Endling - Extinction Is Forever

When I first started playing Endling – Extinction Is Forever, I thought I was watching a cutscene. I was just thinking to myself how cinematic and absolutely gorgeous the art direction is when I saw a prompt come up. “Press X to interact…”

“This is what gameplay looks like,” I wanted to say (but I didn’t say it because I was home alone at the time). “I’m basically going to spend the next three-plus hours playing an interactive animated film.” I started grinning, already falling in love with this beautiful game, when the music started swelling with a heartachingly shrill violin getting louder and louder as flames engulfed the forest around the little fox character.

A startled buck hopped over the path in a vain attempt at escaping the flames. A rabbit appeared in the foreground, terrified, and knowing its life was about to end. And then I came upon a billboard with a list of preserved species pictured on it. Most of them were crossed out.

Endling - Extinction Is Forever

I was barely three minutes deep into the game at this point, and I’d already experienced so many emotions. Elation, sadness, terror, anger. “Endling is going to be a journey…” I said, this time out loud, not caring that I was alone. And I was correct about that.

Remember that buck from earlier? It didn’t make it. The rain eventually came, but the buck perished before the fire was beaten back by the storm. I, as the fox, made my way back to my home, where four fox cubs were waiting for me.

Wait, four? I remembered the game’s description: “Will a mother fox, the last of its kind, be able to save its three little cubs?” I thought about the buck and the rabbit, and I knew what was coming. And yeah, it happened. It didn’t happen exactly as I imagined it would, but it happened all the same; my kit was whittled down to three.

Endling - Extinction Is Forever

Now, at the risk of spoiling the opening 15 minutes of this game, I will say that the cub doesn’t get killed; it’s carried off by humans to some unknown location for some unknown purpose. This is important, because throughout the runtime of Endling, you will encounter clues in the form of scents, and tracking those will, over time, reveal more about what happened to the missing cub. But you had better believe this made me hesitant to ever let the other three get out of sight. Especially when I looked at the Trophy list and saw that there are Trophies for keeping one, two, three, and four cubs alive. This means these cubs can die if you make bad choices.

And Endling is a game of tough choices. At times, it almost feels like This War of Mine, only with adorable foxes instead of humans. You can only go out at night, and you have a limited amount of time to scavenge for your food. When you kill, say, a rabbit, it’s not going to reappear the next night, which means you’ll be foraging farther and farther away from your home each night.

While I would like to proudly proclaim that I kept all of my cubs alive throughout my time with Endling, I did not. By the tenth day, food was stretching too thin, and I was losing the trail of the missing cub. I took the riskier path to see if I could learn more about the kidnappers, but I wound up not finding any food in time. One of my precious cubs gave up the ghost, starving to death in the winter snow.

And then there were two.

Endling - Extinction Is Forever

Thankfully, shortly after that the snow melted and suddenly there were berries everywhere. Unfortunately, there were also more human scavengers.

Oh, I should mention here that Endling is set in some sort of post-apocalypse, so there are human scavengers in gas masks roaming about. If they catch you, they might snap your furry little neck, or shoot you through the heart with a high-powered rifle.

And the environment is constantly degrading, which can make exploring feel a bit disorienting. The water tower that helped me locate my first lair eventually collapsed, and the woods surrounding my second lair were cleared, with humans hauling away the downed trees presumably for lumber. There is an overhead map, which will keep you oriented a bit, but navigating the wild using landmarks is going to be a lost cause, as you can never guarantee that something will still be there the following day.

But the game also doesn’t fully take place in a 3D environment. It kind of does, but you’re mostly navigating along 2D paths, which occasionally branch out into other paths. This does make it easier to find your way around the world, even when things keep changing around you.

Endling - Extinction Is Forever

Endling – Extinction Is Forever is not for the faint of heart. This game is not chill at all — it’s stressful and upsetting, and it can be brutally heartbreaking when you make a bad decision. The Breath of the Wild-esque art style may bely that fact a little bit, but the whole point of this game is for players to be broken up over what we’re doing to the real-world environment. So there’s a warning buried in Endling: This absolutely devastating world could very well be the world we’re creating for ourselves.

If you’ve got the stomach for the sheer brutality of Endling – Extinction Is Forever, it’s a must-play. The visual style is gorgeous, the environmental design is brilliant, and the gameplay mechanics are really well-baked. However, this is not for those looking for a chill adventure to zone out to. This game will make you think, and more importantly, it will make you feel.

Disclaimer: I was given a review code for Endling – Extinction Is Forever for PS4, but I played it on PS5. The opinions expressed in this article are my own.

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