How would you feel if Contra and Terraria had a baby? Does it sound too ridiculous to exist? Maybe, but independent developer Snowed In Studios decided to tackle the concept head on. A successful Kickstarter campaign proved that there were others out there hungry for this type of crafting run and gun hybrid. Fans once again proved their excitement for the concept when it was upvoted to victory on Steam Greenlight. But how does Windforge stack up when not compared to its inspirations?
The minute you start the game it’s obvious that a ton of love went into the project. Players are introduced to the world with a story rather than simply being plopped into a location. In this realm the people have grown dependent on (flying) whales as an energy source. Through rampant killing of whales, the creatures have nearly gone extinct. As such, the search has begun for an alternative and less destructive source of energy. You may just have discovered it too.
Despite the hugely ecological tone Windforge is primarily focused on thrilling battles, harvesting resources, and crafting goods. The most basic thing you’ll need to get a handle on is crafting. The player starts off equipped with a very simple drill that can break through most objects. This is how you can grab resources such as wood, copper, and dirt. Of course, what’s the use of elements in their base states? Many resources can be brought back to a machine for refinement. From there, you can begin crafting mechanical objects such as steering wheels, powerful fans, and a cornucopia of other items. There’s also the opportunity to visit shopkeepers to stock up on goodies as well.
Crafting is a necessary skill as you won’t get far without it. A set of introductory tutorials get you started, but don’t stop there. As soon as the game lets you roam freely, it stops pulling its punches. You’ll find this out quickly when trying to simply navigate an airship to investigate a new location. These airships can be completely designed by the player, repaired on the fly, and have weaponry aboard. Even so, they are often huge and offer an excellent target to enemies. Without a fairly speedy and well-armed ship there’s little chance of staying afloat for very long.
How can you make your airship a powerhouse? Simply put, you have to put time and effort into making it that way. Gather up resources or buy from merchants and then begin decking the vessel out. The default ship design seems a bit unwieldy and could use a little tune up or complete renovation. One of the most entertaining features of the game is the freedom to build as you see fit. Breaking down existing blocks and objects is super easy thanks to a special wrench, as is sprucing up broken parts. The main issue with construction is that it can be hard to tell where exactly you’re targeting. Object placement also handles finicky at times, but you eventually learn to work with it.
Because of the initial difficulty, there is a lot of trial and error that players will have to go through to become skilled at Windforge. It does seem that this happens too suddenly though without giving people enough time to find their footing. This was apparent when my maiden voyage (and the dozen or so attempts afterwards) were frantic fights against impending death. When you’re alone in your ship that means you are the pilot as well as the mechanic and only line of defense. Utilizing mounted machine guns or other weaponry, you can fly the ship and shoot off enemies. Unfortunately, the range is limited which means you must take care to continually reposition your ship against moving enemies. It’s actually pretty cool until more baddies join the fray.
Once there are a few enemies coming at the ship it can be very hard to keep dodging all projectiles. Eventually, hits will land and the ship’s walls and components will take damage. Sometimes it’s not a huge deal but other times it breaks weapons, fans, or the balloon helping to support the entire rig. Fans or the balloon getting taken out require immediate attention because the second they fail you’ll be plummeting down to the depths of Windforge’s world. A repair wrench fixes things incredibly quickly but panicking players could still have a hard time handling the situation for the first few times.
Managing to pilot the ship as well as continuously administer repairs and fight off enemies is very difficult to do alone. Sure, you can grab a crew soon enough, but it sure is a cruel way to start the game off. Early game moments like these made me long for an online co-op mode. There isn’t one right now although Snowed In Studios is looking into the possibility for a future update. That’s not a guarantee, but it would definitely be a welcome addition. Of course, punishing difficulty is not a negative to everyone. Those who were excited by the game due to Contra name-dropping likely feast on challenges.
There are a lot of things about the game that are just plain cool. For one, the grappling gun is probably the best there’s ever been in a game. At any point you can shoot it off and latch onto a ceiling, tree, cliff, or whatever else seems fit to climb. The gun has a supremely long rope meaning you usually aren’t restricted by distance either. Players can even build up momentum by swinging while grappling, disengage the grappling hook, then quickly plant it elsewhere to move in other directions. It’s incredibly fun to mess around with and will likely save players on more than a few occasions.
The weirdest thing about Windforge is that it is full of potential but chips away at it due to its unpolished nature. Slightly unorthodox controls, menus with a bit more clicking required than necessary, and less than optimal building conditions tone down what could easily be a critically acclaimed experience. It is likely that the game will continue to see patches in the future and hopefully some of these bring the game up to the standard it deserves. For now, however, Windforge is weighed down by its unpolished nature.