A Valley Without Wind by Arcen Games was an interesting title to say the least: A procedurally generated 2d open world action adventure title. Speaking with lead designer Chris Park a few months ago on our podcast, he talked about the challenge and difficulties of designing it.
The game went through multiple design changes and was hit very hard with negative reviews out of the gate. Continued development of content for the game soon snowballed into a full blown sequel, free to anyone who bought the first game. Now with the game out and lessons learned do we have a successful sequel or strike two?
A Second Story:
A Valley Without Wind 2 takes place on a different continent in the same destroyed world as the previous. This time a monster has taken over and is ruling the land with an iron fist. His power comes from giving his subordinates magic crystals that provide them with immense power and immortality.
You are an undercover agent for the resistance who has worked with the monster long enough to earn your crystal and now must help the resistance take back the land.
For fans of the previous game, the first thing you’ll notice is the updated graphics. After receiving complaints about the first game, Arcen hired Heavy Cat Studios to do all the artwork for the game.
One of the big lessons that Chris talked about was how big AVWW 1 got in terms of development. The game tried to do multiple things and didn’t feel like a connected whole. AVWW 2’s gameplay is more streamlined, but not even close to being simple.
The gameplay is split between two systems: A strategic over world and 2d action. In the over world, you command your fellow resistance members and tell them where to go and what to do. Leaving a follower on a tile and they will perform a basic task on their own: such as gather supplies or take down a barricade preventing you from exploring a nearby tile.
The resources of the world are scrap and food, with the former used to construct buildings and the latter feeds your followers.
At the start, the randomly generated world is mostly covered by wind storms, indicated by dark tiles.
To open the land up you need to enter a tile and fight your way through it to destroy a wind storm generator.
This in turn will purify nearby tiles and advanced the strategic over world by one turn. As each turn goes by, your followers will consume food and perform their tasks.
Meanwhile as the game goes on, the monster will begin making its move and will summon creatures to attack your followers, spells to hurt the land, or simply come out of its tower and go on a rampage. You only have so many turns before it comes out, forcing you to scramble your followers away from its home base and keep them away from it.
Exploring tiles is where the 2d action of AVWW 2 comes into play. When you start a brand new game, you’ll choose your character from a selection of four that can be re rolled as many times as needed. Each character’s three main stats: health, attack strength and ammo are randomized. After choosing a character you’ll pick a vocation of what school of magic they will be using, this can be changed on the over world map.
Each spell school comes equipped with four spells of varying abilities. One of which is considered the “super spell” and requires the as mention ammo to use each time.
Your primary objective is to become strong enough to take the monster out and that requires you to find level up stations on the map. Conquering one will raise your level and award you with a new feat, which act as perks for your character.
Every few levels, you become strong enough to move further into the monster’s home base and steal the next tier of spells: giving you another set of vocations to choose from, which are stronger than the previous.
On the map you can also find robotics facilities that when conquered will award you a new ability like double jump or air dash.
These abilities come into play when you attempt to take out the monster’s main facilities on the map, which are part of the end game and must be done before you take it on.
As you can see – Not that simple of a game, however, while the design has been cleaned up, there are still a few problems remaining.
The big problem that faced AVWW 1 was that the design of the game got so big to the point of being unfocused. The variety of missions was astonishing with everything from escort missions, to stealth. However, there was nothing really connecting everything together into a cohesive whole. This was a problem that Arcen wanted to rectify with AVWW 2, but I don’t think they have accomplished it yet.
Now there are only the two systems as mentioned earlier present and the disconnect between the two is more prominent as the design has become more streamlined. It doesn’t feel like I’m playing one complete experience, but two smaller games.
Contrast that to one of the classic games: X-Com, where the designers took three different game systems and combined it into one unique experience.
In AVWW 2, the platforming serves no purpose for the strategic side other then opening up the map and advancing a turn. While the only interaction I saw vice- versa, was of buildings that allowed the player to explore ice and fire sections safely.
You can’t find equipment while exploring to give to your followers or enhance over world buildings Likewise, I can’t have my followers make equipment to aid me while exploring.
There are further disconnects within each system of the game. On the strategy side, your followers lack any source of growth or personalization. There are no bonus traits to consider or reason to try to keep someone alive other than for class diversity.
The platforming feels off to me, having grown up playing all the classic platforming games (Metroid, Mega-Man, Castlevania, etc.)
Part of it has to do with how the player moves and shoots. There is a general floatiness to everything that makes it hard to make precise shots.
For a game that rewards the player for avoiding damage with bonuses, the design of the game seems to clash with that.
The player model is so big on screen in relation to a lot of the enemy models that it makes it hard to dodge attacks. A lot of the enemies move in random patterns, making it a challenge to actually hit them with most attacks.
Another issue is that the enemy’s lack of animation makes it hard to see when shots are coming. Most enemies don’t have a firing animation and projectiles will just fly out of them while they are just moving around.
However the biggest disconnect for me in the platforming sections, is that most of them are just busy work. Most of the time there is no reason to actually stop and attack enemies and just to keep running. Enemies will only drop health or ammo nothing that you need if you can keep ahead of them.
The game features larger enemies that have defenses, but there is nothing stopping you from just going past them instead of wasting time and health fighting. Since finding equipment that only has positive effects is rare, I didn’t bother going into any optional buildings.
One final problem was that Ken and I had a hard time getting a multiplayer game going. You can create a server, play using LAN, or connect through an IP. However, we couldn’t manage to get it working.
In the end, A Valley Without Wind 2 is a tough game to judge. Arcen Games set out to do something different and they have succeeded, I haven’t seen a game like this in a long time. With the closest analog would be AI Wars in how the player is fighting an asymmetrical battle against the computer.
But the game is currently lacking in deeper mechanics to mix up the game and make repeat plays worthwhile. Personally, I did like the variety of the first game and the reasons to explore every building, as there was so much for the player to do that the disconnection between systems wasn’t as noticeable.
Like the first game, A Valley Without Wind 2 is aimed at a niche audience and the best thing for you to do if you’re curious is to try the demo. Since buying either title will get you both, it’s worth a shot. For the people who do enjoy A Valley Without Wind 2, it’s going to be one of their favorite games this year. But you won’t know until you actually play it.