A Valley Without Wind 2: Before Demonaica
As a big fan of Arcen Games, I’m mildly ashamed I never played the first A Valley Without Wind. Unfortunately, not too many other people did either, and quite a few who did apparently didn’t think much of it. Now the developers have released the sequel, and in a staggering display of good faith, have released it for free to anyone who purchased the original, promising tighter controls, more comprehensible systems, and — since this was a huge sticking point for many people — improved visuals. And by all (trusted) accounts, the improvements haven’t been for naught.
Well, that all sounds great to me, so I’ve decided I’m not going to miss out on yet another of Arcen’s games. I’m jumping in with both feet, sink or swim.
The first thing AVWW2 asks you to do is pick a character. The character attributes seem simple enough that I can pick a character on intuition alone: as a beginner who worries about dying early and often, Spike Ayleward’s extra health (likely provided by his massive suit of armor) seems like a good choice, even if he lacks the slinky battle-dress of Dorothy Zurlo, the spandex tracksuit of Alfred Conquest, or the 23rd century American football padding of Anna Toyoda. Apparently I can reroll for new characters, even inputting my preferred gender and time period, but I don’t know what different time periods have to do with anything yet, so I decide to leave those options to the pros. For now, I shall be Spike Ayleward!
The game asks me if I’d like to give him a different name, which sounds like the worst idea of his entire time period. SPIKE AYLEWARD!
The next screen is a little more intimidating, since it wants me to make what feels a lot like an actual decision. Five classes, each of which could be completely identical as far as I’m concerned. Not only are the titles not particularly descriptive (though they’re awesome, listing Forgician, Sleetlock, Lumbermancer, Aquaurgist, and Technozoologist as some of the best-named magic schools of all time), but each one boasts four spells with attack values listed to the hundredth decimal and of various “calibers.” I don’t know what that means, but years of living in gun country have taught me that Higher Caliber equals Better Caliber, and the Forgician’s fourth spell, “Flameout,” has a caliber listing of “ultimate.” So a Forgician I shall be!
The next scene shows Spike Ayleward standing before a gigantic evil demon named Demonaica — alright, I guess all the naming creativity went into the mage classes then. Demonaica says some stuff about my training and how I’m ready to become the sixth member of his inner circle, and he entrusts me with an Oblivion Crystal, which makes me effectively immortal. He then tells me to get some rest before our big day of murder and dark rituals.
On the way out of Demonaica’s audience chamber, I’m wondering if I’m really an evil guy, when all of the sudden my character says it’s time to get out of there and meet up with the resistance. Ah, that makes more sense!
On the way out I meet a few members of this so-called Resistance, most notably their spokewoman Julieta Kokan. Turns out they’ve raided the Keep and distracted the monsters so I can make a clean break — all that stuff Demonaica said about me being an excellent evil disciple and being a good sport about all his murdering and maiming was just a long con so I could score this awesome Oblivion Crystal! Spike Ayleward is looking cooler with every passing second!
Getting out of the Keep is easy enough for the guy who tricked the lord of demons for months. Most of that might be thanks to the Resistance, who really haven’t left a single monster in my path, but I’m sure Spike Ayleward could have handled them anyway.
Once I get out, I’m faced with something entirely new:
In addition to being a side-scrolling platformer, AVWW2 is also a turn-based strategy game, with the player dividing their time between managing the actions of the Resistance out in the wide world and delving into new regions to explore, exterminate, and purify. Julieta Kokan also managed to escape alongside me, so she explains the situation. Our current ranks are sparse: we have two soldiers, who are tough but can’t move very far on the map; one scout, who can move a massive distance but isn’t good in a fight; and a skirmisher, who is a balance between the other two. Julieta lays out the basics of managing our fledgeling Resistance:
First priority is to take care of some basic human needs, and number one among those is to make sure everyone remains healthy. If all the members of the Resistance die, then Demonaica wins, which Julieta assures me would be Bad. Since everyone is injured from their attack on our enemy’s Keep, my first goal should be to send someone into the shattered city to the northwest to set up a clinic, which can dispense care and medical supplies to gradually restore everyone’s strength. Building structures requires scrap, so I need to make sure we have enough of our guys scavenging that. Even more important than scrap is food, so I should probably have one of our number head north to work the patch of farmland. Other than that, our band of rebels is safe for the time being, because it will take Demonaica a little over a dozen turns to emerge from his Keep.
“What happens then?” I ask.
“Bad things,” Julieta replies. “So we need to do as much as possible before that happens.”
So I get to work, sending one of the soldiers to the abandoned city to set up a clinic, and our scout to the farmland. I’m beginning to see the “time periods” thing come into play — it looks like a dozen different eras have mashed together thanks to some terrible chrono-cataclysm. Aside from the regular post-apocalyptic city blocks in the north, there’s a giant pyramid to the east, fields of lava in the south, and sand-buried cities in the west; everything has a few anachronistic structures mixed in here and there, like the strange blue dome just east of the Keep. I suppose, regardless of what disaster could have done this, it’s my job to make sure it doesn’t get any worse.
Now that the Resistance has spread out and everyone is either traveling to their ordered destinations or scavenging for food and scrap, Julieta informs me of my responsibility in all of this. Turns out the brighter colored regions of the map represent the farthest limits that we can currently reach. Demonaica has erected Windstorm Generators all over the place, and the resultant storms prohibit travel… except for someone who has an Oblivion Crystal! Nifty! I still can’t venture too far into windy territory, but at least I can work my way through the land, destroying these Windstorm Generators and making it safe for habitation as I go. And the more territory I purify, the more survivors can be recruited into the Resistance, and the more special buildings and construction sites we will uncover, and, eventually, the closer we get to figuring out how to finish off Demonaica for good.
That’s all nice and good, but as far as I’m concerned, the first order of business is exploring that Desert Pyramid over there.
It’s guarded by fuzzy mummies who launch bursts of flame in every direction. These bolts of liquid magma finally teach me what “caliber” means: basically, a magical projectile of higher caliber interrupts a projectile of lower caliber. Since my Campfire spell is high-caliber, I can plop it down to act like a shield that also does some bonus damage if my enemies happen to wander into it. At the same time, my rapid-fire Ember Shot and arc-blasting Explosive Crescent are weaker, and will be blocked by the mummies’ shots. With some care, I’m able to work my way into the Pyramid without taking much damage.
After passing through some traps and guardians, it turns out that one of Demonaica’s minions has been lying in wait for my arrival. His name is Wordrak, and he gives me a line about how I might be a plant for the Resistance, but I’m still a massive jerk because I passed their insidious tests with flying colors. Fine, punk, I’ll kill you with flying colors.
He’s easy enough to dispatch, though I should have expected a member of Demonaica’s inner circle to have an Oblivion Crystal like mine. Oh well, I’m sure a way to kill him for good will present itself later.
The contents of the Pyramid teach me a couple other subtleties about AVWW2. For instance, there are also coins that I can spend to hire mercenaries to do some purification without my direct involvement — knowledge that might come in handy later when I’m pressed for time. Also, I don’t “level up” in the traditional sense. Instead, there are locations on the map that will let me tap into great power and gain a level, though I’ll still need to find Perk Tokens to make the most of it. Each level lets me choose one perk from a list of them, and Perk Tokens unlock more perks to choose from. Also, I can use my newly-captured Desert Pyramid to my advantage in some way that doesn’t make sense yet. Between these options to improve my own Spike Ayleward, and the considerations I need to pay my Resistance members and the battle against Demonaica’s minions on the map, there’s a lot I need to keep in mind.
With the clinic up and running, my rebels are beginning to grow in strength, and it’s time to expand our horizons. Time to take down a Windstorm Generator.
Destroying a Windstorm Generator is the only way to move time forward by a turn. Every other action, like exploring the Desert Pyramid, is basically a “free” action, and doesn’t hasten Demonaica’s arrival. Most of the time there isn’t anything else better to do than expand my territory though, so for now that’s what I’m going to do.
Since one direction is as good as another as far as I can tell (except for the lava pits of the southeast, which look scary), I decide to head westwards. I suspect it’s probably best to expand a bit in every direction so there’s room to run or hide from the ravages of Demonaica once he emerges from his Keep, but for now I want to see what one direction has to offer. So I order one of my rebels over to the Pyramid, where a potential recruit has been reported to be hiding, and then walk into the west alone.
It’s a relief that dismantling Windstorm Generators is an easy job for an immortal. At least in this region. After a short jaunt through weak hostile forces, I blast the defenseless machine, purifying the territory in the process. My rebels can now move into the area, and I can see a bit farther into the world — far enough to see that this region is hemmed in by high barriers. I can order the Resistance to chop them down, but that takes time, and we only have those four members so far.
Make that five, since it turns out that the dude I ordered over to the Desert Pyramid has rescued a survivor, who has joined our cause. Score. Together, we are strong! We are amazing! We are—
Right, sorry. Our numbers are still small enough that we need everyone working on stockpiling food and scrap, so I adjust the placement of our new recruit and turn my attention to the north. A few Windstorm Generators later and I’ve decided I’ll have to move the Resistance proper up here as soon as possible — the region is practically overflowing with free food, there’s a town hall building that I can have someone staff to give us a regular influx of recruits, and — best of all — I’ve discovered a Level-Up Tower. They do pretty much what they say.
It’s easy enough getting inside the Tower. What’s within, however…
… Well, that isn’t too threatening either. It’s Lilith, another of Demonaica’s thugs. She feeds me the usual line about how she and her ilk are bringing order to the cataclysm-torn wasteland, and blah blah FIREBALL! She can’t be destroyed either, thanks to her Oblivion Crystal, but at least she isn’t talking at me anymore.
With a new level and a new perk (an extra health heart, in this case), I leave the Level-Up Tower right as it collapses in on itself.
My goal is to find more of these Level-Up Towers, since they seem like obstacles I can definitely tackle at this stage of Spike Ayleward’s development. I figure there won’t be any others up here in the north — not before I clear away more barriers, anyway — so I position my rebels to harvest the area and recruit new friends, and I go south. Just a handful of Windstorm Generators later and I see not one but two Level-Up Towers, far to the south.
The closer one turns out to be inaccessible thanks to the lava plains, which wound me when I attempt a crossing. I’m informed that somewhere in the world Demonaica commands a machine that I can use to bypass this hot spot with ease, but for now there isn’t much I can do.
The other one requires me to cut through some precarious highlands, which turn out significantly more difficult to traverse than any other region I’ve entered. I even fall to my death without realizing the game’s map generator could even attempt laying traps. After awakening back at the Keep, I head back and conquer the area, finally pushing to the Level-Up Tower. Another of Demonaica’s minions shows up to jaw at me, but as before he’s little more than a speedbump on my path to greater power. And this time, Julieta Kokan informs me that I’ve leveled up to the point that I can break into the lower segment of Demonaica’s Keep and steal a little bit more of his power.
Turns out the lord of demons is no slouch about security. I barely bypass his tough monsters and make it into the chamber where the level two mage classes are kept.
Turns out I can switch between classes at my leisure! I choose to become a Staminist, and use its powerful Energy Rocket to blast my way back out of Demonaica’s palace.
Unfortunately, it seems I’ve run out of time:
With the next Windstorm Generator I remove, Demonaica himself will rush out of his Keep. I’m not sure what that will entail, but the Resistance sure seems nervous about it.
Still, I’m optimistic. We’ve grown from four to thirteen members, all of whom are busy stockpiling valuable resources. In the north we’re recruiting a steady stream of survivors, and we also have the beginnings of colonies in the west and south. In preparation for Demonaica’s emergence, I abandon our clinic and farm, both of which are close enough to the Keep for concern. I suspect when Demonaica appears, there will be some rebuilding to do…