It’s a bit strange to come from meticulously hand-crafted 2D exploration games like Waking Mars and Fez into the procedurally generated infinite expanse of A Valley Without Wind, another 2D exploration game which is available today directly from publisher Arcen Games or from a digital distributor near you. For one thing, A Valley Without Wind is very combat based. You can hardly walk the length of a screen without blasting something. Two or three somethings, more likely. This is a very actiony game. Consider hooking up your 360 controller.
Which doesn’t mean there’s less exploration. There might be a lot of blasting, but that in no way reduces the emphasis on exploration. So much geography!
After the jump, finding your way through infinity
A Valley Without Wind is huge, but it isn’t empty and it sure isn’t aimless. A big fat button labeled “Things You Should Do” is a set of goals based on the state of the world, the state of your base, the state of your character, and your achievements. There’s no shortage of things to do. And there’s certainly no shortage of places to do them.
Here’s my randomly generated continent.
Each square is a region. Each region consists of several screens laid out end to end, populated with entrances to buildings and caves, each consisting of several screens stacked above, beneath, beside, and/or inside each other. If there’s one thing Valley Without Wind does right, it’s mapping out this crazy nested doll geography. A unique minimap system isn’t really a minimap so much as a graph that clearly relates where you are with where you’re going, where you’ve been, and where you need to get. The only real infodump in A Valley Without Wind is an early series of dialogue boxes that explain how this mapping system works. And once you understand it, boy, does it work. I’ve wandered up into skyscrapers and down through caverns, always with a clear sense of distance and geography, but with no sense of getting lost.
Most of the regions on a continent are ravaged by storm. I can freely enter those regions, but the winds and monsters make it difficult to get anything done. My overall objective is to kill the main boss of this continent, at which point I can carry all my progress over to a new continent (the developer describes each new continent as the equivalent of a New Game+ mode). I have no idea where the main boss is. I do, however, see his three lieutenants’ outposts, which I presume I should defeat on the way to finding the main boss.
However, the evil outposts — that’s what they’re called — are in regions covered by storm. This storm is the eponymous wind, and the central parts of the map are the eponymous valley without that wind. Here I have a settlement where a lot of tech upgrade stuff happens as I accumulate survivors, strategic abilities, and crafting materials.
My current objective is to build wind shelters that drive back the storm. I’ve found the materials necessary to do this, but I’m still not powerful enough to actually build the shelters. My more current objective is to get more powerful, but A Valley Without Wind is curiously divorced from the traditional RPG idea of playing a character. Characters die frequently and permanently. You’ll change characters as frequently as you change socks. Instead, powers are an aspect of the crafting system. By referencing a big honkin’ encyclopedia under the button labled Big Honkin’ Encyclopedia, I see that I have everything I need to upgrade my ranged flame attack except for a ruby. The Big Honkin’ Encyclopedia tells me rubies are quest rewards in certain regions, primarily evergreen forests. For instance, here’s a quest in a nearby storm-free evergreen forest.
And by mousing over the rewards, I can see a ruby.
So my current goal is to beat this mission. For all its infinite procedurally generated geography, A Valley Without Wind is never aimless. I know my macro goal — beat the boss of this continent — and I know my immediate goal — get a ruby — and I know the goals in between — build wind shelters to reach the evil outposts.
Although I have reservations about the game getting repetitive, I’m glad to see new mission types unlock as I play. I can search through the achievements — they’re in the Big Honkin’ Encyclopedia, of course — to see what I need to do to unlock new monsters, missions, and gameplay mechanics. For instance, I just unlocked a mission type called Journey to Perfection. I have no idea what that is. Yet.
Tomorrow: my mission, should I choose to accept it…