In a cave without light, in A Valley Without Wind

, | Games

If you were to ask someone playing A Valley Without Wind what he’s doing at any given time, and more importantly why he’s doing it, you’re likely to get a multilayered answer, a set of goals like a Russian nesting doll. For instance, here in the world I’m playing now, why am I pushing blindly down through the levels of an undersea cavern, wading through dark acid water, dropping balls of light as I go?

After the jump, let me explain

The basic framework of Valley Without Wind is expanding your sheltered valley, which is protected from the life-leeching winds scouring the world. You want to extend it out far enough to beat the continent’s four lieutenants and eventually its single overlord, all lurking in clearly labeled strongholds out in the winds. With each lieutenant beaten, the difficulty level of the world and its creatures goes up. From tier one to tier two to tier three to tier four to tier five.

To keep pace with the world, you upgrade your spells. Not all of them, of course. There are far too many of them for that. Here are the spells I’ve gotten without even really trying.

So instead, you pick the spells you want to use, and you focus on upgrading those. You’ll need a couple, since many creatures have elemental resistance, clearly indicated on the screen when you fight battles. In case you’re not paying attention to the helpful icons over your enemy, the damage readout will remind you when a monster is shrugging off damage with helpful color-coded text.

On this play-through, I’ve got a fireball on my leftclick and a tidal pulse on my rightclick. Fire and water, dontcha know? Pretty elemental. Ha ha. The fireball is a fast attack that requires a bit of finesse because I have to aim it. The tidal pulse, on the other hand, is perfect for just freaking the heck out and splashing around slow blue damage that slides along the walls and floor. If it’s not flying, my tidal pulse is totally going to hit it no matter how crazily I’m hopping around trying to dodge god knows what.

My fireball and tidal pulse are both tier three. But just to be safe, before going up against the next lieutenant and raising the difficulty tier of the world, I want to get another spell to level three. That spell will be energy slice, an light-based, medium range, superfast projectile that cuts through enemies, damaging all of them in a straight line. A little crowd control.

So I open the Big Honkin’ Encyclopedia — that’s its real name — click into the spells section of the crafting grimoire — also its real name — and click on the list of spells arranged by tier to check what spells are eligible to upgrade to tier three. Here I note that my energy slice is missing a single ingredient.

Let’s see what that is by checking the spell’s entry, which lists the requirements for each tier and indicates in red what I’m missing.

Following along the line for tier three, from left to right, I’ve got the opal, which is a gem used for light based spells. I’ve got plenty of opals from doing missions. Missions show up on the world map and they’re an easy way to play a quick challenge and get a generous reward. Version 1.0 of Valley Without Wind (it’s currently version 1.1) elevated the world’s difficulty level based on how many missions you did. This meant you didn’t want to do missions until you were ready to upgrade. Now that I can do missions with impunity, I’ve been a mission doing fool and I therefore have more opal than I know what to do with. Need any opal?

Next on the line, I’ve got the level orbs, which are basically mission rewards tied to the world level. This means you can’t just jump to the highest level spells without advancing the world. Fair enough.

The next item is coral, which is what I’m missing. I’ll get back to that in a second. Moving along the line to the right, I need clay, which is a fairly common crafting material, but you have to go into houses in cities to find it. It comes from breaking vases, which are decorative items found in rooms called hallways. If it sounds contrived, that’s because it is. This is a videogame with very definite rules. This is not ‘Nam. At the end of the line is a mission reward called welkin gel. Again, I’ve got enough of these from mission rewards.

But let’s back to the coral. Why don’t I have that? Let’s check the tooltip. I love checking tooltips in A Valley Without Wind. These are such grandly detailed helpful tooltips, as good as Big Huge Game’s tooltips in their RTSs, or Paradox’s tooltips in their strategy games.

Coral is like clay in that you can only find it in particular places in the world, and only after you’ve basically “unlocked” it by earning a specific achievement. I haven’t gotten the achievement yet, so coral basically doesn’t exist. In order to introduce coral into my world, I have to earn the achievement for reaching level three of a cave in ocean shallows terrain.

And that’s where I am now. Each level of a cave consists of several stacked chambers. Basically, each level is an entire dungeon consisting of linked rooms. The size and number of the rooms is totally random. The first level of this cave was pretty vast, and the large open rooms required a whole lot of the platforms that stick to the walls so you can get around. You also need these platforms to get across acidic pools that damage you.

Now I’m down in the second level, with the passageway to the third level only a few rooms away. My destination is in sight. Once I find and go through the door in the room, I’ll unlock the coral that will upgrade my energy slice, and I’ll work my way out to the next lieutenant’s tower.

But I’m getting low on health. I’ve been injured by a few falls and a few encounters gone bad, including fumbling around in an acid pool while trying to fend off a boss. That wasn’t pretty, but at least I survived. What’s more, I’m running out of platforms! That’s like a mountain climber running out of rope. I’m going to have to remember to set the memo slider higher so that I get a reminder when my platforms fall below a certain level. And then I’m going to have to remember to pay attention to that reminder. I see now why it’s in the game. More than anything else, platforms can limit your progress, especially in wide open areas like these caves.

So in order to save platforms for the last few rooms — I have no idea if they’ll be narrow passages or vast open chambers — I’m walking along the bottom of this acidic pool rather than using platforms to jump over its surface. This means equipping acid gills so I don’t take any damage. However, acid gills use the torso slot, which is where I normally have a light enchant equipped so I can see my way in the dark. Without that light enchant, I’m dropping a spell called ball of light every so often. Sometimes I cast a spell called light snake to slide along the terrain in front of me and map it out on the minimap.

And that’s why I’m down here, pushing deeper into the cave, trying to find the passage down to the third level of this cave system. How will I get out? Well, that’s another story. Suffice to say, I’m keeping a close eye on the map for the nearest warp gate.