Sailing across the sea with your tribe, the wind in your face, everything feels truly at peace. However, much like a fast-approaching storm, the waters are far more dangerous than they appear. Windbound promises a soft survival system while telling an engaging story and encouraging exploration across the sea with only your wits to guide you. Can Windbound find it’s way home, or does it end up lost at sea?
Developed by 5 Lives Studio, Windbound begins with Kara and her tribe sailing the seas on their rafts. After a gargantuan monster rises from the depths and crashes down upon them, our hero is luckily able to swim to safety. Kara must use her experience and knowledge as an explorer and hunter to find her way back to her tribe. The game features no dialogue, but the brief cut-scenes we are treated to tell us all we need to know about her journey. Kara is intelligent, able to learn new crafting recipes with each new ingredient she finds. Even if your inventory space is limited, it’s worthwhile to pick up every new item you encounter once, just in case you discover something you couldn’t craft before.
A Survival Game With a Heart of Gold
The game begins with the most important decision of all: Survivalist or Storyteller mode. As the names suggest, Storyteller is for those who wish to experience the narrative without fear of losing your progress. Death will result in returning to the beginning of the chapter and combat is significantly easier. Survivalist, on the other hand, will see death force you back to the start of the game. Each option offers a distinct way of experiencing the game, but don’t let the seemingly easier settings of Storyteller deceive you: the survival mechanics are still in full swing, and while Windbound doesn’t outright tell you this, it is important to remember Kara is an explorer – not a warrior.
In the top corner of the screen, you’ll see your health and stamina meters. While stamina replenishes fairly quickly after sprinting or dodging, hunger will inevitably set in and your maximum stamina will begin to drain. You’ll want to forage for berries, mushrooms, and anything else you can eat to keep it topped up. Raw meat can be consumed but risks poisoning you for a time, however, once you can build a fire those raw woes will be behind you. Cooking does take a considerable amount of time so upon landing on a new island it’s worthwhile to start a fire and explore while lunch cooks itself. Meat comes from hunting animals which is easy to do for the smaller prey beasts. A well-shot arrow or sneaking up with a spear will give you enough to hold you over for a while, but beware that raw food will spoil quickly in your inventory. While prey animals should only be hunted out of necessity, the predators you’ll encounter are a wildly different story.
As mentioned, Kara is an explorer – not a warrior. While Windbound offers plenty of combat options, this is not a game to go looking for a fight. Kara can lock onto an enemy for greater accuracy and dodging skills, but if you aren’t locked on she is unable to dodge. Attacks take timing and precision as you can’t simply spam the button and hope for a combo of stabs. Unless you are methodical and careful in your encounter, it’s best to avoid confrontation with predators as much as possible.
Of course, the big draw for Windbound is crafting your own vessel and sailing from island to island. You’ll be able to start with a simple canoe and build into an impressive raft to race across the water in no time. Crafting is easy and logical, but my first time exploring Windbound I found the use of a sail on a raft to be terrible. Trying to move into the wind was absolutely impossible. On my second run I prepared to build a much larger raft out of bamboo, but found myself just shy of enough ingredients to make a vessel, and instead relied on my trusty canoe to get me through the adventure. While slow going, everything went well… up until I encountered a massive shark who obliterated my tiny boat and left me to die… I did eventually make an exemplary boat and the difference between that and a canoe was night and day. Bringing up the menu for crafting and exploring through your supplies is easy enough, but I found myself consistently hitting the wrong buttons even after a few hours. While it is easy, it isn’t the most intuitive control system, though thankfully it’s difficult to accidentally craft something you didn’t intend.
Despite its survival mechanics being a constant concern, I found myself almost always able to discover enough supplies to keep me going. The game is paradoxical in that its beautiful, peaceful nature and serene music is calming, yet the ever-encroaching threat of starving to death is a very real and anxiety-inducing fear. While adventuring I encountered a few bugs here and there (not just the kind you hunt) such as Kara not displaying movement animation for a few seconds after collecting ingredients or – stranger still – predators being frozen in place. One such encounter saw a rather nasty lizard creature attack me with its tongue at long range, yet the tongue was unable to retract even when it walked around. While not game-breaking, it was hard to take the fearsome creature seriously after that.
Windbound is a beautiful, relaxing experience that uses its survival mechanics not to force tension, but encourage you to keep moving forward. Its art style is absolutely stunning and the soundtrack – while occasionally sparse with periods of silence – is moving and invigorating. Using the wind and waves to traverse feels real and incredible when you hit a great current, and the minimalist inventory structure makes you hunt and gather out of necessity rather than hording everything you can find. Accessing the crafting and inventory menu is easy, but it never quite felt comfortably intuitive. Despite its minor bugs, Windbound is like a great, narrative-driven introduction to the world of survival mechanics and something that is infinitely replayable.
**PS4 code provided by the publisher**
- Beautiful Visuals and Soundtrack
- Encourages Exploration
- Great Water Mechanics
- Soft Survival Mechanics
- Unintuitive Crafting Controls
- Infrequent Bugs
- Poor Combat Controls