A Valley Without Wind

I missed Arcen Games’ A Valley Without Wind when it was originally released, but seeing stories about A Valley Without Wind 2 come across the indiegames.com RSS feed piqued by interest. Consequentially, I decided to give the original a try.

Reality has shattered, creating a new world out of broken pieces taken from different times- Ice Age plains abut abandoned contemporary cities and robotic junkyards from the far future. This new world is also filled by the Wind, which seems to scour the very souls of everything it touches. The survivors of this catastrophe have gathered together in a few settlements, beset by evil Overlords and their minions but protected by mysterious intelligent stones. These stones have created Glyphs to aid the survivors, which allow humans to resist the wind beyond the guardian stones and grants them a variety of magical abilities with which to explore the harsh world beyond the settlement.

A Valley Without Wind is difficult to categorize- it’s essentially a combination of Metroid and Diablo, with elements of a lightweight city-building sim. You’ll spend most of your time exploring a series of randomly-generated continents, seeking the resources you’ll need to destroy an evil overlord and his lieutenants and building up outposts of survivors as you go. The game is a platformer, like Metroid or the latter-day Castlevanias, although it’s a more exploration-centric game than either of those- you’ll be scavanging for supplies in a huge world, not finding abilities to unlock new areas. As you explore, you’ll come across materials that you can use to craft more powerful attacks and unlock new missions and enemy types; you’ll earn the power to place buildings that strengthen you and weaken your enemies; you’ll learn about the cataclysm that befell the world, the wind, and the mysterious stones that protect your settlement. While it’s certainly easy to get sucked into the largely pointless excercise of exploring the world’s every nook-and-cranny, A Valley Without Wind does provide a decent list of short-term, concrete goals. This makes it very easy to pick up and play for half an hour, and also very easy to pick up and play for “half an hour” only to find that half a day has passed.

The biggest drawback of the game is the sameyness of a lot of the world- while areas are randomly generated, they’ll start to look awfully similar after a while. The game goes on forever; defeating the Overlord of a certain continent merely unlocks another, with stronger enemies. Although the first few new continents will unlock new spells and crafting materials as well, that only continues for so long and only offers up so much variety.

The visuals are another major source of controversy; although they’re passable, they never really rise to “good” and more-than-occasionally dip down into “ugly”. This is a game that was produced with a shoestring graphics budget, and that is very clear from playing it. I found myself wishing that they’d opted for the chunky faux-SNES style so common among indie games rather than the very rough-edged attempts at more advanced graphics that they’ve put together instead.

Finally, the tutorial could be a lot better, and it took me a couple hours to grok what I should be doing and how. The game attempts to introduce everything at once, which is both difficult and overwhelming, and makes the game feel more complicated than it is. I spent the first couple hours with the game lost, but eventually picked up on many of the points that should have been better-explained.

All that being said- I’ve put about 30 hours into A Valley Without Wind over the last few months, and I’ve enjoyed it tremendously. The sequel is also available; I’m looking forward to giving that one a try, too, but I’m holding off until I’ve played through a bit more of the original. A Valley Without Wind is available on Steam for both OSX and Windows; a huge demo is also available, both from Steam and the Arcen Games website.

– HC

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