The endless, procedurally generated gameplay of A Valley Without Wind can sink into “what’s the point?” If you like Metroidvania a lot more than I do, having an endless stream with minor variations might be bliss, the way I could happily play Settlers of Catan every day. For me, it is one among many and not the best.
I started by jumping right in and exploring. It took a while to break myself of the habit of exploring every nook and cranny. There is no reason for or real possibility of 100% completion with endless, procedurally generated content, and there are not secret cool things or a required key card hidden in the back room. I was meticulously collecting crafting materials before realizing that I had 1000 cedar logs and no idea what to do with them. I found that one zone led to many zones, with multiple surface areas, buildings, and caves, and then the caves led to deeper caves to deeper cave systems and down until the mini-boss level overwhelmed my newb skills and I left a ghost somewhere down there.
A couple rounds of exploration and it became dull. There are only so many distinct procedurally generated pieces. I could try it on a different tile set, but that seemed preemptively dull because it would just mean learning a few new monsters and then back to procedural patterns.
Now that I have a grip on how the game works, what is one to do in this world? The sand alone is insufficiently interesting. I could consult other players’ guides, but that could void some of my interest, like looking up a puzzle solution (this isn’t Dwarf Fortress), so what are the “fair game” resources? There is an in-game planning menu with “things I should do” and an encyclopedia, and there are achievements.
“Things I should do” is not enormously interesting, except in the vague sense of a quest book. Defeat these bosses, and you will want some of these things in the process.
The encyclopedia is the gold mine here, although it takes a bit of digging to find the gold. Unlocks are a useful guide: here are all the monsters and missions and spells and oh my goodness. There are many options, not just a few, and their combinations are potentially interesting. Perhaps most importantly, there are secret cool things in the back rooms, the secret missions that provide free building plans. With a bit of learning (encyclopedia, experimentation, ask around), I can find a more efficient way of exploring than “check absolutely everything.”
Achievements are a highlights list from the unlocks in the encyclopedia. The best ones amount to “try one of everything.” Great, here is a list of mission types. Once I have all those achievements and have saved a continent, I have seen pretty much everything the game has to offer. There are more achievements for “and do it ten times,” some of which I will certainly get because I can repeat the mission types I like, but I don’t feel the need to complete them all.
If I get 90% of them, I may feel the need to complete them all, unless one of them is something like the Psychonauts achievement to get absolutely everything.
So the checklist has infused my gaming with new purpose. When playing in the sandbox is not enough, you need a new goal, and here is a list of goals. I have a goal for the game, some sub-goals that will help me get there, and some sights to see along the way. That’s all I need.
The game is really serious when it suggests clearing lieutenants before going for the evil overlord. High level enemies will one-shot you.