Starting your article with a statement such as “I usually don’t play games of the XY genre, but…” is considered to be bad form among us games writing folk. It’s certainly true: if you are not interested in a specific genre, chances are you’re neither motivated nor qualified enough to pass judgement on that particular subset of gaming. So, for everyone’s sake, you should probably hand that article over to someone who will start with a less problematic opening paragraph.
That being said, I do feel that such statements are valid if there’s a very specific point you are trying to make, and this is what’s happening right now. You see, I usually don’t care too much for what I would describe as Minecraft-likes. You know the ones: block building games, digital Lego for grownups, sandboxes. I like my video games to have some sort of goal; if I want to engage in free-flowing creativity, I’ll just join my son in playing with his real LEGO blocks. I’m aware that not everyone has those at their disposal, but for me this is a valid reason to usually avoid virtual block building. And this is where the “but” comes into play.
I am intrigued by Windborne, that curious mixture of Minecraft, Dwarf Fortress, and Animal Crossing, which is currently in the alpha phase of development. Developed by Hidden Path Entertainment alongside their upcoming sequel to Defense Grid, this is one ambitious game to watch out for. Curiously, both games share the same engine despite belonging to completely different genres. Windborne makes some heavy use of voxels in order to make its world appear not too blocky. You’ll also be given the ability of molding the terrain to be more smooth, which sounds perfect to someone like me who doesn’t appreciate Minecraft’s quadrangular aesthetics.
Of course there are the genre standards of mining and building. However, harvesting blocks is a lot easier in Windborne. A magic-based system allows for fast mining and resource grabbing: instead of struggling with degradable pickaxes and other equipment, you’ll just point at stuff and extract whatever you need with magic. The resources will then be floating in little spheres you can just walk over to pick them up. I really like this hassle-free method of resource collection. It’s noticeably faster and allows you to focus on the game’s other, more interesting aspects.
As far as building is concerned, Hidden Path are trying to streamline this experience as well. You’ll always have access to a handy crafting guide, so there’s little need for consulting outside sources or rely on wild experimentation. Of course, what you’ll do with the crafted materials and objects requires some creativity on your part. It’s not like ready-made stuff will be handed to you on a silver platter. That being said, there are a few templates in your crafting guide that allow you to build some impressive things, such as huge dragon statues, as soon as you find the required materials. The guide is not fully implemented yet, but it’s safe to say that if Hidden Path find the right mixture of accessibility and experimentation, a lot of people might pick up Windborne for the crafting alone. However, there is much more to the game.
Each player has their own, procedurally generated, floating island. Other islands will float by, and those might have other resources, secrets, or parts of the overall story. You’ll traverse those islands via dragons. Windborne’s world used to be ruled by four mighty dragons, and your goal – or rather one of your goals – is to bring those beings back into existence. Every island you visit will have at least one dragon egg hidden on it. If you find them, you can start breeding and even crossing dragons, which will probably open up a whole new meta-game. Speaking of which: you’re not the only inhabitant of Windborne’s world. Instead, you’ll encounter a civilization of little pixie-like beings called the Jin. Through your actions, you can help build up and shape this budding society. Some Jin will offer you quests, others will just appreciate if you build them new homes. Not much is known about this part of the game yet, but if Hidden Path really pull of an experience akin to Animal Crossing, Windborne could sell like hotcakes.
Exploring, crafting, building, and learning will be the game’s four – excuse the pun – building blocks. However, Windborne’s world isn’t necessarily peaceful. There will be combat and other dangers, but players can decide how much they want to deal with that aspect of the game. For example, there’s multiplayer, where you can try to invade and rob them of their goods. The catch is that you’ll only be attacking a copy of those islands, so that the originals remain safe and untouched. This sounds a bit like the system employed in Ubisoft’s The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot, except that the latter doesn’t have anything else to it in terms of game mechanics. Windborne will allow you to engage in multiplayer pillaging as part of a much larger experience. Of course, you’ll also be able to visit another player’s island and engage in peaceful trading, sightseeing or building together.
So there you have it: a lot of features, most of which still await implementation. So far, only resource collection and parts of the crafting system are functional in the current alpha build. With such an ambitious project one has to wonder if at least some of the planned elements won’t make it into the final release. However, I’m confident that Hidden Path will somehow pull that off, considering they have a pretty amazing track record. The current build certainly plays well enough, and tinkering around even without any greater purpose is fun. Take it from someone who doesn’t get along with Minecraft-likes! If you don’t believe me, the game should be released on Steam’s Early Access soon, so you can try it out for yourself. If this made you curious, you should hop over to Youtube and take a look at the first set of video tutorials, which cover the basics of Windborne.
Like I said, I usually don’t care too much for Minecraft-likes, but oh, I am excited to see where Hidden Path Entertainment is going with Windborne.