Last year, Arcen Games’ A Valley Without Wind released and seemed to carve a new niche in the ‘Metroidvania’ style of games. It was charming and interesting, but it seemed to be received with mixed reviews. Arcen Games also noticed changes they wished they had made, and they made a bold move to follow up – not only creating a sequel, going against their belief in sequels, but also offering it up to owners of the first game for free. So how does this newly released sequel fare?
30 Second Review
(+) Interesting RPG elements and spell sets
(+) Randomly generated platforming/exploration environments
(+) Deep strategic elements and gameplay
(-) Contrasting elements feel mismatched
(-) Steep difficulty can be more off-putting than challenging
A Different Kind of Open World
There is a brief story of you being a mage that has made it the furthest into Demonaica’s realm and must stop him, but the story takes a backseat to the gameplay. A Valley Without Wind (abbreviated AVWW) took a sidestep from most open world games by tailoring its gameplay away from exploration and devastation; it was not necessary or always advantageous to explore every corner or kill every monster. AVWW2 takes another step in that direction and adds a bevy of new gameplay elements. One of the first changes you will notice is the ability to choose an elemental spell set and change it at your leisure.
The platforming segments seem to serve a higher purpose when contrasted with the overarching map strategy elements. Your starting map shows highlighted sections which you control. Survivors are used and recruited to keep your supply stockpile fresh and defend your territories. Unowned territories can be freed by taking your character into them and destroying generators in the game’s platforming segments. Each territory you free concludes a turn, however, and allows Demonaica’s minions to move on the overhead map, potentially harming your survivors and damaging your territories. Each territory freed also frees up the neighboring squares on the map, so you can see how timing and strategy play a very important part in the progression of the game. On the flipside, exploring the territories you’ve already ‘freed’ will not trigger another turn or monster movement, so you have no limits looting and exploring the tiles you’ve already accessed. Balancing taking turns and ‘freeing’ important structures and slowing the monster horde becomes a difficult balancing act very early on.
Smeagle Was a Guide Too, Wasn’t He?
If all of the above mentioned gameplay elements sounds confusing, don’t worry; there is an adviser to remind you of where your needs in the strategic map lie. The map will show you where survivors can be recruited, food and scrap can be earned, special buildings can be claimed and loot can be found, and the adviser is your compass to what needs attention first. Ignore your adviser and destroy too many generators before you have leveled up and fortified your survivors, and you’ll find a quick way to a painful end. Hence why exploring every nook & cranny of the game world is not as advantageous as it is in other games and genres.
A Valley Without Wind 2 takes a fair bit of time and a few restarts to figure out the strategic element of the game, but that can be the benefit of a title that bucks the trend of holding the player’s hand a little too often. Even with the help of an adviser, the strategy can be pretty tough, especially since you are only getting general hints on what problems to tackle, not how to tackle them. It really seems like those points bring the strategic element into the forefront and push the fun platforming segments to the side, which is a shame because the platforming and exploration can be a real treat.
There is strength in numbers, and Arcen Games has certainly harnessed that strength. Worlds are all randomly generated, there are 14 biomes, over 100 world map types and a plethora of customizations, such as perks and spells to outfit your mage. Finding them all will take only the most skilled of mages.
Which Way Doth The Wind Blow?
I can’t lie; I had a difficult time reviewing A Valley Without Wind 2. I enjoyed the improved gamepad controls for the game but found the combat to be difficult when aiming. Also, it was tough to get a bead on the best approach to the combat; attacking every enemy was clearly not wise, close quarters combat was not advisable. Even with that knowledge and changing tactics to compensate the game still seemed to take a steep difficulty turn. The strategic map seemed to overtake the rest of the game. I think the platforming was definitely the strength of the first game, and while adding the ability to change magic schools enhanced that strength, but it was choked out in the weeds of the strategic map. With its own challenges and steep difficulty, the map elements and platforming seemed to be a stark mismatch. I most definitely did enjoy the new graphics engine and the amazing musical compositions of Pablo Vega.
It’s extremely hard to find fault in a sequel that is free to owners of the franchises’ first game. It’s a bold and unprecedented move, especially for a company that does not believe in creating sequels. Still, I could not get past the desire for more platforming and the entanglement of the strategic map difficulty and elements.
There is a lot to like about A Valley Without Wind 2, and it seems most fans of the original have embraced the broad differences of the newly hatched sequel. If you’ve purchased the first game, you already own the second. If you’ve missed these games and any of this sounds intriguing to you, less than $15 will net you both games and many hours lost in the immersive gameplay. The game may have been more of a storm than a refreshing breeze for me, but there is an innovative wealth of deep gameplay for strategic gamers out there. A Valley Without Wind 2 gets a 7.5 out of 10.