If you love The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker but wish it had more blood, death and inclement weather in it, consider Sands of Aura. Released out of early access today, this is a top-down fantasy action-RPG set in a swirling, post-apocalyptic world in which you build up a town and sail between island dungeons in a sandship.
The sandship, or rather, “grainwake” sailing sees you bouncing merrily from dunes as vast, ominous structures loom out of the haze. The combat takes some inspiration from the Souls games, but the top-down perspective makes it feel like a classic arcade action title. Boss battles involve dodging or parrying colourful streaks, waves and clusters of projectiles. The developers, 12-person Chashu Entertainment, say it’s a difficult experience. It looks it.
As for the town building stuff, this involves deciding which stranded NPCs to rehouse at Starspire, the game’s hub sanctuary. As with referring strays to the Odeon Chapel in Bloodborne, whom you rescue will determine the unfolding of the plot: NPCs have backstories to uncover, and not all are deserving of rescue.
Now, the lore. To sum it up, the world of Tamahel has been plunged into endless gloom by the shattering of a magic hourglass – hence all the sand everywhere. The disaster has also spawned an army of undead, but a few human survivors yet remain, guarded by the honorable Order of Remnant Knights. You, of course, are one of the Knights, and your job is to track down the source of a newly emergent evil.
Along the way you’ll choose between seven combat styles with hundreds of weapons and dozens of armour sets to find and augment. You can also enlist a zombie to sit in your grainwake’s crow’s nest – presumably there are benefits to doing this but hey, perhaps you just need the company. It’s lonely out there on the sands.
I think all this sounds pretty promising, and the 1.0 Steam reviews augur well. Here’s another enticing detail, for those of us burned out on open worlds of the Ubisoft variety: no waypoints! You’ll have to track down those quest-critical locations yourself, you big goose, and goodness knows the atmospheric conditions aren’t favourable to navigation. Here, check out the trailer. If I find time to actually play this I’ll be back with a more considered analysis.