While I was playing A Valley Without Wind, someone asked me what I was up to. Here's what I said:
"Well, it's a platformer. I mean, it's not, it's a roguelike. But totally a platformer. Really, it's a dungeon-crawler. It exists for exploration. Well, no, for upgrades. Actually, it's kind of an adventure game. Also there's mining. With magic. And I think I can build a town."
With so many elements pulled together from so many sources, A Valley Without Wind could be either a delicious stew or a horrible lumbering monster of a game. Happily, it's the former.
It is, most certainly, a 2D side-scrolling game with a pioneering attitude. Like many other games, A Valley Without Wind promises right from the start to keep throwing progressively harder challenges at you. But it clearly wants you to succeed, and gives you every possible tool and option to make that happen.
The basic premise is this: you are a hero in a place where there has been a cataclysm, fragmenting time and space. A slice of ancient ruins may lie right up against a slice of the far-flung future. An evil overlord is kicking about, the root of all trouble, and eventually, when you're powerful enough, you can take him down. Getting powerful enough is what will take most of your time.
Every thought of "I'll just give it five more minutes" turned into, "Wait, where did that last hour go?"
While many games that delight in killing off the player character also delight in being monstrously difficult to understand or master, this isn't one of them. (And A Valley Without Wind tells you right up front that your character's death is a matter of when, not if.) It's cheeky and informative, helpful almost to the point of overkill.
It's an incredibly complicated game in some ways, with constant prompts about what you should do and where you should be looking. But all of the information you need is at your fingertips. Maps display both the room you're currently exploring, as well as the dungeon or structure of which it is a part. You can see that the dungeon you're in has been 100% scouted (you've found all the rooms) but only 57% visited (there are bunches of areas you haven't covered, in those rooms). You're tipped off where valuable supplies are, as well as boss monsters.
It also provides guidance, rather than issuing demands. Under "Planning," rather than a dull or uninformative mission log that simply lists tasks, you find a broken out list of items and suggestions that make you more likely to survive, headed under "Things You Should Do." The Planning menu also provides "Big Honkin' Encyclopedia," for those times when you just really need to look something up.
The experience is clearly designed not only to be helpful and perky, but to be highly personal. This is meant to be a game that the player feels personal ownership over, a custom-tailored experience. And custom that experience will be: the maps are procedurally generated, meaning no two regions, dungeons, or continents are ever the exact same.
It's also incredibly dangerous for a player like me, who habitually ventures to the edge of every map and explores every available room. Here in Environ, the final map has no edges. There is always something else to collect and something else to build. Every thought of "I'll just give it five more minutes" turned into, "Wait, where did that last hour go?"
Ultimately, after close to four hours playing I still feel like I've only very barely scratched the merest surface of A Valley Without Wind. The more I played, the less I feel I know what to say about it. And the game, it seems, has me figured out entirely. When I selected "quit to operating system," the confirmation option was, "Yes, I should probably go eat or sleep or something." Yes, yes I should. But I just want to see where the bottom level of this building is...
A Valley Without Wind is available now on Steam and a number of other digital distribution platforms, or DRM-free through the developer's website.