Wot I Think: A Valley Without Wind

A Valley Without Wind fascinates me. Not all the reasons for this fascination are good. But from that (long) moment where I read through our huge twopart interview about Arcen’s intentions for their procedurally-generated open-world exploration-based action adventure, I knew it was something I was going to follow closely. I spent some time dabbling with early versions of the game, and in the past few days I’ve finally been getting stuck into the release version of this strange, 2D post-apocalypse.

Finally, here’s Wot I Think.

For those who read that original hands-on preview, I should probably clarify that A Valley Without Wind has moved on a great deal from that first glance, although the structure and feel of the game is still intact. Visually it’s a little more diverse, although I am not sure whether that’s a good thing. My initial encounter with the game felt quite melancholy. It was a rainy, broken world that I was exploring, and while it remains a mysterious ruined future – a fallen hi-tech world, now inhabited by ghosts, killer robots, and magic-users – the palette is more of a collage, and at times this mash of visuals collapses into garishness. But let’s come back to the visuals later, and first take some time to pin down exactly what this game is.

I’ve already reeled off the “procedurally-generated open-world exploration-based action adventure” bit, and that’s about as short a description as you are going to want to apply to this complicated and conflicted oddity. The core of the game is in side-scrolling action. It’s a platform game, essentially, with a skeleton that could have been pulled from the long-dead carcass of 16-bit era games such as Shadow Of The Beast. It’s unlike those games, however, and comes with in a few paces of being a decent platform battler. Pacey and with a sophisticated set of spells and abilities that kit out your characters as they live and die in the game world. You leap and aim and fight and, often, die. Figuring out how to fight often means retreating entirely, and getting the spells you actually need.

A Valley is also less coherent that the old side-scrolling games it seems to hearken to, because it is procedurally-defined. There are mathematics, rather than level designers, at play here. And the result is peculiarly nebulous. Dungeons wobble onwards expansively, but without flair.

Once you escape your first dungeon, and briefly visit the settlement which you will build up and populate over time, you find yourself on the continent map. This is a varied landscape of interconnected squares, ravaged by storms. These storms shift as you play, making areas accessible (or not) as they move. This continent map, as simple as it is, gives you the grand overview of what you are trying achieve: to build up the settlement, to complete various missions (often involving “mini-bosses”, or super-tough enemies) with the end goal of putting together enough resources to take on the evil overlord and free the continent from the grip of unpleasantness.

You can, of course, choose to explore any square on the map, not just the ones with MISSION or other signposts on. The world generates out in front of you a bewildering, fractal fashion. Run through a region of abandoned rural farmland and you will encounter dozens of buildings. You can enter each one. And in each one you will find monsters lurking, with bits and pieces of collectible resources to be gathered. And stairwells will descend into basements, which roll off in the weird underground spaces, and back again. Doors are layered upon doors and it doesn’t take you long to realise that this is a vast, chaotic space, quite unlikely the majority of platform based games. (Although Terraria will of course come to mind.)

Your mission in all of this is collect things that will come in handy. There are three categories: supplies, items for crafting spells, and building materials. Depending on what you are trying to do, you will want focus your efforts on collecting the different types of resource. To take on tougher baddies you are going to want to craft more powerful spells (and get good at using them – there’s quite a bit of skill to fighting effectively. This is no RPG.) The game tells you roughly where you can go to look for specific bits and pieces, and you’ll find them if you search. And so you head off into the world. To perform this mission or that, to explore this continent tile or another. Returning, occasionally to your settlement home, and the characterless NPCs who reside there.

All this has a strange rhythm to it. While the game is about running, jumping, and shooting baddies (keyboard and mouse cursor work just fine for that) you are looking at a different set of goals to those you would normally expect from games that featured that kind of activity. Sure, you are still generally looking to get through a dungeon, with some bosses at the end, but ultimately you are harvesting. The game is built around that, and as a consequence it becomes quite grindy, both in terms of you having to explore every procedurally-generated nook of the vast levels, but also in having to kill so, so many enemies.

As with some MMOs, this was a process that was initially off-putting and then sort of entrancing. Once I’d turned off the awful faux-MIDI music, and put on something lyricless and workmanlike, in this case some old Steve Reich stuff, I began to find the groove of the game, and to become lost in it.

Sadly, though, I think this sense of loss was due to a phenomenon I call “reviewer’s trance” rather than from genuine engagement with the game. Reviewer’s trance is a sort of mesmerisation through mild boredom, which comes about while being employed in an extended gameplaying activity which isn’t actually particularly compelling, but is nevertheless continuous and hypnotic. The challenge and pace of A Valley is such as you can become lost in the combat of endless slow streams of enemies, and the hoovering of resources, without noticing – immediately at least – that you aren’t really doing anything interesting, or finding yourself with anecdotally interesting experiences to report back later. Other than the odd occasion where an enemy was surprisingly large, or something, I can’t think of anything I can really tell you about what happened in this game. Except for the one thing that broke the vague mesmerisation: the moments of “perma-death”.

It sounds more dramatic than it is. When you die you only lose your character’s superficial supplies, but you also lose his personal stats. Who that character was is gone, and you replace him from a set of options, with pretty much the same load out of skills and things. It’s bizarre break, sending you back to the settlement to continue in the same world with a different hero chap. It is sort of representative of the design of the game as a whole, even: oddly charming, but in a way that is unsettling because it doesn’t seem to be there for any good reason. It doesn’t really make sense, but it happens anyway. You swallow it, without ever really accepting it. (Really? I just got through characters? And that’s it… they’re dead. Oh. Okay. Hmm.)

Of course all this stuff might be irrelevant if you bounced off the way the game looked in the first place. Having played the game for so long I’ve acclimatised to the peculiar vision (although not to the way that awful banal retro elevator music sounded) and I find it sort of appropriate to the slightly goofy magical apocalypse theme that the game is playing with. I am aware, however, that it’s the equivalent of becoming acclimatised to a fever dream. The visuals design of A Valley are uniquely ugly, to the point of almost being a classic of game-design strangeness.

A Valley Without Wind is unlikely to match anyone’s expectations. Those folks who are expecting an ugly game design to go with the unpleasant graphical execution will find something that is well made, just a bit incoherent. I’ve also heard people suggest that it has RPG elements, but that’s not really true. It’s an open-ended platformer with crafting. Nor is it really exploration game in any interesting spatial sense (and I wonder if that would have been different if the game had remained top-down, instead of becoming a platformer) because of the general repetitiousness and the fact that you won’t find anything much of interest aside from the occasional weird building squatting in the strange retro-but-not landscapes.

I haven’t tried playing it multiplayer yet, so I can’t comment on how that might enhance the experience. It’ll probably enhance it quite a bit because people, damn them, do seem to end up being interesting, whatever the situation.

Nevertheless, with plenty of time to ponder the vast, melancholy single-player, I find myself disappointed. My fascination with this game had two strands, and they’ve become irrevocably twisted in the final long analysis of playing the release version. The first strand was a positive interest in the mass of ideas behind it – ambitious, exciting themes and notions about what games could be – and the wonder as to whether this bundle of inspirations would cohere into a game design vision. Alas, they do not. The second strand was a sort of incredulous amazement that this was really how the game looked. Would a game which was presented quite as peculiarly as this is actually work? Were they aiming for something that looked unlike anyone else out there? Every time I saw it I wondered if Arcen could pull it off, against the odds. Alas, they cannot.

A Valley Without Wind was a brave expedition into a dream. Sadly, I think it’s one of those dreams that you wake up from thinking “huh, dreams are weird!” Before shrugging off the strange logic, forgetting the feelings of displacement, and getting back to the things that really matter.


  1. pakoito says:

    So sad :(

    • Wreckdum says:

      What’s more sad is I bought the 4 pack on steam for my friends and I… LOL I guess I should have waited for a review or something. We played it for about 1 hour and were like WTF is this sillyness?

  2. The Malkavian Bear says:

    Ahh well, another one to add to the steam sale list.

  3. wodin says:

    Great review. I agree wholeheartedly. Arcen though is a well loved developer and I feel there are people who wont take kindly to the game being criticised. Some have even bought many copies or AI War when they heard they where in financial trouble, thats how dedicated the fans are.

    I really wanted them to make a game that would show off their pedigree and for people to think “Boy I’m glad I bought those extra copies of AI War as it helped them make this game” however sadly this isn’t that game.

    The biggest mistake they made was posting those shots of the Isometric viewpoint. They looked rough and many where vocal in how rough it looked. This I feel made them scrap that viewpoint altogether and sadly resulted in changing the whole concept into an odd platform game.

    I do have to say it’s not a terrible game, it just feels odd, looks odd and seems to have problems in deciding what it is. Saying all that I’m sure many will enjoy it. I’m intrigued as it feels there is more to it however I don’t think there is.

    • Vinraith says:

      SPeaking as someone that bought those aforementioned mutiple copies of AI War, that was mostly about keeping Arcen afloat 1) because they’re good guys and considering the post-release support they still give AI War (weekly patches with continually evolving new features) it’s not unreasonable to keep funding them and 2) because I want to see those promised future AI War expansions.

      So, in short, criticize A Valley Without Wind all you like, you’re not going to get shouted down by me anyway. I think it’s a fantastic concept, and it wouldn’t surprise me if post-release support improves it markedly (as it did AI War), but right now it definitely doesn’t look like my cup of tea. That said, I dearly hope it doesn’t sink them, because I really do want to see those future AI War expansions, and for that matter I want to see what they do next. There are far worse crimes in game development these days than being too ambitious.

      • wodin says:

        I’m not having ago here. I think it’s commendable that you and others did what you did. However personally I feel this game isn’t good enough and if it was made by a brand new developer without a game like AI War behind them I imagine they would struggle to sell enough and there be a chance you don’t hear from them again.

        Again I’m not having ago. I was hoping for alot more when the original description for the game was released. It just seemed to go all pete tong (using an in term, I think) when it went sidescroller.

        I also want to see them in business, I wouldn’t want them or anyone to go bust or be unemployed. I just hope they manage to get their stuff together and really get down to making something new and something that is worthy of their talent.

    • BurningPet says:

      This is weird, because you would expect a company to recognize who their fans are, what they like and what they would want more of.

      Instead, they went on producing an extremely casual match 3 puzzle game and a platformer.

      They should have just made another strategy game.

      • Professor Paul1290 says:

        If they wanted to make another strategy game then they would just expand AI War, and that’s exactly what they’re planning on doing.

        They’re still making AI War and have been the whole time (AI War still got some updates even during AVWW’s development), from the looks of it they’re going to do another expansion to AI War before doing a expansion to AVWW.

      • Hypocee says:

        Tidalis is not casual. It’s practically a programming language.

        But then, Arcen (i.e. Chris Park) essentially acted as a publisher for it rather than developing it.

      • sinister agent says:

        I thought AI War was great, but I’m glad they’ve tried something else, even if it’s been a bit of a let down. I love a good strategy game, but that doesn’t mean that that’s all I want to play, and I doubt my attitude is an unusual one.

        I don’t see a great deal of benefit in a developer sticking exclusively to one genre just because they made a great game in that genre. Especially for their first game. I’d rather that they at least try their hand at other things, even if they ultimately do decide to go back to where they started. I’d say the same for pretty much any creative medium, too.

      • Tom De Roeck says:

        I know you’re a developer as well, but I’ll be damned if I make a game for someone else.

  4. RedViv says:

    It’s certainly the ugliest game I’ve enjoyed lately.

  5. psychoconductor says:

    This game is definitely odd, but charming and different. I do have fun with it, but moreso when I get other people to play with me. I enjoy exploration games quite a bit, so I’m a sucker for this sort of gameplay. The visuals took some getting used to (they hurt my eyes at first), but now I enjoy them as a kind of art form. They’ve already made a some large tweaks to the game since release, so hopefully they will take some of this criticism to heart.

  6. CMaster says:

    I loved the ideas that Arcen floated about this game, but I’ve had doubts for quite a while about this not being a game for me. The first public demo solidified that for me – platforming exploration of a series interlinked random doors just didn’t seem much fun.

    I don’t see why the perma-death perplexes you so much though. if a character dies, a character dies. Makes more sense than magic respawning, no?

    • wodin says:

      Well, it’s not really perma death, you just start with a new character but still have everything so it really makes no difference.

      • Magitek says:

        Actually you do lose something when you die, your upgrades to the character; which you will spend much time searching out if you want to get somewhere.

        • Archonsod says:

          You lose more than that. The bit Jim neglects to mention is that you only start with three characters from the same time period. During the game you’ll recruit/rescue characters from different time periods. Each period has it’s own unique traits, for example the ice age guys you start with are immune to environmental cold damage. So not only can you lose a certain ability, but you might want to deliberately die in order to swap the character for one with a more useful ability.
          On top of which dying creates ghosts, and if too many of those get together they’ll come stomping down on your settlement.

          • thebigJ_A says:

            There are scrolls in abundance that let you swap without dying.

  7. sinister agent says:

    I have found the same thing. I played it for hours and hours and hours, and whenever I sat by my PC, despite installing dozens of unplayed games recently, I’d find myself automatically starting it up again before I even realised it. It’s oddly compulsive.

    But I can’t think of anything interesting or very impressive that actually happened. It’s just the same things again and again, even down to the same two boring-as-hell blobby enemy types being literally everywhere, plus the occasional one-off. I kind of like the odd melancholy atmosphere, and the concept of the universe itself shattering is neat – the idea of all those people across thousands of years of history having to huddle together to survive is great. But there just doesn’t seem to be much more to do but endlessly pile up gems and splat robots.

    I actually think the lack of variety or interesting design in enemies may be its biggest problem that could be easily fixed. Here’s hoping they somehow work some magic in future updates.

  8. sinister agent says:

    I have found much the same thing. I played it for hours and hours and hours, and whenever I sat by my PC, despite installing dozens of unplayed games recently, I’d find myself automatically starting it up again before I even realised it. It’s oddly compulsive.

    But I can’t think of anything interesting or very impressive that actually happened. It’s just the same things again and again, even down to the same two boring-as-hell blobby enemy types being literally everywhere, plus the occasional one-off. I kind of like the odd melancholy atmosphere, and the concept of the universe itself shattering is neat – the idea of all those people across thousands of years of history having to huddle together to survive is great. But there just doesn’t seem to be much more to do but endlessly pile up gems and splat robots.

    I actually think the lack of variety or interesting design in enemies may be its biggest problem that could be easily fixed. Here’s hoping they somehow work some magic in future updates.

  9. Buttless Boy says:

    Honestly, it feels like an alpha version of a really good game. There’s a bunch of stuff to do but no point to doing any of it, it’s hideous to look at, it’s massively unblanced… But for some reason I enjoy it. Might just be Metroid flashbacks though.

  10. trjp says:

    I sort-of enjoyed the demo – it’s a weird thing but it has touches of charm and genuine care in it.

    End of the day it’s not going to be everyone’s cuppa – and I doubt a review will clear that up for most people. The demo is the full game with a couple of caps on progress so there’s really no excuse not to try it…

  11. Navagon says:

    This game struck me as one that almost had to be good in spite of its amazing ugliness. Oh well.

  12. Zetetic says:

    Perhaps off-topic – I suspect “reviewer’s trance” is a condition that plenty of us have suddenly found ourselves suffering, and not only in games. Having said that, I suspect it’s part of the designed response of a great many games, from Farmville to CoD:BlOps.

  13. Swanny says:

    I will still pick this up anyway, just because I thought AI War was so damn excellent, and want to support the dev.

    • Professor Paul1290 says:

      According to their site they have another expansion for AI War coming up so you could buy that. It would be a much better vote with your money.

      Personally I like AVWW a lot, but I don’t think it makes sense for someone to buy a game they don’t like.

      As far as I know, AVWW has been selling rather well so far and Arcen isn’t in danger of going away any time soon. Unless they say otherwise there isn’t an urgent need for anyone to buy the game just to keep them going.

      • Swanny says:

        I bought AI War for all my pals already. Never said i didn’t AVWW it though, i’d just usually wait for a game like this to go on sale, because i’m not sure i’ll like it. However, because i’m an Arcen fanboy, i’ll pick it up full price. I would do the same if it was Zachtronics or Re-Logic releasing this game. Make a good game, i’ll buy the next one, no matter the publisher (im also a DIII fanboy).

  14. Sigvatr says:

    tl;dr just give me a score out of ten

  15. Crimsoneer says:

    I rather like it. It’s really, really eclectic, and I feel I could use some more direction – I haven’t actually left continent 1. But I play it regularly.
    So yeah. The demo is MAHUSIVE.

  16. Eclipse says:

    looks like such a boring an uninspired game…

    • carlthuringer says:

      It’s not uninspired, it’s very inspired!

      It’s just not a GAME. It’s a concept. There isn’t much feedback to speak of. The rewards are muted and require a lot of work and understanding and READING of the ‘big honkin’ encyclopedia.’ The threat and conflict in the world as a whole is vague and not immediate. The randomness is too random and lacks context in the immediate surroundings. The spaces are haphazard and difficult to navigate with arbitrary obstacles. The characters do not exist, and might as well be signposts.

      What the game needs is some immediate plot and conflict. The settlement is in danger of being whipped away in the storm and you must go to adjacent areas and knock down some trees and collect some magic rocks to push the storm back, rescue someone that got lost, and power up as a reward, only to have the evil overlord make a random swoop and devestate your surroundings.

      The random areas need to be SMALLER. I entered an evergreen forest and searched probably 30 buildings, acquiring most of the bits and bobs I ‘needed’ and still there were 8 more ‘local’ screens each with 2-6 buildings each with 5-12 rooms, some of which are godawful ‘maze’ rooms.

      I zoomed through a boss tower and after killing the bosses I stood perplexed. Where’s the fanfare? Where’s my congratulations window with loot inside? I killed monster spawners thinking it might’ve been a requirement, then left in frustration and only an hour later did I notice I’d received the 3 pieces of lava that were the reward, and noticed the achievement ’14 remaining of 15 boss towers.’

      Why would I want to go through 14 more of those boss towers? The first one was boring!

      TL;DR: This is not a game. It’s a concept of an idea that you can play to completion and derive little satisfaction from.

  17. Freud says:

    Exploring ‘dungeons’ via doors in a 2D side scrolling game is such a horrible idea. Making it a gigantic procedurally generated game makes it even more baffling. What on earth were they thinking?

    • stahlwerk says:

      their quality units never stood a chance
      with a little forward planning and perspective
      they’d have avoided this

  18. antoniodamala says:

    This game has a deep flaw : zero cohesion. Nothing matches nothing, and i’m not just talking about the art (oh god that awful texturized art), i mean the gameplay seems like a bunch of random stuffs they threw together. What they need to do is stop making this game and to decide, on paper, what is this game going to look like, and how it will works.

    • CommentSystem says:

      It’s interesting that you say that. I listened to an indie games panel at PAX featuring one of the Arcen guys. He said they did zero prototyping for the game.

      I wonder if they had done some basic prototyping for this game if the gameplay systems would feel more cohesive.

  19. wuwul says:

    Well, at least it’s an innovative concept, as far as I can tell.

    Is there any 3D procedurally generated adventure/platform game, btw? I’m sure that would work better.

    • Snakejuice says:

    • Vinraith says:

      Minecraft is neither an adventure game nor a platform game. Mostly, it’s an empty sandbox.

      • JB says:

        I don’t often disagree with you Vinraith, but here, I have to. For me, this sentence would be correct:
        “Minecraft is an adventure game. Mostly, it’s a sandbox.”

        I have had many adventures in MC =)

        • Vinraith says:

          This is a definition issue, I expect, though at its base-most I think it’s also a difference of experience. Minecraft is a very interesting thing, I spent a fair bit of time in it and enjoyed the hell out of it for that time. There’s no much of any kind of game there, though, IMO, and that’s a damned shame.

  20. Brosepholis says:

    I love how RPS has been circling around the obvious conclusion about this game for ages because Arcen are indies and thus get a free pass. Even in the WIT you’re not willing to come out and say it’s just bad.

    Arcen struck gold with AI War but their next 2 games were utter trash; Tidalis was a cackhanded attempt to get some easy popcap dollars and AVWW is like a tech demo of some really bad tech. They need to ditch their terrible sound guy, get someone who can actually draw and make an AI War sequel, because that sort of game is clearly where their strengths lie. A few more production values could make it a really great success on steam. Otherwise, well, the bundle money is drying up from oversaturation and nobody in their right mind is going to pay money for AVWW. I like these guys and I want them to succeed, but they don’t seem to have any conception of their strengths and weaknesses as a studio.

    On another note, this game is a textbook case of how procedural generation can make a game feel utterly bland and empty. A few more designed environments and a shit-ton more gameplay variety and this could have been something.

    Fuck, I’m ranting now. This game has my jimmies seriously rustled.

    • mmalove says:

      I played the demo, and just couldn’t find a compelling reason to keep going after capping out at level 6. To be fair, up until release this was still in development and thus a certain optimism is to be expected. I align with RPS’s hesitation to rate this game terribly, as there are so few games out there trying to do anything outside of established genres anymore, and Arcen with it’s famous AI WAR and upstart AVWW have done so twice. Nonetheless, the review is spot on in that the game seriously lacks a motivation to keep going.

      • KDR_11k says:

        Just for reference, since you talk about level 6 you’ve played the game a long time ago. It has changed a lot since then (e.g. there are now missions that you need to complete in order to increase the continent tier and gain rare commodities and the gem levels have been abolished). Maybe not enough to please you but it has changed a lot.

    • datom says:

      Sorry, but Tidalis was a cack-handed cash-in?? Did you play it?

      1) it was brilliant
      2) it was so stuffed full of game modes that development costs must have been massive

      You may not like it, but cashin it was not.

      • trjp says:

        Tidalis was far, far, far too complex for it’s own good IMO

        It would have benefitted from a bit of focus. It was a block puzzle where everything was left upto the player to decide – a sandbox, if you like, but one where all the child got was a few planks, a boulder of sandstone, an ocean and a toy catalogue

        Generally, we look to game designers to actually design not only a game but an experience within that game. There should be guidance, there should be structure, there should be difficulty curves, there should be a feeling of progress and challenge.

        AVWW isn’t entirely dis-similar here – all the elements have been crammed in here, there and everywhere but there’s a lack of coherence to it. It’s nowhere near as bad as Tidalis but there are parallels in some ways.

        It’s like self-published albums on the Internet – there’s often some great music but you know a proper producer would have clean/kicked/tidied/squeeze/polished and generally made a much, much, much better job of it.

        • KDR_11k says:

          Tidalis had a campaign that did the job of handing you a series of tasks.

          That said it seems people approach AVWW in a very directionless way when there’s an actual plan and goal to the things you do: You need to get level 5 spells, build windshelters to remove the windstorms from the evil outposts and lairs, then kill the lieutenants and finally the overlord. Crafting, missions, settlement development, enchants, unlockables, etc are all in service of these tasks. Farming stuff like gems or stashes has very limited use since they deliver only some of the parts that you need to reach your goal, once you’ve grabbed a few you probably need to focus your attention elsewhere to get the other things you’re missing.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      “Circling around”? You mean not reviewing it before it was released?

      In that sense we “circle around” pretty much all games, don’t we?

      • trjp says:

        Circles are for boring people and airline pilots – I tend to approach games from an attacking tangential vector, swoop in, swear at the lack of resolution and customisation options, veer wildly around the performance options whilst cursing my framerate and then dizzily stagger away from them because I only have 4 hours left to sleep before another bloody day begins…

    • edit says:

      I mostly agree with you, although I haven’t played Tidalis. Also, this game isn’t really what comes to mind when I think of “procedural generation”. This seems like randomized placement of pre-made assets, which means the landscapes will never be any more interesting than those fixed assets are, and unfortunately the randomization perhaps even makes them seem MORE bland than they might if an artist had placed them with some meaningful intention.

      For me the alarm bells really went off when they changed the game’s concept to match the artwork, rather than changing the artwork to match the game’s concept, when the artwork itself was so clearly the weakest part of the whole thing. The idea of procedurally generated environments always perks my interest, but this game has looked to me, from the start, as a mish-mash of arbitrarily combined flat images without a clear vision. I don’t mean to be harsh and it is of course just an opinion, but I can’t deny feeling that way every time I see anything from the game.

  21. smacky says:

    It feels rough around the edges and strikes me as a bit “Shadow of the Beast” -ish, right down to the feeling that I’m not quite sure why I’m plodding through it. Aside from vague fascination, of course.

  22. malkav11 says:

    Having long ago purchased it, I dipped in a couple of times during the alpha/beta buildup to see if it ever really turned into anything I’d want to play, and yeah, not so far. But while it’s released, it’s still under active development and it may be that someday it’ll get there (I feel similarly about Minecraft, incidentally). AI War, after all, has changed a great deal since it hit version 1.0.

    I have never understood their dogged persistence in clinging to the visual style that so many hate, though.

    • Professor Paul1290 says:

      They actually have “texture pack support” to make it easy to switch to modded textures, so they are aware that not everyone likes the visual style.

      • malkav11 says:

        Well, they’re certainly -aware-. They’ve been laudably engaged with the community on, y’know, practically every other other aspect of the game. But making that aspect of the game moddable isn’t really a fix. People who own the game may learn that they can find visual mods (are there any presently? I wouldn’t expect so, given it’s only just released.), but every screenshot and video is going to show the official art. Reviews will mention it. Forum commentary and blog posts will mention it. Mods won’t stop any of that.

        Oh well. It didn’t stop me buying the game, obviously.

  23. piratmonkey says:

    I quite enjoy it.

  24. sinister agent says:

    Boo. I keep getting spam-blocked. Decent review. It’s not BAD, but I gave it a few hours and can’t say I ever felt like I was getting anywhere.

  25. Hematite says:

    I’ve been trying to think of something useful to say about aVWW. I really don’t like it much at all, even though I really want to. The platforming is just atrocious, and I have a huge rant about how this is an abuse of procedural generation, but if you’re lucky I’ll manage to keep it bottled up inside.

    I think I could enjoy playing this if the platforming was removed entirely, and instead the overland map was the entire game, perhaps as a turn based party RPG. Like just playing the strategic map in a Total War game and auto-resolving the battles. I think the resource gathering and tech progression aspects of it could be quite engaging, but I wanted to kill myself after clearing one area so I haven’t been able to confirm that.

  26. Gasmask Hero says:

    I agree with some of the points here, especially with the game progression. I don’t agree with the graphics point, which is continually and repeatedly hammered home. Yes, Mr Rossignol, you don’t like the graphics. Other people don’t like the graphics. But I don’t mind them. And other people don’t mind them.

    Like AI War, AVWW is at the start of a very long journey. This review reads like it’s journey has started and finished already, but it also reads like it was a difficult write, one that doesn’t deserve a snappy short paragraph ending, but feels like it got one anyway due to games review conventions. You can’t end a definite review with “I don’t know”. But I’m not a reviewer. I’m a consumer. And I can say the words “I don’t know”. I paid real money for this, I don’t know where this will end up, but it’ll be interesting to see where the journey takes me.

    • pakoito says:

      Thing is, it can be the beginning and the end of the game. Arcen was not doing financially well when they started making AVWW and a disappointment and low sales may just drive the studio to close. Nobody would have bothered if the game took a lot longer to be properly finished to keep the company financially afloat, but in its actual state it’s set for failure.

    • Brosepholis says:

      So you’re saying ‘The game is unfinished, give it a break’? If, say, EA had put out a similarly unfinished product then everyone in this thread would (quite rightly) be going for the jugular.

      • Brun says:

        This. Apparently Indie Games get a free pass on RPS.

        • Jim Rossignol says:

          I say the game is a failure, plenty of other people chiming in with the same opinion.

          • wodin says:

            Jim I agree with you mate. I also find it strange people willing to buy it because they made AI War. Making a decent game is no excuse to then put out a poor one, nor should putting out a poor game be rewarded because of a past effort.

            Don’t support mediocrity whether it’s a AAA studio or an Indie developer.

            No matter how great a game was from a developer I wouldn’t buy another game of them just because of it. If they want to stay successful then they should make good to great games. Simple. Hopefully they can turn it around and make something thats worthy of them. I’m sure they will learn from their mistakes however if you reward them financially then they wont have as much incentive to turn things around.

          • Brun says:

            Didn’t mean from you guys, Jim, but from the some of the commenters.

    • malkav11 says:

      You don’t mind the graphics, but do you like them?

  27. MythArcana says:

    AI War expansion, onward ho!!

  28. level12boss says:

    AVWW sounds a bit like ActRaiser 3. That’s a brave move. But with a precedent to build on, the end result should have been more cohesive.

  29. RichardFairbrass says:

    Shadow of the Beast looks better than this game and is over 20 years old. It also has far better music, but that’s actually true of most games since its music was excellent. Still sounds good now, although a bit more panpipey than I remember.

    link to youtube.com

    I also seem to remember the box art and accompanying poster being done by Roger Dean. I still don’t know how they managed to get him involved.

  30. Highstorm says:

    Man if you willingly listened to that over the game’s music then I don’t even want to know what it sounds like, for fear of my head spontaneously exploding.

  31. tangoliber says:

    Looks nice. I just wish we could come up with a good term for virtual experiences in general, so that people don’t always say that it isn’t a “game”.

    Just because something isn’t a “game”, doesn’t mean its bad (such as Journey). The problem is that if it is called something other than a video game, then it will probably just sound pretentious.

    • wodin says:

      In this case it isn’t to good. As it is desperately trying to be a game and not something else. It’s just obvious that they made it up as they went along, which is what they more or less said in the interview.

  32. Magitek says:

    I spent maybe a dozen or so hours trying to get into this game, and I just can’t do it. I basically end up at the same conclusion as the reviewer. I’m really fond of procedural generation and having players build up their world, but the game itself isn’t any fun to play.

    Playing it co-op didn’t alleviate much sadly as you don’t rely on other players for anything. It was nightmarish just trying to stay together.

    Bullet points:
    Customizing your character isn’t very interesting. There is so much to AVWW but none of it feels substantial. I was hoping for strong Diablo character progression with equipment but I’m not feeling it..

    The abilities are mostly very boring, both for players and the monsters… I feel there is ZERO imagination here. It’s a pretty huge impact to my interest in the game and it basically destroys any drive to actually find or upgrade them. Many of the abilities are far too fast, completely without fanfare.

    The combat doesn’t feel exciting in the slightest. I shoot stuff off-screen with energy orb the majority of the time, and it isn’t exactly riveting. There is also potential for players to build things to aid them in battle but the only thing we have here seems to be crates.

    The game seems to revolve around collecting materials but it is still very confusing to figure out what needs to be unlocked and what is actually useful.

    The platforming is not fun, mostly because the maps generated are pretty barren. It needs a great deal more features: small hazards, moving platforms, switches, traps etc
    I personally can’t stand the jumping physics either, though maybe I am alone here.

    I guess that covers my strongest complaints about the game.

    Terraria is basically the polar opposite of AVWW in terms of enjoyment for me. There were always interesting locales to explore and treasure to collect, you also had to unlock important npcs by building structures. The bosses were interesting to hunt because they often had serious loot you wanted to get your hands on.
    In AVWW it just feels different, like an honest to god grind without reward.

    I can only hope AVWW improves, as I like the concept, enjoy collecting and rebuilding things.. I just don’t actually like playing it in its current state.

  33. jrodman says:

    Honestly, I had the same reaction to this as to AI War.

    “what.. huh?”

    Both deluged a huge mountain of mechanics on me in a way that wasn’t at all interesting to struggle through. It’s possible Arcen couldn’t create a game where I’d want to finish the tutorial.

    I’m glad others have gotten such joy out of them, however.

  34. wodin says:

    You look at this then you say look at the game being published by Paradox (Showdown effect) and the difference in graphics is substantial, granted AVWW isn’t just a platform style shooter but the quality of the graphics for a side view game is hugely different.

    If AVWW had given the game the same level of design thought and animations etc I’d have some hope for it however the looks alone will be enough for people not to buy. There really is no need these days to produce animations and overall look of the enemies and your own character in games anymore. Unless your purposely going for a retro look, however AVWW isn’t as the background certainly doesn’t look retro.

  35. RogB says:

    im fascinated by how hideously ugly this game is. Its so wrong, im almost beginning to think its intentional.
    the scrapbook effect of having so many different styles of art.. bad renders, textures cribbed from google, photos, realistic alongside painted..
    and the LIGHTING…. how hard would it be to get some consistency. look at the bottom image:
    Background sky – full noon daylight.
    background ‘city’ – late evening
    forground detail – all over the place
    foreground ground slice – fullbright

    top image: sun behind mountains. mountains are rendered lit from a completely different direction.

    it makes my head hurt looking at it, I could never play it.

  36. Lambchops says:

    it’s not a great game is it?

    AI War wasn’t my cup of milk in the end but I could see how others would love it. Tidalis was excellent, don’t listen to the naysayers, go buy it and enjoy one of the best matching games around. AVWW had some interesting concepts and ideas but just doesn’t hang together well at all. I think one of the early instructions (paraphrasing here) was “don’t go through every door it’ll take ages, just head for the goodies” summed it up really.. Having a game that’s simultaneously trying to encourage exploring while telling you that it’s time consuming and uninteresting to explore? Just seems like it’s shooting itself in the foot really.

    Still there’s a lot of interesting concepts floating around and despite not holding my interest there’s still quite a few flashes of charmt hat made me smile. This and the fact that Arcen are willing to try so many different things still endears them to me. I think they’ve definitely got some more great games under their belt (whether they are my type of game or not) but alas this isn’t one of them and in a few years time i suspect they will look back on it as a bit of a misstep (though one with plenty of worthwhile lessons).

    • pertusaria says:

      Yes, I find this odd, too (and that hint comes up again and again, every time you enter somewhere you “shouldn’t be bothering with”). Reading the wiki only makes this weirder – this world is sufficiently large to want to explore, but exploration is boring, and the designers know that and want to make sure you don’t waste time on it. Why not just make exploration interesting, or leave out the boring bits? I guess the answer is “because procedural generation”, but Terraria doesn’t have big pointy arrows saying “Over there’s the cool stuff, dope!” and it never feels dull.

      Sorry for rambling. I’ll play to the end of the demo content, because there’s a lot of stuff in Jim’s review that I haven’t seen and should be able to get to. Maybe I’ll feel enthused about it by then.

  37. Yuri says:

    Bought it and enjoyed it, to be completely honest.
    The music can get repetitive, although i must admit i like it for some reason.

    But it does have a problem with progress in general.
    That particular feeling where you know that you’re getting more powerful and advancing just isn’t there most of the time.

  38. remover says:

    My only problem with this game so far (apart from some very personal preferences about art and stuff like that) was the number of times I found myself effectively in a dead end where I had to quit or kill my character.

    I’m a firm believer and there being no such thing as dead ends, and would take any level of difficulty challenge over being “stuck”.

    There was a rescue mission, my first.. it wasn’t until I accepted it that there was a sign warning me as a newbie that I should bring plenty of wooden platforms so I don’t get stuck. So that’s exactly what happened, I was stuck with whom I was rescueing down a big hole, and you apparently can’t retry rescue missions. It was pretty frustrating, as it felt like a surprise rather than something I should have known better about.

  39. Josh W says:

    I was a little concerned when they said that they thought it lacked detail when other people thought there was too much, because that’s a classic sign of bloated and shallow mechanics:

    The cliche of good game design is “simple to learn, hard to master”, or in other words, straightforward mechanics with deeply developed consequences.

    This is harder to say than do, but it seems to me that these guys will have to start playtesting this, and looking for situations where it would be intuitive for there to be overlaps between different mechanics, and building them up from there. At every stage, features need to be folded into a conceptual whole, so that people can get them in bigger blocks, and come at learning the game from a story/world perspective as well as experimenters.

    This covers only a tiny amount of building accessible depth, but I think it shows the different kind of thing they need to handle; it’s not just about adding depth, but about folding that depth into more simple systems.

  40. Girogore says:

    Bought the game and enjoy it thoroughly. That said, the game feels very incomplete still. The world feels awfully barren, and there is still a lack of enemy/spell variety.
    Though I also guess I am in the small boat of people who actually like the graphic style (animation could use work though). + if you don’t like they use a texture pack, thats what people who dont like minecraft’s or dwarf fortress’ graphics do..
    Since release they’ve already done a number of small content patches, and if those keep up i feel like a lot of the problems could be quickly resolved.

  41. RuySan says:

    The Shadow of the Beast games (particularly the second one) are some of the games with the best art direction i can think of (or maybe it’s the fact that i don’t play them in 15 years or so). So it’s funny that you compare them to this.

    They were also quite short and tight (and impossibly hard)

  42. HungryDave says:

    Shoot. I really wanted this to be good. I was torn between Grimrock and this on which to spend my hard-earned $15. Grimrock wins!

  43. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    I guess I hoped for something different. Or perhaps it’s just not for me.

  44. smeaa mario says:

    I wanted to like this but “side-scrolling” and “open world” just don’t make sense together. Then again, I haven’t given it a try yet and this is just my initial opinion.

  45. RemyDuron says:

    I have to say: Play the game, don’t just read the review. I read the reviews and got really disappointed, then I played it and, frankly, I love it. I love running around the large 2d environments, i love the shooting and the jumping, I even love the graphics (which were really really ugly in development but I think the release graphics achieved something unique and neat). The things I find lacking in the game, mainly the number of enemies and some control issues (double tap dash is WAY too sensitive), will almost surely improve over time if Arcen’s previous performance with AI War is any indication. I feel really weird, because it seems like peoples general reaction to this game was my general reaction to AI War: amazing ideas, interesting mechanics, somewhat fun with friends, but something lacking in the game single player. I think this is because, while AI War can certainly form dramatic, emergent narratives, I feel more at home as a single character than a disembodied commander. Though there aren’t any role playing options within the game, I find myself keeping a running log of my current glyphbearers thoughts in a way I haven’t done since Deus Ex and Morrowind. Oddly enough, the lack of RPG elements in this game will probably facilitate it in that way, as Deus Ex and Morrowind both disappointed me in that I could not, in the end, make the choice I wanted to (in each case to join the bad guys, I was a stereotypical teen :) ).

  46. MadTinkerer says:

    I quite enjoy AVWW. It’s a mash-up of classic Side-scrolling RPGs*, Minecraft/Terraria craft-em-up, and standard roguelike elements. The “ugly” graphics don’t bother as much when you’re playing because they’re designed to be functional to a fault, like ASCII graphics in a roguelike.

    Jim’s not wrong. I like this game in spite of it’s flaws, and there already have been several patches. The problems with this game lie mostly with it not looking like what it is: a hardcore roguelike which happens to have platforming action and crafting, as opposed to an action-platformer or a game with established plot and characters.

    Diablo and Torchlight have procedurally generated levels, but exactly the same plot every time you play through. Procedural level generation is a heck of a lot easier to figure out than procedural plot generation.

    Procedural generation of story elements is still in it’s infancy. So it’s going to be quite a while before procedurally generated games catch up to “hand crafted” games in terms of characterization, story arcs, or even back-story generation. That’s not even touching on plot, pacing, and themes. Or most complex of all, believable dialogue generation that takes all those things into account. In fact, most people don’t realize it can be done, and many who do don’t have any idea how to start.

    Making a game with potentially infinite variety isn’t easy, but the rewards are eventually greater than trying to hand craft all levels manually. AVWW needs a bit more work, but it’s got a lot of potential.

  47. lordfrikk says:

    Problem is they redesigned the game fundamentally based on feedback from their fans on their forums and I suspect as waves of them very leaving because of the developer being bent on acting on every little whim of their fans’, the small group of people that remained acted like an echo chamber and ran the game into the ground, not because they intended to, but because that’s the sort of niche game they like but everyone else hates.

  48. Valkesh says:

    Personally I’m enjoying the game quite a bit. The chaotic/disjointedness makes sense in the setting provided and was one of the things that drew me in. I will concede the point that if you let yourself fall into a rut you can make the game very grindy for yourself, but the game can, contrary to what was said, be very much about exploring these disjointed spaces and the odd combinations that emerge as you go along rather than focusing too strictly on grinding resources for a particular path. This review kind of irks me, because it’s very dismissive and seems to be looking for reasons to just dig into the game. For the record, I have no particular interest in the developer or supporting them. That said, I found the game enjoyable, and others hopefully will find out for themselves if they like it or not through their own research rather than a rant from someone who was disappointed it wasn’t what THEY were expecting.

  49. Nightquaker says:

    I enjoy this game and I love it. I love the music in it, art style is acceptable to me and I can’t wait until they will finish the second one, although I don’t like some of new features in it, such as hearts HP system instead of good old HP meter and they frigged up controls in second one. But, considering how much Arcen developers listen to the feedback, controls problem would be fixed for sure as I’ve seen plenty of feedback about people not liking it. I do not agree with this review, but that’s just my humble and honest opinion.