Endling: Extinction is Forever Review
Endling: Extinction is Forever is a narrative adventure from Handy Games (a subsidiary of THQ Nordic) and Herobeat Studios about the last mother fox leading her newborn cubs to safety within a post-apocalyptic world run by machines. If you feel that this is a carbon copy of indie darling Stray, they do touch on familiar themes but they are definitely different games altogether.
While told through mostly images and cutscenes from the fox’s point of view, you’re immersed in a heartbreaking tale of the last mother fox nursing its newborn cubs. When one of the cubs has been taken away, the mother fox desperately searches for its missing offspring while keeping the others alive. What transpires is a season-long journey of survival, anguish, and ultimately hope, as the mother and cubs traverse through a dying world doing everything to survive.
The premise of Endling sounds more like an animated film rather than an engaging game, so is it worth picking up? Read on to find out!
A doomed start
When I saw the gameplay trailer for Endling: Extinction is Forever during the Nintendo Indie Direct Showcase, I immediately associated it with Inside. I expected a linear title with puzzles to solve to get through every quest line while keeping the pups alive for good measure. While there are moments that make the game feel like that, it is more a strange cross between Inside and the resource survival management of This War of Mine.
It took me a while to get started with Endling due to its strange tutorial system. You get half a tutorial while playing in-game, and then you get hints during its excessively long loading times. While I do appreciate the hints, which conveniently end up being the next challenge, some of them feel like Endling could’ve dispensed that during an earlier part because it is easy to misunderstand what you’re supposed to do during the survival aspect of the game.
It doesn’t help that the default control mapping for the Nintendo Switch isn’t intuitive. The map button could’ve been placed where you could find it easier, and of course, there are some mechanics that aren’t obvious unless you see them later on in the hints. I found myself going in circles and wondering if some aspects of Endling were RNG generated or if I was just really bad with the game.
A quick restart after getting the hang of the gameplay got me a better foothold the second time around. The combination of implementing the hints and the previous tutorials prepared me better for this run. It’s a source of frustration going in, but the second time around made it a better experience.
Okay, take two.
The quick brown fox jumps over a dying world
When played properly, Endling: Extinction is Forever is an engaging survival sim mixed with an immersive narrative adventure. Each gameplay loop starts with each night, where the mother fox and her cubs would need to live through and survive.
You have to watch out for your cubs’ hunger meter and you would need to constantly feed them. If they get too hungry, they will die of starvation. There are different ways to keep them fed, such as hunting for prey or foraging for fruit. As food gets scarce, you may have to seek other food sources like digging through trash or eating rotten food.
Where Endling shines is how, as each day turns, there are some irrevocable events that not only progress the story but also affect the survival of the mother fox and her cubs. Excessive logging by humans will scare off choice prey, destroys fruit trees, and reduce eggs. Trash that pollutes the rivers kill off the fish and poisons the berries. By the third act, you’ll mostly have to subsist on rats, pigeons, and leftover McDonalds.
What keeps the story moving is after surviving for so long, you’ll get clues to the whereabouts of your missing cubs by following the scent of the Scavenger and his daughter Molly. When the story unfolds, you’ll follow their heartbreaking arc while unlocking previously inaccessible areas. This is probably the most interesting part of Endling, as while they are the obvious main antagonists to the story, they parallel the struggle of the mother fox and her cubs.
Other antagonists are also featured, mostly the humans that ruin the world. You also will fight over scraps of food left behind with the Badger and their cub. Owls will attempt to hunt your cubs. As the season gets better, different humans will attempt to hunt you for food, with the most dangerous ones being the Furrier, who will stalk you and you’ll have to find a way to thwart them, and the Scavenger who can one-shot you with his rifle.
As the day ends, you’ll have to make your way back to your lair where the game autosaves prompting the next day. You have to make it back when the sun rises, but you can stay out for as long as you want. You also have to be mindful of the hunger meter, which seems to deplete faster during the day.
You can go through a full playthrough of Endling within 4-6 hours depending on your patience, as the pacing of this title is on the slow side. When you learn how to play the game, it isn’t too difficult and with the right resource management, you can mostly keep your cubs alive and then some.
Events keep the pace interesting, especially when you start running out of food sources. During these events, you can make your cubs learn skills, which help you find better food sources and survive tricky situations. You can even befriend other antagonists like Molly or the Badger when you save her cub, which unlocks shortcuts for fast travel and other inaccessible areas.
Towards the end, when you’ve unlocked everything (which is easy to do if you’re paying attention), you’ll find yourself just killing time as “ending the day” will cost you a hefty hunger toll. Story prompts come on a particular day, so you’ll just have to power through it until then.
Then there’s the ending. Depending on your disposition, it can be overtly powerful or needlessly preachy. While there are multiple endings, I didn’t feel compelled to give it a second playthrough even though there were some secrets that I still have yet to discover. I could see though, how the ending could hit harder for others.
Endling slightly falters because it is a game that tries to be everything while bombarding you in the head with its message. While it looked great as a concept and in its marketing, in action, it’s not the most motivating thing to play especially with its constantly slow pacing, tedious progression, and really long loading times.
What We Liked:
- Visual and immersive storytelling is on point.
- When the game hits its momentum, it’s an engaging survival sim.
- Events add another level of challenge to the title.
What We Didn’t Like:
- Unclear tutorial system can be a source of frustration.
- Later parts of the story could’ve used an “end day” option.
- Overly preachy message could deter a second playthrough
Verdict: Wait For It.
Endling: Extinction is Forever has moments of heart and engaging gameplay with its interesting blend of survival management and immersive narrative adventure. However, it screws the pooch by giving us too much of its message while not motivating us to play more because of its slow pacing and unclear tutorials. Don’t be mistaken, there is an excellent game underneath the many frustrating elements.
What Endling could’ve used was more subtlety. What made Stray shine was that it has the same message as Endling hidden behind a cute cat game. If the message-first approach really had to be used, they could’ve taken notes from This War of Mine, which kept the game engaging with an addictive gameplay loop, accessible gameplay, and improved quality of life that sort of lacked with Endling.
I agree that it is a story that has to be experienced, but I suggest being in the right disposition for it and knowing what you’re getting into before diving in.
*Endling: Extinction is Forever was reviewed on a Nintendo Switch with a review code provided by the publisher.