“Windlands 2” is, in many ways, a perfect example of an asymmetric first-person adventure game. You start off in the air, and soar across the clouds and sky, looking down on your trusty wind-powered glider. You can make that glider move forward, backward, up, and down, but it’s not fast enough to compete with the speed of wind. So you pull out a grappling hook and start to fly. There are no rails in this world—just the glider, the grappling hook, and the world below you.
DreamWorks’ Windlands 2 may be the first virtual reality game to have a reasonable chance of commercial success, but that doesn’t mean it’s a great game. The story doesn’t start off well and sets up a lackluster narrative that’s barely told. The game is good for VR novices, but not for anyone who wants to enjoy an engaging adventure.
Windlands (2016), one of the first full-length VR games, pioneered a mobility scheme that takes you soaring high into the air, swinging from bush to bush in the harsh world that was divided and ruined during a planet-shaking conflict, using your grappling hooks to swing from bush to tree. The latest Windlands isn’t just a continuation of the search for all-important power crystals and Easter eggs; it also includes enemies, multiplayer co-op, races, and a classic gaming-inspired story that pits players against the destructive forces that wreaked havoc on the once-prosperous world; it feels like the series’ true beginning.
Windlands 2 is a first-person VR combat platformer that expands on the lore covered in the first; you don’t need to play the first Windlands to understand what’s going on because it’s all explained in the sequel. The game educates us on the world’s history as well as the motivations behind your journey. The short version is this: Long ago, a dimension-jumping demon used huge automatons to destroy the lizard-world, people’s leaving the alien planet to a bleak wasteland. However, he was destroyed by your golden-eyed human ancestor, and you now find yourself as an apprentice of a new class of humans known as ‘guardians,’ who are capable of outstanding jumping and swinging powers. You’re on your way to an island with Tohir, your master, who begins by showing you the ropes through the world’s puzzle-like design. There, you fight the resurgent dark powers.
You shouldn’t be concerned if the addition of fighting and NPCs reduced the amount of platform-jumping and swinging lunacy witnessed in the first Windlands. There’s still plenty to go around, since you receive a new power that wasn’t included in the game’s pacifist predecessor: bow-shooting.
Windlands 2’s new environment features massive enemies, obnoxious laser-shooting droids, and a few timed shooting challenges to hone your new bow-handling skills. Bosses will use lasers, energy bombs, homing missiles, and spit out other droids to torment you, so you’ll need those shooting abilities as well. However, by the time you reach the halfway point in the game, you won’t notice any new attack kinds, only more of them.
While bow-shooting is generally enjoyable, it may be a bit fiddly at first, and there are a few things to keep in mind before getting started. There’s a reticle, but your limitless laser arrows have a fixed arc that’s controlled by gravity, so it’s more of a check to see whether you’ve lined up the shot properly on the x-axis. The bow is activated with the grip buttons on the Oculus Touch, and it may be used while grappling using the grappling hooks, which are mapped to the triggers. Swinging and firing at the same time, which is required on some stages, isn’t as straightforward as I had anticipated, but it is absolutely achievable after you get the feel of it. The bow is deployed by default when you activate the first grip button, while the other hand (using grip) can draw arrows. About half of the time, I would accidentally transfer the bow to my non-dominant hand by intuitively activating both grip buttons for a quick shot, which I believe could be easily solved by simply ticking a box at the start of the game. I looked into the advanced options around halfway through and discovered a selector that allowed me to lock the bow to my left hand, which completely solved the problem. As I became more comfortable with the camera, shooting became less of a hassle.
There is no central point to return to, unlike the earlier Windlands. The world is made up of a few different open areas with distinct pathways that can lead you in different directions, all of which are linked together by a couple of world portals that activate as a result of completing key story missions, allowing you to progress through the increasingly dangerous biomes of jungle, desert, and mountain. Waypoint indicators direct you to your next target by default, and there are enough of checkpoint gates strewn about to keep you from tearing your hair out with every enormous fall. I’m not a big fan of waypoints, but it’s simple to see why Windlands 2 uses them as a default to assist you navigate the game’s map, which is a jumbled mess of spaghetti. If there weren’t already enough obstacles to contend with along the road, I may consider it a drawback, but in the end, it’s a necessary evil to ensure you don’t end up clambering up the incorrect path and becoming hopelessly lost. In the advanced options, these can also be turned off completely.
The plot is straightforward, and it harkens back to a time in classic gaming when mission givers didn’t bother to ask questions, instead sending you, the silent protagonist, on your journey to collect something important: A to B. Personally, I thought it was a little too straightforward, acting more as a means to an end: fetch the stuff, or kill the thing—basically the early Zelda games. The fetch quests began to feel a little forced after a time, and while it didn’t take away from the game’s jumping, swinging, and shooting fun, it also didn’t offer much. It’s the standard tale of a bad character who does terrible things because he’s wicked, and everyone on your team is a helpful good guy because they’re helpful and decent. In the Immersion part, I’ll soften that a little because, in the end, it’s a tried-and-true approach of giving some structure to the real stars of the show, traversing Windlands 2’s moving puzzle, and smacking down a few colossal enemies in the process.
There are no leveling mechanics, new weapons, or grappling hooks, which, in my perspective, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You’re just given the responsibility of improving your game and aren’t given any cheating tools to help you do so.
The basic controls remain almost unchanged from the first Windlands, with the exception of the addition of a bow. This could be a stumbling block for some, as the game has a distinct “floatiness” that can be tough to master. It’s difficult to land those long parkour jumps because you slide across most surfaces, and it’s much more difficult to achieve the double-hook swing and transition to a single hook whip around. After a while, judging the distance of those far grappling hook captures becomes instinctive.
The grappling hooks, on the other hand, are likely to require some time to perfect. In an unfriendly environment of sand, rock, and flowing lava lakes, both grappling hooks have a reticle that lights up when you get close enough to a leafy object—the only thing your hooks can hold onto. I discovered that the maximum effective range was frequently greater than the reticles suggested, allowing for daring saves that can spell the difference between having to repeat a particularly tough jump and rapidly reaching the objective or level boss. Multitasking a few frenzied arrow shoots while flying through the air to your next landing place may be really exciting, yet it can be difficult depending on your comfort level with the movement scheme.
That puts me in a terrible situation. While there are easy, medium, and hard modes, they simply affect how powerful and accurate an enemy’s shots are. On hard mode, you only get one direct strike before being thrown back to your previous checkpoint. This does not modify the game’s platforming complexity, which reaches a climax in the game’s third and final level. Every jump must be near-perfect there, which is both stressful and gratifying.
Because you may respawn at your last checkpoint indefinitely, boss encounters can become a game of methodically chipping away at them without danger of ever losing anything. I noticed that it took numerous deaths before I could figure out each boss’s attack style and start leveraging the area’s natural hiding places and angles of attack while playing the game primarily alone. Bosses have a predictable pattern: defeat them three times and they’re out. To defeat a monster, simply fire the glowing red armor off their bodies, which varies in position and number based on the difficulty level of the boss. The arena is generally populated with droids in between these occasions, which you must eliminate in order to continue with the boss encounter.
I would have liked to see more variety in this region, as after a while, each adversary begins to feel more or less the same—still thrilling, but edging toward a typical interaction despite the physical changes between each monster. While the game’s ‘zero penalty’ death method alleviates some of the stress of being ganked by allowing you to pick up where you left off in real time, it also restricts the ultimate satisfaction received after beating them.
Here’s a one-minute video of a boss fight in the desert planet. Yes, I killed at least a dozen times in order to chip away at its defenses.
Bosses, on the other hand, are considerably easier to take down with a few more pals on hand, allowing you to team up with a maximum of three additional individuals. We brought down a large flying ship in approximately half the time while playing with’s Ben Lang, who joined my game in the middle of it. Aside from making bosses simpler to defeat, having a few friends or strangers in-game eventually leads to people discussing strategies, encouraging people to speed up and do more amazing jumps, and generally talking trash to each other. Although multiplayer isn’t essential to complete the game, it adds a lot of fun to the experience.
Windlands 2 took me six and a half hours to complete in single-player, using only the story mode. However, you can spend a lot more time hunting down hard-to-find collectibles or playing one of the multiplayer ancillary games, such as racing on one of the five available tracks or competing in a “collect” mode, in which you race to collect all of the map’s collectibles and make it to the finish line before your three opponents. These were also entertaining locations to show off your abilities after you finished the game, but with so many multiplayer possibilities, there’s a risk that servers won’t be crowded enough for quick pick-up games.
While the visual style is clearly low poly, it creates a truly gorgeous universe. Looking back to the first Windlands, it’s evident that the studio has polished the general visual to be more varied in texture and building, but the allure of vast vistas and precipitous regions to scramble over hasn’t gone away.
The character design is reportedly influenced by Studio Ghibli films, yet it has a more Saturday morning cartoon-like feel than Dragon Ball Z. Outside of instantly turning over whatever you’ve retrieved, whether it’s a robot part or a crystal to power a world portal, there’s no interaction with NPCs. NPCs use their hands to make gestures, yet they never seem to open their lips to speak. It’s not frightening, but it’s unusual nonetheless. They’re still very valuable as quest-givers, and they’re both very nicely voice-acted and designed from a design standpoint.
Positional audio is also really well done, with occasions where a tinkling Easter egg collectible will drive you insane looking for it, or a beeping homing missile will send you into a panic as it approaches your position.
There’s no inventory to fiddle with, and no objects to handle, so the game’s immersion is clearly based on the rush of adrenaline and triumph that comes from clattering up that challenging wall near a pool of insta-death lava, or swinging to that barely-reachable cactus.
Looking out over a cliff doesn’t give me the same pit in my stomach it used to, but I’ve also played through the original Windlands, so soaring into the air and hooking your way to the top is ultimately a truly fresh sensation that just feels appropriate if it’s your first time with the game.
Windlands 2 offers a variety of comfort settings, yet newer VR users may find it challenging because it is a smooth-forward running and jumping game.
A few sophisticated choices are included in the game to help mitigate this. There is a ‘comfort cage,’ which is a physical cage that surrounds you and is available in translucent and opaque forms. There are additional floor markers available, which provide a consistent translucent floor area. There are vignettes (also known as FOV-limiters), but I didn’t use them because I didn’t want to block my peripheral vision for the next hook hold.
The game includes seated and standing options, smooth or varied snap-turns, and forward motion that is either hand-relative or head-relative. With all of these in place, most new users should have little trouble adjusting to the game’s swinging locomotion method.
In retrospect, I’m not sure I agree with Psytec’s decision to expand the Windlands brand by switching it from a zen-like platformer to a combat-focused co-op tale. While some of that tale was less creative than I had hoped for at first glance, it left me feeling like I had re-entered a classic game in which your goals are difficult, but your motivations for achieving them aren’t. Allowing you to overcome those obstacles as a group seemed a little like a group hiking expedition.
Finally, I’m glad to see the original’s hard-won locomotion scheme, which was quite experimental in the early DK2 days, make its way into something that, most crucially, hasn’t gone too far in trying to be the end-all, be-all. Biting off more than you can chew on an indie budget frequently backfires, as promises are unfulfilled and the player is left wondering what all the fuss is about. Despite the flaws, I’m eager to play more.
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