A Valley Without Wind 2 is a game I don’t quite understand. Before giving it a shot I discovered from the Steam Store page that it is a blend of the “best qualities of old-school platform-shooters and turn-based strategy games,” to which I had no response. I love the idea of mushing genres together and seeing what results, and AVWW2 (one of the ugliest acronyms I’ve ever seen) certainly got me confused through this description, but in actuality it’s pretty clear. There’s the turn-based meta-game where players select where to send their character, then the actual platform shooter gameplay that occurs within each turn. One of them is definitely more fun than the other, but in each form I still find it hard to understand what I’m doing. Nonetheless, they work well together for those strategically-inclined gamers that want to put on their action boots for a bit. I’m not sure it works the other way around.
As a hero who has just successfully tricked the evidently evil nemesis (his name is Demonaica, so he must be a bit of a badass) into literally handing over a crystal that grants immortality in the form of being able to be brought back to life as many times as necessary (soon revealed to be a lot), players are shown a large tiled board-game-style world map and dictated in significant detail the copious options for the current move. Should you order fellow survivors to build a clinic at (-2,0) or send them to destroy obstacles (which you can’t destroy yourself… for some reason) at (4, -3) before embarking yourself into a desert-tile at (-3, 0)? Those co-ordinates are made up, by the way. As if I can recall actual co-ordinates, but you get the idea. You command a small rebel force against demonic monsters controlled by the demonic overlord Demonaica himself.
Through the tutorial dialogue the protagonist expresses a whole lot of confusion at what he/she is instructed to do (a nice touch of genuine humour on the part of Arcen Games), but the responding explanations are all far too detailed. When the protagonist goes on to say “Oh, I get it now”, I’m left to say “Hey, hey, he’s not speaking for the both of us. What the shit is going on?” Being told constantly to refer to the “Strategic Advisor” feels like a cop-out that never becomes not-annoying, especially since this “advisor” doesn’t provide any usefully dynamic advice for the current situation, just generic explanations of game mechanics, essentially operating as a manual. The player is bogged down by a constant flow of information which should have been introduced in a clearer and more thoughtful way. The tutorial of AVWW2 is that school teacher that refuses to engage her students, choosing instead to dish about a thick wad of handouts while she marks her other class’ homework and expects them to understand every word by the start of next period… I’m still hurting from high school.
The 16-bit visual style works well for the old-fashioned platform-shooter side of AVWW2, though this aspect of the gameplay is still lacking. Levels are design to encourage a fast pace, requiring agility and projectile-avoiding for your hero to survive, but the movement and aiming controls don’t go well together. Players have to choose whether they stand still and spam A, S and/or D to actually damage enemies or jump around and pray to whatever anti-Demonaica deity there may be that one of their attacks hits something. The most intuitive choice is to opt out and sprint through the entire level, stopping only to pursue an abandoned house or cave in pursuit of underwhelming treasure. Killing bad guys gives no real benefit, so you may as well just skip that bit and get to the end of the level.
There really is just a bit too much of everything in AVWW2. A brief look at the achievements list will satiate any strange hunger for overwhelming confusion, with over 200 achievements that suggest there are 50 possible mage classes to play as and 50 levels of equipment (more conventional RPGs tend to have closer to… like.. seven.) and with two difficulty-settings per game (one for the strategic elements consisting of five options and one for the platform-shooter side consisting of seven options–that’s 35 distinct difficulty settings), there’s just too much. From memory I commented in my review of Crysis 3 that the number of difficulties was too damn high, but I feel I was mistaken. AVWW2 is now absolutely the go-to case for most unnecessarily high number of difficulties. Variety is the spice of life, sure, but when there are so many options without clear parameters and distinction between any of them, this spice ages and loses its flavour, smell and colour, and ultimately you’re left with fifty shades of grey. And who wants that?
A Valley Without Wind 2. It’s ambitious, genre-mushing and will definitely appeal to even those who were unimpressed by its predecessor. With a more polished and smooth experience, as well as the introduction of the strategy mode giving the game a much needed sense of direction, this sequel is a step in on the right path, but it’s still not quite a leap.
What you should take from this review is that this game is like your high school chemistry teacher mixed with 50 Shades of Grey. That’s something I really don’t want to think about, so we should finish up here.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of A Valley Without Wind 2 by Arcen Games.