Windbound is… not what I was expecting. At first glance, it does look a lot like Zelda: Breath of the Wild. And its gameplay is a little similar in that you can gather materials and craft stuff, but the similarities end there. Windbound stands on its own boat and rides the waves on its own wind. It actually reminds me more of Zelda: The Windwaker than Breath of the Wild.
The game starts off with Kara waking up on a deserted island. Unfortunately, there are no FedEx packages to rip open, and there’s no Wilson to keep you company. All you’ve got are your wits, or in my case, a lack of them.
I’m not joking on that part; I literally had no idea what I was doing for a while, but I figured it out, so you’ll be OK. If a fool like me can craft a makeshift boat together out of bits of island crap, you’ll do just fine.
Windbound is all about exploring and using what you’ve got to hand. Resources aren’t unlimited, and you’ll need to really comb over every nook and cranny to get the most out of every island location, at least to begin with.
My adventure started… poorly. I found a pig-like animal, and I wanted to kill it because I’m a person who plays video games and that’s what 25 years of playing has conditioned me to do when I see something I’m not familiar with. I… died. The animal, called a Razorback, smashed into me a few times and I was a goner.
The next time around, I took my time and had a mooch around to see what I could gather in the hope that I’d be able to make a weapon of sorts. You do have your trusty knife at all times, and while it’s great for cutting the long grass, it’s next to useless in combat.
I gathered what I could and made a rudimentary slingshot, and then I stood atop a rock and flung rocks at the Razorback. Huzzah! It was dead, finally! The slingshot wasn’t the best ranged weapon I’ve ever used in a game, and the aiming was quite difficult, but I got there in the end. And, to be fair, the slingshot is just one of the earlier weapons you can knock up, with beasty bows being far more powerful, accurate, and deadly, once you’ve got the right bits and bobs to make one.
Killing animals is, unfortunately for PETA, necessary to survive. I ran over to the dead Razorback and retrieved some goodies, including its skin and bones. This is Windbound. You explore the random islands, gather whatever resources you can get your hands on, and then you move onto the next one using your hand-crafted vessel.
Sailing from one island to the next is probably where I had my most fun, or at least where I felt most at ease. Upgrading from a dinky raft to something a bit more substantial was satisfying, and once I was travelling on the powers of the wind, I really enjoyed hopping from one island to the other. It reminded me a lot of Wind Waker, and in that game, I spent more time on the water than I did on land.
On the technical side, Windbound is impressive, albeit a touch rough. It doesn’t have the production values of a AAA blockbuster, and it shows in its not-quite-smooth animations. It was hardly a problem, mind you, and if anything, I found it a little more… human? Like I can tell from the way it plays, looks, and moves that this isn’t a by-the-numbers production by hundreds of cubicle workers, but a small team of passionate nerds wanting to put something a little different, yet familiar, on our gaming plates. I love that, even if it is my romanticised imagining of how such games are made.
Windbound has a lot going for it. It’s something different in a crowded genre. We’ve seen dozens of survival games over the course of this console generation, and not to knock on any of them, but once you’ve played one, you’ve played them all. That wasn’t the feeling I got from Windbound. In fact, I didn’t even register it as being in that genre while I was playing. Throwing the camera behind the character instead of having the game play out in the first person immediately opens up the game, and it really feels more like an adventure game that I need to survive, not a survival game with an adventure tacked on.
Windbound will release on August 28th, 2020 on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Stadia.
This preview was carried out using early code provided by the publisher. The preview was based on a PC build of the game, running at the recommended requirements.