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A Valley Without Wind 2 is nothing like A Valley Without Wind 1. So many of the things that made me eventually love Valley 1 — it takes a while to wrap your head around that game, and you might give up before you realize you love it — are missing in this overhaul, which has just been released as a separate executable available for free to owners of Valley 1. Valley 2 has no crafting, no collectibles, no inventory, no spell customization, no fancy traversal gimmicks, no dungeon exploration, no grinding. It is basically missing 90% of the gameplay that dragged me into Valley 1. The sorts of moments I detailed here are entirely gone. Even the music is different. The original game’s 8-bit retro ditty has been replaced with a Japanese pop song, but in English.

So what Valley 1 fan is going to want anything to do with Valley 2?

After the jump, me

A Valley Without Wind 2 is a streamlined side-scrolling action platformer embedded in a turn-based territory control boardgame about trying to contain a rampaging demon and mostly failing. There. That’s the basic pitch.

The action platformer bits are mostly about moving to the far side of the level. Your goal isn’t necessarily to kill the various hopping, crawling, flying monsters; it’s to stay alive while getting past them. As you play the action platformer level for any given tile, you spread your control of the map. Map control lets you earn more resources by moving pieces around the board representing your band of resistance fighters. They gather resources, knock down obstacles, take on minor monsters, and power special superbuildings.

But Valley 2 has a brutal clock mechanism that crawls out of the center of the map. Imagine an invulnerable — or is she? — demon running around the board, trashing your buildings, casting total dick spells that render swathes of territory uninhabitable, murdering your dudes, and scattering the survivors like terrified sheep. You have to stop this demon by getting super powerful, which is going to take about as long as a JRPG, give or take ten hours. Until then, the demon is going to mess stuff up and you can do precious little about it. Some power fantasy.

Like Valley 1, Valley 2 can be awkward on the overworld. Arcen Games comes up with brilliant ideas that often stretch beyond their interfaces. Despite the basic boardgame mechanics, there is almost no boardgame elegance here. But the basics of exploring the world and keeping your survivors alive are a fantastic hook, and I can’t think of many (any?) games that offer this basic experience. This is no city builder. This isn’t about reconstruction. This is a survival horror strategy game about refugees trying to survive a cataclysm in progress, a cataclysm that chases them around the map and often drives them into fatal corners or flushes them down economic death spirals. Choose your difficulty level wisely.

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The actual sidescrolling action is superlative, perfectly suited to a gamepad controller and featuring more colorful and elaborate artwork since Valley 1. I thought Valley 1 was weirdly gorgeous as it was, but Valley 2’s graphics overhaul makes it more conventionally gorgeous. The more significant change is Valley 2’s new sense of focus in place of Valley 1’s wide-open spell choice and customization. Now you must choose a pre-set class. Each class has four attacks, varied by power, range, how they’re aimed, whether they use ammo, and so forth. Attacks also vary by “caliber”, which determines which attacks punch through which other attacks. If you really want to finesse the gameplay (i.e. play on harder difficulty levels), caliber is an important consideration for playing defensively. You’ll want to build up a concentration bonus by not taking damage, so driving back enemy attacks with a higher caliber is an important part of avoiding damage, particularly in the confines of underground areas.

The classes are imaginative and no one names a character class like Arcen Games. Who needs paladins and barbarians when you have featherologists, ashists, lumbermancers, and entropicists? But there are so many that I’ll never use most of them, even though they’re randomly doled out five at a time as you progress through a game. I wish Arcen had focused on fewer classes, and therefore made each one more important. As it is now, once you go up a few tiers, it’s like a racing game where you have a garage full of cars but no reason to use any beyond your two or three favorites. But those two or three favorites sure are sweet. Why would I ever not use my sleetlock with his freeze flamethrower and fancy magnetic ice?

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Valley 2 is a long game with some pleasant surprises waiting on the map and even in the narrative. Unfortunately, for a game that seems so perfect for replaying, there’s no persistence. When you win or lose, you simply win or lose. I’ve been told that a scoring system might be in the works, which would encourage playing on harder difficulty levels and powering through games that have been obviously lost (you tend to lose Valley 2 long before it’s over). As it is now, Valley 2 is like playing through a long RPG with randomized elements that you can play again if you want. Which would be fine if it wasn’t the strategy game that it is.

It’s a minor miracle that Arcen Games could revise Valley Without Wind 1 so completely without simply upgrading it, that they have instead made a completely separate game that plays so differently and creates a unique type of experience based on getting your ass kicked. And it’s surprising that Arcen Games is just giving it away to anyone who buys the original game. What the heck kind of thing is that to do with a sequel, especially a sequel that’s so much more than a mere sequel? Because whatever your feelings about Valley 1 or Valley 2, the odds are one of them is going to grab you. And if you’re unlucky like me, both of them will get their hooks into you.

4 stars
PC