If there is anything that I like, it’s a good pirate theme. In our culture and media, we have seen pirates as the cowboys of the sea – swashbuckling captains that play by their own rules, gunplay and swordfights, and debauchery at all turns. Windward has none of these things, but remains visually appealing, and the environment and ambiance are well-polished, exploring not only combat, but also exploration and diplomacy. Full disclosure: I originally played an Early Access version and wasn’t initially thrilled, but with continual updates and constant engagement from the community, Tasharen’s strange sea-fairing strategy hybrid has become a beautiful game that provides a fun experience for all different types of play styles.
In Windward, you play as the captain of a naval vessel representing one of four groups – the Consulate, focused on information and diplomacy, the Sojourn, who gains experience through exploration, the Valiant, who excel in combat, and the Exchange, whose mission is to excel at managing currency and trade. Each of these philosophies determines how experience is developed. For example, while the Valiant gain more expertise through battle, the Exchange group gains more experience conducting trade routes. In all cases, experience points allow for level upgrades, which can be used to increase attributes such as sail strength, cannon accuracy, and strength of ammunition. You can also acquire crew, cargo, upgraded weapons, and specialized captains along the way to improve your ship stats. The RPG elements are well-balanced and easily display the pros and cons of engaging different cargo.
One interesting aspect is the use of procedurally-generated maps. At the start of your session, the player is able to randomize the playing map, adding new squares where more content can be laid and where more pirates can be destroyed. Also, each area of the map is animated beautifully. The formations of each island can be seen extending into the depths of the ocean, with schools of fish and flocks of birds gliding past your ship. The randomness of the maps allows the player to have a unique experience each time the game is booted up.
Multiplayer mode allows the player to conduct their shenanigans with friends, taking over cities and raiding invaders. The game also gives you lots of opportunities to collect floating cargo both as errant boxes floating in the ocean or as the rewards for sinking vessels. There are many options for building and creating your legendary ship. From what I saw, you can even pilot a dirigible as things progress, or drop poison bombs at enemy outposts. Having some friendly banter from passing ships as you sail by is a nice touch for the time that you are not engaged in conflict.
There are a few that could have added to the experience. For example, while the concept of negotiations and diplomacy is very enticing, there aren’t any avatars with whom to negotiate. Diplomacy is difficult when not dealing with diplomats directly on screen. The lack of action on land limits the amount of differentiation in combat and travel. Effectively, all combat reduces to various forms of cannon volley. One area of improvement would be to remove the trace that appears during pirate-hunting missions. Accepting the mission and then having to seek out the pirate in the area would add an extra sense of exploration to each of those missions.
Windward reminds me of an interactive form of Seafarers of Catan, bringing strategy and patience to privateering. The game has beautiful animation and attention to visual detail, and if the thought of embarking on a nice trip around the sea with some exciting naval action across new lands, this is a great game for you. Fare thee well, Captain.