Endling is going to break my heart. It's a game about a mama fox trying to look after her pups in an unpleasant future where forests are being destroyed, pollution is rife and these poor animals have been hunted to near-extinction. It's sad, because it really doesn't seem to distant a future from real life, but that's kind of the point. Endling looks gorgeous and poignant, the sort of game that seems important to play, even if it does break my heart.
The game starts as a sort-of linear side-scrolling adventure, before turning into more of a sandbox experience. Your main goal is to look after your little fox babies, and you'll need to venture out from your fox hole to find food for them. Then as the game progresses, you'll need to go to new areas to find other places to take shelter too. It looks similar to Shelter, a game about a mama badger looking after her own cubs.
At first your fox cubs are pretty helpless, leaving you to venture out on your own to catch mice and rummage through trash to bring back food. But once they grow up a little, they'll start adventuring with you. One of your other objectives in Endling is to find one of your cubs that was stolen too, so you're constantly fueled by the need to survive, protect and save your babies.
The cubs don't stay helpless though. They'll each get their own ability to help their mum out. Lose a cub, however, and you'll lose access to that skill. Lose all your cubs, and it's game over. To crush your heart even further, each instrument you hear in the soundtrack is linked to one of the fox cubs. So, if one goes missing, or worse, you'll notice their absence in the music too.
While Endling has a dystopian setting, during a Q&A developers Herobeat Studios said they didn't want a game "infused with sci-fi", but something closer to home to deliver an "eco-conscious" message.
"We're trying to keep realistic and authentic. We're making this game and talking about this topic because our research can only make us think that this is the future we're leading humanity to," they said.
They aren't subtle about that message either. That start of the game has the mama fox fleeing from a burning forest, finding refuge in an area surrounded by waste. When she goes to find food in a nearby river, you can see a truck dumping all sorts of nastiness into it while she catches a fish. The devs said that at some point in the game that river will no longer be a food source thanks to all that pollution.
Am I going to play Endling? Probably. Will my eyes stay dry throughout it? Absolutely not. There's no subtext here, this game is going to be equal parts cute and emotionally damaging. Those devs know exactly what they've done making animals that adorable. I'll die before I let anything happen to them.
Endling is coming to Steam and the Epic Games Store, as well as PS4, Xbone and Nintendo Switch, this year. To see more of it, keep an eye out during the Indie's Paradise stream tomorrow on Twitch at 6pm BST (7pm CEST), or head to the website.