In the realm of what you should do for a sequel, Windlands 2 gets a lot right. Just like its predecessor, you still spend most of your time with your arms outstretched, above your head, swinging between trees. You still gasp in desperation as you attempt a last-ditch effort to hook onto that tree just outside your reach as you plummet towards the ground. And you still get frustrated at just how floaty and imprecise the movement mechanics can be from time to time.
But like any good sequel, Windlands 2 is all of that and more. This time around there’s elegant and effortless multiplayer integration for cooperative fun, a lot more action with a brand new bow, and dramatically enhanced visuals that really make the bright, colorful world pop more that ever before. Make no mistake: if you adored Windlands, like many VR early adopters, then you’re gonna find a lot to love in Windlands 2.
Windlands 2 is directly connected to the previous game in terms of lore and setting, but this time around you’re supposed to care a bit more about everything going on around you. There’s an admirable amount of world building going on this time around with lots of characters, an excellent soundtrack, and large areas ripe for exploration, but it all feels like things were placed out of necessity rather than as pieces to a living, breathing society.
For example, all of the environments, which are expansive and full of vertical layers just waiting to be explored, are completely empty. An objective might consist of reaching a handful of checkpoints or collecting a certain number of random doodads before progressing to the next boss fight, but seldom do any of the regions feel alive in the way you might expect.
Traversing the world of Windlands 2 is exhilarating. The simple act of going from point A to point B is often more exciting than even the most intense boss fight in many other VR games. When you’re nailing each grapple and swinging through the air it feels amazing. But then you fall, or miss your landing, or skid off the edge of a platform because it’s nearly impossible to cease your momentum.
In Windlands 2 there really isn’t a punishment for death at all. In fact, you’re expected to fall to your death repeatedly. You’re expected to die so much, in fact, that there is a dedicated respawn button on the controller. Rather than fine tune things like movement accuracy and combat difficulty, the developers at Psytec opted to just diminish punishment for mistakes so much to the point that you can never actually mess up.
Windlands 2 does feature two major additions that weren’t in the previous game: a bow and arrow weapon and co-op multiplayer. Thankfully, both are excellent inclusions that expand on the foundation in logical ways and enhance what already made the premise so much fun.
Obviously adding friends to any game can make it better, but it’s particularly noticeable in this case. The character models are animated wonderfully with accurate joint movements and hand tracking. When swinging through the sky you can see your friends as if they’re streaks of color through the air, emboldening you to keep going faster and higher. It’s quite the rush when you get into a good rhythm.
Combat is fun when you’re dialed in, but can quickly get sloppy and frustrating. The issue is that a bow and arrow is a weapon that demands literal pin-point accuracy, while Windlands 2’s floaty, nearly frictionless controls make it difficult enough to land on a giant, stationary platform, let alone shoot a window-sized panel on a moving robot from a hundred yards away while falling through the air. But when you do, you feel like a God.
I love shooting arrows in VR and I love swinging through the air in VR, so you’d think those two things would go well together, and there is a lot to love with both mechanics individually, but when paired together the faults stick out more.
For all that it did right in terms of making players feel free and powerful as they swung through the sky, the original Windlands felt very much like a tech demo for a movement system that could be used in an otherwise much larger game. I’m not sure Windlands 2 has fully realized that vision just yet, even if it is a step in the right direction.
Windlands 2, when at its best, is a delight to play. Swinging through the air with friends, rhythmically grappling between trees, and feeling the rush of adrenaline as I arc across the sky — all while shooting my bow into the distance — is an unrivaled joy in VR. There’s a great foundation here, but it could have been so much more. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t have the execution to fully live up to its potential.
Windlands 2 is available for Oculus Rift on September 12th, 2018, for $29.99 (plus a pre-order discount to knock a few bucks off) and is slated for release on HTC Vive and PSVR in early 2019. And check out these official review guidelines to find out more about our process.