May 4th, 2012 | By Emerson Smith
Arcen Games’ A Valley Without Wind is a metroidvania action-platformer with an emphasis on community management. By exploring the randomly generated environment, the player is charged with protecting their civilization, overthrowing evil overlords, and collecting valuable resources that will be needed to grow their rising population.
A Valley Without Wind boasts infinitely large overworlds with continually spiraling rabbit holes. The sheer size of the game is daunting at first. The world map is laid out in a grid fashion, with each grid containing a four panel location that you can jump and blast your way through. Within these randomly generated levels you can find passageways into underground tunnels that can lead to deep dungeons, or houses continuously branch off into more and more rooms to explore. If you are a completionist, you may be frustrated by this game. It is impossible to complete, and the world just keeps on spreading in different directions. Hidden missions can be found which will teleport you into other locations as well.
The platforming and exploration were the high points of A Valley Without Wind‘s gameplay. The controls were responsive enough for me to maneuver the environment with ease. I could make a running jump and throw down a platform just as I began to descend and continue climbing upward from areas deep underground or when climbing the giant boss towers. The outdoor locations look especially unique, with different weather effects and day and night cycles. These leisurely strolls, however, are bound to be stopped by dust clouds, wisps or rampaging rhinos.
After starting your world with simple spells like ‘Fire Touch 1′ and ‘Ball Lightning 1′, you can create new spells and build upgraded versions with the Spellgem Crafting Workbench. You can eventually reach more interesting spells like ‘Water Shield’, ‘Miasma Whip’ and ‘Forest Rage’. However, other than transforming into a bat and a few shields, most useful spells end up being simply projectiles thrown at the enemy. While the controls are suited for fast paced, tactful combat, the result has become simple button mashing. Difficulties for combat and platforming can both be tweaked, but this is really only an indicator for how much damage you will take from either getting hit by enemy projectiles or fall damage.
The goal of A Valley Without Wind is to continuously upgrade your civilization. This makes your character stronger and gives you access to a greater range of abilities. A player can do this by completing missions in the rest of Environ. These come if different varieties such as assassination missions, rescues and boss towers. While there are different types of missions, they usually amount to clearing rooms of enemies with some bosses until you reach a room with loot in it. These usually keep you indoors and away from the more picturesque vistas the game has to offer.
One of the missions available to the player is a simple “hold the line” mission variant titled “Battleground”, where the player enters a section of the level and fights enemies that appear in waves and charge for the left side of the map. Allies (that appear without any context) suddenly run to fight alongside you and continually spawn behind you just like the enemies. Each side is equally matched, virtually at an infinite stand-off, except you are there to tip the sides in your favor. For the course of the mission, the easiest way to progress is to hide behind your allies and let them get picked off while blasting away your enemies from a safe distance. Once your teammates are destroyed, you simply bounce around and dodge the enemies until your next wave of gun fodder arrives. The result is a very slowly paced inching across the level. If the random world generation is one of the aspects that A Valley Without Wind is trying to capitalize on, then why does the mission keep you from exploring the environment?
The music in A Valley Without Wind ranges from 16-bit tunes to more orchestral pieces from scene to scene. Each piece of music fits the environment and the tone of the locations, whether it be more electronic or organic sounding. The sound effects fit together nicely with the gorgeous graphics. Colors pop dramatically in every scene, trees sway in the wind, the sun sets and the moon rises, keeping even the most mundane scenes visually interesting. The interior locations end up looking a bit more repetitive with single patterned wallpapers and sparse furniture, but they are still well detailed and fun to maneuver. Again, it is unfortunate that the outdoor environments only serve as ports to lead you to buildings or underground caverns.
A Valley Without Wind has a bit of a difficult curve to newcomers. The introductory level does a good job of starting the player off in a sanctioned area and allowing them to move forward at their own pace without unleashing the sheer volume of the world on them right away, but the rabbit holes even here go a little to deep, and even encourages a bit of completionism when it is discouraged in the actual game. Expect a lot of reading to start before you fully understand the way the game works, and even more if you want to understand the world.
Overall, A Valley Without Wind could stand solid on its mechanics, but the execution leaves the experience diluted. The world is beautiful and generated in a way that could provide interesting avenues of exploration, but the mediocre combat and focus on repetitive missions in less interesting areas make progressing a chore and the real fun left to simply experiencing the world on your own terms. It’s unfortunate that the game does not allow for you to gain experience from anything other than completing mission, or I could have enjoyed the flow of the game without being forced to grind through missions to proceed to other continents. There is definite substance here, it’s just not all in the right places.