Ocean breezes, gorgeous beaches, and a shiny new ship, it's time for some adventure! Indie action adventure RPG Windward, by Tasharen Entertainment, is a wide open sailing simulation game that lets you explore, plunder, and trade on the open sea alone or with friends. You can see the inspiration the developer got from Sid Meier's Pirates!, though Windward is not set in the real world, but one that can be different every time you play. Strike fear in the hearts of your enemies as you sail by, or command respect by collecting great piles of treasure; the world is yours for the taking. Choose a faction and start sailing! Find tasks or goods to ferry at friendly towns. At first, this is a breeze, but as you move further from home, pirates become a problem. Completing quests or capturing towns for your faction ups your reputation, which lowers the cost of items and lets you overhear better rumors in town. You also level up, which allows you to better your fighting skills. Towns themselves also level up, offering for sale better items and upgrades for your ship, or even a new ship altogether.
The game is beautiful, with a lovely blue ocean rendered at various depths, many different climates with different trees, and birds and high clouds in the sky above all set to a dandy soundtrack. Use the mouse or the keyboard to control your ship and to fight, and hit the [spacebar] to drop anchor and help you slow down more quickly. The sailing and battle mechanics are solid, and though the wind does affect you somewhat, you're never stuck dead in the water for lack of a breeze. Battle consists mostly of circling ships, keeping them in range so you can fire, while avoiding your own destruction. Basic cannons auto-fire, and there are also special abilities that you trigger yourself, such as trying to entangle enemy rigging to slow them down. Mobility can be a big plus, as you can literally sail circles around the enemy while taking little damage if you're fast enough. Speed can come at the cost of accuracy, so you have to balance your upgrades and ship type to suit yourself. Capturing cities is as simple as sitting close enough to one until the meter fills up. You can purchase guard towers while in dock and build them in strategic places to help defend your towns. You can repair your ship for free at any friendly port, or use salvaged wood to repair anywhere, as long as you're not in battle.
Available private instances narrow your goals, and are just perfect for playing with friends. You can work together to oust pirates from the area, or fight each other. In my short stint in multiplayer mode, I found the on-line community to be friendly and helpful, with a world so vast I couldn't hope to explore it all. Your ship is customizable, with the ability to change the pattern and color of your sail, as well as your hull. Windward's somewhat repetitive and relaxed gameplay won't appeal to everyone, especially if you're looking for a story or strategic battles. There's just not quite enough depth to it to keep you glued to the screen for hours at a time before things start feeling the same, but at the same time there's just enough to enjoy it as a way to relax and unwind as you complete tasks to save up for a better ship. Built to be a co-op game, it can be a lot more engaging playing with friends than by yourself, and a single player story mode would make a nice future expansion. Lovely and easy to pick up and play, Windward is a great game with lots of room to grow.
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