I challenged Xes recently to write a review for a game he loves without sounding completely biased.  I mention this because it’s the same challenge I’m going to have writing this.  So let me start by saying A Valley Without Wind is perhaps the greatest achievement in modern gaming…

(Jeff, you may want to throttle it back a tad – Finners)

A Valley Without Wind (AVWW) is difficult to define.  At it’s heart, it’s a metroid-vania style game that encourages exploration of a vast, varied world.  It’s also has elements of RPGs in that spells are learned, attributes are upgraded, and enemies scale with each tier of spells learned.  It’s also features permadeath (which can be alarmingly frequent for the uninitiated), so it is also a roguelike.  In AVWW, players control glyphbearers, magic-users who must face enemies and the elements in order to help their settlements survive and thrive after the shattering of reality and the dawn of a new ice age.  Only the glyphbearers chosen by the enigmatic Ilari have the power to save the world and push back the storms threatening all of Environ.

Arcen Games has gone above and beyond in making this game accessible to gamers of all abilities and skill levels.  While most games have a single “difficulty” switch, AVWW allows control over the difficulty of the combat and of the platforming elements individually, with 5 degrees of difficulty for each.  I applaud a company that understands not just the hardcore want to play games like this, and that good games should be enjoyed by everyone, no matter their physical ability to make a jump or fight a creature.

AVWW is REALLY pretty to look at.  While the glyphbearer model may seem a tad stark (reminding me of characters from Tron for some reason), the environments and enemies are wondrous.  I can’t really do the visuals justice here- just check out the screen shots.

Controls are solid with a mouse and keyboard.  Controllers are supported, but I didn’t test one.  Powers are easily remapped to hotkeys (and mouse buttons), allowing access to the best spell for the situation quickly.  If I have any complaints at all about the controls, it may be that there are TOO many spells, and knowing which one to use when (and either switching powers or trying to aim while pressing the correct hotkey) takes getting used to.  Fortunately, with the changeable difficulty levels, making a mistake may not be as costly as it could.  Also, I wish the minimap was a bit easier to use, especially when trying to make use of warp gates (which allow for fast travel across great distances).

There’s only one other design decision I find myself questioning.  I understand the game is supposed to be more of a roguelike in terms of exploration and experimentation.  Since death can come quickly (and frequently), it makes more sense to have the glyphbearers seem more generic.  However, I just don’t feel any sort of attachment to my avatar while exploring, and I’m a gamer who likes to care about the character under my control.  I suppose I’m supposed to be more enamored with the WORLD rather than the glyphbearer- I just wish each individual glyphbearer felt like more than just a bunch of statistics.

Upgrades and supplies are plentiful, and that may be overwhelming for the first time player-  Fortunately there are many types of help guides scattered throughout the game, both in the form of gravestones and markers documenting previous travelers’ plights, and a comprehensive encyclopedia a button click away.

Then there’s the soundtrack-  Oh, that soundtrack.  Pablo Vega has outdone himself with AVWW’s score.  He has created an instantly memorable (and hum-able) overture- reminiscent of the iconic tracks Nintendo featured in Zelda, Mario, Metroid, and the like.  The combination of chip-tune and orchestral instrumentation creates something new and different while paying homage to those who came before.  I caught myself stopping to just listen to music when I should have been exploring (another reason to check every nook and cranny in AVWW – to hear all of the tunes!)  There have only ever been TWO videogame soundtracks I wanted added to my music library- AVWW’s and Bastion’s.

People have described AVWW as “the next Terraria.”  I couldn’t disagree more-  I had trouble getting into Terraria.   I was impressed with it, but I never felt drawn into the world.  AVWW pulled me in from the beginning and hasn’t let go.  I can’t remember the last time I was so caught up in a virtual environment.

A Valley Without Wind is simply a joy to play, with stunning visuals, an interesting and varied world to explore, and an amazing soundtrack.  I’m actually surprised if you’ve made it to this point in the review without purchasing it already.  Highest recommendation.