Welcome to This Is Not A Review. In these articles we discuss general impressions, ideas and thoughts on any given game, but as the title implies, it’s not a review. Instead, it’s an exercise in offering a quick recommendation (or dismissal) after spending enough time to grasp the ideas and gameplay of a thing without necessarily playing it from A to Z.
The subject of this installment: Windscape, developed by Magic Sandbox and published by Headup Games.
I can’t recall the last game that left me as paralyzed for words as Windscape. It’s not that this is the dullest thing I’ve ever played – if I brought my Switch onto a plane and the rest of my library mysteriously vanished, sure, I could choke some of this down – but it openly channels several extremely popular titles, draining much of their depth and personality while adding little flourish of its own. Windscape is familiar to a fault.
The general hook is that it’s a first-person RPG à la The Elder Scrolls, but with the traditional role-playing elements replaced with Minecraft-style crafting. The dungeon structure takes some clear influence from the Zelda series, as does its cel-shaded visual style – there’s even a race of bird people who look almost identical to the Rito from Wind Waker.
So far so good, as those are all great games, but everything in Windscape feels toned down and simplified. There’s very little actual story, and despite the game’s stylized look, there’s no wit or charm to any of the dialogue. The characters in this universe simply tell me what I need to know in the driest possible terms.
That leaves Windscape’s progression systems doing the heavy lifting in giving me reasons to explore thoroughly and partake in quests. The player’s stats are determined not by traditional RPG leveling but by equipment, and the crafting feels relatively bare-bones. It’s one of those games where I found myself tripping over the same handful of mundane materials over and over – it’s wood and mushrooms as far as the eye can see.
Between the lack of variety in item pickups and the shortage of options for actually using them, Windscape’s progression arc feels fixed. I can imagine pretty much everyone who plays Windscape building the same things in the same order, which feels like a betrayal of both the role-playing and crafting genres, both of which encourage players to go their own way.
Even judged as a straightforward action-adventure, Windscape is a bit of a bore. It doesn’t feel good in the hands at all. The point-and-click interface probably works fine on PC but handles awkwardly on Switch (especially given that developer Magic Sandbox didn’t take the obvious route of implementing touch controls), and the movement is slow and stiff. There’s no thrill to the combat since the enemy AI only ever makes a beeline for the player, and therefore every encounter in Windscape can be won by endlessly circle-strafing.
At its absolute best, Windscape could work as the sort of thing one would use to keep their hands busy while they’re listening to a podcast or bingeing a TV show. However, even in that situation, the Switch’s library has no shortage of time sinks, and prospective players would need to get pretty far down the list before I could see myself recommending this dry, forgettable adventure.