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The Lighthouse Customer: Windward

Cannonball Fun

Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, sailing the shimmering, procedurally generated seas of action RPG Windward.

Glimmering seas and snapping sails. Pirate ships and plundered booty. Factions fighting for control of ports and lighthouses. Cannonfire, ship-to-ship combat, pitched battles and daring escapes. Really, the only thing missing from Windward is a rousing sea shanty. Don't worry, though. I wrote my own.

There are four factions to choose from in Windward, and I begin with Exchange, a merchant faction whose ships can carry more loot and whose quests mostly revolve around making money. I figure it'll be like Taipan!, the old Apple II game I played so much of in 1982 because, well, there wasn't a whole heck of a lot of choice back then. Sail to a port, buy some stuff, sail to another port, sell it for profit, and so on.

It's a bit like that. I ferry cargo around from town to town, I explore the map, I make a bit of gold, and I certainly enjoy the scenery along the way. The sea shimmers in the sunlight, wisps of clouds pass overhead, letting you know which way the wind is blowing, the sails of your ship flap and rustle convincingly, and occasionally the wreck of a submerged ship can be glimpsed beneath the waves. It's lovely.

Hope that ship full of dead crewmen doesn't demoralize my crewmen.

Still, while it's all quite pleasant and picturesque, I quickly begin itchin' for a bit of action. There's just not much going on during my trips, except occasionally finding a bit of floating booty, a few crates bobbing in the surf, or some barrels near a shipwreck. (One time I found a marooned captain treading water and gave him a ride, then sold him to a town.) I decide to leave the section of the map I'm on, which is completely dominated by Exchange, and head to areas where some ports are still up for grabs.

Shiver me timbers! Literally. Me timbers are shivering.

That certainly spices things up. I start running into pirate ships who attack on sight, flinging their itty-bitty cannonballs my way with tiny coughs of smoke. Combat is fun and fast-paced, if a bit simple. Your gunners will autofire when you're lined up properly, and you have a barrage attack that needs time to recharge. The little details are wonderful. Sails become shredded during fights, tiny fires break out on your deck, and explosions are big and beautiful. Once I spotted two ships duking it out, and cannonballs from one punched through the other ships sails, landed on a tiny island, and rolled around a bit. Adorable.

The main imports of that island are cannonballs. And shortly, burning planks.

Fighting is definitely more fun than just selling cargo, so I scrap my financial goals and just go out looking for trouble. Naturally, any game with pirate ships now makes me think of Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, particularly the wonderful sea shanties the crew would sing while you sailed. The music in Windward is wonderful, but I need me a sea shanty, matey.

If you can't make it out, the name of that pirate is Brenda. I've been sunk by the Dread Pirate Brenda.

So, I composed a ditty of own. For all of you salty sea dogs who find yourself adrift on the uncertain seas of early access games, feel free to join in:

Well fetch me the game, the early access game
Made by a dev, can't remember their name
Kickstarted, crowdfunded, green-lighted, but shame:
They took all our gold and gave us half a game!

Well fetch me the game, mate, the unfinished game
It be sold on the docks so a-sailin' we came
We paid for a ship; they delivered a frame!
They took all our gold and gave us half a game!

Is that a sea creature or an incomplete feature?
(All) O save yer retorts for the bug reports!
Spent all of me scratch, been a month and no patch!
(All) O save yer retorts for the bug reports!
The crew be all bitchin' bout crashin' and glitchin'
(All) O save yer retorts for the bug reports!
Though we be havin' fun it may ne'er be done!
(All) O save yer retorts for the bug reports!
(All) Yes, save yer retorts for the bug reports!

Nothing smart to say. Just another picture of ships shooting each other.

Anyway. Other AI-controlled ships may join in the fights, leading to big, fun, explodey sea battles. Speaking of exploding, there's a lot of exploding. When your ships runs down to zero health, kaboom. If you're deck-to-deck with a ship whose health has run down to zero, kaboom, for both them and you. You can even ram ships for more kabooming, which I tend to do when it's clear I'm not going to win. Screw 'em! We'll all die together. If you're damaged, you can repair, but you have to stop dead in the water. I've fled from battles with cannonballs splashing at my stern and raking my sides, then stopped for some frantic repairs while the pirates closed in. Fun stuff.

Got right smack in the middle of the wrong battle.

The problem I keep running into is that I suck, or rather, Exchange's ships suck when it comes to combat durability. They're a merchant faction, and not well suited to constant combat. I start a new game, on a new randomized map, this time under the banner of Valiant, who are basically pirate punishers, storming the seas in search of a fight. I can feel the difference immediately, and I start pounding pirates into planks and scooping up whatever booty is left. I put my XP into combat, toughening up my cannons and improving my aim. Soon I'm three maps away, well out of Valiant territory, and I've yet to lose a fight.

Welcome to Chris Town, formerly Pirate Town. Neither of them are particularly good names for a town.

I start capturing pirate-controlled towns and lighthouses, which requires floating in their vicinity for a while and fighting off whatever pirates arrive to defend. Once you've captured a town, your faction can begin fast-traveling to it, giving you some quick support. Eventually, I make my way into the territory of another faction, Consulate, who are gifted in diplomacy. Though I'm not sure how diplomacy actually works, since as soon as I enter their waters, I choose to contest the area, which means the neutral faction becomes my enemy, fires on sight, and I'm allowed to start capturing their towns.

Well, it's sort of like trading.

I'm currently deep in Consulate waters, really making a pain in the ass of myself. I'm sure there's more to Windward than just blowing up everything I come across, but it's what I'm finding the most fun at the moment. Though I finally did lose a fight with a Consulate ship, I'm happy to say, so did my opponent.

Let's call it a tie.

I've only tried single-player, as it appears multiplayer is only available by connecting through IP, and I don't know anyone else who has the game. But I'm definitely enjoying it. Windward is available on Steam for £15 /$20.

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