So I remember the days where the term “Walking Simulator” was thrown around, and it carried a negative connotation. They referred to games that had relatively fewer inputs from the player, sometimes mocked for just “holding a button to move”. Endling definitely channels some of the aspects of those games, especially seeing how tight the cast of characters is, the heavy focus on storytelling, the way the game changes pacing to really hammer home the stakes of the scene. I’d say the strong world-building, social commentary, and emotional core are what drives Endling. But to give them credit, I felt like they injected just enough gameplay elements like: stealth, survival, a bit of resource management, and rationing, to strike that balance between being a game and being what would otherwise be more of a short film.
Once you get past the intro sequence, the game presents the primary gameplay loop. You explore your surroundings, keeping in mind which paths on your map are locked, and forage for food to feed your kits. You CAN just go to sleep immediately, but you’ll take a heavy bite out of your satiety meter. If that ever empties out, your kits will begin to starve until they begin to PERMANENTLY die. I have read that to some people, it’s incredibly intimidating to be put in that position, but it’s manageable and worse comes to worse you CAN just reset your game before you save to reset to the beginning of the day. It’s interesting because there are many absolutely precious moments that really ingratiate you to the characters. But also some very macabre visuals in the background illustrating the ways humanity ravages and exploits nature.
The game doesn’t intend to hold any punches, not to say that the visuals ever get gory or horrific. At the same time, it becomes interesting seeing some of the counterculture develop, as well as the glimmers of hope. The game teaches early on that most humans are hostile, as they will coax you to come close only to wring your neck and skin your furs. You have a chance to fight back, but afterwards, you are placed in an injured state, in which the next encounter is an immediate game over. I don’t want to spoil too much of what other encounters and mechanics are introduced, but a lot involves figuring out your pathing to get to new locations while giving yourself a safe way back to your lodge.
You have to end each day sleeping at one of your camps, you can unlock new ones over the course of the game that kinda serve as checkpoints. As for finding food, your cubs will grow, and if you go to the right areas, can pick up unique skills that enable them to find food that you, as the mother fox, cannot. Otherwise, there is an interaction button that can be employed during many different contexts. Some are just a matter of knocking something over or climbing, while prey needs to be sneaked up on for you to land a pounce that kills them. In that sense, there really isn’t a combat system, outside of your basic stealth reaction minigame anyway. I didn’t mind the mechanic that trying to sleep early at camp results in a starvation penalty, although I never quite understood if staying out late night had any consequences.
There are times where locked paths just mean that there really isn’t anything to spend your time on. It’s not super clear how you unlock these paths, as more often than not I believe it’s just automated and you can’t necessarily speed things along. There are timed story events that always occur, and I did find some special miss-able events in my second playthrough. It’s not really intuitive when and how you trigger these, but it’s one of the few ways the game significantly rewards exploration, mostly through Cub Skills. [EDITOR’S NOTE: You don’t trigger the events, they’re timed to specific days and at the start of said days the game tells you the event is active.] Finding new skills for your cubs make them much more self sufficient in terms of helping you find food and letting you explore more areas. This is definitely more of a one and done game, but there are some really touching moments that hit hard.
I’d say Endling: Extinction is Forever is a game that lasts just as long as it needs to to tell its story. Admittedly, part of me wishes there were a bit more randomized events from playthrough to playthrough or open-ended exploration. But towards the middle of my first playthrough, there was this excitement building up of, “Okay what will the map show me today?”, that made me need to figure out where I was going that really kept me hooked. There are times where this doesn’t happen because your map is littered with blocked paths, and it feels like you’re just spending the day wasting time. Nevertheless, it helps feed into the survival aspect of needing to hunt and forage for food. The game ends after a finite number of days, which feels a little manipulative that some days just feel like padding and there’s a relatively tight leash of how quickly you can experience the content. There could probably be more puzzle elements as well, but there is elegance to the pacing and design at play. It’s just that some players may find the mechanics are a bit too simplistic. I think it was really cool to experience the world-building and seasons changing, all of that happening bit by bit in real time. There’s definitely some really cool storytelling techniques at play with zero dialogue at that. Overall, I came out of my time with Endling on a high note, but the critiques I gave do make me wonder what could have been if playthroughs weren’t so railroaded in terms of progression, but I understand the linear storytelling. I also absolute fell in love with the artstyle with just how vibrant the environments are. It does help justify the cost, but I do think it’s a tad pricy for what the game is. I came for the adorable foxes and stayed for the feels.
A review copy was provided by the devs
Hellfirebam has awarded Endling: Extinction is Forever the Indie Gamer Seal of Approval