Windward is a sailing MMO with procedurally generated worlds to explore. Windward was inspired by Sid Meire's Pirates! and includes both singleplay and multiplayer gameplay.
|Publisher: Tasharen Entertainment via Steam
Type: Nautical Sandbox MMO
Release Date: May 12, 2015
Pros: +Single and multiplayer components. +Low system requirements and tiny file size. +PvP and PvE gameplay.
Cons: -Repetitive quests and environments. -Limited sense of direction.
Windward is an indie sailing game with both a single player and multiplayer modes. Each server runs a randomly generated map with multiple factions vying for control. Players progress through these regions as they level up, eventually gaining access to stronger ships, weapons, and skills. Start your career by delivering cargo and passengers, battling pirates, and eventually taking part in instanced PvP events.
Windward Key Features:
- Procedurally Generated Game Worlds – explore alone or with friends.
- Naval Combat – battle pirates, capture port cities, and defend your ports from attacks.
- Trade Winds – move goods and cargo from one port to another for a profit.
- Map Modifications – settle new towns and alter the terrain of the game world.
- Character Specialization – level up to earn talent points. Earn gold to purchase new ships, sails, cannons, and crew.
Factions - Valiant, Consulate, Sojourn, Exchange, Syndicate, Aequitas
Windward Featured Video
By Erhan Altay
Windward is the first major game released by indie studio Tasharen Entertainment. Originally conceived at the 2012 Game Developer Conference after a short conversation with famed game designer Sid Meier, Windward sailed through years of choppy waters and revisions before finally hitting the Steam Store as an early access title on October 11, 2014. A full release soon followed on May 12, 2015.
After hearing that Windward was inspired by Sid Meier’s Pirates!, I knew I had to give the game a try. While I was never a big fan of the Civilization series which Sid Meier is best known for, Pirates! managed to draw me in for hundreds of hours. The concept of an open world sailing MMORPG has always intrigued me but none of the games in the genre really matched my expectations. Uncharted Waters Online, Voyage Century Online, and Pirates of the Burning Sea all seemed too complex while the browser-based Seafight just struck me as a thinly guised money grab. Windward is a more focused game with no land-based elements, a tiny client size, and a general sense of polish. Built on the Unity game engine, Windward is compatible on Mac and Linux computers. The visuals are well done but not hardware intense. I was a bit disappointed in the limited resolution options and had to use a third party program to stretch the screen to the 1920x1080 scale I felt comfortable in.
Onward and Windward!
Windward offers several play options: Single Player, Direct Connect, and Internet. The first option is pretty clear and allows the user to customize the world map and other settings such as the pace of combat. Direct Play allows you to join a friend’s single player world, and Online allows access to dedicated servers with up to hundreds of simultaneous players. Thanks to the procedurally (randomly) generated world and several AI factions that fight among each other, the single player experience in Windward can still feel "alive." But as an MMO player, I completely disregarded it in favor of internet play. There are only a few servers available that host a large population, but most of these allow players to carry over the progress between them which makes it easy to switch between servers if you’re playing with friends.
The Choosing Ceremony
After entering a server, players must select their starting zone which also determines their faction. There are four basic factions, each with slightly different bonuses. The Valiant (red) are best suited for combat and gain more experience from defeating enemy ships though they earn less by trade than other factions. Consulate (green) gain a bonus to diplomacy and greater experience from completing quests which makes them ideal for new players. The Sojourn (blue) are a faction of explorers and have faster sailing speeds and accuracy. They are not as powerful in close range and must keep their enemies at a distance. Exchange (yellow) are the primary merchants of Windward. Exchange players start with more gold and gain bonus experience when completing a trade. It is possible to complete quests for rival factions and eventually switch which faction you server, so don’t get too hung up on your initial choice. Advanced players can even join two hidden factions called the Syndicate and Aequitas which offer unique benefits but have far more difficult membership conditions. Players are unlikely to encounter members of different factions for many hours and will instead contend with an NPC pirate faction which sends ships to claim ports and generally harass players within starter zones.
A Minnow in the Ocean
After selecting a starting region/faction, players find themselves in control of a small sloop anchored near a random port town. The game offers two movement methods: WASD keyboard controls and point & click via the mouse. I found the keyboard controls to be a bit awkward since a ship must be pivoted in the appropriate direction before accelerating. The mouse just felt more fluid for me, particularly since most of the early level gameplay requires leisurely strolls between ports rather than precise aiming or sailing maneuvers. Perhaps Windward’s largest issue is its slow-paced progression during the early levels. Players are given little direction and few progression options during the early hours. Each port has several tabs which offer quests, trade goods, ships, and access to rumors. The quests usually involve traveling to another city in the same gridded region either under the guise of dropping off passengers, goods, or simply sightseeing. Commodities such as spices, incense, salt, tools, and other goods can be purchased at one port and flipped at a nearby port for a small profit. Frustratingly, every quest or trade good takes up an entire Cargo space. The starter sloop comes with a paltry two slots which means progress is done at a halting rate.
Grinding at Sea
Players will quickly tire of the travel quests as they are both repetitive and offer paltry rewards. Trading is a quicker money maker but requires larger sums to feel rewarding. Luckily, a few combat related quests are available even in the starting region. These will often task players with destroying a nearby pirate ship. Ships fire automatically in Windward, assuming their cannons are facing an opponent within range. Cannons are fired in broadside volleys from either the left or right. An activated volley skill is also available along with several non-combat skills based on your faction. Some quests may send players off to defend or capture a pirate held port. The only time these may prove difficult if the port in question is guarded by a watchtower. On populated servers, any pirate held city is likely to be quickly swarmed and liberated which makes completing the quest much easier. As players complete quests, trade, and sink pirate ships, they earn experience and gain talent points. These points can be distributed among 30 talents that fall broadly into three categories: Defense, Offense, and Support. Besides new talent points, leveling up allows players to fast travel to new zones. Manually sailing from region to region is never restricted but can prove time consuming and place players in areas far too difficult for them to handle. As players progress, they gain access to maps closer to the center of the map where the four factions converge. It is at this point that the pace of gameplay picks up and PvP becomes a viable option.
At release, there were a total of eleven ships available in Windward, each progressively increasing in price. Certain factions receive a discount on certain ships along the way, and the final eleventh ship is only available through a lengthy questline which can be initiated in level 12 zones and above. Besides upgrading their ships, players can find or purchase new pieces of equipment for ten equipment slots including Hull, Sails, Cannon, Ammunition, Specialized, Captain, Specialist, Crew, Captain’s Tools, and Pennant. The best way to acquire these pieces of equipment, especially during the early game, is to hunt "Captain" pirate ships which can be found randomly in any region. These are more difficult variants of regular pirate ships but can still be defeated solo with a little finesse. By the time players enter their second region at around level 6, they should have enough gold saved up to purchase the second ship, the Sloop of War. Many guides recommend skipping this ship altogether in favor of saving up for the much more versatile Schooner. I don’t recommend this for new players as it provides a noticeable improvement and more importantly it offers the first sense of progression. Without this ship within reach at a price of 2000 gold, I would have lost interest in Windward far sooner.
Man o’ War
By default, Windward offers voluntary PvP in the form of instanced PvP maps and timed battles between factions for control over a specific region. Server hosts and solo players have the option to turn on "Permanent War" which allows PvP between factions in any region at any time. Individual players can opt out of PvP by equipping the "White Flag" item if they prefer not to get involved. While some players will get involved in large scale PvP clashes, for most players Windward is likely to be a solitary affair. In this way, the primary gameplay of sailing, questing, and trading just lends itself better to solo play. The constant faction warfare and the ability to explore slightly different procedurally generated worlds should enable fans to squeeze hundreds of hours of gameplay from Windward. The lack of any land-based gameplay or mini-games make Windward feel smaller-scale than other sailing MMORPGs, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The focus is centered on sailing and the simple game mechanics make this an easy game to pick up and play. The complexity and steep learning curve have sunk games like Pirates of the Burning Sea. A brief look at a gameplay video or even screenshots should be all players need to determine whether Windward is their sort of game. The sailing/trading genre is not all that crowded, particularly for those after a multiplayer experience.
Final Verdict - Good
Windward is a niche game that offers simple but compelling gameplay. If you’re looking for a casual friendly sailing game without all the daunting tutorials and mechanics present in other nautical themed MMORPGs, be sure to grab Windward on Steam the next time it goes on sale.
Operating System: Windows Vista SP2 64-bit
CPU: Intel Core i3 1.4 GHz / AMD equivalent
RAM: 2 GB RAM
Video Card: Intel Intergrated Graphics 4200
Hard Disk Space: 250 MB available space
Operating System: Windows 7 64-bit
CPU: Intel Core i7 2.0 GHz Quad Core or better
RAM: 4 GB RAM or more
Video Card: Nvidia GeForce 460 GTX / ATI Radeon HD 6850 or better
Hard Disk Space: 250 MB available space
Windward is playable on Mac OS X and Linux
Windward Additional Information
Developer: Tasharen Entertainment
Publisher: Tasharen Entertainment
Lead Designer: Michael Lyashenko (@ArenMook)
Game Engine: Unity
Early Access Release Date: October 11, 2014
Release Date: May 12, 2015
Other Platforms: Mac OS X and Linux
Development History / Background:
Development on Windward started in 2012 when Michael Lyashenko asked legendary game designer Sid Meier if he could create a game inspired by "Pirates!" The original build of the game was centered around arena-based combat with static maps. Much of the game was scrapped in 2014 and development was restarted with a focus on a procedurally generated game world and sandbox style gameplay
Windward is the first major PC title by Tasharen Entertainment. The studio is best known for developing the Unity plugin NGUI which is used by many developers who build games with the engine. Tasharen Entertainment is also behind the tablet/browser strategy game Starlink which is available on Desura.