Windbound review for PS4, Xbox One, Switch

Platform: PS4
Also on: PC, Switch, Xbox One
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Five Lives Studio
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: E10+

Windbound is a survival game.

I’m putting that right up front in this review, because I wasn’t fully aware of that fact going in. Sure, I knew that the game was about a lost explorer/warrior trying to find her way home, but I’d based my expectations for the game on the reveal trailer, which gave off a Wind Waker/Breath of the Wild vibe — and needless to say, Windbound is definitely not either of those games.

Instead, as I said, it’s all about survival. The whole game is built around keeping the main character, Kara, alive as she navigates across the seas from island to island. You have to keep her fed to keep her energy up to allow her to hunt, gather, craft, and all the other elements you’d expect from a game like this.

There are a couple of issues with this.

First, Windbound is procedurally-generated, which means that you’re surviving at the whim of a game that didn’t seem entirely balanced, at least in my experience. On my first playthrough, my first island was pretty much barren save for a wild boar that I had to chase and stab to death (which, as a side note, was kind of unpleasant, seeing as the boar seemed to be smiling). There were no materials for a fire, so I had to eat the meat raw, which in turn did something to my stamina. Eventually, I scrounged together enough grasses to build a boat, only to arrive at my second island and find it populated by a giant, aggressive, bull-like creature that wouldn’t let me get anywhere near any other resources. I eventually gave up and restarted the game from scratch, figuring the deck was stacked against me/Kara.

This second playthrough proved to be much more substantial, but it also highlighted some of the game’s bigger problems. The combat feels kind of disjointed, for example, especially when you’re armed only with a knife. It gets better the further in you get (since your weapons improve, obviously), but it’s pretty rough at first. Sailing is also a chore, since as soon as you can add a sail to your boat, you can sometimes go faster than you can when you’re only rowing, but your ability to steer will become much more of a crapshoot.

The biggest problem with Windbound, though, is that it’s incredibly repetitive. You go to an island, you take all the resources you can, and then you move on to the next one. Even though you’re allegedly uncovering some great mystery, it feels like you’re doing the same actions over and over and over again — which may be true to how you survive in real life, but it’s pretty tedious here. I’ll also give another mention here to the sailing, since it may be the most tedious part of the game. The islands aren’t close together, and the wind is pretty variable in its strength and direction, so you spend a lot of time drifting along with the current, aiming for an island far in the horizon. In theory it could be relaxing, but most of the time I just found it boring.

In this respect, Windbound feels a lot — and I mean a lot — like Summer in Mara, another game from earlier this summer that gave off Zelda vibes initially, before its release revealed it was a whole lot of nothing. To be fair, Windbound looks substantially better, and it’s not plagued with technical issues dragging it down.

But simply being pretty and functional isn’t enough to make Windbound any more interesting. It’s built around a survival gameplay loop that’s not particularly deep or fun. It may be great if you enjoy sailing, but beyond that, there’s not a whole lot here.

Deep Silver provided us with a Windbound PS4 code for review purposes.

Grade: C+