Disclaimer: This review of Windbound was written using a review code given to us by the game’s PR agency. This does not affect the judgement of the game, and is explained for the purposes of transparency
Windbound is a rouge-like 3rd person survival game, developed by 5 Lives Studio and published by Deep Silver. Separated from her clan, Kara finds herself abandoned on the Forbidden Islands. You will need to find a way to survive by hunting and scavenging on the various islands as she explores the beautiful yet dangerous Forbidden Islands. Each of the islands in this game is procedurally generated, meaning each island discovered becomes a little different than the last. Being a rouge-like game, when you die you start over from the beginning, so survival is important. Craft, sail, scavenge and battle your way through each set of islands to find your clan and the secrets behind your past.
In Windbound, Kara becomes shipwrecked and separated from her people. She must adapt quickly to survive and reunite with her family. The story is subtle and does take a back seat to gameplay and survival. As you progress through the game you learn more about who Kara is and the lore of the world. After each chapter, more of the story becomes revealed through tapestry styled wall hieroglyphics.
It is hard to discuss this game without bringing up The Legend of Zelda. The similarities visually and mechanically are what drew me to this game, to begin with. The cell-shaded art style had me remembering both my first experiences with Breath of the Wild and Windwaker with its large open ocean where you’re able to explore as much or as little as possible. Even though this game does take a lot of inspiration from the Legend of Zelda franchise, it does enough to make it stand on its own. Windbound combines survival-crafting with a single-player open-world adventure game.
The twist with this game is the rouge-like feature. This means that survival is key because dying sends the player to the very beginning. There are two difficulty options for players in this game. The first difficulty option is Survival, which allows players to only keep their held items upon death. The other difficulty option is Story, which lets players keep held and bagged items when dying.
Like most survival games, players will have to manage Kara’s stamina, as well as her hunger. Fighting fauna on the islands for meat and picking up berries and fruits will stop Kara from starving. The other large gameplay element in Windbound is sailing. Your boat becomes not only your haven for safety but a constant companion through this lonely journey. You begin with a mere canoe and slowly build up to larger boats.
When you are sailing there are a couple of things you have to keep in mind. Unlike The Legend of Zelda Windwaker, you cannot control the way the wind is blowing. This can be problematic when you’re trying to head in a certain direction. You will have to angle your boat while loosening or tightening your sails to find that perfect spot to give your boat the momentum it needs. The sailing was a learning curve and even though frustrating at times, it felt great when you’re able to hit the wind at just the right angle to propel yourself in the direction you need to go.
The game does not explain much about the crafting system, which I enjoyed. It allowed me to adventure and figure things out on my own. The great thing about this game is you can play it however you like. When I finished the game, I still had items left that I had never seen or crafted. The option is there for you and that was abundantly clear throughout my playthrough.
Windbound is split into five separate chapters. With each chapter comes a set of procedurally-generated islands. Now, even though procedurally generated, these islands are similar but laid out differently. At the beginning of each chapter, for the most part, you arrive at a grassy island with the same fauna you had seen at the beginning of other chapters. I did not notice a ton of variety in the islands until later chapters. Once you do reach these islands though, it is a welcomed change of pace.
Within each chapter, your goal is to find and activate three different towers. This is where I started to have some issues with Windbound. Going through each chapter and activating the towers can become a little repetitive. Each tower tasks the player to climb up and activate the shell at the top. It would have been nice to see different layouts with some of the towers. This did not help the fact that the climbing mechanic to me did not feel super intuitive. With all of the similarities, again, it’s hard not to compare this to Breath of the Wild which, in my opinion, has a fantastic climbing system.
Once you have made your way to the top and activated these towers, the tower will expel a large blue light into the sky. This gives the player a beacon to help navigate the open waters. Activating the towers rewards the player with “Sea Shards.” Within the game, you can find Sea Shards–the games currency–within pots scattered throughout the islands. After each level, you have the option between two items/power-ups. You will spend your sea shards to receive these perks. These towers, once activated, allow the player to travel to shell island which is the gateway to the next chapter.
Throughout your time with Windbound, you will be gathering resources and materials to make your boat bigger and stronger. After arriving at shell island and placing Kara’s necklace on the pedestal, your sailing skills become tested with a ruthless passage that has the player avoiding obstacles, enemies, fighting the wind, and large waves. Once this trial is complete the player progresses through to the next level.
Combat in Windbound is slower than other third-person action-adventure games that I have played. I got used to timing my dodges just right and ended up enjoying the combat. Windbound allows the player to craft a variety of spears and bows, each with their special abilities. Similar to the islands, you do not see much variety of enemies until later chapters. When they do come up though, again it is a good break. Both island variety and enemies change at a good pace into the game picking my interest back up.
The visual and audio for this game is beautiful. The cell-shaded graphics accentuate the vibrancy of this archipelago. Even at night, the moon sheds a nice blue colour that illuminates your surroundings. With the audio, the game went with minimal music throughout the world. There might be a subtle note that’ plays while exploring, but the best music occurs when you’re sailing. Once out in the ocean, a nice melody will start playing that increases the sense of adventure while exploring.
The problem that I had is, even though it is beautiful, the sailing theme does get tiresome eventually. In Windboud there are only a handful of islands in each designated area. Most of the time these islands are empty aside from some gatherable resources. It would have been great to see other NPC characters and towns to explore with music that matched the quality of the sailing tune.
Overall, Windbound is a fun adventure game that pays plenty of homages to the Legend of Zelda series. The cell-shaded art style and beautiful music will make this game stand the test of time. The overarching rouge-like style made me plan out my decisions more and more carefully because dying in this survival game meant starting over from the beginning and, once you’re five chapters in, you do not want to die.
Kara and her journey to find her clan are exciting and learning more and more about the lore at the ends of each level makes you interested in more information. The repetitive towers and lack of enemy variety made it hard in the beginning, but toward the end, new locals and enemy types piqued my interest right as it was starting to feel the same. Windbound is a short experience and, depending on your skillset/sense of adventure, you can probably finish the game in a couple of hours. If you are a Legend of Zelda fan, I would recommend you at least give this one a try. Windbound is out August 28 for $29.99 for Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam and the Epic Games Store.