Windforge Review: 2.5 dimensions of problems
While crafting systems have been in games for decades, they’ve truly gained prominence in recent years with the popularity of open worlds and the evolution of hardware. From top-down action titles to high-fantasy RPGs to the indie flood, it seems every “chosen one” and dungeon delver is also looking to ply their trade. The modern distinction is that, rather simply polish and repair gear, players are now able to destroy and reimagine the world itself a la Terraria and Minecraft. It is in this growing sea of sandbox crafting that Windforge comes in, workbenches primed and steampunk machines chugging.
It starts out strong; you get dessert first. A swashbuckling adventurer of your own design—made through an incredibly limited but ultimately unimportant character creator—you set out with your airship to explore countless islands, in search of a fabled energy source. The world runs on whale oil—a point made almost satirical by how bluntly it’s stated—but is running out, and every settler and blacksmith with an air- or seaworthy vessel is after an ancient substitute for it, assuming they can sneak by a few laws for some reason prohibiting the research of an energy source that would save all mankind. However, it’s only after wading through clear potential and remarkably enjoyable music that you realize that your airship’s balloon isn’t the only thing full of hot air. (Though in retrospect, that whole “you’re not allowed to save the world” plot-hole would put even Dr. Robotnik’s schemes to shame.)
"No, impoverished citizens, you cannot improve your way of life and the world's through exploration! And no, this is not ham-fisted conflict!"
From the moment you leave your questionably constructed airship, things start falling. Like many who attempt it, Windforge struggles with the concept of two-and-then-some dimensions and is incoherent as a result. Movement is incredibly unreliable and consistently comes up slippery: so much as tapping A or D will send you flying, although the running animation doesn’t reflect the speed at which you’re moving. Navigating different vertical levels suffers a similar fate and is made nigh-on impossible by a combination of the ice slippers your character apparently wears and a downright unpredictable jump mechanic: for every seemingly negotiable platform you can’t jump above, there’s another that you inexplicably can’t fall through.
And with a crackpot team of fundamental mechanics driving the thing, you know combat is a wreck. Enemies have coated their feet in butter as well but are also plagued by broken animations and a lack of consideration for the dimension they exist in. Windforge is certainly aptly named, if nothing else: every enemy in sight seems to come with a built-in jetpack. Even the wolves fly! And as we all know, flying wolves can only exacerbate the problem of hitboxes so wonky that I felt compelled to ignore the firearms of the game for fear of shooting my own toes off rather than the aerodynamically gifted canine fluttering 30 feet away from me. This issue is made laughable by the fact that scenery—trees, bushes—things that absolutely pepper the repetitive and poorly textured landscape—have hitboxes all their own, no-doubt due to the fact that you can break everything with everything, and often jump unwanted into combat. You haven’t lived until you’ve “fought” a drake for 90 seconds only to realize that you’ve been shooting a tree.
I imagine hitting the broad side of a whale would be somewhat easier, but still difficult.
Ironically, though, it’s only when crafting and resource gathering—what should be the core of any creation-centric game—are introduced that the slope becomes truly slippery. The standard upgrade process is back: ores are plentiful, recipes are all but endless, and your gear is just begging to be made shinier. Collect, refine, create; rinse and repeat. However, Windforge also makes full use of its airships and is chock-full of engines and other aeronautical doodads that bring the crafting beyond just chest plates and furnaces. Unfortunately, the depth of building your own ship is hidden behind an insurmountable wall of clumsy design that all too often sends the player stumbling forward without actually caring about progression, or falling backward with no say in the matter.
There’s a certain art to games like Terraria and Minecraft, a balance between allowing agency and preventing tyranny. Stockpiling a certain ore or creating a more powerful tool has to be rewarding, and to the extent that remaining entertaining will allow it, difficult. It’s one thing to be able to reshape the world around you, but another to be able to instantaneously delete everything you see from the get-go.
Take a guess as to where Windforge falls.
The second you step outside, you’re already brandishing a jackhammer that eats through everything with ease. That tree? Destroyed with a single click. That temple? It’s just 30 seconds of jackhammering away from being in your inventory, reluctantly stuffed into a cumbersome inventory system. There’s something cathartic about whacking away at a tree for a few seconds to attain any decent sum of lumber, and having it all at your fingertips feels disjunctive and robs Windforge of any real drive. Worse still, the jackhammer itself is a chore to use. There’s a reticle on the thing, sure, but it’s as beneficial as your glass slippers; mining the blocks you want—or more accurately, the strangely stretched 2.5D slabs of earth you want—is next to impossible and invariably leads to flailing the jackhammer about hoping mindless destruction will net you the iron or copper you’re after.
If only half as much effort went into everything else.
Then there’s the ugliness of the game. The autosave system is completely bugged and will crash your game more often than it loads it, assuming you’re lucky enough to save at all. The fact that those saves are actually displayed as .bin files is just lazy and cements the fact that the system is woefully unfinished. The default controls could only be made more unintuitive if you put a plank of wood over your keyboard and cannot be remapped to your liking; similarly, the first three slots of your hot-bar are permanently assigned.
Continuing the list of technical failings: I was randomly launched into space on more than one occasion; the grappling mechanic is both touchy and broken, leaving your ability to scale a mountain up to whether or not the jump command will cooperate; building platforms to reach higher ores and blocks is an absolute nightmare, requiring a bulky stand of material to reach even low ceilings; and navigating unexplored areas is done through an awkward dissolving of terrain that smacks more of half-assed coding than adventuring.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, Windforge is a mess. The game’s only redeeming quality is buried under so many obvious and unforgivable technical oversights that it’s not even worth pursuing. Between game-breaking mechanics and game-ending bugs, there are plenty of reasons to spend your time with one of the many better examples of sandbox crafting.