Genres mean nothing to A Valley Without Wind. Over the last few months, Arcen Games' upcoming epic has shrugged off any attempts at pigeonholing; gleefully transcending, blending and merging the traditional notions of what a game can be classified as. What, in fact, a game can do. However, with the beta in full swing, we've finally been able to get involved and try to make sense of it.
If you're desperate for a quick soundbite, A Valley Without Wind is a procedurally generated free-roaming side-scrolling platforming strategic role-playing survival simulation. A PGFRPSRPSS if you will. But more importantly, it's an incredible adventure and an unprecedented Indie masterpiece in the making. It's time to bite the bullet and take a look at exactly what this exciting project is all about.
A Valley Without Wind is set in the year 888, where humanity has been brought to the edge of extinction and technological doldrums by a cataclysmic ice age. The world of Environ is a horrendously inhospitable place filled with savage horrors, but a few heroic adventurers are brave enough to venture out of the tiny pockets of civilisation in order to pillage the ruins of an ancient culture. You, naturally, are one of these happy few - and after choosing a character (differing only in appearance and slight statistical deviations), the world procedurally generates and thrusts you into the action.
After taking a couple of minutes to create some rudimentary spells to protect themselves (more on that later), players set out from their starting settlement into a vast overworld that can be explored from an isometric perspective. Environ is split into various sectors graded by difficulty, and once you've chosen an area to explore, the perspective shifts into side-scrolling 2D platformer. Movement and attacks are fast, slick and furious, pitting players against a huge range of undead, mechanised and magical enemies. Battles hinge around magic (drawing on an MP gauge that needs to be refilled) - including a dizzying array of elemental damage projectiles, protective wards and environmental effects such as creating light sources. Simple clicks and keyboard prompts are all you need, making the combat exceptionally accessible to anyone with a little loot grinding experience.
You'll definitely need all the light sources you can muster because the randomly-generated levels are littered with ancient ruins that you'll want to delve through - resembling a claustrophobic exploration-based platformer a la Castlevania. Enormous bosses lurk deep within these dark demesnes, along with huge amounts of resources, magic, literature and technology. Getting your hands on this loot is a matter of life and death, because it's the key to the incredibly deep crafting systems that underpin the whole shebang.
As mentioned, you'll be able to craft an enormous range of personal spells, one-use scrolls and construction elements which are unlocked by finding profession books scattered throughout ancient libraries and vaults. Each of these then need to be individually made using collected resources such as wood (from trees, natch), magical components and rare fluxes that can only be found in difficult-to-reach locations. Though there's an intruiging storyline to embark upon, the core of the experience is free-roaming exploration and discovering the new, non-linear opportunities and revelations that hide behind each new doorway.
But A Valley Without Wind isn't just about exploration and improvement on a personal level. You're charged with guiding, leading and defending human civilization, which improves as you gain experience. It's a fragile existence as enemies will soon attempt to ravage and destroy your strongholds as you explore the world. A strategic turn-based strategy element suddenly comes into play, which gels surprisingly between the real-time platforming sections. It's infinitely deep, and the mix of gameplay styles reward players for each and every extra minute they invest.
This might all sound a bit overwhelming... and that's because it absolutely is. In-game tutorials are incredibly brief and unhelpful, meaning that understanding each individual gameplay mechanic takes a lot longer than it should. Arcen Games' Chris Park has published an exceptionally useful FAQ, but here's hoping that the full game will ship with a comprehensive manual. At least the array of difficulty settings allow players to tweak the experience to their personal tastes.
A Valley Without Wind is also absolutely enormous. I've logged countless hours into the beta... and yet I have absolutely no idea how big the overworld map is. I haven't reached an edge yet. And with each sector offering over an hour of exploration, this could well be one of the biggest games of 2012. In any sense of the phrase. Arcen Games still has a few kinks to iron out - and frankly, being able to name and customise our own characters would be nice - but we simply can't wait for this one. Once again, the Indie development scene is innovating where no-one else can.