AVWW - What Genre Is This, Anyway?
This Game Is A Side-scrolling Action-Adventure With Hints Of Strategy, Shmup, Platforming, And Citybuilding
That description sounded incredibly pretentious and over-wrought, didn't it? Sorry about that -- but it's the best we can do. Gameplay takes place from the side view, and you run around and shoot at stuff. This leads some people to make comparisons to the Metroidvania subgene, including ourselves, but that's only partly apt (this game doesn't employ the "lock and key" system that many consider vital to that subgenre).
In terms of the combat itself, it's all magic-based and mostly done at some range. Your shots move relatively quickly, but enemy shots tend to move much slower while being quite plentiful -- causing you to have to jump or dodge them while positioning yourself to take your own shots. This is what we mean when we say it's a lot like a Shmup. It's also really fun and really different from what you tend to find in most action-adventure far.
Action-Adventure, Not RPG
Occasionally we get someone who thinks this is an RPG, and suddenly has all sorts of implicit expectations broken. This is not an RPG! Enemies do go up in power as the game progresses, but it's not just linear stats-grinding like in an RPG. You'll find new equipment and spells, too, but still an RPG this does not make -- While there is a form of currency, and there is a shop, it's main purpose is to allow you an alternative to just running around hoping that the RNG will be kind enough to produce the items you're after; if you're having trouble finding a Wind Shelter, for example, you can buy one here. You wont find yourself buying much in the way of "equipment", certainly wont be buying weapons, and there's little in the way of consumable items in the shop. Very differently from typical RPG shops. Perhaps a better way to put it is that it has "RPG Elements".... alot of stats, damage numbers, elemental weaknesses/resistances, things of that nature. But the gameplay is still focused more on shooting, dodging, and exploration. If you've ever played a Metroidvania game, then you pretty much know how the overall progression is here.
Hints Of Strategy, Did You Say?
We boiled strategy games down to their essence: you're given a set of tools, and an objective, and told "get from here to there."
In AVWW, that form of long-term strategic thinking manifests in a number of ways: what spells you choose to unlock, what missions you take, how you go about buffing your character, how you use guardian powers, and so on. At the shorter-term tactical level, there's obviously tactics to being in combat, but there's also preparation: what spells you have most readied for a given foe, what enchants you choose to wear at the time (you can swap these out at any time, but you can only wear one enchant per body slot).
The core reason this game is different from most other action-adventure games of this nature is that it's open-ended. You can walk right into the Overlord's keep right from the start of a continent -- feel free! You know where he lives, and you can easily get... kind of near there. Just don't expect to survive to even reach his throne room, and probably not even the front door of his keep itself. If you can, major props to you.
So here you are, little underdeveloped hero-person you, and you have some basic tools and the need to go kill this overlord who is Totally Oppressing Everybody And Has It Coming. Most action-adventure games rely on a carefully-tuned set of linear levels (backtracking or not) and monsters that are used to power you up so that you're ready to face the Big Bad Guy by the time you're done. You're given the task of skillfully completing that linear progression, and that's that. In most of those games, "skillfully completing that linear progression" is darn fun enough on its own, but we wanted to do something more: give you a wide breadth of choices and ways to progress in a completely nonlinear fashion.
When you reach that overlord and kill him, you know that it's not just because you're good at shooting things and dodging bullets, it's also because you were able to set good goals for your character and see those goals to fruition. That's what the strategy genre is all about at its most basic level, and AVWW lets you experience that in the context of an action-adventure sidescroller -- controlling one character in great detail, rather than a whole army of characters with much less detail.
Ugh, Another Platforming Game? (Or, Alternatively, "Yay, Another Platforming Game?")
Whatever your feelings on platforming games, let me put your mind at ease: this is only a platformer if you want it to be. As a sidescrolling game, you definitely have to be able to jump around to some degree no matter what; but you're able to magically create platforms, get double or even triple jumps, and so on in order to bypass a lot of that when you're just running around.
And actually, depending on the "Platforming Difficulty Level" setting you choose, there are varying degrees of platforms helpfully strewn about the environment. On the lowest difficulty levels, several folks have remarked to us that jumping around caverns "feels like flying" because they're able to maneuver so freely and so effortlessly despite the wicked presence of... dum dum dum... gravity.
On the other end of the spectrum, when you turn the platforming difficulty level up, it's a completely different experience. The platforms that are pre-existing in the world are far fewer, and slipping off a ledge means you're likely to take rather substantial damage from your fall. There are also some side missions (like "Lava Escape") that are very platforming-oriented in general, and those get easier or harder depending on the platforming difficulty level. On the easiest setting it's pretty trivial. On the hardest setting, it's perhaps the thing most likely to kill you aside from the Overlord herself.
On average, this game doesn't have any more platforming than your average Metroidvania title. But if you're inclined to crank it up, there are some pockets of hardcore platforming goodness to be had.
Doesn't this game have enough genres shoved into it, already!? But seriously, the citybuilding elements are pretty lightweight. As you adventure in the world you'll rescue NPCs, who come back to your settlement. They have various magical professions ("Lumbermancer" is my personal favorite), and can be sent on missions to gather important crafting materials for you, or to harass the enemy, doing things like taking out Ice Pirates, or weakening the Overlord's power level. But wait! In order to be able to handle these dangerous missions, the NPCs need to have a place to live, a place to work, buildings that make them feel happy and contented... and so on.
Throughout AVWW, there's a constant choice in the actions you are able to take: do I focus on improving myself directly, or do I focus on improving my civilization as a whole? You can build wind shelters and roads on the world map to push back the raging windstorms; you can build buoys to push back the turbulent seawaters. You can build 8 different buildings on the World Map to give your NPCs a food source, as well as to make them more powerful at their respective professions. When the NPCs are more skilled at their professions (and when they're in a good mood), they'll be better prepared for the missions you send them out on: not only will they have a higher chance of successfully accomplishing the mission, but they'll have a higher chance of SURVIVING it. You can also find many different "personality structures", which can be placed in the settlement, and which provide various permanent effects to all Glyphbearers on that continent. Even once your current character dies, the bonuses from the personality structures on the current continent will remain... so your future glyphbearers can use them too. There are also special books and "gift" items that are found all over the world in stashes, which can be given directly to individual NPCs to improve their mood, or their skill at their given profession.
In fact, all of those "do I focus on improving my civilization as a whole" aid you on your quest in a very direct fashion. But your character still needs to have a good arsenal and good equipment, too. So there's a balance to strike there, usually. However, the citybuilding side of the game has it's own difficulty settings... if you would really rather just avoid it for whatever reason, you can simply drop it to the lowest level, and then you can pretty much just ignore all of those NPCs. Be antisocial if you want, it's totally cool with us! But the best results usually come from some mix of focusing on the self and the group. The citybuilding system adds another non-combat element to the game to break up the action a bit, as well as providing an alternate way of going after things like crafting materials, which can allow you to speed things up, or simply help you find something that the RNG is just refusing to give you in stashes.