Now that I've played the beta for Planet Zoo to my heart's content (expect a follow-up post with new information some time after the game is released), I am now ready to dive into a game where birds are actually represented well: WolfQuest. While researching this game, I found out there are two versions of the game and I'm going to discuss both to make sure I don't miss any details.
WolfQuest's gameplay is simple: you must try to survive in the Northern Range of Yellowstone National Park as a 2 year old Gray Wolf that recently left his/her pack to live on their own. The story processes as follows: perfect your hunting skills so you win the affection of a potential mate near Amethyst Mountain and Lamar Valley, find a suitable den site for the spring near Slough Creek, raise a litter of pups and chase would be predators away, and lead them to a summer rendezvous site south of the creek. This is just a brief summary of the game's first two chapters, there is an upcoming mission centered around training your pups to become skilled hunters around Tower Fall, and a level set in an abandoned city somewhere in the west... (more on that later) Apart from completing missions, the main goal is to simply not die.
The ecosystems in Yellowstone depicted are not only beautiful, the wildlife is also diverse and accurate, the two things I look for in a nature based video game.
One wolf hunting party: The first quest you are assigned besides coming up with a name for your wolf (I chose "Bran") is to learn how to hunt the abundant prey in the Lamar Valley; mostly elk, but also Mule Deer, Moose, and Snowshoe Hares; the latter of which should appreciate that in real life, they would only be a light snack to a wolf. The first animal I managed to kill in game was a hare, just one of many throughout the gameplay of both versions. If screenshots of wolves carrying dead hares around will distress you, cottontails are too small to bother chasing, and I draw the line at pikas. With a couple hares sacrificed to make sure I wouldn't mess up later on, I had Bran pick on someone his own size: a buck Mule Deer. The buck put up a short chase with me biting his flanks before fighting back not with his antlers, but his hooves. Eventually Bran had finally tracked down a herd of elk. Singling out a calf, the chase was on. Both Bran and the cow elk fought hard, I eventually won.
Killing the required number of elk to look for a mate was only half the battle: the other part of a successful hunt is to keep your food safe. I realized the elk I killed was on a rival wolf's territory, and they did not take too kindly to my presence. Unequipped to fight off three wolves, I ran away.
Looking for love: Having survived an encounter with a rival pack, I then turned my attention to the primary goal of the Amethyst Mountain chapter - to find a mate. I wandered up to the summit of Amethyst Mountain to howl in the hopes of getting a response from a potential mate
From there, I caught the scent of a dispersal wolf, and followed it downhill. Would I meet a potential love interest, or another male looking for a fight? Fortunately, it was a female, Pahaska 18F from the Pahaska pack. My attempts to court her started with another hare I killed as a gift, but she did not seem that interested. I stepped up my game with a bow, rolling, and howling. This got her interested, and I kept this up along with other social behaviors to win her over.
After the first meeting, I spent a few days socializing and hunting with Pahaska 18f to see if she was a good fit for Bran. Eventually, I decided to give her the nickname Arya and officially made her Bran's mate.
Arya agreeing to start a pack with Bran marked the completion of the quest for a mate and Chapter 1.
Even though I just said "I'm in no rush to finish the story," I am guessing my readers, who wish I could go back to bird stuff, probably are. To find out what to do in Slough Creek, I went to WolfQuest 2.7, the previous installment in the series. The new premise is that most of Amethyst Mountain has been claimed by other packs (who don't like to share), so after the player and his/her mate have mated offscreen, they must venture into the area of Slough Creek to find a place to give birth with food and safety as the selecting forces. The game had picked out three den sites for me to choose from: Saddle Meadows, Aspen Heights, and Bison Peak Cutoff. Arya and Bran checked out all three sites. An old badger den dug into Saddle Meadows was the first we checked out; a moderate distance from the nearest hunting ground but still a respectable distance from a stranger pack, plus the quickest to a summer rendezvous site. Next, we checked out a small kopje with a cave inside near Aspen Heights, which is literally out of the way from everything else; travelling to the rendezvous would take the longest, hunting trips would take longer than at Saddle Meadow, but most importantly, there weren't any other wolves around. Lastly, we looked at a depression under the roots of a large fir on Bison Peak; this was the closest to an elk herd, but a rival pack is just as close...
A little worried about security, I went with the Aspen Heights den to raise our litter. The next step in preparing the den for the pups was marking my territory by howling and peeing.
With a place to raise a family claimed and defended, I was ready for the real scariest part of the game: parenthood, which can be divided into four parts: Training, defending, feeding, and leading them to a summer rendezvous.
Train your pups: You need to teach your pups to stay close to the den as early as possible so they don't wander off and get eaten by invading predators. The higher the affinity your pack has for you (blue bar), the more likely they are to stay close to the den. You can increase affinity by carrying them back to the den, playing with your pups, and howling. After completing this mission, pups will return to the den when you venture more than 50 meters away...
Unfriendly neighbors: Now that your pups know the den is their safe place, you now have to fend off any predators that have strayed too far into your territory, lest your pups become an easy meal. While Arya did most of the work delivering food and carrying pups back to the den, I was stuck with the task of fighting and chasing off cougars, bears, coyotes, and stranger wolves. Fighting enough predators to complete the mission took a loooooong time...
Bulk-up period: You and your mate have ensured the survival of your pack thus far, but your pups aren't yet big enough to endure a journey which will take you from your territory to a new home, where your pack will spend their summer. As such, you're now responsible for fattening up your pups. As before, it's important that your pups stay close to the den and that you and your mate continue to defend them in between fetching food and feeding them. This was actually the easiest part of the episode after the pups were born, as I would look for a hare, an elk carcass or a live specimen, eat as much of it as possible, then run back to make sure all my pups are alive. An additional way to obtain food for your pups is to raid a nearby cattle ranch in an unspecified area near Slough Creek, although the primary goal of this mission is to inform players that domestic livestock are not the easy meal they may appear to be and wolves that hunt on ranches often pay with their lives. If you actually have the guts to jump the barbed wire fence, the secret to success in this mission is a combination of speed and stealth. By "speed," you have to make the hunting mission extra quick because the longer you stay in the pen, the more attention you'll draw to yourself. "Stealth" means that the secret to success is catching and eating the calf without alerting the rancher or the cattle to your presence. If an adult cow sees you, it will moo and excite the other cattle to join in and chase you off the ranch. It doesn't stop until you exit the corral and if you stay in while they keep lowing, you'll alert an unseen rancher and his dogs to your presence, who will shoot you. One way to buy yourself additional time that I have found is once the dogs start barking, make a dash for the fence and wait until the barking stops before coming back to claim your prize (if you have found the calf at this point). While the food bonus is decent and gives your pups a taste of exotic meat, the experience reward is not as high as bringing down a Moose or chasing off a rival.
Family Road Trip: Once all your pups meet the required size, you will receive a prompt to begin a journey to the rendezvous site. Once the journey begins, there is no option to go back. I wanted to stay as long as possible, but we had lost Lady to a stranger wolf, and the cougar and grizzly knew where the den was; they'd be back. I decided it was no longer safe to keep them at Aspen Heights and decided to make the journey up to the Douglas Fir Slopes. Howling to announce our journey, we left the heights and did not look back.
As we ventured back into the valley, we entered the hunting grounds of a new predator, faster and deadlier than any I had faced before: the Golden Eagle. If it were to Rushing to keep all the pups in one place, the eagle was not interested in wolf pup for breakfast, and moved on. A lucky escape!
The eagle attack was only a minor issue, and no pups were taken by the terror of the skies. Getting to the rendezvous with all pups surviving, however, would not be easy. Without the safety of a den for the pups to hide from predators in, the safety risk was greater than ever before: coyotes constantly followed us, and it would be a matter of time before the eagle came back (that fortunately didn't happen). The first pup to die on the journey was Nymeria, ironically one of the only Stark children wolves to survive to the finale. One of the few upsides of accidentally losing pups meant I can give more attention to the survivors. The biggest challenge we faced was a river crossing, and because of my poor decision making, I CAUSED GREY TO DROWN! This meant it was all up to Summer to survive the journey.
A day later, we came across a patch of dirt where the rendezvous site is located. Against all odds, we made it to the rendezvous site with at least one pup surviving.
And this marks the end of the game, for now...
Tower Fall is the location of an upcoming chapter in the life of our pack, revolving around finding a new home near the banks of the Yellowstone River as they stake out new territory, protect their family from rivals, and teach their pups to be skilled hunters. Other than that, I'm hazy on the details of what to expect in this chapter, so stay tuned.
"You are a two-year old Gray Wolf born in the mountains of the American West. Your parents once lived in Yellowstone National Park, but they wandered out of the park one day and never went back. Now you've left them to find your own home. You've entered a new valley across the range. There are strange scents, but none remind you of humans. So you decide to hunt some elk. You might also try to find a mate to keep you company." - In-game description for the Lost River map
Lost River is a fictional location that has been mysteriously abandoned by humans several years ago, allowing nature to take it back. "Wolves may wonder what happened here, but they will never know." You can hunt, find a mate, and explore Lost River but travelling between maps and raising pups are not an option. Why am I talking about this map? Curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to discover what actually happened in this ghost town. The first thing I saw was a trailer with bullet holes poked into it, suggesting the town fell victim to a roving posse of bandits. I pieced together what might have happened from the grafitti on the houses in the are of Grant's Glen. The left screenshot isn't very helpful as "the power" could refer to anything. Hydroelectric? Lobbying by big oil? Nuclear accident? ... stone? Civil unrest? Maybe this map is set after the resistance in Hope County's Cult Compound. The writing that read "First the river, now us" was the most helpful, suggesting that a disaster in the river had something to do with the desettlement of Lost River.
Following the course of the dried up Hank's Ditch, I came across a large dam at one end west of town. So if this dam wasn't the one that took the river away, what was? And this still didn't explain why a whole suburb was flooded.
Following Hank's Ditch upstream from the big dam, I came across a wall of logs and branches. Only one animal in North America can build something like this...
Beavers! Yes, the pond I saw from the hilltop was the result of a beaver dam near the east end of Hank's Ditch, and there is a beaver lodge right in the middle of the new pond covering what once was the neighborhood of Allison Acres. When Lost River was still inhabited by humans, there was a river running from The Two-Step through Allison Acres and draining into Hank's Ditch. "First the river, now us" acts as almost a prophecy hinting that once the river stopped flowing, the people of Lost River would have to leave as well. This poses a few new questions: were the beavers native to the region or were they introduced deliberately or accidentally? Why didn't the town's government act to relocate or cull the beavers before they could start construction on the dam?
The WolfQuest Wiki has a whole page dedicated to speculation about why Lost River was abandoned, including a section on beavers being one of the reasons (I reached this conclusion before discovering said page), along with some more interesting scenarios, both realistic and plain crazy. Maybe the BCE facility located on the south side of Hank's Ditch is responsible in failed genetic or nuclear experiments, as a nod to either Fallout 4, which was released two days before the Lost River map was (11/10/15 vs 11/12/15). I'm sticking with my theory that a colony of beavers unintentionally forced the people of Lost River to abandon the city, since that is the one that makes the most sense, otherwise, I'm saying Lost River is in Hope County, Montana.
Whenever I discover (or re-discover) a nature-based video game, I get excited and come up with way too many ideas on how to make it bigger and better. Fortunately, so does the development team for WolfQuest.
Elk again? Again, sheep and bison will be added to the game at some point. An ungulate they hope to add is the Pronghorn, the last surviving member of Antilocapridae. Their incredibly fast (45-50mph top speed) is the result of an evolutionary arms race with the American Cheetah, so don't count on actually killing them. Other ungulates they mention are lower on the wishlist are the actually rare for the region White-tailed Deer and locally introduced Mountain Goats (that might be an interesting quest to kill as many as possible)
Not that big a threat: In Yellowstone, many carnivores that live alongside wolves are not huge competition, offering little gameplay. Lynx and bobcats are careful to avoid wolves and so are rarely seen. Otters and other weasels could provide entertaining ambience but little gameplay so they are not huge priorities for the team. But never say never...maybe someday? Martens, badgers, and Wolverines could put up a hard fight, and the latter would be a considerable threat to young pups.
Keeping the competition fed: The many smaller animals in Yellowstone are of minimal interest to wolves, but they help keep the many mid-tier and smaller carnivores fed when you won't. Rodents are mostly tiny and many live underground or high up in trees or hibernate most of the year. The amount of effort, compared to an ungulate feast, needed to hunt rodents is better left to smaller carnivores. A few rodents that are planned to be included are Yellow-bellied Marmot, Uinta Ground Squirrel, and North American Porcupines "(because, although not common, they would be hilarious)." Like rodents, hunting lagomorphs is more effort than reward, but they're there to snack on. In addition to the Snowshoe Hare, the Wolfopedia says they plan to add White-tailed Jackrabbit and American Pika (the latter of which I will feel awful about killing). Birds are best left to smaller predators with lower calorie requirements and for ambience. Even the biggest ones are able to take off as soon as you've been spotted. Now on to fish, what carnivore wouldn't want a nice, fat trout? A lot, actually. Compared to an elk buffet that will sustain a pack for a week or so, fishing is just not worth it even at the biggest runs. Smaller predators like coyotes might consider fishing worth their time if easier meals are not available. There's still a lot that could be added as prey, competition, and to improve the atmosphere of the game. Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrel? New passerines? Voles? Raccoons? Ducks? Woodrats? Doves? Striped Skunk (hint: teach your pups to leave them alone before they discover why for themselves)? Trumpeter Swan? Great Blue Heron? Gophersnake? Owls? Coots? Grouse? If any of these make it in, I hope EduWeb does them more justice than the next game I explore did.
Some gameplay tips for both versions of WolfQuest:
Fun fact: I procrastinated so much while writing about the WolfQuest Saga, that TWO updatea to the Anniversary edition came out last week! Build 1.0.1 now has stranger wolves trying to hunt prey, rut behavior in the cervids of Lamar, Bald Eagles fishing, and the Golden Eagle returns thankfully with a taste for hares, as do Coyotes and foxes, the latter can be observed diving for rodents, new levels of gore, and moon shadows. 1.0.1a gives your mate the ability to hunt snowshoe hares, and adds aspen trees and Aurora borealis.
I promise the next game exploration will come out faster than this one!
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