Star-Fired Beef

Steam Challenge – A Valley Without Wind

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This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Time played: 11.6 hours

A Valley Without Wind is an odd duck. It’s had this rather unique ability to both repel and attract me simultaneously. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface after nearly 12 hours, yet I also feel like I’ve seen most of what the game has to offer.

I hated the intro music. Over time I have become used to it, but it’s still just barely tolerable. I’m not a big fan of chiptunes, it never really clicked with me as a genre so all I ask from it is that it not be actively off-putting. AVWW failed that mission, so it was harder to get into the game as a result. I’m sitting here trying to recall the in-game music, which for the life of me I cannot do, so obviously it was either bad enough for me to suppress, or (more likely) it was just unremarkable. So that was the first hurdle.

Then there are the graphics. I have seen many, many reviews on Steam that just despise the art style in this game. I don’t understand that at all. I quite like the art direction now, although when I first started I had to overcome some cognitive dissonance. For a game that plays much like Terraria, it took a while to shake the feeling that a less pixelated, prettier art direction was appropriate for the genre. It’s pretty smooth, and although it has it’s own animation quirks, it feels like a good example of art design to me. In the beginning, though, I did have trouble coming to terms with it, which was another hurdle to full enjoyment of the game.

I’m very much torn on the gameplay. I like the minute-to-minute gameplay, exploring maps, collecting treasure and shooting enemies. I love the world-level objectives, where you have to push back the Wind, improve settlements and take down the continental bosses and their lieutenants. But there is a problem: there is nothing in between those two extremes. There is no intermediate objective that exploration is fueling, that in turn leads into the world objectives. You basically make it up for yourself.

For example, there are a tonne of missions that you can find, from boss towers to rescuing survivors to closing void portals. You get some world-map-level rewards from completing certain missions, but there is no indication as to what you need to progress. Do I only need one of these buildings, or should I keep farming for a dozen? Who knows? Since the world-level objectives are so far off, I find myself just poking my nose into every (procedurally-generated) map and building and dungeon because I have nothing better to do. It becomes very repetitive, even after you get used to optimising your map clears. Every so often I go back and remind myself to work towards taking out the lieutenants, but soon enough I get engrossed in map completion – and there are endless maps.

The point at which I put the game down for good (or for the near future, anyway) was realising that THERE ARE ENDLESS MAPS. This game literally does not end. When you defeat a continental boss, there are other continents for you to explore and liberate. And as far as I can tell, the world is infinitely big, so you will never actually beat the game. So, like I said at the start, I have barely scratched the surface of the mechanics (I defeated the first lieutenant of the first continent) and the world, yet I feel like I’ve been doing essentially the same thing all this time. There are hints of a deep and complex lore behind it, but it manifests so rarely that I have been satisfied with the bare background lore.

I do recommend giving AVWW a play if you can get it cheaply, it’s a fantastic take on the Metroidvania style of game. But it’s not something you will be able to sit on the fence about – either you’ll get to a point, like me, where you feel that you’ve done enough, and you’ll uninstall it; or you’ll become obsessed with it and sink a huge number of hours into it. I don’t think you can just potter around casually every few weeks in AVWW. It demands more.

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