Windbound review: survival at sea

When I was at technical college, I took a sociology class where we did a little experiment. We were told that we were all in a plane crash in the snowy climes of Alaska, and we had 20 items available but could only carry ten. We had to choose wisely what we took in order to give ourselves the best chance of survival. We started by picking our own personal ten items then deliberated as a class what we would do as a group. At the end, the professor revealed that I would have been the only person to live through the ordeal alone.

Windbound reminds me of that class, as our heroine Kara is adrift on an uninhabited island and left to her own devices. Visually it is reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, whereas its gameplay loop is very much Don’t Starve, but in the end Windbound feels like its own thing. It wants you to be a survivalist, but not oppressively so. You gather materials and are taught how to use them to craft items, which you then use to move yourself further and further into the game. It feels very mythical in its presentation but very grounded in its expectations. Kara feels less like a video game character and more like an actual person – diligent but ultimately frail.

In a way this also makes Windbound feel a bit clunky. Kara’s movements are stilted, and when she’s crafting there’s a bit of disconnect because she does an arbitrary motion regardless of what she’s creating. It’s by no means a reason not to give the game a try, but it is noticeable. What drove me further and further was the sense of discovery and the momentum of progress as you work your way from island to island with new tools, a better boat, new places to explore and new wildlife to contend with. Unlike Don’t Starve, I never felt overwhelmed and under informed; you know when you’ve done your due diligence and are ready to move on.

Windbound gives you the option of playing in a story-based manner where items and progress are only set back a little bit when you die, but there’s also a more traditional survivalist mode in which you’re set back to square one. For the sake of this review (and my sanity) I opted for the former because I wanted to get a feel for the game as a whole and see the end at least once. I may opt to play the latter down the road, because now that I know what to expect, there’s worth in challenging yourself and your knowledge to see how far you can get.

Windbound is a good bit of fun. Don’t come into it expecting a Zelda-like experience, because it most definitely is not that – but don’t let that push you away either, because even though it doesn’t feel like a Hyrulean adventure, it does offer something similar in terms of exploration and discovery. It does a great job of making the player feel empowered in a way that few games ever do.

Windbound was developed by 5 Lives Studios and published by Deep Silver, and it’s available on PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One and Stadia. We played the Switch version.

Disclosure statement: review code for Windbound was provided by Koch Media. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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