The mountain of battle royale games continues to rise with Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds dueling at the summit. For developers beginning the climb, reaching the top feels nigh impossible. However, Fear the Wolves by Vostok Games aims to establish a cozy, nuclear-powered base camp near the top instead.
Fear the Wolves comes from the minds behind the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise. That series’ harsh survival elements and bleak setting bleeds into their new battle royale. 100-person bouts take place in the infamous Chernobyl nuclear zone. Gameplay also takes a decidedly hardcore approach. Speaking with Oleg Ruslan, a key mind behind the project, he describes it as, “less arcadey stuff, no cartoonish things. More realistic, more hardcore–a grim reality that sucks.”
Unlike other battle royale games, Fear the Wolves gives players a lot more to worry about than the 99 other combatants. Chernobyl contains irradiated areas that harm players who lack protective equipment. On top of that are Anomalies, danger zones on the map that further challenge the player.
“Some of them are invisible, some of them are pretty interesting to really understand and explore how you deal with them.” says Ruslan. “For example, a type of Anomaly which hurts you if you're standing but if you're running you're fine. You need to try and find a way out of it, and [these are] little puzzles that the players will need to solve.”
In another twist, a dynamic day and night cycle along with changing weather conditions directly affect gameplay. Ruslan explains “ For example, in strong wind you can not shoot very accurately. Your bullet physics [are] affected or in dense fog you cannot see other players very well.” If the elements weren’t enough to deal with, mutated animals such as vicious wolf packs stalk players throughout the match. Ruslan states this adds another layer of unpredictability to matches. Players who run into these beasts without the proper weapons will become a gruesome meal long before any human does the job.
With added dangers, however, come new ways to emerge victorious. In addition to winning matches by being the last person standing, players can instead opt to hop aboard an escape helicopter. The lucky soul who manages to climb aboard this single-seat aircraft automatically wins the match–regardless of the number of players left. The helicopter only appears during the final leg of the round and gives new meaning to the phrase, “get to the chopper!” It also struck me as one of Fear the Wolve’s most intriguing features.
“That's our little touch that will make it a little different experience, we think.” says Oleg. “Instead of people sitting in the bush [and] waiting for someone else to snipe and just win the match, here it's a possibility to actually just avoid the company. Anyone can be elusive and just jump on that helicopter and escape the map and win. So this definitely gives more room for tactics and possibility for winning the game.”
Vostok Games also want to incorporate streaming features into Fear the Wolves. Twitch and Mixer users viewing matches in progress will be able to vote in real-time which in-game mechanics occur such as the weather effects. This appears to be a work-in-progress, with Oleg stating that the team has plans to expand on audience integration in the future.
At the moment, Fear the Wolves will feature solo, survival, and squad play. An unannounced fourth mode will, in Oleg’s words, be “fresh to the genre”. All in all, the game has a lot going on between modes and gameplay, and I asked how the team decides when its doing too much and to scale back. Oleg told me that while the studio has plenty of ideas, they’re currently focused on how players react to what’s already present. Everything Vostok Games does must be “in line” with the community’s preferences.
Speaking of community, Vostok wants Fear the Wolves to find its own, hardcore niche in the deepening pool of battle royale titles. It’d be nice to supplant Fortnite and PUBG as top dog, of course, but Oleg believes merely copying the competition would be insane as that would require crafting a product that’s twice their quality–a tall order for any team. “It makes sense to be different, and offer the market something different, and see if people have [a] response.” explains Ruslan. “...We would go crazy headbanging against the wall fighting against guys like Fortnite.”
We won’t have to wait too long to see how Fear the Wolves fares. The game enters Steam Early Access this month and the full PC release is scheduled for later this year. Vostok Games plans to launch the console version in 2019. So far, the game offers a slew of unique ideas and a hardcore appeal. I’m keen to see if Fear the Wolves can take off like its opportune escape helicopter.
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Edited by Marcus Stewart