the monsters in Valley 2 are just as stupid as the ones in AVWW. They often get caught in level geometries and fly into walls instead of around them, if they are the kind which chase the player character. The others adopt ceaseless patrol patterns and are even easier to avoid and eliminate.
Monsters no longer have elemental resistances and weaknesses in Valley 2. Consequently, the feature to pause the game has been removed, because there is no longer any need to check their statistics. To players who are rather tired of variants of the rock-paper-scissors video game trope though, this omission will not be missed.
Despite this simplification, monsters in Valley 2 appear to have more nuances than the monsters in AVWW. In fact, each and every different-looking monster has its own capabilities. There are no more palette swaps too.
This means that experienced and observant players are rewarded for remembering what each monster can do.
For example, there are sphinx-like creatures which cannot be damaged from afar. The player must get in very close to damage them, and it so happens that they have the ice-cross spell from the previous game.
Some enemies even have the ability to affect the player’s spells. For example, the Perimeter Guard robot can bend the player’s spells in random directions, which make them incredibly annoying – if its ability to charge does not make it so already.
Most monsters can be stun-locked by repeated attacks within a space of a second. This helps a lot when the player is dealing with individual enemies, but it is very rare that the player would be fighting just one enemy at a time.
Valley 2 has less platforming hazards than AVWW had.
For example, the water in Valley 2 is not acidic; in fact, the player character can stay underwater seemingly indefinitely. (Speaking of which, ocean levels are omitted in Valley 2)
Perhaps the most noticeable – and perhaps most welcome – omission is the absence of windstorm effects. In the previous game, getting buffeted by windstorms and losing health over time when trying to set up wind shelters is not fun. Valley 2 wisely does not have the player going through this hassle.
When there are hazards to deal with, they are usually unique to specific types of regions. For example, noxious weeds tend to occur in the “Deep” areas and the overlord’s lair.
The most prominent examples of region-specific hazards are the pervasive damage-over-time effects of the ice-age and lava flat regions. The ice-age regions are particularly nasty, mainly because they apply a slow-down effect as well. The lava flats do not apply any other effects, but they do, obviously, have a lot of lava; as far as lava levels go, Valley 2’s take on the trope is one of the harshest.
In the course of a playthrough, the player will need to travel into caves in order to obtain what the game calls “perk tokens”. This is pretty much the only reason to go into caves.
(Side note: Some in-game documentation suggests that there are “blueprints” to be collected, but this gameplay idea appears to have been tossed out during development.)
Caves are very dark places. The darkness does not impede monsters, who are well and able to see the player character in the dark. There are ways to illuminate the darkness, but few of them, if any, are reliable.
To elaborate, some equipment come with properties which have them emitting light. This does not reach far, however, and equipment will not last long under enemy fire.
Spells which the player character fire off can illuminate the darkness too, but just barely.
Fortunately, the perk tokens which the player wants are bright (and slightly creepy) artefacts. They are very easy to see, mainly because they occur in small rooms at the end of cave dungeons.
Perks will be described later, because they are tied to the system of leveling-up.
NIGHT AND DAY CYCLES:
For whatever strange reason, the cycle of time in the continent does not follow the usual day/night cycle (that is, daytime and nighttime occurring in the same day). Rather, daytime and nighttime occur on alternating days in Valley 2.
This is usually nothing to worry about. There are some monsters which blend into the night better than others, but otherwise there is nothing to fear from the dark – except the dark of Deciduous Forest regions at night.
As their descriptions suggest, they are a lot nastier during nighttime days. (As odd as the phrase “nighttime days” sound, this is probably the most technically apt phrase.)
The denizens of the Deciduous Forests happen to be much, much harder to see during the night. Some of them are practically invisible, only to be briefly seen when they make their attacks.
Unfortunately, there are lost opportunities to make better use of this gameplay element; it does not seem to get any more sophisticated than the Deciduous Forests.
The overarching gameplay in Valley 2 can be overwhelming for inexperienced players. Like in A.I. War (which is another Arcen Games title), any decision which the player makes will have ramifications over time; in Valley 2’s case, monsters become more powerful over time.
Anyway, the game does have an amenity to help the player adapt: the “Strategic Advisor”. One of the NPCs in the character will almost incessantly remind the player about it.
Nevertheless, the player should always consult the Strategic Advisor on what to do next. It handily lists out the things which the player should do next in order to progress in the playthrough. More importantly, it points out to the new player which buildings are important, at least indirectly by referring to their coordinates.
Usually, it has enough details and instructions for how the player can follow its advice. However, there are gaps in the documentation which it provides – very severe gaps.
For one, it does not include the step of destroying the Stratospheric Citadels. This is a prerequisite which needs to be fulfilled before the player can progress towards the end-game. The player is only informed of this in-game through the remarks of an NPC and the player character.
Considering that Arcen Games has so much better implemented “advisor” systems in its other games, this is a disappointing oversight.
The gameplay element of destroying wind generators to free up regions for exploration and manipulation is called “purification”.
Anyway, the player will need to perform this in order for game-time to progress in his/her playthrough, specifically by one day (or turn). Anything else which the player does is considered to have happened in the same day.
There is no narrative explanation for this odd in-game perception of time.
Nevertheless, this makes for very easy grasp of what the player can do in order to control his/her progress (and thus the irreversible growth in strength of the monsters which the player will have to face).
Returning to the matter of freeing up regions, the player must carefully pick which region to attack. This is because a successful attack does not just free up that region, but also possibly the ones around it.
The game does have a narrative reason for this, but it is just a weak excuse to cover up the randomness of the procedural generation of the continent. To elaborate, the additional regions which would be unlocked by successfully purifying a region have been decided during the procedural generation of the continent before the start of the playthrough.
DESTROYING WIND GENERATORS:
As mentioned earlier, purifying a region can be done by destroying the wind generator in it. This is actually not very hard, but it also happens to be rather tedious, at least initially.
Reducing this activity down to its essentials, the player must have the player character going from point A (the starting point of the level) to point B (the end of the level).
Point B is where the wind generator is; in case the player does not know that, the background’s visual effects will change to show rainstorms. Spells, including those of enemies, are also affected; their trajectories will be distorted by the winds too.
At first, getting from point A to point B means avoiding hazards and fighting off monsters which the player cannot outrun. It may even entail entering a building and coming out of its other exit, if only because some insurmountable obstacle is in the way which prevents the player from simply jumping over it.
After the player has found the multiple-jump feats (more on these later), rushing from point A to point B becomes a lot easier; the player can have the player character jumping off high places and use the multiple jumps to keep aloft. That is, unless the player encounters one of those insurmountable obstacles of course.
(By the way, there is not any fall damage in Valley 2, which is convenient.)
Arcen Games appears to be aware of how tedious purifying a region is. It has implemented an alternative to doing so.
When the player encounters and defeats any of the overlord’s lieutenants, they drop a bunch of coins, seemingly for no story-related reason.
These coins can be used to hire mercenaries (who somehow still value currency despite there not being any viable economy in the world of Environ). These mercenaries can be directed to purify a region, thus saving the player some hassle. However, time still advances.
The player will not be getting a lot of coins though. The opportunities to fight the lieutenants are rare, after all. (As a tip, they always appear in intact level-up windmills, and sometimes in caves which still have perk tokens.)
Gaining levels is required in order to progress in a playthrough; the player will want to have his/her player character gain levels anyway, if only for the benefits.
To gain levels, the player needs to attack level-up windmills; the narrative reason for windmills having level-up opportunities is not entirely clear. Regardless, regions with the windmills stand out, if the text labels below them are not enough already.
The player character does not appear within the windmills immediately though. He/She has to move from point A to point B, like he/she would when targeting a region for purification. After that, the player must fight through the interior of the windmill in order to reach its totem of power and destroy it.
After destroying a totem, the player character gains a level. The benefits appear to be immediate, but this is actually provided through the perk system, not the level-up itself.
As mentioned earlier, caves contain perk tokens. Generally, any region which looks like it has a cave would have one. There are other regions which have perk tokens too, such as regions with useful special structures (more on these later). Getting a perk token unlocks a perk for use. However, the player cannot use all perks; this will be elaborated shortly.
The permutation of perks which the player can use depends on the player character’s level. Every level which the player gains grants two perks by default; these perks are chosen randomly from a pool of several perks. Every level can ‘support’ (for lack of a better word) up to four perks; the other two have to be obtained by spelunking.
Any perk token will fill up the perk slots for earlier levels before filling those for higher levels. The perks which are obtained through tokens are randomly chosen too.
The player may pick only one perk from each level for his/her player character. The player can only change the selection in the World Map screen too, though this is an understandable limitation (because having the versatility to switch perks on the fly would have been too much of an advantage).
The randomness of the perks which are made available can be a blessing or a curse. Most players would get a healthy mix of offense-increasing, mobility-increasing and health-increasing perks; this allows them to trick out their player characters for the missions ahead.
However, unlucky players may get mixtures which are skewed towards a few types of perks. Worse, there is no amenity to “re-roll” perks. This misfortune can crimp their play-styles.
There is another issue with the perk system, albeit it is a minor (but still annoying) one.
Before elaborating on this, it has to be said first that the perk selection screen is only big enough to show perks for several levels. After the player has obtained perks for higher levels, the perks for the earlier levels are obscured. There is seemingly no way to return to look at these, at least at first glance.
The game does not mention to the player that he/she needs to use the horizontal directional movement inputs in order to navigate the lists of perks and thus see the perks which had been obscured. There is no provision for mouse-based controls either.
Feats are a different set of perks. Some of their benefits can be found in some rare pieces of equipment, but feats let the player keep the benefits permanently.
Feats are not easy to get, however. They have to be obtained via raiding Robotic Research Facilities, and these are often protected by especially troublesome robotic monsters (obviously). Moreover, after hacking the (apparently invulnerable) mainframe of the facility, it will cause monsters to spawn near the player character; they will hound the player character until he/she exits the region.
(Feats can only be claimed by bringing them out of the region too.)
There are four feats in total. They have to be unlocked in sequence, regardless of which facility the player is hitting.
The first feat grants the player character the ability to jump in water indefinitely. Therefore, lakes are no longer major obstacles.
The second feat lets the player character miniaturize himself/herself and back again; this is a recycling of the Miniaturization spell from AVWW. Unfortunately, it will not be of much use, except to reach equipment chests which are tucked away behind tight tunnels.
The third feat is double-jump and the fourth is triple-jump. These will be the most useful feats, for obvious reasons.
Incidentally, all feats will be useful to reach the endgame. They are not strictly needed, unlike the levels which the player has to gain. (There will be more elaboration on this later.)
GAINING SPELL TIERS (& RAIDING THE OVERLORD’S LAIR):
Every few levels, the player is notified that his/her player character has become powerful enough to ignore the wards which Demonaica has placed in his lair.
The player character can then raid the lair to find the altar which contains the next tier of spells. This is not easy, because the overlord’s lair has more hazards and monsters than almost any other kinds of levels. They also have the greatest variety in monsters, making the journey into the next stretch of the lair quite unpredictable (and understandably dangerous).
Nevertheless, the reward – the next tier of spells – is too potent for the player to baulk at the challenge provided by the lair. Despite the complaints about spells earlier, the higher damage output of the next tier of spells will still make things easier.
Eventually though, the player will unlock all tiers of spells. That signals the start of the end-game.
Another thing worth mentioning about raids into Demonaica’s lair is that there is a handy shortcut vent which the player can use to return to the start of the next stretch.
DEATH & RESURRECTION:
Although the player character has an oblivion crystal which renders him/her immortal, he/she is not invincible. He/She can die; death sends the player character back to his/her room in the overlord’s lair. This happens within the same day, and the player will need to restart any mission/foray which he/she was undertaking.
There is also the additional consequence of the resistance losing a bit of their morale, considering that the protagonist was supposed to be their champion.
Still, even with these drawbacks, they are nothing like the permanent death of the current player character in the previous game.
However, very late into a playthrough, the ante is upped. Death causes one member of the resistance to suffer; this of course comes with a worse hit to the morale of the resistance.
The player character is all alone during his/her forays into anywhere. However, he/she is not the only member of the resistance against the overlord’s cruel rule. There are survivors too, as the prologue would very much point out.
Unlike the first game, the player cannot play as these other survivors; the Oblivion Crystal cannot be transferred. (As a side note, the game does make a slight reference to its predecessor through the remarks of survivors who expressed envy at the protagonist’s ownership of one such crystal.)
Narrative-wise, the survivors are intended to dispense some bits on the backstory that is the Cataclysm. Some of them remember how their world was like before the Cataclysm, while some others remember the time before Demonaica’s rise to power.
The most poignant detail about these survivors is that they will remind the protagonist of his/her time in Demonaica’s service. Through them, the player would know that the protagonist is somehow capable of suppressing his/her conscience in order to kill innocents outright. They are not the only characters who will mention this hideous quirk of the protagonist.
Anyway, the survivors will barely play a role in the platforming segment of the gameplay in Valley 2. Instead, they play an incredibly important role in the city-building segment of the game.
In this segment, the survivors act as labourers and soldiers. They build facilities which they will need to survive (and which the player character does not need at all) and taking out enemies and obstacles in the World Map (which the player character somehow cannot do himself/herself).
The player will be moving survivors around the grid-like World Map in order for them to do things. Conveniently, if all the survivors did was move around, the player can undo their movement to bring them back to where they were and thus have them do something else. Other actions will consume their opportunity to act though.
SURVIVORS MUST SURVIVE:
This may seem tautological, but the player must keep at least one survivor alive throughout any playthrough. Losing all survivors leads to a game-over; this is just as well, because the survivors are the only ones who do anything in the city-building segment of the game.
Interestingly though, there are survivors who have yet to join the resistance. These do not count as survivors until they are recruited; not everyone is eager to go up against the overlord and his army after all. Also, recruiting is done through bringing other survivors to them; there is a narrative reason for this, one which the game will frequently remind the player about.
It is usually in the player’s interest to recruit as many survivors as possible and as soon as possible to get more things done. However, survivors who have not been recruited are safe from the overlord’s attention. (This can be seen when Demonaica moves through a tile with a non-committed survivor in it; the survivor will be left alive.)
Every recruited survivor’s well-being is denoted by his/her “power” level. If his/her power level drops to zero, he/she dies. There will not be a replacement.
A survivor’s power level can be reduced in several ways. The most common way is that they are attacked by wild creatures in the region which they are in overnight. The severity of the attack can vary from region to region. Getting attacked is a matter of morale and cover, which will be described later.
The other way is that they attack or get attacked by Demonaica’s summoned monsters. There will be more elaboration on summoned monsters later.
They can also be injured by Demonaica’s spells. There will also be more elaboration on this later.
To restore a survivor’s power level, there must be some survivors working at clinics. Somehow, hurt survivors who are across the continent from a clinic can heal overnight. Nevertheless, the disregard for distance is convenient.
Considering the number of ways which survivors can get hurt versus the one way to heal them, juggling their health can take some effort. However, this can be done if the player is observant and careful enough to rotate survivors in and out of danger.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF SURVIVORS:
There are three types of survivors. Their main differences come in the form of trade-offs between their power levels and the amount of movement which they can make each day.
The scouts are the fastest but have the lowest power level, whereas soldiers have the highest power level but are the slowest. Skirmishers are somewhere in between.
Such differences are run-of-the-mill, but there is at least one more difference to be had between them; this will be described later.
The player does not need any sustenance, but the survivors do. Specifically, they need food to eat and scrap to build amenities with.
Only the survivors can gather these resources; the player can do little other than to direct them to where they can do so.
By default, the survivors will harvest resources from the region/tile which they are on, regardless of the danger to them from the tile. Most types of tiles do not provide much in the way of resources, but some others do.
For example, farmlands, of which one tile always appears very close to the overlord’s lair, offer a lot of food as long as a survivor is working it. Another example is the robotic junkyard, which offers a lot of scrap, but comes with high risk of attack from the ‘wild-life’ in it.
The player can also convert some tiles into facilities which yield more scrap and food. These types of tiles are very rare, however.
The player will not be able to keep high-yield tiles for long though; Demonaica and his minions almost always target them first. (There will be more elaboration on the role of Demonaica and his forces in the World Map later.)
Yet, it can be very satisfying to watch a good plan come to fruition, stockpiling hundreds of points in resources to last many metaphorical rainy days.
For whatever reason, every survivor has access to blueprints for useful structures and the capability to build these structures within a day (the same day).
Anyway, building structures requires scrap. Different buildings cost different amounts of scrap, usually according to their benefits and their importance. For example, scrapyards cost very little scrap (which helps the player build up scrap), whereas covered farms (which are a reference to covered farms in the previous game) cost quite a lot (which in turn make existing farmlands very valuable).
Building structures consumes a survivor’s opportunity to act, so the player might want to plan the building of structures carefully, e.g. not building structures on a tile which is under threat from possible spawning of monsters.
Structures do not need to be maintained after they are built, which is convenient.
The mood of all survivors is all lumped under the system of morale; this is unlike the previous game, where each survivor has his/her own mood rating.
Anyway, in Valley 2, Morale does not affect their functions, for whatever reason. However, it somehow affects the severity of wild-life attacks instead. Worse morale leads to higher likelihoods of getting attacked by wild-life; wild-life attacks cause more damage too.
Different occurrences affect morale to different degrees. For example, the death (and resurrection) of the player character barely hurts morale, though a careless player may rack up a significant total loss in a single day. In contrast, the deaths of survivors hurt morale a lot.
Running out of food is the worst threat to morale though. Morale sky-dives quickly when people’s bellies run empty.
Some structures are already there on the continent. Some of these are the same as the facilities which the survivors can build; they sit around waiting to be worked.
The others are edifices with special benefits which cannot be replicated by other means.
Some of them are structures which can only be activated by survivors of specific types; activation destroys them, but they grant useful rewards. For example, Amplifier Towers can be activated by skirmishers to purify regions which are adjacent to regions which have already been purified, and without having to pass the day too.
When to use such structures is an important decision to make. For example, although the player can activate the single Focal Tower in the continent right away (because its benefit is best gained early), Amplifier Towers should be saved for later, when activating it yields more returns.
Some other structures grant the survivors handy bonuses, such as extra movement points or even chances for free recruits every turn. However, Demonaica and his minions are more than likely to target these structures for destruction first, so the player might not want to have long-term plans which are oriented around their use.
HAZARDS TO SURVIVORS:
As mentioned earlier, survivors run the risk of being attacked by wild-life. Some regions, such as Lava Flats, are more dangerous to survivors than others.
To reduce the risk of wild-life attacks, the player can build structures on top of a tile; any structure will reduce this risk, because any of them is considered as “cover”. Some others happen to reduce risk more than the rest, such as Housing. This risk-reducing benefit is also passed to adjacent tiles, conveniently.
There are some hazards which cannot be so easily neutralized. Some pre-existing structures, such as Evil Outposts (which are references to the Evil Outposts in AVWW), increase the aforementioned risk in adjacent tiles; they have to be destroyed by sending a survivor to demolish it. This survivor is obviously at risk of being hurt while doing so.
Then there are Deep Gates. As their ominous names suggest, they cause a lot of trouble; specifically, they spawn monsters, in addition to those spawned by the overlord’s lair. At least they can be destroyed, unlike the overlord’s lair (which will continue to spawn monsters, even after the end-game).
Interestingly, these hazards mainly become active because of the player’s decisions, usually the decisions on choosing which regions to purify first.
Monsters can appear on the World Map. These cannot be handled by the player character, for reasons which are never clearly explained. However, they do appear to actively target structures which survivors can use, in addition to the survivors themselves.
They can only be defeated by having them meet with survivors. Their power levels will be deducted from each other; monsters and survivors can end up killing each other this way.
As the playthrough progresses, the spawned monsters become more numerous and/or more powerful. The game is fickle in deciding how they become more troublesome, but generally speaking, it is not a good idea to drag out a playthrough for too long.
After all, skill can help the player stave off the increasing difficulty of enemies in the platforming segment, but no amount of planning will prevent the eventual overwhelming of the player in the city-building segment.
Demonaica will not stay in his lair to brood after learning of the protagonist’s betrayal. In fact, after slightly more than a dozen days, he will come out and try to crush the resistance himself, even if he could not do much against the protagonist because Oblivion Crystals cannot be revoked.
He can only move a few tiles per day, but any tiles which he passes through are very much thrashed, if they happen to be of any modicum of usefulness to the resistance. Any survivor which he comes across are also instantly killed – something which the game will warn the player about, if he/she bothers to heed the warning (which can be seen by bringing up the Strategy Advisor).
The game shows the path which Demonaica has taken after each day; this helps the player figure out which structures he would go after. As a rule of thumb, he is likely to go after the resistance’s most useful assets, especially those which let the player get more survivors.
He also tends to target survivors over anything else. This is convenient, if the player has no qualms about delaying Demonaica by luring him to turn around to kill a survivor which the player has sent to his/her death.
Places which Demonaica has thrashed cannot be rebuilt. They are also far less productive than any other tiles. Therefore, if the player drags out a playthrough for too long, the resistance will eventually run out of opportunities to sustain themselves.
This is in contrast to AVWW, which is practically endless. In fact, it has more in common with A.I. War; it would also influence the designs of Bionic Dues later.
Still, Demonaica moves slowly. Clever and wise players would plan ahead, building structures away from him – including in places which he has passed (he is not always thorough). However, Demonaica has a few tricks which he can use to compensate his disadvantage.
The first and most frustrating of these is that he can cast spells on the World Map. He can hit many tiles at once, making them dangerous to survivors and even destroy structures if he hit them with spells which are powerful enough. Alternatively, he can summon a gaggle of monsters onto tiles adjacent to him; monsters are always faster than Demonaica.
His spells become more powerful over time too, though there are structures which hold his spells back (and which Demonaica tends to wreck given the opportunity).
His other trick is less frustrating, but can ruin a careless and unobservant player. Demonaica can make use of portals which allow him to move from one spot to another on the continent.
MOVING AROUND THE WORLD MAP:
Like in AVWW, the protagonist can move across the World Map at astonishing speeds in Valley 2. This does not cause time to pass; the player character can scurry anywhere within purified regions, as if it happened within the same moment. However, the player character cannot move into unpurified regions, except those which are adjacent to purified ones.
Unfortunately, Valley 2 also retains a problem which the previous game has; the inability to control the camera directly in the World Map.
To be fair to AVWW, this limitation was not much of a problem, because finding important structures like level-up windmills is not something the player will do in AVWW. However, it is indeed something which has to be done in Valley 2.
This makes planning more troublesome than it should be in Valley 2. For example, the player could be straining the camera to try to identify the silhouette of some structure which is in an unpurified peninsula that the player cannot see because the peninsula is far away from the purified regions. As another example, the Focal Tower – which reveals all previously unseen tiles – is not of much use when the player could not even see most of the continent.
Next, there are impasses. There are a few types of these, but all of them block the movement of both survivors and the player character. They also block the movement of monsters.
They may block Demonaica too, though it is not clear whether Demonaica chooses to move towards other tiles instead of plowing through them.
The player character can wiggle between diagonally adjacent tiles of impasses, but the impasses will always block survivors, who can only move in the four cardinal directions.
Impasses also increase the danger of adjacent tiles; building structures near them will not reduce the risk of wild-life attacks much either.
Considering the trouble which impasses pose, it is fortunate that the survivors can deal with them. Any survivor is somehow capable at demolishing any impasses in adjacent tiles, if they can stay near them over one day.
It can be satisfying to watch a formerly troublesome line of impasses being wrecked over the course of a few days, freeing them up for expansion.
Demolished impasses still have considerable danger, but some of them can be built over with useful structures. For example, demolished thawing towers can have clinics built over them.
Most of the effort which went into character designs has gone into the protagonist, Demonaica and the lieutenants. The lieutenants have particularly benefited from this, mainly because the taunts and insults which they direct at the protagonist do much to illuminate the protagonist’s murky past and their own as well.
Gameplay-wise though, they are some of the most laughable enemies in the game. To jaded players, they barely even count as competent “bosses”. Some of the lieutenants move about in patrol patterns, or stand on the spot like a turret. They make use of spells which do not require much of any targeting, which is just as well because they are stupid.
The only advantages which they have are that they are quite tough and their spells are usually of high caliber. Even so, most of them are easily defeated if the player can spot and exploit their very simple patterns.
There are a few difficulty options. One of these affect the platforming part of the gameplay, whereas another affects the city-building part of the gameplay. These options can be changed in the World Map view.
However, there is not much sophistication to be had from the options. The option for platforming does the typical: it changes the ratio of damage which the player character inflicts to the damage which enemies inflict, among other unremarkable changes.
The option for city-building is not remarkable either; veterans of strategy will find that they are the usual penalties and bonuses to resource-gathering, among other similarly mundane things like modifiers to the RNG rolls.
Compared to the sophistication of another Arcen Games product, namely A.I. War, the difficulty options in Valley 2 are rather simplistic.
Like AVWW, the multiplayer experience of Valley 2 is mainly cooperative. Nominally, 8 players can play in the same continent, but it can support more if the host is willing to stress out his/her machine beyond the recommended number of players.
The technical stability of multiplayer sessions can vary widely from host to host. For example, there can be sessions with more than five player characters running around in the same level spamming colorful spells, and other sessions which chug even though the players are fighting in different regions.
In AVWW, there are plenty of convenient game designs which let players play together without them getting into each other’s way.
There are similar conveniences in Valley 2, but everyone is subjected to the rule of time advancing when a region is purified. Getting everyone to coordinate can become a problem if someone could not keep this risk in mind.
Arcen Games is not known for making pretty games. AVWW has a mish-mash of amateurish 3D artwork which are flattened to fit the 2D graphics, and highly detailed hand-painted pictures which are stretched onto springy sprites.
Perhaps wisely so, Arcen Games has decided that it should contract out the bulk of the visual designs of Valley 2 to somebody else – specifically Heavy Cat Studios.
(Side note: this may seem off-topic, but Heavy Cat Studios apparently operates by soliciting “advice” – paid for or otherwise - from freelance artists, which in turn resulted in some disputes of dissatisfaction being debated openly in sites like DeviantArt. It is not clear how Valley 2 was affected, but it is worth noting here that Arcen’s later games did not involve Heavy Cat Studios – and consequently they are as ugly as Arcen’s earlier games.)
Returning to the matter of Valley 2’s visual designs, they do not make a good first impression, even though Arcen’s own in-house artists are not working on the game.
Firstly, there is the character creation screen. At first, the artwork for the characters may seem a step above the amateurish 3D ones for AVWW. Then, the player would notice that some of the characters are palette swaps of each other; this can be seen after he/she re-rolls the characters which he/she can select from.
The palette swapping becomes even more blatant after the player meets the survivors. They share similar portraits, with minor differences in their clothing and hair colours. They even have similar in-game sprites.
At least the monsters do not suffer from palette-swapping, as had been mentioned earlier.
Most of the backgrounds for the platforming levels are quite good to look at, though they are typically static.
The indoor levels in the overlord’s lair and the cave levels can be rather dark though. However, this was intended by the game’s developers, if only because they add to the challenge of these levels.
Valley 2 appears to recycle some sprite designs from A.I. War, especially the AI’s Guardian units. However, any similarity which some monsters in Valley 2 have with the units in A.I. War is merely limited to their silhouettes.
Most importantly, Valley 2 recycles very few art assets from AVWW, though this does little to distract from its own palette-swapping issues.
Again, Pablo Vega provides for the music in this Arcen Games title, this time together with his wife Hunter Vega. The music tracks for Valley 2 is some of his (and his wife’s) best works, such as “To One Who’ll Stand and Fight”, which is used for the main menu. The tracks can be listened to for free at sites like Bandcamp. The tracks also come with the purchase of the license for the game.
Unfortunately, as good as the music is, there is a big issue with it. To be specific, there is an issue with how the game rotates between the tracks. (This issue is not exactly pervasive of course.)
When the game switches track, there is an obvious lurch. The screen appears to freeze, but the game is actually still progressing even if the player is seeing a freeze. This can result in some unpleasantness, such as not being able to defend oneself from monsters.
The only way to deal with this problem is to disable the music, which is of course not good for the ambiance of the game.
Unfortunately, although the visual designs for Valley 2 have not been recycled from earlier Arcen titles, the sound effects have.
Many of these have already been heard in the previous game. The others which are fresher sound as if they have been adapted from stock sounds. For example, there are the fireworks sound effects which emit from the Flame Mummies; consequently, these noises make them seem comical, despite their hideous looks.
Although it would be a stretch to consider Valley 2 to be an improvement over its predecessor, its streamlining and dumb-downs have resulted in gameplay which is better focused than repetitively open-ended AVWW.