Arcen Games brings gamers back to the world of Environ in a brand new adventure unlike any you’ve seen before.  Is A Valley Without Wind 2 a trip worth taking?

The core “Metroidvania” style game has returned, but now includes an intriguing turn based strategy system as well.  The strategy portion hinges on properly gathering followers and resources while keeping morale high (by keeping your followers safe from wandering monsters).  What’s really cool is that turns are determined by what you do in the exploration portion of the game.  Only the destruction of wind generators in most levels causes a turn to advance, so careful planning is needed in order to properly level your character.  It’s a lot to take in at first, and it still sometimes feels like I don’t have the best handle on what the meta situation is at any given time.  Necessary upgrades can only be found in specific locations, which are sometimes difficult to find, which can add to the sense of helplessness, but the mode is fresh enough and so well executed that I really want to master it.  I wish the in game guide and dialog based tutorial went a bit further, perhaps walking you through your first recruitment and hack attempts just to make sure you’re on the right path.  Otherwise, the tutorials are generally very good at pointing you in the right direction.

DemonaicaEmergesOnWorldMap

The exploration (action) portion of A Valley Without Wind 2 is smaller in scale than its predecessor, but feels much more focused.  There’s still a great deal of exploration, but all of it has more of a purpose, and not just wandering for the sake of simply seeing the world.  You’re less likely to be completely overwhelmed with a sense of not knowing how to progress this time around.

I’m a big fan of the customization system and perks.  It’s great to be able to switch back and forth between the various magical schools without penalty, allowing you to change your approach mid-game.  The schools are vastly different in terms of types of usable spells, but all seem to have the same low barrier to entry.  While you can experiment to find the school that best matches your play style, there doesn’t really seem to be a right or wrong way to proceed.  The perk system allows an even greater level of fine tuning of your character coupled with the ability to locate and use additional perks scattered around the map.  In fact, finding these perks is essential to the end game.

Arcen has tried to address earlier concerns about a lack of connection with the player’s avatar by introducing more dialog.  The mage now chats with allies, listens to rants from bosses, and reflects upon various environments.  While this does allow the player to get to know the mage a bit better, I can’t help but still think of the character as an interchangeable series of stats.  I think if there were FEWER choices in terms of starting characters there would be more of a connection for me.

The game’s graphics have been completely overhauledThe new hand drawn backgrounds and characters look downright amazing at times with a high level of detail.   There are a few questionable palette choices which can make enemies and details difficult to see (I’m thinking of the green and brown mottled background in the level up towers in particular).  The new enemies are wondrous, plentiful, and seem better suited to the environments in which they’re found.  Player character animations, especially jumping and climbing, are still unimpressive in that they’re kind of jerky and seem to be missing frames, although enemy animations are good.

SwampFight

I’m still not sure how I feel about the X360 controller support.  The controls are mostly responsive (jumping still feels floaty), button placement seems natural, as does playing an exploration/combat title like this on a controller in the first place.  However, while I understand the nature of the decision to limit the number of directions one can fire in order to take bullet-drop (so to speak) into account for various spells, I’d prefer a dual-stick system where I can truly fire (cast?) in any direction.

Then there’s the soundtrack.  I’ve mentioned before I really enjoyed Pablo Vega’s work.  I can now say without fear of contradiction that he is a true genius.  The music varies between epic, haunting, and action rock without missing a beat (ahem).  I don’t have the words to describe it.  Make sure you have high quality speakers or headphones for the optimal experience.  Trust me, you won’t regret it.

AVWW2 is a well put together package, and totally different than anything else out there.  It’s action packed, fun to play, and stunning to listen to.  The best part is, if you took my earlier advice regarding A Valley Without Wind, you already own A Valley Without Wind 2!  If you don’t own the first title, $14.99 gives you two excellent, if very different experiences.  Definite recommendation!