Earlier this year I started watching Black Sails, a show on Starz that tells the story of a young John Silver as he sails the seas with Captain Flint eventually leading up to the events in Treasure Island. The series has run for two seasons so far, and while it takes a few liberties with the source material, it’s actually a pretty good watch. So good, in fact, that it made me want to look into the history of pirates and check out some video games on the subject.
At the time, Windward wasn’t around, but when I discovered the game on Steam I knew that it was something I’d be interested in and I decided to take a look. There are a lot of pirate games out there, but there are only a handful of good ones. With all of the glowing reviews on Steam, I thought that Windward must be the latter. After all, it has a rating of Very Positive, and that usually only happens when a game is pretty good.
So I got my hands on the game, and I dove in. There was a lot of buzz about how Windward does an excellent job of taking some aspects from Sid Meier’s Pirates!, but I had never played that game. In fact, I had never played a game with such a large emphasis on sailing at all, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect. All I knew was that there would be sailing and RPG elements, and oh boy, was there.
The entirety of Windward takes place in the water, meaning that you are always on a ship. It’s not a game about exploring land, so much as it is about exploring the ocean, and for some people that might not necessarily be a good thing. For me, though, I didn’t mind. Just because you’re stuck on a ship doesn’t mean that a game isn’t good. If a game does one thing, but manages to do that one thing exceptionally well, it’s perfectly capable of being enjoyable.
Thankfully, Windward does just that. You might spend all of your time on a ship, but the gameplay works really well. There isn’t really a story, and much of your time in Windward will be spent going from zone to zone capturing towns, fighting other ships, and doing quests. Even though there isn’t a story, there is a heavy emphasis on questing. The more quests you take on for a particular town, the more that town will grow. Want to unlock better gear? That’s one way to do it.
When I said there were RPG elements, I actually meant that the game is pretty much an RPG. Just like an RPG, you can find gear and equip it in towns, with varying levels of rarity from uncommon to epic. Your goal in the game is to take over the entire map for your faction, which is procedurally generated for every playthrough. If you want, you can even design it yourself, although I settled for a randomized map to save myself the hassle and because I wasn’t too familiar with the game.
On the way there, you’ll need to level up. Instead of levels, though, the game has a talent system, and talent points are treated as levels. Every time you gather a certain amount of experience you level up, which grants a talent point that can be put into the talent tree. There are three paths to choose from, offense, defense, and support. For my playthrough I spent talent points as needed, but ultimately specialized in offense in order to deal greater damage.
You can gain experience through a bunch of things, but the two most important are questing and combat. Depending on the faction you choose at the beginning of the game, certain activities will give you more. You can also get other benefits, like discounts on ships, but it seems to me like the bonus to experience is a lot more useful, which makes choosing other factions less interesting. I only spent a few hours playing the game for my review, and I never completed my map, but gold wasn’t something that seemed to be particularly scarce.
As you explore your map and conquer territories, you advance to the next area. Like most RPGs, each area has a specific level requirement, but if you’re feeling adventurous you can leave earlier. I only finished the first area, which gave me a level advantage upon entering the second. That didn’t stop me from getting pummeled and ultimately losing interest in the single player, however. As you expand your reach, so does everyone else. That includes other factions, but at the start it’s the pirates you need to worry about.
After you take over a town, you better watch out, because there’s a good chance the pirates will want it back. They’ll probably take it as well, which happened to me several times before I completed the first area. Just because you take over a town, doesn’t mean that it’s safe. There are a number of friendly AI ships roaming the seas, but they’re not always helpful. You can recruit two of them at a time by paying them, but the ones that you don’t recruit don’t seem to be too keen on defending their territory.
Even when you do recruit ships, they still have a hard time following you. Even as the combat faction, I was always losing battles. It might be because I wasn’t used to the combat, but it seems like you’re always running into more enemies than you have allies. You might be able to have two allies by your side, but the enemy has no such limitations. It makes taking over new towns difficult, and at times, frustrating.
Still, just because the game is hard doesn’t mean that it’s not fun. During my playthrough I died a lot, but I kept coming back for more. While the artificial intelligence isn’t always the best, the gameplay works pretty well. I’ve never played a similar game, but if I had, I’d say that Windward is one of the best. It’s relatively simple and straightforward, which makes it easier to pick up and understand. The only real complaint I have is that the single player portion of the game can get pretty repetitive, but that’s not too bad since the game has a lot to offer in multiplayer.
I didn’t play much of the multiplayer, but it’s clear to me that the multiplayer is what makes the game shine. Want to cooperate with your friends? You can do that. Want to PVP? You can do that. Want to hop on a server and share a world with tons of people? You can do that, too. You might get tired of the single player, but the multiplayer provides an interesting end-game. I might even spend more time there in the future.
Developer: Tasharen Entertainment
Publisher: Tasharen Entertainment
Release Date: 5/12/15
- Procedurally generated levels make for high replayability
- Multiplayer allows for some epic battles with friends
- Single player feels dull
Disclaimer: A copy of Windward was provided to BentoByte by the developer for the purpose of review.Tweet