This is one of the most ambitious games I’ve come across in a long time. Imagine trying to wrap ‘Age of Empires’ and ‘Geometry Wars’ into a single 16-bit burrito in a way that’ll make it look appetizing to today’s gamer. Now imagine trying to do this all on your own.
That’s what Jameson Wilkins is trying to accomplish with ‘A Nation of Wind.’ It’s RTS meets Arena Shooter in this one man project, and if seeing what that’ll look like doesn’t pique your interest then maybe the fact that it’s free will. It did for me, and after messing around with it a little here’s what I found.
As the game stands in the beta release, I think it has a lot of potential but doesn’t exploit enough of it. The graphics are dripping in nostalgia and the music is flat out awesome, not to mention that the core idea of the game (being the love child of an RTS and an Arena Shooter) is almost unheard of, the mechanics of the game don’t keep up with what’s expected of a project like this.
You control an airship and maneuver it between floating islands covered in small towns, forests, mountains, etc. Each level you start has goals which involve capturing obelisks to complete levels. However, the closer you are to completing the goal the harder the level gets (mostly just more monsters spawn). Your ship starts off with three type of weapons you will need to use to beat these monsters, which you use in the classic Arena Shooter fashion. But if you sustain damage you need resources to repair your ship. In any other Arena Shooter game these resources would be gained by destroying enemies or getting chains and such, which would then be used for upgrades.
In ‘A Nation of Wind,’ you get resources by harvesting the aforementioned mountains and forests with structures like farms and stone yards. These resources are then used to build other structures that’ll expand towns, such as churches, to raise gold for you or defend your structures from those pesky flying enemies. You also have a few useful spells that’ll help you along by speeding up time (aka the rate at which your structures return resources) or damage enemies. This all builds up to the ultimate goal of capturing obelisks scattered around the islands by building four temples around each one. There are also several other elements peppered in each level that’ll either help or harm you, like artifacts, maelstroms, and trading posts.
It sounds pretty great right? Of course it does, Wilkins has taken the best of both genres and put them together. While he has done many things right, specifically the aesthetic he’s created, he should really go back and reevaluate the movements of the ship and put in a little more story. So far the only story I’ve come across are the few lines of the opening title:
‘In a land of clouds and sky…
…a broken capital prepares…
…to reunite its people’
Maybe I’ve just gotten used to the idea of indie games having the best stories to ever hit the video game scene, but it’s become an expectation of mine for every indie I play. I want more story from the game, and I think with those ominous yet hopeful three lines you could make something epic. Bear in mind, however, that I am biased in this criteria so take my evaluation with a grain of salt. Make your own decision and play the game here.
Story aside, there is one other problem that I think most will notice with the mechanics. With most games there is always a trial period of getting used to the controls and the physics, but from what I’ve seen so far this game has a trial period that doesn’t end. The ship’s responsiveness to commands are slow and jerky (specifically when it comes to turning) which makes battling enemies in the tight spaces between the floating islands more annoying with each passing second. I understand that there is a nostalgic aesthetic Wilkins is trying to achieve, but there are some things better left in the past. You are controlling the ship the entire game so even if everything else remains the same the ship needs to move comfortably and smoothly. If you want to imagine what the ship moves like, think back to Final Fantasy Tactics and how your characters moved across a battle grid with tons of obstacles. But now imagine that there are no tiles and if you bump into a wall it takes a second for you to recover.
It’s aggravating, but even more so is the fact that this game could be so much better if that small problem was fixed. Even with the abrupt responses of the ship I still want to stop writing and play more right now, but despite the great music, the take-me-back graphics, the upgrades, and the resource mongering, those abrupt responses will jar me out of the experience.
Overall, the game is fun, but it can be better than what it is now. It is an ambitious project and Wilkins has done better on it than most would, but I’m glad the game is still not completed because now he has time to take it from ‘good’ and make it ‘great.’