Editor’s Note – 5/14/15: The game has undergone a makeover since 2012. To see the game as it stands now, go check out THIS VIDEO and the rest of the videos after it in that series.
My very first naval combat game was “Pirates!” for the NES, I remember it well. Nothing was more satisfying than setting a course with the wind and watching your Sloop shoot holes into the enemy ship. Having played “Sid Meier’s Pirates!” and wanting more, I came across “Windward”, which promised fast-paced naval action…something I’ve been yearning for as of late. I found myself once again behind the wheel, ready to ruin someone’s day with a well-timed broadside. Before we begin sailing the high seas, I’d like to thank Michael Lyashenko for providing me with a free preview copy. It’s important to note that this game is currently in the Beta, which means that the game is not finished yet. Any features you may see in this article are subject to change.
When starting up “Windward”, you’ll be prompted to register an account. This involves setting up a username, password, and an email account which you’ll have to verify before you can get the ball rolling. It only took a minute as the verification email came almost instantaneously, which is a plus in my book. I hate waiting hours for things that should only take seconds in today’s age. After that, you can click the upper left corner of the screen to enter your CD key. You can play for free by skipping this step, but you’ll be limited to having only one ship.
This particular screen also happens to be the main menu, where you’ll be organizing your ships and loadouts. Before we get into that, it’s important to briefly touch on the game settings menu. You’ll be able to adjust visual and sound quality levels as well as choose your control scheme. However, changing keybinds is only possible via a pop-up menu that appears before the game launches. The controls were fairly simple and I chose and keyboard scheme that allowed me to move the ship with the arrow keys and activate abilities with my mouse.
On the left side of the main menu you’ll be able to create ships, and I’m glad to see that there are so many slots available to experiment with different “profiles.” If my eleven year old wants to have his own ship, there’d be plenty of room to oblige him. At first, you’ll have access to a Brigantine, Sloop, Frigate, and Schooner. Each of them are defined as either small, medium, or large, and are generally suited to fill a specific role or behave a particular way to compliment their strengths. The Ship of the Line and Brig of War classes are locked until certain achievements are met, though the game is cryptic about how to unlock them. When attempting to create them, you’ll get a message saying to “try xxx level with a xxx ship…etc.” while leaving out the specifics.
On the right side of the main menu you’ll be able to access your ship’s inventory, your talent tree, play the tutorial, participate in single and multiplayer modes, and delete your ship. The inventory screen is two-fold, allowing you to see what you currently have equipped versus what you have in storage. There is a vault tab that allows you to save items for other ships…sort of an account wide chest of sorts that is accessible by all of your profiles. As you play the game, you’ll loot various whites, greens, blues, and etc, the color of which indicates rarity similar to MMORPGs. You can swap out equipment and see what their stats are before changing them up, though I would have liked a side by side auto-comparison rather than being forced to swap them out and look at stats manually.
There is a leveling system in play, and leveling up provides you with talent points that you can spend in your talent tree. The tree is split into offensive and defensive branches, and you’ll have the ability to reset your points as you see fit. The leveling system also plays an important part in regards to loot, as some loot is only accessible at certain levels (or by certain ship classes). I personally like the addition of the talent tree as it allows me to play around with various stats and strategies.
When it comes time to actually play, you’ll be given a choice of various maps that contain capture the flag, free for all, co-op, and team objective modes. You’ll pick a mission, then be prompted to choose what team you’d like to be on. From there, you’ll see your abilities on the bottom of the screen, your map in the upper right, your wind speed/direction indicator in the lower right, individual / team progress bars along the top, and various menu options on the upper left.
Gameplay is smooth and satisfying. You’ll enjoy swooping in and shooting your cannons at enemy ships, though it took me a while to get used to how that all worked. Your guns seem to auto-fire, though you can hold your fire manually by clicking and holding on the “The Good Stuff” talent / button and letting go when you’re ready to fire. I didn’t seem to have much control over who I fired at, either. As you make kills, you’ll see stars added above your ship, though I’m not sure what they actually do. While the game doesn’t indicate it, I’m assuming that they increase the capabilities of your ship as sort of a motivator to keep your ship alive. You can repair your ship’s sails by coming to a halt out of combat, but repairing your hull requires that you stop near a harbor.
The game’s scoring system is still a bit of a mystery to me. Despite a killing blow count of eighteen and a death count of two, I ended up in seventh place out of eight. The AI ships had died considerably more than I had, but had all inflicted more damage. I concluded that damage done was the main deciding factor, and I would honestly like to see some sort of reward for smart and safe play. An 18/2 kill/death ratio should count for something. When I shifted tactics and drove my ship in between two others, rocking them both with broadsides, I saw my rank climb. However, I died considerably more than I would have liked.
Overall, I found the game to be a lot of fun. I do think there is room for improvement, mainly along the lines of educating the user on what all of the different game mechanics are and how they function. The tutorial covers the basics, but I’d like to see some sort of advanced tutorial that educates the player on how best to position oneself in combat, what the stars above the ships actually do, and so on. I would also like to see a difficulty slider, as the AI seems to get the better of me despite my best attempts. Besides that, the game has a lot of features that I find to be addicting. The talent tree and leveling system encourages me to keep playing to make my ship more powerful, while the “loot” and “gear” allows me to customize my ship the way I’d like. The ease of transferring items in the vault is a nice touch. With a little more work, this game has the potential to make it big. In the meantime, I still recommend giving it a try as it has plenty to offer, even in its current state. Is it worth the $9.99? In my opinion, yes. I’m looking forward to seeing what new features will be added between now and the official release.
You can learn more about and purchase “Windward” by visiting the following websites:
You can help bring the game to Steam by voting for it on its Greenlight page, here:
You can check out play sessions here: