This game was evaluated in an early access state. The developers of Fear The Wolves, Vostok, provided Culture of Gaming with a review copy.
A New Challenger Approaches
The battle royale genre is currently dominating the gaming scene right now, much like the survival/crafting genre did only a few years prior. The common trend is that several “titans” like PUBG and Fortnite emerge in the currently popular genre, and define its popularity. However, there is no shortage of smaller games hoping to make a name for themselves, by offering their own unique twist. Fear The Wolves is no different. It claims to blend S.T.A.L.K.E.R and PUBG, providing the atmosphere and setting of the former but the gameplay of the latter, while adding a unique PvE seasoning on top, in the form of dynamic varying weather and creatures attacking you in the play space. Fear The Wolves promises a unique take, but does it deliver?
Point and Shooty
Fear The Wolves is, in a word, formulaic. The movement, shooting, and moment-to-moment gameplay are all reminiscent of PUBG but feel unrefined by comparison, which is semi-fair for a game with fewer resources behind it. At the beginning of the game, players board an old Soviet helicopter that flies over a partially irradiated zone. Players, of course, jump out of the helicopter (side note, you can’t actually see the players in the helicopter while flying over the terrain) and parachute to the ground, scrambling to loot any weapons or clothing they can find, and then the fight for survival begins.
Players will encounter an array of environmental effects that can potentially impact their strategy or how they choose to play. One of these effects is the dynamically changing weather system. While the game starts off clear and temperate, shortly upon landing the weather will shift. Perhaps the most impactful weather effect is fog, significantly reducing visibility. Although the most simple of the added weathers, I found this one the most horrifying, just due to how much visibility is actually cut. Other weather effects come off more as gimmicky like the extreme heat effect, that also reduces visibility, but shortens your breath and reduces the effectiveness of medical and recovery items. This seems like it would have a lot more impact then simple fog, except for the fact that time to kill (TTK) is extremely low, so the likelihood of you being able to use these beneficial items is low anyway.
Am I… Dead?
To a detrimental degree, it is incredibly easy to kill in Fear The Wolves, even if you or an opponent are fully kitted out. During my first game, an enemy player beat me to looting a structure, but I was able to punch him to death even though he was armed and I was not. By the time he could react (reload, turn around, get a shot off) he was already dead. This is also apparent during “surprise” attacks common in the battle royale genre, where a player will be running to a location and begin taking fire. In other games in the genre, the player is given a fair amount of time to attempt to react and move to cover, use a medical item, and have a firefight. In Fear The Wolves, you almost never have an opportunity to even spot where the bullets starting to fly at you are coming from, because the TTK is so low. This frustration is further amplified when you can’t see or properly hear the opponent during the more intense weather effects like rain or storms. TTK isn’t only an issue with the player characters, but in the hostile environment characters as well.
On top of the weather, Fear The Wolves features hostile creatures attacking the player, the most notable and common of which is, you guessed it: wolves. This is a fun concept, but is poorly implemented. The creatures don’t feel like a threat, but more of a nuisance because the TTK is so low. They offer little to no challenge, and only serve to make navigating through the gamespace mildly more chaotic.
Radiation Is A Fickle Mistress
While other battle royale games have a circle then encloses the remaining players, slowly guiding them towards each other for more bloody action, Fear The Wolves takes this idea of organization and throws it out the window. As best demonstrated on the in-game map, the play space is divided into a grid pattern. If one watches the map, they can eventually see red zones begin to shade the grid squares. These zones are the equivalent of the circle in other battle royale games. If a player gets caught in these, they will suffer damage until death or they are able to escape the boundary. These red squares seemingly start off random, with no rhyme or reason, and slowly “spread” from each other, encompassing more and more of the map. It’s touted as a more “natural” way to guide players towards each other, but due to the partially randomized spreading pattern, is easy to game and makes it possible to hide in now isolated areas of the map, just because the “radiation” hasn’t spread to that portion yet. And due to the lack of players on the map, this actually does more to disrupt the action. Or at the very least, it’s irrelevant to the pacing of the game.
Every piece of promotional or press material for Fear The Wolves indicate a standard one hundred person battle royale. So I’m sure you can imagine my confusion when matchmaking only searched for about forty other people and hence started the game with that number of players. Because of the lack of about 60% of the players, the map and effects were designed for, the population density is sparse, and it is only worsened by the game’s aforementioned “circle” system. At the time of writing this review, I was unable to find any documentation from the developers concerning the in-game population issue, even reaching out yielded no response.
Although, and this is perhaps the worst blemish of the game, I couldn’t imagine having to find an additional sixty people. The matchmaking times I experienced were atrocious. After approximately two weeks, I was only able to get a total of ten matches in. Also, the reason why this review is so far removed from Fear The Wolves releasing as early access on Steam. I attempted to queue for matches every night at both west and east US coast prime times, and experienced times upward of twenty minutes before finding a match. I would allow a max of thirty minutes to find a game before giving up. Even queuing for the European and Asian regions didn’t yield better results. There is just not a whole lot of people picking this game up.
Where Is Everyone?
The lack of population is understandable but disappointing and unacceptable nonetheless, considering the game released as early access on Steam to little to no fanfare and behind a $20 paywall. Unfortunately, the developers, Vostok, have failed to acknowledge the lack of population, let alone attempt to remedy it through say offering a free weekend or even making the game, dare I say it, Free To Play during early access. For comparison, when streaming the game on the first Friday night after launch, not only was I live for two hours and only played two matches during that time, but noticed that Battlefront 2 (2005), a thirteen-year-old game, had more concurrent players at that time than Fear The Wolves had ever peaked at.
Not All Bad
So what redeeming qualities does Fear The Wolves have, as I’ve torn into it pretty hard so far? Well, to give credit where credit is due, Vostok has absolutely nailed the atmosphere and environmental design of Fear The Wolves. The color palette is diverse, and the overall atmosphere created by the setting and mood have achieved Vostok’s goal of being S.T.A.L.K.E.R esque. The map feels very reminiscent of the old S.T.A.L.K.E.R titles as well. Vostok has created the perfect environment and landscape to have a battle royale in.
Finally, on a technical level, Fear The Wolves is quite good. Running at 4K (although I’m pretty sure it’s only 1440p supported at the moment, as the resolution setting had the nasty habit of changing to 1440p) and max settings, the game hovered between 50-70 FPS range. Certainly very playable. Latency stayed stable, with no major spikes or desync issues, and I’m also pleased to note that I did not experience any crashes while playing.
Vostok has created an incredibly atmospheric and stylish environment to have a battle royale in. Unfortunately, that battle just isn’t that fun to fight, let alone if you can fight it in the first place. A slew of good concepts plague this game, I say that because not many of the concepts that are in the game are thought about through the long term. I would be more willing to excuse a lot of these aspects due to the game being early access. For example TTK is remedied by a few balance passes. But a few balance passes later, and TTK is still ridiculous. Vostok’s failure to acknowledge the almost dead on arrival population is also troubling. At the present moment, I unfortunately cannot recommend Fear The Wolves, even for the most die hard of battle royale fans. However, this recommendation is subject to change, once more major updates have been had later in September and October. Fear The Wolves is definitely in a state of “wait and see” for how it will develop, and in the end, I am interested to see where it goes from here.
Fear The Wolves is available for purchase on Steam for $19.99.
- THE GOOD
- Incredible Atmosphere
- Technically Sound
- THE BAD
- Frustratingly Low TTK
- Gimmicky Features
- Dead On Arrival Population
- Map Feels Sparse
Fear The Wolves is a conceptually great battle royale but falls flat when considering its unique features in the grand context of its gameplay. Vostok has nailed the atmosphere and setting of the game but has failed to capitalize on so many core gameplay aspects, as well as failed to acknowledge the succinct lack of players playing the game, resulting in matchmaking times being incredibly high.