Wot I Think: Shelter 2

My family. And other animals

Shelter 2 [official site] is Might & Delight’s sequel to 2013’s badger cub parenting game, Shelter. You play a mother lynx raising a brood of four cubs to adulthood, keeping them safe and fed while roaming the wilderness in search of glowing doodads. Here’s wot I think.

I played the original Shelter and found quite a pretty but linear game. I shepherded my badger cub brood through various trials, avoided predators (mostly), skirted forest fires (except for when I decided to let my cubs catch fire to teach them a lesson) and shoved at least two of them into adulthood.

I was surprised to read of other people’s emotional investment in the lives of these badgers. or the pressure they put themselves under to keep them alive, because my experience of Shelter was that it became a numbers game pretty fast. The demands of the cubs and their inability to avoid danger by themselves engendered frustration rather than any sense of parental responsibility. It was a noisy escort mission and success was reaching the end with at least one of them still alive.

And so we skip forward to Shelter 2. Lynxes have replaced the badgers and the world is more of a sprawling thing, letting you roam rather than funnelling you through a series of vignettes. In that world are different areas which change according to the seasons and are peppered with lots of little collectibles to find.

The game opens with the pregnant mother lynx evading wolves. It teaches you the basics of running and jumping, then uses glowing stars to guide you across a grassy area to a den where she can give birth. The first difference between Shelter and Shelter 2 is that you can name your cubs in-game. This lot end up called Ghost, Ted, Ginger and Bovril. Those names then show up in a family tree on the main menu and any cubs who survive into adulthood can be playable characters later (if you sit to the very end of the credits and don’t quit out thinking the blurry screen and lack of any more words means you’re quite done). So I guess you give birth to entirely female litters of one white, one beige, one dark brown and one ginger cub forever.

Bovril survived my first playthrough and I set her up with her own litter but, because of the character limits on the nami,ng her cubs are now called Biscui, Snowba, Marmit and Rusty. That might sound like an insignificant problem but the lack of difference between the litters each time (both in terms of colour and number) intruded on the idea that there was a developing lineage of different animals, and the six character limit made it hard to name the cubs as I wanted and to even begin investing in them as a family.

A regal dynasty

Starting out you learn to catch rabbits to bring back to your babies. You can generally see them pretty well but if you’re struggling you can right click to use Lynx Vision (smell) which shows prey as red silhouettes on a monochrome landscape for a few seconds. You can also use that right click to show icons representing different landmarks so you never get lost. I did occasionally lose sight of the cubs though as they can get overwhelmed by the patchwork of patterns provided by the environment.

Running across the maps to new landmarks or to catch prey uses up energy so you have to ration your bursts of speed. You’ll refill the energy meter either while walking or – far faster – by stealing one of the rabbit snacks for yourself. I think this is supposed to introduce the idea of needing to provide for yourself but it’s such a simple system you don’t really need to use it except to avoid waiting for the meter to recharge. I also found it slightly odd that the cubs – even at their tiniest – can catch up with you after a few seconds when you’ve been bounding across the field.

Sometimes the cubs are hard to make out

From that point onward it’s a matter of feeding the cubs a diet of rabbits, frogs and deer while avoiding harm. But where the original game showcased various different types of harm (seen and unseen) that could befall baby badgers, here the threats appear to be wolves (which I only encountered once in the whole of that first playthrough) and something else which might have been wolves, and which killed a cub behind me while we were out in what seemed to be the game’s only real nightfall. At one point I stood my three remaining cubs directly by the wolves and waited for a few seconds before running away. I figured the experiment would kill one cub at the most, leaving me with two but we all survived fine.

Other than that one loss early on the babies stayed near me, ate what I gave them and gradually grew, even starting to find prey of their own. That was a really neat touch but given they hadn’t felt particularly vulnerable and helpless in the first place it lost some of its impact. There were no real hardships to deal with as I played and thus no real sense of purpose beyond wandering the world.

I’m assuming that’s why the collectibles exist – to give you something to do. You’ll see them glowing on the ground or on rocks from time to time, and you can pick them up by walking over them. But as far as I could tell there’s no way to find them beyond wandering about. Your sense of smell doesn’t highlight them and they don’t appear to be marked on the map you gradually build up as you move through areas. As a result each feather and twig was just something I found on the ground as I roamed and without a way of telling what I’d already found where, or which areas might benefit from more exploring it wasn’t a system which particularly incentivised moving around.

A song of ice and more ice

Shelter had its limitations, but it did at least have a sense of pressure, of predators waiting in the wings. In Shelter 2 I didn’t seem to need to do much at all to keep the cubs safe. It freed me up a bit to explore the beautiful landscape but beyond collecting twigs, rocks and the skulls from our meals, and observing occasional seasonal shifts, there wasn’t much out there to reward the trip. The family tree idea of playing as successive offspring sounded interesting but the reality left me with a second family identical to the original one except in name.

Shelter 2 has a memorable visual identity and a considered soundtrack, but in terms of survival and a rewarding exploration of the space there’s just not much there.

38 Comments

  1. Dances to Podcasts says:

    “the six character limit made it hard to name the cubs”

    This is an annoyance in many games. Why do developers do this? Is it really that hard to give players a few more letters?

    • Ross Angus says:

      Perhaps it’s so the nodes on the family tree wouldn’t run into each other.

      This is a terrible reason, of course.

    • tangoliber says:

      Haven’t played the game, but I like the sound of this limitation…as a “feature”. You are a lynx – you have a small brain. So you can only give your cubs short names. Not that it was intended this way, but I think it’s cute.

  2. karnak says:

    I’d like to name a character “Raymond Luxury Yacht”.
    Or “Arthur Two-Sheds Jackson”.

    “Artur Two-Sheds Jackson has gained a new level”… now that would be an epic RPG

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      I’ve always wanted to use Percy d’Arrezzo y Mac Shimonoseki.

    • gbrading says:

      It’s spelt Raymond Luxury Yacht, but it’s pronounced Throat Warbler Mangrove.

    • Traipse says:

      Schtolteheim Reinbach III?

    • klo3 says:

      Being able to name a character “Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern-schplenden-schlitter-crasscrenbon-fried-digger-dingle-dangle- dongle-dungle-burstein-von-knacker-thrasher-apple-banger-horowitz- ticolensic-grander-knotty-spelltinkle-grandlich-grumblemeyer- spelterwasser-kurstlich-himbleeisen-bahnwagen-gutenabend-bitte-ein- nurnburger-bratwustle-gernspurten-mitz-weimache-luber-hundsfut- gumberaber-shonedanker-kalbsfleisch-mittler-aucher von Hautkopft of Ulm” would finally bring the poor sod the recognition he rightly deserves.

  3. cpt_freakout says:

    Too bad this doesn’t seem to feel as focused as the first one, but I think I’ll give it a shot anyway. Would this WIT change much if Shelter 2 was thought of as a game-ier walking sim? I know the first one was anything but a walking sim, but from Pip’s description this could fit the bill better, perhaps?

    • cpt_freakout says:

      Quick edit: by ‘fit the bill better’ I mean not just labelling stuff but enjoying it when played without a clear objective in mind?

    • LTK says:

      I’d like to know how others are enjoying it as well, please come back when you’ve had a chance to play it!

    • Philippa Warr says:

      I was wondering about that myself, but I didn’t find walking about particularly enjoyable – and by that I mean the act of walking. It feels frustratingly slow in contrast to the running but the running is limited by the energy bar. I think if the walking pace was a bit faster it would be more enjoyable to simply stroll

  4. Frosty Grin says:

    Biscui

    This one turned out nice. Even better without T.

  5. DrScuttles says:

    Last time my emotional investment in those needy, useless cubs was severed by poor checkpointing / saving and Unity crashing.
    And in the game.

  6. Eleven says:

    Bovril is one of those parts of British culture that I wish had never left the nineteenth century, along with black pudding and jellied eels.

  7. bcrowe says:

    I was looking forward to this but your review has given me paws :/

    • FreeTom says:

      I know what you mean but I’ve still got a good feline about it.

      • Premium User Badge

        Wisq says:

        Tuft luck for them. I do want to enjoy this tail, but I guess I’ll wait until they claw the price down for a sale.

  8. Kala says:

    “I was surprised to read of other people’s emotional investment in the lives of these badgers. or the pressure they put themselves under to keep them alive, because my experience of Shelter was that it became a numbers game pretty fast. The demands of the cubs and their inability to avoid danger by themselves engendered frustration rather than any sense of parental responsibility. It was a noisy escort mission and success was reaching the end with at least one of them still alive.”

    I was one of the emotional investment people. Maybe it depends on how you feel about baby badgers ;p
    But yeah, I’ve used the ‘escort mission’ before when describing Shelter but in an entirely different context; we don’t often have games where your role is protecting and caring something dependant and vulnerable; we have escort missions *in* games, but they’re a chore and a means to an end, rather than the central point.

    So I got a very different vibe from it than escort mission or numbers game, personally.

    “That was a really neat touch but given they hadn’t felt particularly vulnerable and helpless in the first place it lost some of its impact.”

    “Shelter had its limitations, but it did at least have a sense of pressure, of predators waiting in the wings. In Shelter 2 I didn’t seem to need to do much at all to keep the cubs safe.”

    That’s a massive shame, as to me at least, that was the point.

    • wengart says:

      I agree with both of your points.

      Usually I hate escort missions, but in general, escort missions tend to anchor your powerful and agile character to some useless NPC that you have no connection to and that can’t act intelligently. While Shelter gave you a character whose entire existence was essentially based on the survival of the cubs.

  9. fuzziest says:

    I wish someone would do a less janky version of Tokyo Jungle instead of something like this.

  10. gbrading says:

    I enjoyed Shelter 1 despite the linearity and the limitations; it sounds like Shelter 2 is only a slight improvement on the latter, which is a bit of a shame. I was hoping they’d flesh it out a bit more.

  11. alms says:

    Ok, person with no emotional response whatsoever from Shelter 1 writes about Shelter 2 faililng to elicit any emotional response.

    Maybe this game should’ve been given to someone who could actually provide perspective for those of us who did click with Shelter 1.

    • Creeping Death says:

      I must say I agree with you. After reading the first two paragraphs I was kind of confused as to why Philippa had chosen/was chosen (however it works at RPS) to review this.

      Personally, the opinion of someone who thought of the first game as a “numbers game” isn’t terribly useful to me. What is most important to me in regards of Shelter 2 is knowing if it’s capable of creating the same emotional response.

    • DrollRemark says:

      Oh for gods sake. No, games shouldn’t just be reviewed by people that liked the previous iterations of them. That’s such a dull statement to make.

      Pip told you what this game was like – more of Shelter, but without the ever-present danger. She didn’t have to love either game to convey that to me, and I’m not sure what exactly you’d have gained if she had. If you liked the first game so much, hey take a gamble, buy this one. It’s hardly the worst way to spend a bit of money.

      • NathanH says:

        Presumably the reasoning is that, if someone hasn’t “got” the previous game, they’re much less likely to be able to work out whether a sequel will be “got” either. After all, the reality is that video game reviewers are primarily enthusiasts with writing skills rather than particularly insightful analysts, so it’s a legitimate concern.

        I guess sequels really need review input from more than one person. Preferably three (liked, didn’t like, didn’t play) but that’s hardly feasible.

      • Groove says:

        You wouldn’t specifically want someone who liked the previous itteration of a game to review it, but you would want someone who appreciates the genre. In this case that genre would be art and emotions? In which case I understand why Pip heard the call.

      • alms says:

        @DrollRemark. Strawman, condescendence, sarcasm and what..? An attempt to depict Miss Warr as objectivity personified …on RPS? Please go back to wherever you came from.

    • Josh W says:

      I suspect there might have been an opposite reason, “given the last game, who can we give this game to who will be able to handle it?”. There’s a lot of little ones in the RPS garden at the moment.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      Fairly sure reviews at RPS are assigned to the person who wants to review them. Maybe she felt the sequel might convince her where the first did not. Dunno, I found it an interesting take on the game and I quite liked the first one.

  12. Aphrion says:

    Has anyone heard of Wolfquest? Essentially the same game, but you’re a wolf in Yellowstone instead, and it sacrifices the graphical awesomeness of Shelter for a 100% price cut-it’s free to download, just google it. I’m gonna ruin their profits by posting this, aren’t I?

  13. Toupee says:

    Too bad. I enjoyed Shelter 1 because it was different, short, looked rad, and had a point. The world is harsh. Nature is cruel. Adorable animals do get eaten. I played it straight thru, probably talked about it in conversation afterwards.

    A more expansive game based around that theme could have been cool, but it sounds like this one doesn’t have much of a point at all. Bummer.

    Has anyone else played it and found it to actually be challenging?

  14. Groove says:

    “The demands of the cubs and their inability to avoid danger by themselves engendered frustration rather than any sense of parental responsibility.”

    The demands of human children and their inability to avoid danger by themselves often engenders frustration as the primary response, as unromantic as that may be.

  15. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    How is the movement and traversal? Is it proper cat-like or is it mostly running around on level ground?

  16. TheWheel says:

    Despite the lack of emotion, the TS2 world seems interesting.