Windforge Impressions: Sky-High Potential, But Still Needs Work

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Cut from the same mold as games like Terraria, Edge of Space, and Starbound, Windforge is a new entry in the popular 2D sandbox action-RPG hybrid genre. This Kickstarted project from Snowed In Studios has proven to be an enjoyable and ambitious game, but at the same time still feels rough around the edges, as if it may have been better served launching in a short initial period of Early Access to give a larger audience the opportunity to play the game and offer more valuable feedback while at the same time keeping expectations in check.

Since the game’s release a few weeks back, the developers have clearly been working their tails off to tighten up technical flaws and improve the user experience, already hammering out three major updates. However, the state of the game still feels very much in-development, showing tremendous potential that simply has not yet been fully realized. Obviously the game is doing something right, as I’ve piled up a dozen hours and continue to be drawn back in when I have literally hundreds of other games in my Steam library that I need to catch up on, but there is plenty of room for growth and improvement.

I’m still plodding my way through the dangerous skies of Windforge and I honestly have no clue where I stand in the story quest progression, so instead of a traditional review I am simply going to itemize out certain things that I like about the game, and other things that could use additional work. Flaws and all, the game is well worth checking out, especially if you’re into this style of sandbox design. Hopefully I can help give you a clearer idea of what to expect and at the same time provide some constructive feedback to improve the future quality of the game.

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What I Like:

    Windforge is a huge game. I’ve been playing for 12 hours, and I don’t feel like I have accomplished much at all. The game world isn’t seamless, but rather a massive series of individual zones connected by short loading transitions, each represented as a small square on a gridded overworld map. Both story and side quests provide some level of structure and focus, but it doesn’t take much to get distracted by the constant allure of sandbox freedom, whether it might be dropping in on a random piece of terrain to mine for crafting materials, venturing into uncharted temples, or engaging in airship battles.

    • Yes, in Windforge the main mode of transport is the airship, and thanks to the robust crafting system you actually get to build and customize the steampunk airship of your dreams by using blocks of wood to create the framework and then adding on propellers, gun turrets, air balloons, engines and even interior facilities like crafting tables and item storage boxes. Early on the hostility of enemy airships is overwhelming, but once you feel out the controls and build up an impressive vessel you’ll want to confront every ship that crosses your path, with action that play out like airborne pirate ship battles. You can either shoot to blow the enemy clear out of the air, or aim to take out turrets and propellers, leaving the ship as a sitting duck waiting to be boarded and pillaged for parts. Or, once all onboard enemies are killed, you can repair the ship on the spot and straight up jack it for your own use.

    • This game has flying whales in it. That’s right, flying whales. In the world of Windforge, whale oil is the main resource for supplying power. As the story goes, this prized resource is dwindling, so the main objective of the game is to find a new source of energy to keep the hovering civilization from going extinct. But until that new energy source is discovered, hunting whales for their blubber is vital to gathering certain supplies. (Whale carcasses can even be turned into fleshy airships!) In a way, flying whales are like Big Daddies. If you fly by and mind your business, they’ll leave you alone. But once you fire upon them, they will turn hostile and attack with reckless abandon, using their girth as a battering ram to smash your airship into burning bits. Whale battles get pretty intense, especially when other whaling airships happen to soar by and attempt to steal your prize catch.

    • Airship travel is fun, but it is not the only means of navigation. On foot, a grappling hook allows you to swing across terrain, reach high areas, or safely dive into underground tunnels without falling to your death. Ground combat has the feel of old-school 2D action games like Contra or, given the grappling hook comparisons, Bionic Commando. Like Terraria, you can also create your own pathways through every ground environment, only in this game you have a jackhammer to dig through dirt and rock and break down walls. Sometimes, without even noticing it, I’ll just kind of zen out for a few minutes while digging around for ores for crafting, or swinging around with the grappling hook for the hell of it.

    Windforge isn’t super deep on RPG progression, but it offers just enough looting and leveling to maintain an addictive reward loop. Crafting allows you to create a wide range of weapons (pistols, rifles, flamethrowers, sand blasters, shotguns, sausage knives, etc.) and gear (helmets, boots, gloves, chest armor, etc.). Of course, new gear can also be obtained via loot drops and town shops. Instead of an experience point system, developing your character’s attributes is accomplished by visiting trainer NPCs in town and paying increasing increments of cash money to improve stats like agility, vitality, strength, and wisdom. Every 20 training points spent in each attribute unlocks a new ability or passive bonus. For example the agility tree offers abilities like wall jumping, double jumping, and reduced fall damage. Increasing strength will add knockback power to melee weapons or boost jackhammer power, vitality will provide more health gain from food items and expand how much loot you can carry before becoming encumbered, and wisdom will improve airship control and eventually even allow you to tame wild creatures (including whales!) by leashing them with the grappling hook.

    • Games with a steampunk theme tend to be all dark and gritty, but thankfully that is not the case here. Windforge has a painterly aesthetic that really captures the atmosphere of exploring a kingdom high up in the skies. The backdrops of distant floating islands and fluffy, wispy clouds look like lovely watercolor portraits. By no means is the game a technical marvel, but artistically it has a unique, arresting style.

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What Needs Improvement:

    • Hatches. Yes, hatches. I never would have imagined that one of the most difficult things to do in a game would be just getting through hatches in the floor, but sadly that is the case in Windforge. Vertical traversal through every town and temple in the game involves going through tiny openings in the floors or ceilings, tiny being the operative word. Just getting through one of these doorways usually takes bumping your head into the ceiling multiple time or standing over one and barely nudging left or right until your character manages to squeeze through. Often it just becomes easier to pull out the drill and make your own openings. I’m not sure if it’s possible with a patch, but the hatches need to be stretched a few pixels wider so they aren’t such a hassle.

    • The user interface in general needs to be tightened up. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it clunky, there are just a lot of little details that are poorly defined or not as intuitive as they could be. For example if I press the Q key to open the quest journal or the M key to open the world map, why can I not simply press that same key to close out the menus? Currently, closing every menu requires tapping the TAB key.

    • Another annoying thing is the lack of inventory information when shopping. Like when you’re in the shops buying new crafting recipes, the menu doesn’t provide any indication of which recipes you already own. I often end up buying recipes I later find out I already looted somewhere, and having duplicates only adds bulk to your pack. The inventory menus in general could benefit from clearer information, as well as quicker ways to find and sort items.

    • The map interface could be better as well. While one of the post-launch updates did add little edge-of-screen icons to help with navigation, at the moment these icons only point out nearby enemy ships, quest markers, and the location of your ship when you move away from it. Some method of quick travel would help a lot as well. Yes, airship exploration is fun, but if you’ve already gone all the way across the map and back again, sometimes you may just want to jump to a previously visited locale to cut the travel time down for exploring parts of the map you haven’t been to before.

    • Speaking of things that are poorly defined, finding NPCs is a total pain in the ass. Trying to find a quest-giver, trainer, or specific type of shop is pure trial and error because NPCs are not labeled in any way and the different character models don’t have enough distinguishing characteristics to give any indication that they might be important to talk to. Showing names/titles in text above NPCs could be one fix, although admittedly that could potentially clutter the screen too much. If nothing else, when you walk by an NPC it would be nice if their name or title would appear so you don’t have to stop at each character and engage them in conversation to find out who he or she is. Or at least have signposts or building designs that give some form of visual identity to associate NPCs with.

    • The spawning patterns in this game are very odd. The latest patch says it addresses spawning issues, but so far I don’t see much difference. It’s far too common to clear a room of enemies, move to the next room, and then a few seconds later see enemies pursuing you from where you just were. Similarly, a room can be full of enemies and you can move until they are out of the camera’s view, and then when you run back the enemies are gone as if they vanished into thin air. Weird spawns also occur when loading saved games. On numerous occasions I have saved my game with no enemies around, but when I reload suddenly a flying whale or airship is right on top of me attacking my airship. Reloading the same save again might cause those same enemies to disappear or be replaced by others. Procedurally generated content is great, but this level of randomness goes a bit far.

    • Hit detection is inconsistent. For example when shooting an enemy through a doorway, one bullet might hit the door while the next actually goes through the door and hits the enemy, even though the bullets are on the exact same trajectory. This happens in other areas as well, where the same action is interpreted in different way each time.

    • The AI is pretty easy to game by finding exploits in the level design to keep enemies or turrets just far enough out of view that they will not react to incoming fire, trick enemies into damaging themselves or other enemies, or get them caught in movement loops that make them easy to predict and ultimately dispose of.

    • In general, the game just needs additional polish and optimization. Great strides have been made since launch, but a level of instability remains as crashes and random bouts of slowdown still occasionally pop up out of nowhere.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!