Endling – Extinction is Forever Review: For Fox Sake
Sometimes a game’s title does an absurdly good job of conveying its theme. Such is the case with Endling – Extinction is Forever from Herobeat Studios. I’ve had my eye on this title for quite some time, and it was easily one of my most anticipated games of the year. I’m mildly obsessed with foxes (so much so that I actually knitted myself a fox scarf modeled off of those creepy old fox stoles but made cute and cozy), and here’s a game where you actually get to play as a fox. Coupled with the clearly emotional bent of the game’s story, I was hopelessly hooked before it was even released.
Can You Survive?
Endling – Extinction is Forever puts you in the role of the last fox on Earth. Driven from her forest home by a devastating fire (started by humans), our poor vulpine heroine is forced to find a makeshift den in which to deliver her pups. It’s a poignant moment, to say the least: a traumatized vixen delivering what may well be the last of her species into a ruined world. Unfortunately, the already-suffering vixen only encounters more heartache when one of her precious pups is cruelly kidnapped by a trapper. Our poor vixen will have to simultaneously care for her remaining pups while trying to track down her stolen baby.
Endling is more than just a heart-wrenching story of a fox and her litter; it’s an unflinching look at human greed and destruction. As the days pass, the landscape around you changes. Trees are felled, trash is left piled up everywhere you go, and the skies become choked by smog. Trappers, furriers, and other opportunistic humans roam the land, and will not hesitate to hunt you or your babies as you guide the fragile family of foxes through an ever-changing world. For those of us who live in areas that have seen increased devastation driven by climate change, this game strikes a chord that resonates incredibly deeply.
Guide and Nurture Your Pups
As each night falls, you’ll need to venture forth from your makeshift den, pups in tow, to forage or hunt for food. Turns out, keeping a family fed isn’t easy in the real world or a virtual one. Your pups are growing, and they’re constantly hungry. Thankfully, you’re equipped with a pretty potent canine nose, and you can find and follow scent trails that will lead you to some much-needed vittles. Food can come in many forms in Endling – whatever you can scrounge from trash bags the humans have left behind, mice hitting in garbage piles, unsuspecting birds you can sneak up on (literally, you can sneak up on animals and pounce on them to kill them and eat them), and even the occasional kind human who will share what little they have with you. It’s not only scent trails for food that you’ll come across – you’ll also pick up the scent of your kidnapped pup from time to time, and you’ll see images based off these scents that help tell you what’s happening to him.
At the end of each night, you’ll need to make your way back to your den, shepherding your pups back to safety. Once daylight breaks, you’ll encounter more humans, making it that much more difficult to protect your brood. Thankfully, as you explore, you’ll find more makeshift dens, as well as badger holes that will act as shortcuts between various areas. Additionally, your pups won’t remain helpless for long. As you explore, they’ll learn and grow, discovering skills that allow them to jump over dangerous traps, climb, and more. As each night wears on you, you’ll need to make tough decisions: do you find food for your starving litter, or do you push on just a little more trying to find your lost pup? Should you slink back early after a stressful run-in with the trapper or the furrier, or should you carry on, wounded as you may be?
A Changing, Distressing World
Aesthetically, Endling is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a simply stunning game, utilizing that low-poly-artsy look that can be really hit or miss these days. Endling, thankfully, hits, and it hits hard. The slowly changing, degrading environments are woefully bleak, especially as once-vibrant vegetation gives way to clear-cut wastelands that are nearly void of all life. The fox and her pups are almost painfully adorable, rendered so uniquely, and I found myself attached to them almost instantly. The pups will even play, yip at each other, get scared, hide, and more. Should one of your pups get injured or frightened, you can give him a tender nuzzling to help make him feel better – something that nearly melted my heart. I should warn you, though – don’t get too attached to those pups. They can die, which for me at least resulted in a lot of tears and snot. With a heartstring-plucking soundtrack to boot, it’s hard to complain about the artistic direction of this game.
As impressive as Endling is, it’s not without some flaws. While relatively minor overall, there are a few things here and there that drag down the experience. My biggest complaint is that it can feel like you’re sometimes stuck in a rut, never making any progress. You can go several days with just the bare minimum amount of food to survive, and it feels like you’re spending all your available time hunting for scraps only to slink back, nearly starving and defeated, to your den to repeat the same struggle the next night. And while I think that it’s actually quite a realistic representation, it doesn’t make for an especially engaging gameplay experience. Thankfully, the slogs never last too long, and when you unlock a new area or progress the story, this fairly minor inconvenience can be forgiven. My only other real complaint is that the framerate occasionally stutters, which can break the otherwise successful immersion.
Endling – Extinction is Forever is a powerful game. It deftly highlights human greed, corruption, and our unique knack for environmental devastation. At the same time, it offers glimmers of hope and redemption, tiny bright spots that manage to shine through the encroaching darkness. The trials and tribulations of the traumatized fox at the heart of the game will leave your heart aching and bruised, and you’ll be left somehow simultaneously saddened and enraged. Such sorrowful fury is meant to be a powerful motivator: use it.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One; Publisher: HandyGames; Developer: Herobeat Studios; Players: 1; Released: July 19th, 2022; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $29.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.