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Fear the Wolves – Early Access Preview

Mason Sylvia

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Fear the Wolves is a bit of a mess, but one that was built upon a foundation of good ideas and a drive to see them come to fruition. However, with a reported wealth of technical concerns and poor optimization, it really opens the floor for dialogue on the topic of quality control; not just on the developer’s side, but on Steam’s side of things, before allowing a game to launch on their platform, even in an Early Access state. With its launch yesterday, Fear the Wolves has been plauged with a wealth of connectivity issues that has the potential of making it an absolute chore to even get into a match, never mind seeing it through to the end. One must understand that technical issues are on a case-by-case basis at times, which I’ll touch on in a moment, and as such, some of the reported issues are not experienced universally. In lieu of this, if you’re able to get into a match with a bit of patience and persistence, you’re in for a rather enjoyable experience all around.

Fear the Wolves, developed by Vostok Games (Survarium) in the Ukraine, is a harmonious marriage of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R series and the battle royale genre made popular by Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Players find themselves being dropped into the post-apocalyptic Chernobyl and must fight against hostile forces to earn the rank of sole survivor and escape onboard an extraction helicopter at the match’s finale. The refreshing twist is that hostile forces against you aren’t just rival survivors, but anomalies and — you guessed it — wolves. The anomalies in Fear the Wolves essentially serve as the ‘hot zone,’ if you will, and you must evacuate the area to avoid being eliminated. While a rhyme or reason has not yet been determined for the presence of the wolves and what triggers them to spawn, their glowing red eyes are enough to unnerve the most seasoned players and catch you off guard if you’re not careful.

For what it’s worth, Fear the Wolves follows the battle royale formula to the absolute letter. Upon finding a match to join, players are left to roam in a lobby where other players run around causing chaos and griefing each other. When the match begins, you’re airlifted via helicopter over the game’s map and skydive for a spell before pulling your parachute — or having it auto-deploy after a certain altitude is reached — and spend the match scavenging for weapons and supplies and trying to stay alive. You can play a match alone as a lone wolf or in a squad, as usual. Up to 100 players are put into a match together, but with the constant connectivity issues, troubles with finding matches to begin with, and the small player base at the moment, it’s unlikely match numbers will reach higher than 50-60 simultaneous players. Upon touching down on solid ground, your main objective is always the same: find equipment and stay alive. It can be a little frustrating for newcomers, because nothing is explained; there are no tutorials, no guides, or any kind of manual that explains the elements of the game. Learning about the wolves and anomalies is something you do simply by playing; quite literally, trial and error.

The largest issues with Fear the Wolves are the worst, as they can be fairly game-breaking most of the time. Due to poor optimization and balance, the overall experience feels more tedious than enjoyable when all is said and done. Despite not having the most demanding hardware requirements, even with top-tier gaming rigs, it’s common to suffer from massive framerate drops and stuttering, even in the least densely populated areas of the map. Going from a solid 60 FPS and higher down to 5 FPS at a moments notice with no rhyme or reason is not only frustrating, but largely unacceptable in a game about PVP survival. Having a shootout with a hostile survivor is frustrating enough due to apparently off-and-on nerfed weapon damage, and adding FPS drops and performance concerns simultaneously, you’re in for a bad time. It’s not a matter of player-versus-player balance, but balance overall; it seems as though everyone is a bullet sponge and either the hit detection needs a blessing, or firearm damage is ridiculously minimal. I’ve shot enemies countless times to zero avail and I’ve taken full magazines of automatic fire and remained standing. Other times, hit detection seems to work incredibly well and you’d never know there was a problem with it. I’m at a loss for what could be causing the imbalance, but when things work properly, it’s an absolute breeze to play.

It’s worth mentioning, though, that these optimization and performance issues are not consistent across multiple matches. Having been able to find another match and drop in as a lone wolf, the amount of issues I had seemed to have been cut in half in comparison to my first experience with Fear the Wolves, which is moderately sensible; not everyone experiences the same bugs or glitches as the next person. However, it must be stated that even for an Early Access experience, the game is wholly —as much as I loathe using this term — unfinished. It should not suggest that Fear the Wolves is unplayable, to the point where the game continuously crashes to the desktop — it doesn’t — but when major features and components are not functioning properly frequently enough to allow players to simply play the game as intended, it’s hard to really recommend having a whirl, which is why I won’t. For me, it’s worth playing, because it has loads of potential and the good can often outweigh the bad, with patience and understanding. However, it really comes down to individual player preference; do you want to play the price of admission and experience the entire journey, or wait until the wrinkles are ironed out and an overall improved experience is available? Decisions, decisions.

It’s not all frustration and tedium, as the overall idea behind the experience is quite good; it’s just the execution and present technical state that needs a heap of attention and love. The true excitement and edge-of-your-seat moments come in the finale, where an extraction helicopter is en route and the remaining survivors make a violent beeline for the single seat on board. Now, I won’t regale you with tales of how I came running out of the woods with a knife in my teeth, dual-wielding machine guns. I never actually survived more than once. It’s a risky business, because the moment you grab the rope to ascend into the helicopter, the surviving players are notified that someone is trying to escape. I haven’t yet decided how I feel about that notification being implemented; on one hand, it breaks the illusion of the experience, but on the other hand, it gives players a sense of urgency to attempt to secure the spot for themselves. I go back and forth on that. Either way, it usually becomes a test of courage, because in every match I played, the surviving players hid and waited for someone to make a move and gunned them down. I only won a match once because the nine other survivors figured out each other’s location and got into a shooting match; I used the distraction as an opportunity to escape, as the weather turned to fog and reduced visibility.

Regardless, those tense moments were some of the most enjoyment I’ve had in Fear the Wolves. The other enjoyment usually came from finding myself scavenging for weapons and supplies in buildings and suddenly being caught in the crossfire between two other survivors. It usually resulted in me peeking out of a window like a nosy neighbor, watching the chaos unfold. I spent a lot of time as a lone wolf, working alone and doing my best to survive at least until the finale for a sense of accomplishment. In the interim, I’ve been spending a lot of time exploring and understanding the map and general mechanics of the game, testing out my own tactics and theories to see how I fare. I’ve found as much enjoyment in that as I have getting into shootouts with fellow survivors. It’s fun to collect weapons and add attachments, drop a firearm when you found a better replacement, and see what helps and hinders you.

It’s an absolute shame that Fear the Wolves was not given enough consideration and attention leading up to its Early Access release. While the release date did get postponed by a month, the closed beta continued almost up until the Early Access launch; with that being said, it was unlikely that the issues reported in the closed beta could have been addressed properly in that timeframe. As such, the issue I take with this situation is that the closed beta and Early Access versions are essentially the same; the only difference is that there is now a price tag attached, a move that is rather tongue-in-cheek, if I’m honest. I must say that Fear the Wolves does not feel like a rushed experience in the slightest, but it really needed a significant level of optimization and polish before asking to be purchased, but alas, that is the nature of Early Access content and we’d do well to remember that. A lot of Steam reviews suggest that a large number of dissatisfied consumers are requesting refunds, a move that concerns me for the future of Fear the Wolves and how Vostok Games will respond to the feedback and refund requests. However, it’s worth mentioning that a lot of those reviews threw the concept of Early Access to the wind and expected a finished product. Naturally, one should take those opinions with a grain of salt.

Fear the Wolves has a lot of potential here and despite my minimal interest in the battle royale genre, I’ve found a new appreciation for it with Vostok Games’ latest creation. With a lack of controller support, I found myself having to trudge through one of the few things I loathe: using a keyboard. It’s a small price to pay for admission, and it isn’t the end of the world, but for the sake of accessibility, I’d like to see controller support be patched in with a future update. I just hope that Fear the Wolves is given the attention it needs and deserves in a timely manner. Listen to feedback and suggestions, think of ways to innovate, and never stop optimizing performance. Otherwise, I’m afraid the player base will continually drop until the game falls under the already over-saturated radar of battle royale.

Fear the Wolves is available now in Steam’s Early Access program for $19.99.


Please note that Fear the Wolves is currently in Early Access and this review reflects its current Early Access state. As such, we will not be providing a final review score until Fear the Wolves leaves Early Access and launches as a full game.

Video game enthusiast, James Bond aficionado, Tomb Raider expert, and lover of Beefeater gin. I'm a creature of habit and I'm either found buried in a book or working through my video game backlog when I'm not working my accounting specialist day job.

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