Well, E3 came and went.
Everyone did their usual schtick, it was as predictable as ever. Nintendo supposedly saved the conference with a Breath of The Wild sequel, Bethesda did their usual hokey act with an unbearably thin line-up. Devolver were unfunny once again, and Xbox came with their usual confidence and non-stop barrage of game trailers. To stay on Xbox for a moment however, there was no mention of a new Fable, which was rumored for months beforehand. Ah well, at least we have games like Windscape to fill the hole it left behind.
This is the err… The debut? The newest title? It’s a new game from German developer Magic Sandbox, who… I think is a one-person team, by the name of Dennis Witte? He launched Windscape in Steam Early Access last year, and after various bits of feedback, the full version released with publishing by Headup Games, a German company known for all sorts of oddities behind their belt. The Bridge Constructor titles, Earth Atlantis, Slime-San— Y’know, those types of oddities under their belt.
You play as… damn, I think her name’s Tia? Her name is only uttered once, as far as I’m aware, by someone who isn’t even related to her. Whatever her name is, she’s been given an insurmountable fetch quest to achieve, which inexplicably turns into a journey to save the world halfway through, and honestly, I couldn’t tell you when the switch-up happened. The islands of the world are all floating and breaking apart from one another, and Tia is somehow going to be the one to stop all of this.
Y’know what Windscape is immediately reminiscent of? Fable. Ho-yes, that mention in the opening paragraph wasn’t just for kicks, this game feels like it was cut from the same cloth that Peter Molyneux himself declared would be the comfiest cloth in the world. Everything from Lionhead’s mutilated baby is present: the vibrant life attempted in each town, an unbelievably strong Germanic influence (In this case, that’s intentional), and sloppy combat.
In truth, after reading a short interview about the developer (AKA the only piece of information outside of a press kit I could actually verify), it turns out that Dennis Witte is inspired more by The Legend of Zelda and Secret of Mana. He says that it’s exceptionally easy to lose yourself in a world of wonder crafted like the two examples above, which is why he chose to make Windscape a hand-crafted world, as opposed to a procedurally-generated one.
Once you read into the small interview, which inexplicably derails into an on-the-spot evaluation of loot boxes and the PS5, you immediately realize what kind of game Windscape is trying to be: A non-RPG. With the goal of it not being a stats-driven experience, Witte has attempted to create this meeting of the minds between a peaceful journey through unkempt lands, and all out warfare between different factions.
The result? Tepid failure.
I apologize for breaking the facade so suddenly, but the reality of it is that Windscape fails at both being escapism from your everyday life and an immersive experience. Let the records show that it didn’t all start off bad however. In fact, I dare say that with a little bit more polish, the intro of Windscape could’ve been a perfect ease into the world of… umm…
The whole game has this air of feeling unfinished about it. The admittedly wondeful art style throws you for a loop, as beginning areas show off this child-like fairytale book style to them, but as you dig deeper, it looks un-rendered, lacking in bite or atmosphere, especially in the later levels. Beyond other glaring overlooked issues, like the ability for it to rain inside buildings with no visible holes, this visual design quickly wears off its charm.
It would help if this world actually had any sort of world-building put into it, but Witte expects you to simply accept that there are walking birds that chill with other humans. Witte expects you to simply accept that these islands were floating from the get-go, without any explanation as to how it happened, or why Ida and co. exist in this space in the first place. Yeah, we know the islands are breaking apart, but how did they get there in the first place?
There is not a single element of the world that is given further clarification and dimensions via even the simplest of audio logs. The only thing in the entire game which is given even an iota of background is the quest you’re given halfway through the game to save the world, which is by complete accident.
You’re never not an errand girl in this, you never attain the respect of your peers or handlers, and are instead seen as a farm girl, sent to grab groceries. Even then, that would’ve been fine if there was something, anything in the world that would provide a more concise and enthralling experience, but this combat… Jesus wept, this combat.
It’s your typical first-person Elder Scrolls-like affair, with no option for third person. You swing a sword, you block with shields, and you can use magic spells that are either fire or ice. However, when it comes to attacking, all of the power you put out relies on how long you keep the attack charged. This forces you into a bait-and-switch ordeal with the enemies, who never really charge their attacks, nor do they adhere to the same rules as you.
While charging an attack, your movement is reduced to a mere crawl, leaving you at the mercy of your enemies until your swing is fully charged. Once you release the trigger and swing your weapon, then you suddenly lurch forward, and if you’re holding your sticks forward in order to keep close to your enemy, then you might completely miss your mark. This kind of timed and prepared combat doesn’t really work well with such janky and awful movement, and to be honest, it would also work better with competent A.I.
They will never not run to you and attack. They will never not shoot. They will relentlessly pursue you and initiate offensive attacks until either you or they have died. The best tactic– the only tactic that you should use– is a circle strafe around the enemy while using your weakest light attacks. You’ll be dealing minimal damage, but as time goes by, enemies will become slower, and more susceptible for the ol’ razzle-dazzle of slow circle strafing.
Even eight hours in, the game will continue with this tedious combat, but sometimes set in some really under-designed dungeons. You run around straight corridors which mostly result in uneventful dead ends, you sometimes flick three or more switches up or down, which may lead to more switches, and if you’re lucky, you’ll fight a boss which is just a larger enemy from before. Sign. Me. Up.
Everything is just so painfully pedestrian, so watered down and diluted, no sense of accomplishment ever breaches your adventure. You simply walk through uneventful hallways, dodging fights and abusing the piss-poor jumping glitches, and bam, you get your quest item. You bring it back to your handler, and what do you get? A waypoint leading to another item you need to get.
Windscape is an immensely disappointing game, but one thing I will not take away from it, despite how overplayed and boring gets later, is its visual style. Sure, it makes every NPC look like they have plastic googly eyes glued to their heads, but it’s this weird Germanic folklore feel that emanates from every crease and pore of this game.
From the warm tunes that play during the overworld that usually get abruptly cut off because a bee noticed your hairline, to the seemingly randomly placed buildings cropping up against cliffs and rocks. It’s homely, even if it all looks kinda gross after a while, but everything else? Fuh’ged’abou’dit.
Whatever inspirations came to Witte whilst developing this are lost underneath a murky water of unfinished intentions. Journeys to new lands lack any sort of wonder or awe, the journey to and from various places is a literal silent walk with nothing happening. You can’t even revel in the atmosphere, because half of the time, the music takes a backseat to unrendered background and the deathly silence.
In the end, Windscape was an amateur exercise in how to make the most barebones and unfinished RPG out there. The combat is miserable, the lack of heroism felt is painful, and a decent visual style and aesthetic can’t be enough to carry you throughout your ten-hour adventure in these dull, dull lands.
This Review of Windscape was based upon the Xbox One version of the game. A review copy was provided.
The game looks nice... and that's about it. Besides that, the game feels truly amateur and honestly unfinished, giving you no reason to feel proud of your work within the game. The combat is also dreadful.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.